4-0 The First Time
Pete Remnant of You ‘Orns TV and Do Not Scratch Your Eyes remembers the M1 derby in the nineties and one game in particular...
Twenty-five years ago, three friends and I sat in a pub in Croxley Green having returned from a derby match at Kenilworth Road. We were stunned and kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads, still unable to take in what had just happened.
For context, in the nineties the relationship with Luton was in one of its most intense periods. We could not get a win over them. Neither team was ripping up trees in any division and so, operating on the same level, for several seasons the M1 derby – both home and away – became the focal point of each season.
We did the double over them in 1986-87 but thereafter, except for a 2-1 home win in the Anglo-Italian Cup, we had failed to beat them. A draw at Vicarage Road and defeat (3 times) or draw (3 times) away was the norm. Two defeats punctuated the home pattern, the second in September 1994 when Luton came to Vicarage Road and Watford went a goal up through the unlikely and unfortunate figure of Jamie Moralee, whose Watford career will be filed in the same place as Trevor Senior, Nathan Ellington and Andre Gray as an expensive mistake.
Whilst those inside dared to hope, Luton were shocked into action and played us off the park, winning 4-2. Like most Watford fans, I took the mature approach, realising that football is just a game and sulking for about a month!
The next five derby matches, home and away, were drawn, but finally Watford’s luck was turning following relegation to the third tier (at the same time as Luton). Graham Taylor had returned to the club, and after a season of taking stock was once again at the helm of the first team.
We travelled away to Luton, and they had a lot of injuries. However, up front they still had Phil Gray and Tony Thorpe who were, allegiances aside, a competent strike force at that level.
Luton played in white with blue shorts and Watford donned one of their finest away kits – the red and black striped shirt with white shorts and socks, designed to mimic the great AC Milan side of those days.
Whatever the inspiration for the kit, we played superbly and were rewarded with an early goal as Ronny Rosenthal fed Richard Johnson on the edge of the box to shoot with his ‘weaker’ left foot to make it 1-0 and start the nerves jangling in the home supporters’ end.
The often-forgotten Dai Thomas had started, and the highlight of his Watford career came when a panicking defender was put off by the Welshman shouting “Keeper’s!” The defender let the ball run through and Thomas messily scuffed the ball home to make it 2-0 on 14 minutes. The murmurings from the home end started to turn to distinct shouts of disapproval.
On 27 minutes a cross from Tommy Mooney pinballed around the box before falling to Northern Irishman Peter Kennedy to fire home into the bottom-left corner. The away end was in raptures while the home end was livid, and angry comments were starting to pour down on manager Lennie Lawrence in the home dugout.
Two minutes later the rout was complete. A misplaced Luton pass out of defence was picked up again by Kennedy, who drove at the same panicking defender, shaping to shoot but instead feinting the ball onto his less-favoured right foot, yet powering it into the bottom-right corner of the net. Delirium in the away end and explosions of fury and disbelief in the home end – and not 30 minutes yet played! Peter Kennedy understandably ran to the away end to celebrate, arms aloft.
Watford were dominant and seemed to be winning every second ball. Ronny Rosenthal was sent through on goal and was brought down by Alan White, but no penalty was awarded despite the most blatant of fouls.
In fairness, the ref was trying to avoid a series of explosions from the home end, but in the days of VAR Luton would have likely been five goals and a man down with 50 minutes left to play.
The atmosphere was now completely toxic and simply waiting to explode. Police were stood around the dugouts when the half-time whistle sounded. We enjoyed a wonderful interval watching apoplectic Luton fans struggle with the reality of the situation and the fact that we were there to witness and revel in it.
Stories of the half-time break inside the dressing room tend to differ. Some say that Graham Taylor told the team to ease off for fear of a riot occurring, endangering the result and the points, others say that the message was to do what needed to be done to simply ensure that Luton could find no way back into the game. All reports confirm that both GT and Kenny Jackett were overjoyed as to how well the team had played.
The second half was played out, with Kennedy going close and Luton managing a few wayward efforts from distance, but was really all about the away fans goading the home fans with the scoreline.
The recent win at Vicarage Road equalled this result, of course. These two games, results, and performances connect to one another across a quarter of a century without fear of one eclipsing the other – two great days to be a Watford rather than a Luton fan.
Back in 1997 we ordered another pint and just kept grinning at one another. In 2022 it is pretty much the same. You can view the 1997 version via the QR code on this page.
Fingers crossed for April! COYH!