Seven Up! (Volume 5)
David Harrison remembers the wonderful Southampton League Cup ties 1980
I remember it clearly. Luther thrashed a loose ball into the roof of the net at the old Den and we were through to Round 2 of the League Cup. It was a hell of a goal, but with it being Millwall, despite the fact there was almost nobody there, we knew to show no reaction. Lips were bitten, hands plunged deep into pockets and agreement reached to not even talk about it until safely back in the car, headed out of SE14 and on the way back to God’s Country. We’d beaten the Lions 2-1 at The Vic in the first leg, but Luther’s goal, and another by Steve Sims, clinched our passage into the next round.
The reward was a two-leg tie against First Division glamour club Southampton. Fresh from a top-half league finish, the Saints were expected to mount a serious title challenge and had opened the season like a house on fire. Their first five league games realised four wins and a draw. Their squad read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of international football, although a few of the bigger names were past their best. Chris Nicholl, Ivan Golac, Dave Watson, Alan Ball, Charlie George, Kevin Keegan and Mick Channon were all on the books, with only the 35-year-old Ball not featuring in the first leg.
Watford meanwhile were in a state of flux. League safety had been secured late the previous season, confirmed by a pair of 4-0 home wins, over Fulham and Burnley, bookending a chastening 5-0 defeat at promoted Sunderland, when the old Roker Park stands literally shook. Jackett, Callaghan and Terry had been eased into the side, but only the first of those had become a regular.
League form at the start of 80/81 was patchy. We were generally decent at home, but failed to win an away league game until February. At Chelsea, amusingly, to save you looking. So fresh from away defeats at Luton (there’s a surprise) and Cambridge, we travelled south more in hope than expectation, while nevertheless looking to create a favourable impression as GT began his fourth season with the club. The outcome, however, was considerably worse than we’d feared. We had a moderate pint in a forgettable pub on Southampton Common and strolled down to the ground on a balmy August evening. That was very definitely as good as it got.
We were comprehensively outplayed, from start to finish. The ghastly surroundings (only those voluntarily sentenced to a spell of confinement in the Archers Road End cage at The Dell will understand) merely added to the misery of what became a progressively more dismal evening.
It seemed little consolation at the time, but we were incredibly fortunate to escape with just a 4-0 defeat. Two goals in each half, a pair from both Charlie George and crowd favourite Nick Holmes, comprehensively did for GT’s side. If Poskett and Blissett posed any sort of attacking threat at any stage, the memory escapes me. Graham was embarrassed by his team and incandescent with rage. ‘I considered our display inept and awful. We let down ourselves and our supporters.’ He continued, in similar vein, for quite some time.
We sheepishly went home and somehow edged past Bristol City, with a single Martin Patching goal, at the weekend. There were 10,450 in the ground and I recall the atmosphere being flat as the proverbial pancake. The second leg of the Saints tie, three days later, was barely mentioned. It was viewed as an impediment to be removed, prior to another big league game at Shrewsbury on the Saturday.
It never crossed my mind not to attend Tuesday’s second leg, but it would be fair to say the prospect didn’t fill me with fevered anticipation. I had a work meeting in Cheltenham on the Wednesday morning that required thought and some preparation, but nevertheless by kick-off time I was duly propped up against my customary Vicarage Road End leaner. Remarkably almost 16,000 turned up, presumably many of them keen to get a glimpse of some high-profile international performers.
Saints made two changes from the previous week, leaving Golac and Keegan back in Hampshire. No doubt, as things transpired, to their considerable relief. Watford, giving an early opportunity for an outing to GT’s enduring mantra, ‘You got us into this mess, you get us out of it,’ were unchanged. (Out of respect to The Great Man, I’ve omitted at least two words from that pre-match motivational speech. Probably more).
Graham’s programme notes made reference to ‘an impossible task,’ while looking for a win that would at least provide the players an opportunity to redeem themselves. ‘Whatever tonight’s result, I expect all Watford players to walk off the pitch and be able to look people in the eye.’
What followed was the most extraordinary game I’d ever seen. 39 years later that description still holds good. I don’t anticipate the situation changing. If you want a proper match report I should use your internet search skills to find a measured one, doing justice to a ridiculous evening. In summary though, Malcolm Poskett and Ray Train scored first half Rookery End goals to bring significant pride back to Taylor’s side.
When Martin Patching scored midway through the second half, against a team by then in complete disarray, the impossible briefly seemed possible. But with barely 15 minutes left, a visibly distraught Steve Sims deflected a wayward shot past Eric Steele and the Saints appeared to have got out of prison. Only they hadn’t. Almost immediately Big Ross was fouled in the box and Ian Bolton fired the resultant penalty past the hapless Katalinic. Could they? Well yes, actually. They could. Jenkins, wide on the right and from what looked a ridiculous angle, drove a firm shot past the Yugoslavian keeper to bring the aggregate scores level. At 5-5!
During the break before extra time, 17-year-old Nigel Callaghan replaced the injured Ray Train and, in keeping with the general madness of the evening, scored almost immediately. A corner was only half cleared and Nigel, loitering on the edge of the box, just smashed it into the roof of the net. The place went properly bonkers.
That was about it for me, I was done in. When Poskett dribbled round the keeper and made it 7-1, grown men were… well, doing whatever grown men are supposed to do in that situation. I was afflicted by some sort of eye infection and consequently watched the last few minutes through a pathetic watery haze.
The story is told of how when those huge sliding wooden gates, at the back of the Vic Road End, were opened to allow early escape for those wanting to beat the traffic, nobody left and hundreds poured into the ground. That could well be true, but to check would have involved turning away from the game and nobody was about to do that.
That was it really. When the whistle blew, small groups of bewildered fans gathered in stunned disbelief, reluctant to leave the scene. I know other members of the ‘Treasury’ group were adjacent, but everyone was temporarily lost in their own little Hornet world.
As we stood in Vicarage Road, probably 20 minutes later, I was struck by the most terrible thought. Is there any point coming to another game? Because we’ll never see anything like that, ever again. And to be honest, we haven’t. But we have witnessed some other, fairly remarkable, events over the intervening 39 years, so that all turned out OK.
What happened next? Well we went to Shrewsbury on the Saturday, were hopeless and lost 2-1. Graham wanted to avoid Cally getting big-headed, so selected him and then, brilliantly, dropped him half an hour before kick-off.
We enjoyed a good run in the League Cup, winning away at Sheffield Wednesday before welcoming Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest to Vicarage Road in the 4th Round. Over 22,000 saw the European Cup holders dumped out 4-1 on a filthy Watford night. Coventry ended the run after a replay, but GT’s promotion side was starting to take shape.
The club’s merchandising people produced thousands of yellow pens, decorated with ‘Watford 7 Southampton 1’ in black on the casing. Cleverly, these were handed out, free of charge, at the next home game. I won’t be alone amongst ‘Treasury’ readers in having kept mine. The ever-affable Saints manager Lawrie McMenemy was subsequently forced to appeal to Watford supporters to please stop sending him pens.
Oh, and having eventually stumbled into bed, I got up shortly afterwards and drove to Cheltenham, totally unable to comprehend what I’d seen. I addressed a group of earnest young marketing professionals, contributing fully to a stimulating debate on product development, despite having not the vaguest idea what I was talking about.
This article is taken from Volume 5 of The Watford Treasury. To purchase please click on the link below