May 1985 was the bleakest month in the history of English football and so it was particularly poignant that Watford, a club that symbolised everything that could be good, positive and fun about the game, were having a great time on the pitch.
Watford won 5-1 at White Hart Lane playing bold, exciting football but their achievement was completely overshadowed by a tragedy at Bradford City. An old wooden stand caught fire and 56 people died. Later that month there was violence, and more deaths, at the European Cup final at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. Football grounds were not all safe, welcoming places for supporters and the English game had serious problems.
Watford, the family club, who took pride in trying to entertain people in a safe, friendly environment, were trying to buck the trend.
As Steve Perryman, who played in the Spurs defence that was given such raw treatment that afternoon, said: ‘Watford were really making an effort to win people over in the Eighties. I lived in Ickenham and the leaflets used to come through my door. The club was trying to attract supporters from well outside the town. The leaflets said that Watford scored the most goals and were the most attacking team in the First Division.
‘They weren’t a Tottenham or an Arsenal who could rely on 30,000 fans turning up because they had the history. They had to make themselves attractive. In lots of ways, they were leading the way for other clubs by trying to attract new supporters – children, families. They didn't have fences up. They wanted a game of football to be a nice thing to come and watch.'
Nigel Callaghan, Luther Blissett and John Barnes put Watford 3-0 up inside half an hour and Spurs were reeling and on their way to a humiliation in front of their own fans.
‘The last team you wanted to face if you were having an off-day was Watford,’ says Perryman. ‘If you weren’t careful, they could tear you to pieces and they did that to Tottenham that day.'
Glenn Hoddle pulled one back from the penalty spot in the second half but a Danny Thomas own goal and a fifth from Colin West completed the most comprehensive hammering Tottenham had endured on their home ground for years.
Tottenham were one of the clubs that had asked questions about Watford's 'style' when the team had first arrived in the top flight a few years earlier but that wasn't a problem for Perryman.
‘It wasn't the fact it was Watford. To lose 5-1 at home, to anyone, my God, that was unacceptable,’ says Perryman. ‘When we played away at Watford, we used to work hard on what they were going to throw at us. We were well prepared to scrap and be physical and we were ready for their set-pieces. But at home I think we felt that as this was our ground we’d dictate the play. Well, we didn’t that day.’
The fact that the national papers were reluctant to give Watford the credit they were due continued to irritate Graham Taylor. A few days after this hammering, he said: ‘I’ve only read about how badly Tottenham played rather than how well we played, so very little has changed.’
Watford Coton, Gibbs, Rostron, Taylor, Terry, McClelland, Callaghan, Blissett, West, Jackett, Barnes
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Callaghan 14, Blissett 17 pen, Barnes 28, Thomas og 79, West 83
Tottenham scorer Hoddle 67 pen
Why was this match chosen? It's one of the greatest away results in the club's history.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? This was 1980s Watford in all-out attack mode. Three-nil up at White Hart Lane inside half an hour and still with the legs to stretch away again after Spurs pulled a goal back. The fact it was followed two days later by an equally impressive result makes it all the better.