Twelve years, and worth the wait
Report by Robert Alexander
Towards the end of the 1982/83 season Watford, who were enjoying an almost surreal position in second place behind Liverpool in Division One, still had one hurdle to overcome - the age old problem of beating our near neighbours, and rivals Luton Town.
Not since a rather nasty cold Saturday in November 1971 had Hornets fans had a famous if disputed victory over Luton to talk about, since that meeting (during our disastrous last season in Division Two before the glory days) we had met on seven previous occasions, and Luton had always walked off with the points - ALL of them (bar two)!
So, it's April 1983, it's Easter Monday (not one of our traditionally favourite times of the season) and Watford are amazingly second in Division One, ONLY Liverpool stand between us and the unimaginable heights of League Champions....
Luton, on the other hand were just one point away from a very quick drop back into Division Two, and David Pleat was just a few weeks away from his galloping moment of glory at Manchester City on the last day of the season - as they pulled a real rabbit out of the Hat.
The day itself was sunny and quite warm and not surprisingly over twenty thousand fans crowded into Vicarage Road full of anticipation - I well remember thinking, as I waited in the queue outside to get in, that if we were EVER due a win over Luton then TODAY would be the day, after all wasn't this the Watford team that had humiliated Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, Southampton, Coventry and that was just the AWAY wins!
The game got under way, and as I recall it was as frantic a first half of a derby game as I think I've ever seen at Watford, this was in itself unusual as Watford's style that season had been the epitomy of class, we had scared most of the other First Division teams half to death with the speed of our play - the 'long ball game' as the papers liked to put it.
The Luton game was different, this was a real scrap in the first half - Luton looked like a team at the top of the league rather than one fighting for survival at the bottom end of the table, Watford on the other hand seemed to be completely overawed by the occasion - I think our team had become blasé about beating Luton - as if they actually expected to win the game easily.
The goals, when they came, were thick and fast - and at half time the score was 2-2. Luther had been in the right place at the right time (as usual) to tap in a rebound from a fierce Nigel Callaghan shot that no goalkeeper would have held. Luton had piled on pressure and were rewarded twice and could easily have had more at half time, had it not been for Sherwood, Rice, Rostron and Taylor who were in a real fighting mood.
Our second goal was very much against the run of play, Luton were 2-1 up at the time and most Watford fans, me included, were wondering if we were ever going to get into the game....
Sherwood hoofed one of his huge kicks up field, the defence missed it and it fell to Barnes who ran to the corner touchline as only he can, and crossed to the centre for Jan Lohman to lay it back into the path of a young Richard Jobson, who just blasted it goalwards - the ball took a wicked deflection past the helpless goalkeeper and into the net - honours even at the break.
The second half of the game was one of the classic cliches of football, Watford were a different team when they came out from the break. Actually Watford were much more like the team that had played for the rest of the season up to that point - not including the first half of this match!
The pressure which our attack put on the Luton defence had to tell eventually, and tell it did - the ball was passed from player to player in a sweeping move down the right hand side of the touchline eventually ending up at the feet of Rostron who, in the penalty area, almost at the goal line, was hacked down by Ricky Hill (one of the clumsiest players I have ever seen in a Luton shirt) - the ref pointed to the spot.
Luther walked backwards away from the stationary ball, turned and then belted the thing so hard that it nearly broke the back of the goalnet. Watford 3 Luton 2. Much joy on the terraces.
And then it happened, just 41 seconds later we had scored again. From the kick off Luton were immediately under attack, they almost conceded another goal even quicker than the one we did score.
From a goal kick, and after a couple of touches, the ball fell at the feet of Lohman, who passed down the left hand wing towards Luther who was running goalward being shadowed by Mal Donaghy. The ball bounced past Luther and was kicked, by Donaghy, in an attempt to pass it back to the keeper - but he hadn't bargained for John Barnes who was right behind him. Barnsey stuck out a boot and the ball spiralled up into the air and fell into the goal over the reeling, falling Tony Godden. Watford 4 Luton 2. Serious rapture on the terraces.
And yet there was more....
Towards the last minutes of the game, with Tony Godden somehow injured so that he was unable to take goalkicks, the ball was passed up field by Kirk Stephens to an awaiting Watford attack. The ball fell to Luther who again carved huge holes in the Luton defence by running to the goal line and crossing back (much as John Barnes did, and still does today). The ball scooted across the goal area missing everyone except Nigel Callaghan who was standing three feet from the goal, and he just tapped the ball into an empty net. Watford 5 Luton 2. Major celebrations planned for that evening.
The whistle went, the game was won. We had waited for nearly twelve years for this moment, but when it came it did so in style, a style that summed up the Watford team that season, one I will never forget.
I still have my ticket stub from the game, I keep it as a souvenir and bring it out from time to time to embarrass a couple of my friends who, in their dementure, support Luton. It's not often we have much to crow about at their expense, so I think we can be forgiven for treasuring the odd 5-2 win, yes?