Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 09.03.30.png

Jingle bells, jingle bells

Handing Watford a trip to Kenilworth Road on Boxing Day had to be someone’s idea of a joke. Luton Town’s response to the problem of hooliganism was to ban all away fans from their ground and introduce an unpopular identity card scheme for their own fans.

And Luton had followed Queens Park Rangers by installing an artificial pitch. Watford and Luton were rivals but they had once had so much in common as small clubs punching above their weight.

In the mid-Eighties, Luton veered off in another direction. The Hornets were respected as the family club, while the Hatters banned away fans. The Kenilworth Road pitch was a carpet, while Vicarage Road was a sand-topped bog. Both were unplayable at times but at least Watford’s was authentic.

The Hornets had a pop star chairman, the Hatters had a Tory MP, the Thatcherite David Evans. The clubs were now like chalk and cheese.

Hardly any Watford fans made the trip to Bedfordshire for the high noon kick-off. Instead of a fierce, festive atmosphere between two local rivals, it was cold and sterile.

Luton fundamentally missed the point that watching football should be an interactive experience. A few Hornets did beat the ban and managed to get in by hook or by crook. There were some Watford fans who managed to get inside, perhaps about a hundred or so. Presumably some were  friends with Luton members who had managed to get them a ticket.

Luton had an impressive record on their plastic surface, which was something Graham Taylor felt gave the team an unfair advantage. Combine that with the absence of any travelling support and the odds were stacked against most visiting teams.

Watford were 2-0 up after just 17 minutes. First Gary Porter bundled the ball in at the far post, beating the Luton defenders to the punch, after Wilf Rostron had floated in a free-kick.

Then Kevin Richardson grabbed a rare goal. Worrell Sterling’s cross was nodded down by John Barnes for Mark Falco to gather. The big striker was dispossessed by Mal Donaghy, who tried to dribble clear only to lose control. The ball squirmed away from him and Richardson strode forward and blasted it in off the underside of the bar.

Luton missed a penalty in the 59th minute but the rest of the game was as lifeless as the atmosphere. There was no raucous singing, no banter between two sets of supporters, just a nightmarish vision of what football might become if the forces of conservatism got hold of it. This was a great result but almost all Watford’s supporters were denied the chance to witness it. Instead they were at home, listening to the radio or watching Ceefax.

Watford Coton, Bardsley, Rostron, Richardson, Sims, McClelland, Sterling, Barnes, Falco, Jackett, Porter
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Porter 7, Richardson 17
Attendance 11,140

Why was this match chosen? The perfect Christmas is an away win at Kenilworth Road with the result of the game more or less beyond doubt after 17 minutes.

How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? This is one of the great derby day wins. The fact so few Hornets supporters were there to witness it makes it even more remarkable.