The Times ,Russell Kempson, February 2000
"Terry Challis is a Watford fan. He was born and bred in the town, watched his first game at Vicarage road as a starry eyed youngster and still lives and breathes the fluctuating fortunes of the club. Through valiant victory, desperate defeat or dull draw, his devotion remains undimmed.
He does not yell from the cheap seats or bray from a corporate suite. He watches quietly from the press box, returns to the small cluttered study at his home, takes pen to paper and toils long into the night.
Challis is a cartoonist.
For 28 years his cartoon commentary appeared in the Watford Observer, the local weekly. It is a witty, pithy column, a rich mixture of words and sketches that express his warmth towards the club. It is an outlet from which his admiration or frustration flows, only rarely allowing sentiment to cloud sound judgement.
“Every fan likes to spout his opinion and I am luckier than most because I can put mine in the paper every week” Challis said ,”A bloke can stand in the pub and say ‘This is what I think ,pal’ but he ‘s only talking to three or four people. In the paper you’re talking to thousands, I like that.
”I’m not a neutral; I look at things from a fans point of view. It’s purely a Watford cartoon about Watford by a Watford fan, but I don’t mind putting in a few barbs or a bit of social or political comment.
I’m quite critical of the way football is being run. It’s a cloth-cap game, always will be, but the real fans are being priced out of it.”
At the time of the Hillsboro tragedy, Challis portrayed a crocodile with tears streaming down its face as a newspaper seller, ”the newspapers went overboard with all those close-ups of dying people pressed up against fences” he said, ”It was terribly sad but it didn’t half sell a lot of bloody papers!”.
Challis has a deep, almost gruff voice, wispy white hair and a goatee beard. He peers over the glasses perched precariously on his nose and reminisces in the manner of a genial story teller with an audience of spellbound children. Giraffe figurines sit on every spare shelf, the collection of his partner Barbara.
He dabbles with writing and also paints, and this week at an exhibition in the town he sold three paintings of characters from Wind in the Willows. ”I didn’t particularly like them, but there you go “he said “I’m very self critical, I don’t have much self belief which is probably why I haven’t moved on.”
The buyers of Mole, Toad and Badger must have liked something, at least more than the former employer who dismissed him from his job in newspaper circulation. ”I was so glad, it came as a welcome relief “he said.”It was totally non-creative and anyway the bloke who sacked me is now stacking shelves in a supermarket”
When Watford lose to Luton Town, the cartoon strip has a black border round it, he prints the name as L*t*n –“I never use the whole word”. Players have tried to curry favour with him while one once threatened to sue him,” It didn’t happen” he said” I haven’t had many fall-outs”.
When the creative juices dry up though, problems can arise. He will burn the midnight oil, re-jig a few old jokes and emerge, hopefully, back on track. He suffers intermittently from bouts of depression too. ”You never know why,” he said”I ‘m just prone to it”. It has not been a good season for Watford, but
good for Challis. ”If they’re winning all you do is keep piling on the superlatives” he said,” It’s much easier to take the mickey than praise, much easier to criticise or be sarcastic.”
It is done though not with a poison pen but a kindly quill. When he composed from his hospital bed six years ago, after a triple bypass operation, he included himself in his work. “I had them opening me up and saying:’Christ, he’s got Watford FC engraved on his heart!’ "
He probably has. "
Reproduced article by Russell Kempson
First published in "The Times" newspaper,
Feb 19th 2000