Celebratory aromas filled the air around Watford on Saturday evening as barbecues and flares sent jubilant smoke signals high into the Hertfordshire sky, carrying a simple four-word message: “The ‘Orns are back”.

Among the fumes floating and dissipating into the atmosphere was a year’s worth of stress and anxiety, emitted in a great release of emotion that had been instigated by football, but was underpinned by so much more.

Supporters, who for some time now have been unable to support, were drawn to the town pond like a magnet at the heart of the area to which they pledge unflinching loyalty, to drink, dance and sing and experience a togetherness they have been cruelly deprived of by grim circumstances far beyond what most have encountered before, or ever will again.

Meanwhile the cemetery that sits just a stone’s throw from Vicarage Road, the epicentre of the day’s triumph, offers some perspective, given that not all of us are fortunate enough to be squinting into the light emerging on the other side of this increasingly long, dark tunnel. Many have been left behind in the darkness and will serve as constant reminders of the true devastation of the last year.

On the day, the prevailing sentiment among many was utter relief after a Championship sojourn that at times had threatened to stretch itself beyond the current campaign had been ended according to schedule. 11 weeks ago, that didn’t look likely.

A goalless draw at Coventry City had produced as many encouraging moments as it had goals, leading to Sky Sports pundit Don Goodman summing up the feeling of Watford supporters by declaring the Hornets would have “no chance” of going up if they continued to play as they had been.

But this was a season in which all the eggs were placed in one basket, financially speaking, with CEO Scott Duxbury claiming there were times when the club were unsure if they could continue after the coronavirus pandemic eradicated a massive portion of their income.

Such an approach meant “no chance” of going up was simply not an option if Watford wanted to remain competitive.

The uninspiring style shown against Coventry was a continuation of a brand of football put in place by Vladimir Ivic, an authoritarian figure initially selected to whip the players into shape after too many passive performances had seen them slip out of the top flight without much of a whimper.

While Ivic deserves some credit for installing the foundations of a solid defensive unit that has until now kept 22 clean sheets this season, even with a squad that at the time was riddled with injury and uncertainty, his focus on keeping goals out at one end severely stifled Watford’s ability to score them at the other.

Action Images

Action Images

His away form was also a serious cause for concern, with Watford picking up just two wins away from home under his stewardship, preventing them from stringing together more than two victories in a row.

Eventually, the club’s patience ran out and Ivic was sacked following a 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield, with relationships frayed between the head coach and players, while disagreements with the board on transfer targets didn’t help his cause either. He left behind a mess, with the club bereft of identity, style and most importantly hope.

Things didn’t initially change too much following the arrival of Xisco Munoz, whose appointment was seen as an underwhelming one by many.

Since then, however, the Spaniard has won over almost all of his doubters, with his infectious optimism and a charisma that could draw a smirk from a gargoyle earning him a place in the hearts of the club’s supporters.



While on the pitch, the draw at Coventry was a low point, off the field, it was the spark that set the Hornets ablaze for the rest of the season.

A meeting was called by William Troost-Ekong, bravely sticking his head above the parapet after only arriving at the club late in the summer transfer window, with the players frankly and honestly agreeing that their performances up to then had been nowhere near the standards expected of them.

From then on, attitudes changed, as did the formation, as Munoz quickly adapted to the challenges presented by the Championship and Watford began to look like a completely different team.

They began sweeping opponents aside, scoring six against Bristol City; three against Blackburn; four against Rotherham; three more against Birmingham, while managing to grind out results from the games that required greater resilience.

Players who were mismanaged or underused were now starting to show their best – Ismaila Sarr, Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah among them – and new terrace heroes like Francisco Sierralta, Daniel Bachmann and Joao Pedro showed that there is also a bright future to be excited about.

The biggest change, however, came in the levels of maturity shown, and in the values spoken about by both the coach and the players.

Togetherness, team spirit and most of all positivity towards the challenge are all virtues that Munoz instilled in his players, who in the last 11 weeks have collectively grown into a united group, battling together for both the greater good and the badge on the shirt.

While there are a lot of uncertainties about Watford’s immediate future that still need to be resolved, one thing is guaranteed: The Hornets will be playing in the Premier League again next season and if they approach that challenge with the same attitude they have shown since February, there’s no reason they can’t make a success of it.

However, before any of the concerns that will come as part of being a Premier League club can be addressed, supporters should remember just how much this promotion means to them and how united they have felt this weekend at a time when they have never been further apart from one another, because there is a long list of people who will never be able to enjoy moments like that with their club ever again.

It is only to prevent that list from becoming longer that such sacrifices have had to be made throughout the last year and moments like Saturday afternoon should make it feel, in some way, worthwhile.

The true reward for fans will come later this year, when every seat inside Vicarage Road is filled and Watford take to the field, competing as equals in the Premier League once again.