The journey from Watford to Wembley is metaphorically long – once every 35 years – but literally quite short – about half an hour down the M1. Unless, of course, you live on the other side of the world.
Watford FC’s first appearance in the FA Cup final since 1984 has prompted fans all over the globe to travel thousands of miles to see the Hornets play in the oldest national football competition in the world – against Manchester City on Saturday.
Mark Worrell, 48, moved to Sydney, Australia in 1999, and has made a journey of nearly 17,000 km (10,563 miles) to the UK to see the team he has supported for 40 years.
Originally from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, he began supporting Watford aged eight because “in Hemel you either supported them or one of the London teams”.
“I started during the good times when Graham Taylor was manager and Elton John was chairman – they were the glory days,” he said.
“I remember the first FA Cup in 1984 [when Watford lost 2-0 to Everton] – hopefully this one will go better than that, but anything can happen in football.”
He now runs the “Hornets Down Under” Facebook page, which has about 300 members, and he often meets fellow supporters to watch the big games in the early hours.
A 15:00 BST kick-off is midnight in Sydney, but when the clocks change in both countries it is 02:00.
“We don’t meet up as much now as we used to because with Sky we can watch games in our living rooms, but we still meet for the big games,” he said.
“It’s funny if you’re in a pub in the city and it’s a Sunday game, because it’s early Monday morning for us and people wonder why there are all these English people shouting their heads off.
“For the semi-final I was driving home at about 05:00 and watching people going to work.
“But it’s really easy to follow Watford in Australia. I can watch more games live than I can in the UK, as you can watch the 3pm kick-off games live.”
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It hasn’t always been that easy. When he first moved, the internet was either non-existent or only available at work.
“When I first came over I had to get a Monday morning newspaper from the petrol station – they always had the English scores but they were buried amongst the racing results.”
Mark said it was a “no-brainer” to come over for the final and it was actually “pretty easy” to get tickets.
“When we’ve gone close in the FA Cup in the past I’ve always said, ‘If we get to the final I’m going’. I don’t have unlimited money but am happy to blow a few thousand for this,” he said.
“If Watford made a habit of getting to finals it might be difficult, but once every 35 years – it’s not a problem at the moment.”
Prediction: “Watford to win 2-1. Concede early goal, weather the onslaught then fight back.”
Truls Aakre-Thunold, 39, Porsgrunn, Norway
Distance from Wembley: 1,048 km (651 miles)
Truls has been a fan since 1994 when he was given Watford in the football manager play-by-mail game Soccer Supremos.
Now married – to June, a former Norwegian First Division player for Langesund – and with three children, his whole family is smitten.
Supporters club Watford FC Norway was started in 2009 and Truls has run it with Ole Jon Tveito since 2017 when it had 82 members – it now has 337. They watch and hear matches live on TV and radio and in local pubs.
The pair have cup final tickets, but haven’t been able to get tickets for their families. They will watch the game in Watford and make the most of their weekend by going to Harry Potter World.
The fact they are flying out on Friday will not mean much to those in the UK. However, they will be missing Norway Day – celebrated to mark the day the country got its constitution in 1814 – and, by all accounts, a very big deal which involves a lot of ice cream eating.
But, as Ole said: “This goes before everything.”
Prediction: “I think it will be a 1-1 draw and Watford will win in extra time.”
Andy Bentote, 47, Hong Kong
Distance from Wembley: 9,632 km (5,985 miles)
Andy was five when he started supporting the Hornets – they were in the Fourth Division and it was the first year Graham Taylor was manager.
Originally from Pinner, just 20 minutes from Watford, he was taken to matches by his dad, along with his older brother, who are both still season ticket holders.
After moving to Shanghai in 2009 and then Hong Kong in 2013, he watches matches either at home or in a bar, and generally comes back to the UK once a year.
“If anything, it is easier to follow from here as all the games are live on TV, although some are at unsocial hours,” he said.
“We have just started the HK Supporters Group and about 15 have signed up so far.”
Andy will be in the UK for about 40 hours for the final, arriving Friday and leaving on Sunday, and said it had been “expensive rather than difficult” to organise.
Prediction: “2-2 then penalty shoot out and who knows?!”
Felix Carrasco, 34, New York
Distance from Wembley: 5,558 km (3,453 miles)
Felix started the New York Hornets in 2011 when he moved to Brooklyn from London and they watch every match live, mainly at the Football Factory in Manhattan.
“It’s hard to say [how many members there are] but it’s between 10-50. For the play-off final a few years ago we had a packed bar. We keep finding more Hornets in the Big Apple.”
Felix, who has been a supporter since he was 17, will be in London for two days for the final with about 20 others from New York.
“The club was exceptional and helped us in organising to be able to sit together,” he said.
“Flights were booked pretty soon thereafter and work is confused about what exactly I’m flying over for.
“I recently became a father, so am having to leave my wife for the weekend with our five-month-old for the final, [but] my wife was the one to tell me to go.
“She knows our last FA Cup was in ’84 and what a huge deal it is.
“The last game I went to see was Watford v Crystal Palace [in December 2016], when Harry the Hornet dived in front of Wilfred Zaha.”
Prediction: “1-1 and we win it on penalties – stranger things have happened in recent weeks!”
Marc Proctor, 51, Auckland
Distance from Wembley: 18,332 km (11,391 miles)
Marc has been following Watford since the 1970s, just before the Graham Taylor era, despite living in Bedford – where Luton Town was a more obvious choice.
He was in New Zealand for two years during the time they got promoted to the then First Division, were runners up to Liverpool and got into Europe, but this was all before the internet.
“Some weeks you had to wait until the Tuesday or Wednesday to get the results in the paper. That was all I got, and the occasional game on the highlights show,” he said.
Returning to the UK in 1984, he said he bunked off Saturday morning classes at Bedford School to go to the cup final, which did not turn out well.
“I had just come back from New Zealand so it’s fair to say my commitment to Saturday classes was not really there,” he said.
“I rang in sick and went to the game, but ended up by the tunnel and was spotted on TV by my form teacher and about half the school.
“Needless to say, the experience on Monday was not great.”
Marc returned to New Zealand in the late 1980s and made a few trips back to watch games, but since 2014 he has been back every year with holidays planned around the midweek and weekend games that enable him to get to the most in three weeks.
“I always said I would come back for the cup final if we ever got back there and when I wrote my bucket list for my 50th last year it was the top thing on it,” he said.
“Needless to say, after the Wolves game my wife asked if I was going, I thought about it and took all of half a second to say, ‘I would like to’. So the journey is on.”
He said he would be back in time for bed next Wednesday.
Prediction: “I would like to think we can beat the odds, we have to some time. A narrow win to us or a walk in the park for City – whatever happens I am out to enjoy the day and create some memories.”
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