By Luke McNulty, a member of the FA Young Reporters' Club. Luke is a third year sports journalism student at the University of Gloucestershire. He is extremely passionate about football, as well as basketball and tennis and is excited to be part of a project such as the YRC. "I feel this will provide me with some fantastic experience as I go into my prospective career as a multi-faceted sports journalist."
Watford fans have endured a lot, on and off the pitch, since the turn of the century.
From almost going into administration in 2003, to losing three FA Cup semi-finals in the space of 14 years, it’s safe to say Hornets fans have experienced their fair share of heartache.
But having overcome tests from Woking, Newcastle, QPR and Palace, it was time to start dreaming again.
Almost 40,000 disciples of the ‘Yellow Army’ descended upon Wembley on Sunday for a crunch semi-final clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves have so often been dubbed this season as ‘the best of the rest’ in relation to their league standing, not to mention it being a nod to their domestic performances against the ‘big boys’ in their first season back in England’s top flight since 2012.
There was a refreshing sense of humility and excitement in the air on Sunday as Wembley Way became a bustling sea of orange, yellow and black as the countdown to kick-off loomed large.
With Watford’s semi-final defeat to Crystal Palace three years ago still fresh in the minds of the players and fans, Wolves’ attempts of a first FA Cup final in almost 60 years offered something for both clubs to be hungry for.
Ahead of kick-off, the noise was deafening. A Wolves mosaic dominated the upper stand of the ‘away’ end, while the Watford fans countered with a combination of yellow, black and red flags that accompanied each seat. It really was a sight to behold.
It was in front of those flags, however, that Wolves took the lead shortly before half-time. Matt Doherty, ever the threat in the attacking third, got away from Abdoulaye Doucoure to head home at the far post from a short corner.
The Wolves fans were treated to a goal at their end just after the hour-mark, when Raul Jimenez chested and volleyed in from a free-kick to send the place into delirium. Watford were stunned, not to mention left thinking ‘Here we go again.’
It wasn’t until the introduction of Gerard Deulofeu on 66 minutes the Hornets posed a real threat, but when he came on, he made his mark in some style.
First, a delicate curling chip shot from inside the area that left John Ruddy stranded as he watched it float inside his far post. Watford had hope with 12 minutes to go.
Deep into stoppage time, Leander Dendoncker brought down Troy Deeney inside the area. Michael Oliver said penalty, VAR concurred. Deeney grabbed the ball, and the bull, and smashed in the spot-kick to send it to extra-time.
All the momentum was with the Hertfordshire club, and with Nuno Espirito Santo electing to take off two of his most prized assets in Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, it felt like a momentum swing like no other.
Deulofeu combined with Andre Gray to drive into the Wolves area and slide the ball past Ruddy, completing the most memorable of comebacks, and drag his side into the FA Cup final. If ever there was any doubt the magic of the cup is alive and kicking, look no further than Sunday afternoon at Wembley stadium.
Much like Watford’s journey through the cup, my journey as a member of the FA’s Young Reporters’ Club (YRC) started deep down in the English football pyramid.
From covering the extra preliminary round in August, to a third-round tie in January, my experience as a member of the YRC really has come full circle.
Football can be rewarding on the pitch, but more so off it when covering the best sporting events the country has to offer.
So, for fans, players, managers and young reporters alike, the magic of the cup is well and good.