Sunday 13 November 2011

Win at all costs...

When I was about eight years old, I went to watch a celebrity cricket match near Southampton with the family of my best school mate of the time.
It was the mid 1970s, and there were lots of famous TV faces of the time there, but I only wanted to meet one of them.
He wasn't playing, but he had crowds flocked around him, so my mate Simon and I pushed through them, and got to the front, and asked to have our photo taken.
We sat down, and he turned to me, and asked me what football team I support. "Watford," I replied. "It's where I live."
He looked at me, grinned that smile I had seen a thousand times on the TV, laughed his head off, lifted his famous glasses up, and said "I'm not talking to you then," as he opened his jacket to reveal a large Luton Town rosette.
That man was Eric Morecambe, and as you can see from the above, I have never forgotten that moment.
I also have an aunt, uncle and two cousins who live with 10 miles of the place, and my uncle turned up at my 21st birthday party with a rosette on. I still haven't properly forgiven him now.
That is a small insight into a rivalry which I have carried with me for the majority of my 45 years, and is the reason why I am so desperate for the Rubies to do the business at the Kennel on December 3 (or 4).
I don't think I have ever wanted us to win a game more than this one.
After our brilliant win yesterday, I sat down for the draw with a list in my head of teams I didn't want to play - Carlisle, Southend, Preston, the Sheffield clubs, Charlton - and some teams I did - mainly the non-League sides like Sutton, Salisbury, Hinckley/Tamworth, Redbridge/Oxford, Totton and the like.
That's because getting into that third round draw is the most important thing.
But when I saw Luton come out, I then really wanted it to be number 17 which followed, as I can think of no team I would rather beat to take us into round three, and our inevitable trip to Old Trafford.
It's not an easy draw, but neither is it a terribly difficult one.
Yes, they beat Northampton on Saturday, but we have won there and with our record on the road we have nothing to fear by going there.
The only bad part about it is that we have to go the Kennel, arguably the worst ground in the top five levels of English football.
I haven't been there since I saw Ron Futcher score a hat-trick on his debut against Wolves at Christmas 1975, and to be honest, the thought of going there turns my stomach.
I have never seen Cheltenham play there, and all my Watford-Luton games have been at Vicarage Road.
They are intense affairs, and there is true hatred between the fans of the two clubs, much more than people think.
The rivalry was at its' heyday in the mid 80s when the two sides were in the top flight. Watford had Luther Blissett, John Barnes, Mo Johnston, Kenny Jackett and co; Luton had the likes of Brian Stein, Paul Walsh, Ricky Hill and Mal Donaghy.
The highlight of those games was an FA Cup third round game in January 1984, where Watford came back from two down at the Kennel to draw and won the replay 4-3 after extra time back at the Vic. The Golden Boys went on to reach Wembley that year. Heady days.
Luton later won the League Cup which they never shut up about, but the British clubs' ban of the time meant they didn't play in Europe, which, let's face it, is a good thing. Watford have done, and that rankles with the Beds lot, so we never shut up about it.
Basically, they have always had ideas above their station.
Having got caught fiddling the books the other year, they are down where they belong in non-League, and after thinking it would be a cakewalk to get back up again, they haven't managed it.
Let's hope it takes them a few more seasons yet.
But I mustn't get too vitriolic about things. It's a very winnable game for us, and that's the main thing, getting into that third round draw.
Their squad includes our former loanee and Gloucester City fan Stuart Fleetwood (suspended on Saturday); our old youth teamer James Dance and an ex-Watford player in Jamie Hand - one of very few players who have played for both clubs over the years. Their chairman is Nick Owen, which is another reason to dislike them, quite frankly.
I have just one message for Mark Yates and the squad. If you only win one more game this season, make it this one. Please. I don't care how you do it, just beat them.

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