Watford in the Cup Final? It was beyond extraordinary. After 35 years, it’s just about sunk in.
I had been working abroad for four years and had only joined the club as public relations officer in March 1984 – on the Monday after the 3-1 quarter final win at Birmingham City. First job – prepare a ‘Road to Wembley’ brochure ready to go to print if the Hornets overcame Plymouth Argyle in the semi-final.
In those pre-digital days, there were no short cuts. Various visits to newspaper libraries to research rounds three to six revealed the enormity of the club’s achievement.
- Emirates FA Cup Final
- 5pm, Saturday 18 May
- at Wembley Stadium
- Live on BBC One and BT Sport 2
But enough of ‘they’. Watford was now ‘we’. That ‘we’ extended throughout the town and locality. We ran ‘best-dressed houses’ competitions, and club shop manager Tony Marks was doing a roaring trade in everything and anything FA Cup and Watford-related.
There was a genuine and palpable ‘Cup fever’. For younger readers, you have to know that the Cup Final was THE pinnacle game in the domestic calendar. No live coverage of league matches, no eyeball-grabbing UEFA Champions League.
It was the only game where you got a behind-the-scenes look at the players as they left their hotel, travelled on the team coach and were interviewed as they wandered in awe on Wembley’s manicured greensward. It was a day when the nation paused, gathered and rejoiced in sporting rivalry.
Little did we know it at the time, but the game had huge added significance. It was the first Final when club sponsors were allowed to appear on club shirts.
In effect, the 1984 Final signalled the start of football in this country becoming a commercially-fuelled business. Eight years later the Premier League was born and the European Cup became the UEFA Champions League. TV rights’ agreements gained pace and volume – and players’ wages at the top level were set to rocket.
In keeping with Watford’s far-sighted management, they saw it coming. Three years earlier, the club had appointed the nation’s first marketing manager, and in those days took the remarkable step of appointing a woman, Caroline Gillies. My own job was the first of its type in English football. In fact, the recruitment agency I went through advised me to turn it down. “Football – what kind of career is that?” The recruitment company no longer exists.
It means Saturday’s game is a chapter-ending match in football’s evolution. And if it takes another 35 years for Watford to reappear in an FA Cup Final, fear not, there are other anniversaries to celebrate in 2054. The centenary of Roger Bannister and Diane Leather respectively breaking the men’s and women’s four- and five-minute mile barriers. And lest we should forget, it will also be Peppa Pig’s 50th birthday.
You see, pigs – like Hornets – can fly.
Ed Coan joined Watford as public relations officer in 1984 and has had an unbroken 35-year relationship with the club in various roles, latterly as a Trustee of the club’s Community Foundation, the Watford FC Community Sports & Education Trust. These days, his independent consultancy work includes various project work for The FA.
You can read more on 1984 in the official Emirates FA Cup Final match programme