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So what if Luton were ravaged by injuries and had to call up understudies from the reserve team. All is fair in love and local derbies.
Apart from an Anglo-Italian Cup win over the Hatters in 1993, it had been ten years, five months and thirteen days since Watford had got the better of their rivals in a league game.

With Luton currently enjoying a spell in non-league obscurity (as they were at the time the book was published), they are no more relevant to the Hornets now than St Albans City or Chesham United, and it is easy to forget how much these fixtures used to mean.

The frustration that had built over a decade was becoming unbearable. Luton seemed to hold some kind of hex over Watford.

Both clubs had endured a frustrating season in the Second Division after being relegated together in 1996. Luton lost in the play-offs, Watford stalled in mid-table. The pressure was now on both clubs to win promotion.

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Graham Taylor had been convinced to return as team manager after a year spent upstairs overseeing Kenny Jackett. Taylor’s first priority was to get the Hornets out of the Second Division.

He dramatically reshaped the team. There were several new signings, such as Micah Hyde, Peter Kennedy, Jason Lee and Ronnie Rosenthal. And he wanted the team to play a fluid, attacking style with three central defenders and wing backs who looked to get forward at every opportunity.

Tommy Mooney, a forward, was asked to play as a central defender with Robert Page and Keith Millen.

‘We played Arsenal in a testimonial match for Les Simmons at the end of the previous season and Graham threw it at me then,’ says Mooney. ‘He asked me just before the game to play at the back and I thought he was joking. He said it was something he wanted to look at for the next season.

‘I was playing up against Thierry Henry and I must have done okay because when we came back for pre-season he had decided we were going to play with three at the back.’

Watford started the season strongly and were already top of the table by the time the trip to Kenilworth Road came round. In the days leading up to the game, the players were under no illusion about how much it meant to the supporters to beat Luton.

‘I knew what it was all about,’ says Mooney. ‘I’d played in a few derby defeats, including one when I was up front with Jamie Moralee – which wound me up because he wasn’t the easiest to play alongside.

‘Jamie was the opposite of me, really. He didn’t care whether we won or lost and that drove me mad. Losing didn’t hurt him the way it hurt me.

‘I’d seen how hard the fans took it when we’d lost 4-2 to Luton at home.’

Alec Chamberlain had spent five happy years at Kenilworth Road and when he first joined Watford he wondered if he’d be accepted.

Now he was concerned about what sort of reception he’d get on his return.

‘I’d been back with Sunderland and we’d been beaten,’ he says. ‘I was now playing for the enemy but I got a nice reception when we first went out.’

Peter Kennedy says: ‘I knew the game was important but it wasn’t until I got to the ground and saw the tight pitch and felt the atmosphere that I realised what it meant to people.

‘It’s the only derby I’ve played in that had that intensity.’

In their red and black stripes, Watford looked like Milan and played like them too. They attacked relentlessly, barely allowing Luton a chance to breathe.

After five minutes Richard Johnson blasted the first goal. After 19 minutes, Dai Thomas doubled the lead, finishing from close range at the second attempt.Watford’s supporters, packed into the decrepit Oak Road end, could barely contain their glee.

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The untamed centre forward Thomas, who was as much of a handful off the pitch as he was on it, took his shirt off and ran the whole length of the pitch in celebration.

Taylor was irritated and rebuked the Welshman afterwards. He didn’t want his players to pour oil on the flames. The atmosphere among the home fans was already turning sour.

Kennedy then hit Luton with a left and a right. The cheers had barely died down following his first goal when he struck his second.

‘I don’t think I’d ever scored with my right foot.’ says the Northern Irishman, who had a sweet left foot but who joked that his right was for little more than balancing on.

‘After my second I ran all the way down the whole length of the pitch to celebrate with the Watford fans,’ he says. ‘I don’t know why I did that. It was the sort of thing Graham hated. He didn’t want his players overdoing it or rubbing it in. I looked across at the bench and thought he was going to kill me.’

With less than half an hour on the clock, Luton were down and out. Ten years of bitter frustration erased in 29 dazzling minutes.

While the travelling fans danced and sang, the Luton supporters turned on their team and their manager, Lennie Lawrence. The atmosphere on three sides of the ground was ugly.

At half-time, the anger spilled over and there were scuffles in the corner as some Luton fans tried to make their way to the away enclosure to wipe the smiles off the Watford supporters’ faces.

A couple of idiots tried to climb into Lawrence’s dug-out and police horses were brought into the stadium in an attempt to calm things down.

In the dressing room, Taylor had to give one of his more challenging team talks. The game was over but he didn’t want his team to take their foot off the gas. But nor did he want the situation to boil over.

Kennedy recalls the manager saying jokingly: ‘Don’t score again because it’s going to go bonkers.’ But Mooney’s memory is of Taylor telling his men to go out and score another four.

Steve Palmer says: ‘Graham said it was a test for us. The game was won, so what were we going to do? The task was to keep control of the game.’

When they went out for the second half, Chamberlain became aware that he would have to run towards the end of the ground where the Luton supporters sat. ‘They could quite easily have given me a lot of abuse,’ he says.

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‘But they were great. Watford’s fans might not want to hear that but they were very nice to me and I really appreciated that because it must’ve been horrible for them, 4-0 down at home to their bitterest rivals.’

The second half was a non-event on the pitch but the party continued at the Oak Road end. ‘Ten years, but it was worth the wait,’ rang out as the Hornets fans sang loud and proud, although anyone who says they weren’t a little concerned about running the gauntlet back to the coach or car afterwards is probably lying.

So what if Luton were in utter disarray? So what if it was completely one-sided for the first 45 minutes and no contest for the second? So what if the result didn’t clinch promotion or knock them out of a cup?

It was the biggest win over Luton in the club’s history. A mauling, a massacre a day to make the faces of Hatters everywhere flush red with embarrassment. And it was very, very good fun.

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