Once Graham Taylor had decided to get his hands dirty and take the managerial reins again, he knew his reputation for talent-spotting in the lower divisions would go before him.
During a conversation with Gerry Armstrong, he remarked that it was not getting any easier to find good left-footed players. In fact, it was getting harder. Armstrong said there was a lad from Northern Ireland who had a left foot almost as sweet as Liam Brady’s, the brilliant former Arsenal player.
But he also said that the owner of that left foot, Peter Kennedy, was hardly pulling up trees at Notts County. Taylor watched Kennedy and thought the 23-year-old might fit into his jigsaw. Kennedy cost £130,000, a fair sum for a player who’d only started 20 league matches.
‘I was going nowhere at County,’ says Kennedy. ‘I’d come over from Portadown in the Irish League but it just hadn’t worked in England. I didn’t really know why and they didn’t seem to know why.
‘I wanted a fresh start and if I am honest, I’d have gone anywhere to get one. It could’ve just as easily been Belgium as Watford.’
Taylor had a specific role in mind for Kennedy as an attacking wing-back who was encouraged to get forward. He was to become one of the most important figures in the team that went from the Second Division to the Premiership in successive seasons.
‘I can’t really put my finger on anything specific but things just clicked at Watford,’ says Kennedy. ‘I suppose the biggest factor was that there was a place for me in the team and Graham was so good at explaining what it was he wanted you to do.’
Watford had got out of the block very fast. Ronny Rosenthal had starred in a 4-1 win against Blackpool the previous weekend to stretch their lead at the top to eight points. The Hornets were brimming with confidence when they travelled to Roots Hall to face struggling Southend.
Kennedy scored all three goals. The first was a fantastic shot with his weaker right foot, the second was a free-kick that curled over and around the wall and hit the net with neat precision. For the third he cut inside the defender and hit the shot across him so the keeper had little time to deal with it.
‘I hadn’t even scored a goal in the league before I joined Watford. Now I was scoring a hat-trick. It’s an old cliché, but the team was more important than individual performances. But I look back on that game with real pride,’ he says. ‘I still have the ball at home and I look at it every now and then. To be part of such a good team and to score all three goals... You don’t really appreciate at the time how good that is.’
Watford Chamberlain, Gibbs, Kennedy, Page, Millen, Mooney, Noel-Williams (Thomas 67), Palmer, Lee, Johnson, Rosenthal
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Kennedy 13, 36, 67
Why was this match chosen? After a good start, Watford clicked into gear in the autumn and started dominating sides as they made the early running in the Second Division promotion race. This was a virtuoso display by Peter Kennedy, one of the finest examples of Graham Taylor spotting a raw, unfulfilled talent and getting the best out of him.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? A great Tuesday night away game that ticks all the boxes – an early goal, another before half-time, and a third after the break just to make sure. Is there anything more satisfying?