When the Hornets last played two games in two days

The Watford Observer has again teamed with its friends at the Watford Treasury to share stories from previous issues of YBR! – Yellow Black & Red!

The last time the Hornets played two competitive matches in successive days was in 1994. A Boxing Day home match against Portsmouth followed by a trip to the New Den the next day on board a unique Football Tube Special. James Garrett takes up the story…

Just as the Christmas adverts on TV start to be shown every year, we get the reminder from the usual voices that there is too much football over Christmas, it is too much of a strain on the players and why don’t we follow Germany in having a winter break? We have always been used to a busy Christmas schedule; I do think you would have to be a little bit Scrooge-like if you made the players play in successive days though; football is one of those sports where even the fittest players can sometimes barely walk the next day, given the unique nature of the mix of sprints, twists and turns, and general contact there is in the game. However, the Football League didn’t care about any of that in 1994. As Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, the two following days were bank holidays, so why not give the masses what they want? Yes, two Watford matches in two days!

An even more remarkable feat, looking back from our hi-tech sports science era, is that boss Glenn Roeder chose the same starting XI for both matches, a pretty impressive achievement, though I’m sure Billy Hails was working wonders over the two days to keep tired limbs going. It was to be a pretty friendly Boxing Day fixture at home to Pompey who were then battling against relegation from Division One and the Hornets were in tenth position with Roeder having an impressive second season as Watford manager, after an amazing end of season run in the 93-94 season that saved us from relegation.

Kevin Miller in action in the 1994/95 season

This Watford team was a likeable one, with players that would run all day like Andy Hessenthaler, Richard Johnson and Tommy Mooney and a popular goalkeeper, Kevin Miller, who would go on to win supporter’s player of the season award. We also had our own maverick midfielder, Craig Ramage, who on his day was a joy to watch. The biggest compliment I can pay to Rambo was that at his best he glided around the pitch like a 90’s version of Almen Abdi. It was Ramage who stood out in both fixtures; his header that gave Watford the lead mid-way through the second half was one of his best goals for Watford as he expertly directed the ball into the top corner from 12 yards out. The on-loan Neil Shipperley scored the clinching goal shortly before the end as defender and goalkeeper hesitated on the edge of the box to allow the striker to nip in, chest ball and volley home into the empty net.

Twenty-four hours later, around 2,000 of us found ourselves forming a queue outside Watford Met station in the Cassiobury estate to get on board a football special, for what was my one and only experience of this! Given it was a bank holiday and a host of engineering works meant transport options to Bermondsey were limited, someone in power decided rather sensibly to put the special tube service one that was actually destined for a London Overground station, Surrey Quays. It was an enjoyable experience that saw us being met by the usual police and horses combination and walked from Surrey Quays to the New Den; the walk was not for the feint-hearted, under deserted bridges, industrial units, burned out cars, but there was no one around; were the Millwall fans waiting for us around any corner? Well, no thankfully as they never seem too bothered about us but it’s always an interesting place to be an away fan.

Watford Observer:

An approach to The Den in 1994

Millwall, who had won at Notts County 24 hours earlier, battered us in the first half and hit the woodwork at least twice and should really have been beating us by the time Colin Foster made a rare error in the early stages of the second half, losing the ball and then hauling down the striker as he was about to shoot. They scored from the penalty but oddly it looked like they had hit the post as the ball hit the stantion in the top corner. A poor second goal where Millwall ripped straight through us was disappointing but very quickly there was hope as Ramage reacted quickest in the box with a smartly taken volley to set up an exciting finish. Rambo now full of confidence then won a penalty for some excellent work on the right channel, a lovely dink around the full back before being bundled to the floor just inside the area. I was so excited I insisted to my friend who never watches Watford penalties to watch it as I was certain Mooney would score. He didn’t, it was comfortably saved and my friend still hates me for it. Matches at the New Den from those days were always lively, and end to end and although we lost, the players were heartily applauded off the pitch for their endeavour but Millwall had been the better team on the day.

We were escorted back to “Surrey Docks” (as any local still calls it), and no home fans anywhere near us, which was even more unsettling for me anyway, after all there had been over 12,000 people at the match. We travelled back on our special chartered tube. One humorous moment when the tube stopped for a few minutes somewhere centrally in London, it may have been Tottenham Court Road, was that a small number of people opened the doors to join us. Despite lots of friendly reminders to them that this train was only going to Watford Met (not in London) they didn’t listen. So for the next 45 minutes I’m sure those people enjoyed the experience of a football special from Millwall trudging it’s way slowly north to leafy Hertfordshire, and then learning that there were no tubes back to London that evening.

The whole two in two concept only took place in 1994 and would never happen now. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

Copies of YBR! are available to buy from https://thewatfordtreasury.com/collections/ybr

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