At 11.30pm on the night before the 2013 play-off final, Sid Simmons checked he hadn’t mislaid his ticket for Wembley. He found the ticket by the kettle – exactly where it had been on each of his previous four checks during the last hour.
‘Dependable as Doyley, you are,’ the 83-year-old widower told the ticket. Then, realising he was possibly getting a little over-wrought if he was talking to a small piece of card, he began to make his cocoa half an hour earlier than usual.
As he poured milk into a saucepan, he noticed his hands were shaking. They’d been like this just after the heart-shuddering final moments of the semi-final against Leicester.
Briefly he thought back to most extraordinary 20 seconds of his 77 years of supporting Watford so far. Afterwards, it had taken him more than a week to calm down. He’d spent hours and hours reliving it on blogs, forums, mailing lists and YouTube. Now, though, he was ready to move on. Setting the pan on the stove, he merely mouthed “Deeeeeneyyyyyy!” and re-focused himself on Watford winning promotion to the Premier League tomorrow.
‘One more sleep,’ he said to himself excitedly. But, in his current physical state, the total was far more likely to be zero.
* * *
All around Watford that night, other fans of Sid’s age weren’t nearly so tense – they’d seen it all before. But that was the thing about Sid. He hadn’t seen it all before. He’d never seen Watford play in the top flight. Not a single game.
It wasn’t his fault. He’d missed Watford’s three spells in the top division through bad timing: 1982-88 occurred while he was spending ten years working and living in Australia; 1999-2000 had come from nowhere while he was saving his company’s business in Malaysia; 2006-7 had passed him by while he’d been giving full-time care to Irene, his terminally ill wife.
The result of these omissions was that Sid felt less of a fan than he ought to be – as if he’d let the side down somehow. (Even the most fickle of glory-hunters had been there for the club during the biggest seasons in its history, he often told him- self. The only consolation was that his soul was purer for never having seen Arsenal play.) So he always kept himself to himself in Row P of the Rookery as he roared the Hornets on. It was the safest way. Any sort of conversation might have revealed the other shameful blemish on his record: he’d never seen Watford play at Wembley either. Sid Simmons had been fan for eight decades, but he felt incomplete.
* * *
Sid made a paste of cocoa in his usual cup and wondered if the club would issue a commemorative mug when Watford reached the Prem at Wembley tomorrow. He’d definitely buy one. It would be his daily reminder that the dual curse had been broken at last.
He glanced over at his ticket. It hadn’t gone anywhere. He thought about naming it ‘Lloydinho’.
He went back to the saucepan and watched the milk starting to bubble. It mirrored how he felt. As he watched the bubbles rise, two thoughts kept pulsing in his mind: Wembley, Prem. Wembley, Prem. Nearer and nearer, the thoughts came, faster and faster. He realized he was feeling rather light-headed. With tremulous fingers, he picked up the saucepan.
It was the last thing he ever did. At 11.47pm on May 26th, the saucepan tumbled to the kitchen floor as Sid Simmons suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away.
* * *
Sid knew immediately that he’d died. He was fully alert, but seemed to have lost signal somehow. He had no sensation of anything other than a serene whiteness cocooning him. His soul was in a place of total tranquility.
But his soul itself wasn’t tranquil. It was in torment. Now he’d never see Watford in the Prem. Or at Wembley.
‘Bugger!’ he wailed.
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