Nationwide League Division 2, 4/10/97*****
Luton Town 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain, Gibbs, Kennedy, Page, Millen, Mooney, Slater, Palmer, Thomas, Johnson, Rosenthal
Subs: Easton, Robinson, Noel-Williams (for Rosenthal)
Scorers: Johnson (5), Thomas (19), Kennedy (27, 29)
Report by Chris Lawton
For those of you out there who have followed Watford for many a decade,
the importance of this result cannot be understated. Ten long, miserable
years of largely incompetent football, two relegations and no victory
against Luton. How the heroes of yesteryear must have turned in their
graves at the state of affairs.
Still, the start to the season had been promising. GT back in charge and
some creative talent on the pitch, combined with a bit of good old
fashioned grit and determination. Many fans made their way to the mecca
of sporting impoverishment that is Kenilworth Road for this crucial
fixture. Many fans secretly, and some more openly, just for once rating
our chances of actually gaining a victory.
The tension built on a warm autumnal afternoon. Light hearted banter and
chanting between the fans created an excellent atmosphere for the
gladiators to enter. A touch dramatic ? Maybe, but to many Watford fans
that is what this game had come to represent - an almighty struggle
against the foes from Bedfordshire.
For a social anthropologist, the next twenty minutes would have provided a
lifetime of information on the vast complex range of emotions that football provokes.
In that short time span the eleven good men and true caused complete
carnage. A rampant forward line savaged a Luton defence that would not
have looked out of place in a local school side. Johnson, Thomas and
Kennedy twice scoring four goals that stunned Luton and sent Watford fans
into mass celebration.
In a twinkling of an eye, the past ten years was forgotten, consigned to the
history books as meaningless statistics on a page. All of a sudden what
mattered was Luton on an October afternoon and a mighty Watford team.
Were it not for the risk of a riot, it would have been more - a blatant
penalty turned down could have made it five before the half was over. Some wise
words from the manager at half time called for containment and safety in
the second half but no one cared - the damage had long been done.
It may not have been the best eleven players who have turned out for Watford,
it may not have been the best ever performance but some things can be
said - on that afternoon those eleven players did as much for Watford fans as
in any other match in the history of the club. It was an afternoon of sheer
madness which had been a long time coming. It planted in the fans the
deep belief that this team was going up and that GT was back, as good and
as tactically sharp as ever.
The best game
Report by Tim Pseudonym
It is with much trepidation that I write this opening. And I know that, in the unlikely (due to me not sending it) event of anyone reading this, I will have spent longer deliberating over whether to hit the 'post' button than I will have done writing the entire report. The reason for this apprehension? Quite simply the thought that people who do read this opening will know that it has been written for consumption by others and will therefore, as a result of human nature, do so with a critical eye.
The report that follows this opening, however, is different and I do not for one minute worry about how my literary skills are perceived. The reason for this non-apprehension? Because this opening comes from the head whereas the report that follows comes from the heart. The report below was written on 5th October 1997 purely for my own purposes because I wanted to write down how I felt at the time. I could then read it in years to come when memories of the great day had faded and hopefully rekindle some of the feelings. Whether it works or not remains to be seen.
I have read through the report several times and thought of making some minor changes but that would only detract from the reason it was written in the first place. This report therefore is purely my reaction to one of those occasions that comes along once in a lifetime and I hope you bear this in mind when reading it. If you enjoy it as well, then that's a bonus.
Luton Town 0-4 Watford, 4th October 1997
If I am ever asked the question, "what was the best Watford game you've ever seen?", there will be several matches come to mind. Sunderland 8-0, Tottenham 1-0, Kaiserslautern 3-0, Tottenham 5-1, Man United 5-1, Arsenal 4-2.
But above all of them will come a victory over a side one off the bottom of the second division. A victory against a side without a large majority of their first team available. So why should this game be better than victories in Europe, be better than wins against the two north London giants in their own back yards, be better than annihilating some of the best teams in the country? Simple. Because this meant so much more.
Almost without exception, the aforementioned games came at a time when winning was comparitively easy, when Watford's fairy story was at its peak and when victories of the like I have mentioned were reasonably commonplace. In truth we were spoiled. But this one, on the 4th October 1997, we had to wait for, and wait for a bloody long time.
To beat your local rivals is one thing. To beat them at their excuse for a ground is another. But to go there, after a period of ten years without any win against them at home or away, and make them look completely inept is one of the greatest memories I will ever have.
For so long against this lot we have either not competed, not wanted to compete or, on occasions, completely capitulated that I thought that I would never see us win at Kenilworth Road. That is why it means so much.
The 2,026 Watford fans fortunate enough to be there sang "ten years and it's worth the wait" and by god was it, yet I approached this game with only slightly less caution than in previous years, mainly due to the reasons above. Only a couple of minutes had passed of this game when I found myself shouting "be first to the ball", something we had rarely done in previous games against this lot.
But after four minutes the unthinkable happened. The build up is still just a blur but the one thing shining like a beacon in my memory is Richard Johnson drilling the ball with his left foot through a crowd of players and the ball hitting the back of the net. Cue stupid behaviour, jumping up and down and removal of all possible noise from lungs. This was it. This was the moment I had dreamed of. We had taken the lead at Kenilworth Road.
I've read reports that say the loudest cheer was either the second, third or fourth goal. Not from me. From me it was the first. Once I looked at the referee and saw him signal the goal it was as if a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. As if a curse had been exorcised. We'd taken the lead. This game was different to all those others. All those others when frustration, despair, anger, hurt and pain had been the norm.
It took several minutes for me to return to earth and realise that we could still actually lose this game but those fears disappeared after a further quarter hour when Dai Thomas smashed home the second. No way back now you scumbags, watch and weep. After one of the goals, I can't remember which one but I think it was the second, I shouted "now rub their noses in it" and rub them in it we did with a further two goals from Peter Kennedy before the half hour mark.
Without wishing to discredit two fine finishes from PK, the third and fourth were irrelevant. In my mind the first, and to a lesser degree the second, were the goals that signalled the difference between this game and all those others that so many of us have endured. No way back. This victory was ours.
Three regrets though. One, that we didn't score another four in the second half. Two, that I didn't wear my shirt to the game and three, that we weren't on a terrace which enabled the sort of 'bundle' that followed Gary Penrice's equaliser at Bramhall Lane.
Thanks Watford, I'll remember this one forever.
See also: BSaD match reports