The ‘fiercest local rivalry in English football'

By this time last season it was becoming increasingly obvious to even the most biased Watford fan that their arch rivals, Luton Town would be in the Championship this season.

Talented Hatters manager, Mick Newell had fashioned an excellent side that was storming to the Coca Cola League One title thanks in no small part to the goals of Steve Howard and the midfield promptings of captain, Kevin Nicholls.

All the Golden Boys had to do was maintain their Championship status, achieved just in the nick of time courtesy of new messiah, Aidy Boothroyd, and it was ‘game on' as they say. Or should that be game back on!

You see the sides separated by less than twenty M1 miles had not actually contested a league fixture since the 1997/98 season, when they shared two goals in a Valentine's Day draw at Vicarage Road, prior to the clash on January 2 2006, when first half strikes by Darius Henderson and Malky Mackay secured Watford a narrow 2-1 win at Kenilworth Road.

A glance into the deep past reveals the sides met regularly in the Southern and Football Leagues from 1900 to 1937, but a Luton Town promotion meant they did not lock horns in a league match again for nearly 30 years.

However, a rivalry, which has been described by Four Four Two magazine as the fiercest local rivalry in English football, really started to gather momentum in the 1960's and 1970's when both teams started to clash on a more regular basis. With passions running extremely high in those heady but at times fractious days of orchestrated hooligans, a fierce hatred for one another was born, which has grown and unfortunately festered over the intervening years.

By the 1981/82 season the rivalry was at its most intense.

The Golden Boys had an excellent side that would end up finishing second and promoted, but not before they were trounced by Luton Town (4-1) in an early season encounter at Kenilworth Road, one of 25 victories that season for the Hatters as they raced to the title.

Once in English football's elite the sides traded victories, although it is worth noting that Watford has not been able to defeat their local rivals at Vicarage Road since Tuesday 21 April 1987. Boothroyd and Boys take note, it would be nice if this trend was reversed on Sunday please!

Ultimately, the finances of both clubs at the time dictated a return to whence they came, and by 1996 the gloom had transcended ever further as both were relegated from the new Division One (Level 2).

Demotion always hits clubs hard and it took Watford two years to recover and Luton Town a much longer nine, before the Hatters' elevation last May meant rivalry could be renewed in earnest.

There had been one cup clash during the barren years, a never to be forgotten and hopefully never repeated League Cup clash at Vicarage Road during the 2002/2003 campaign.

The match itself, which incidentally was won by Luton Town thanks in no small part by a goal from now Golden Boy Matthew Spring, will be better remembered for ugly scenes involving 50 so called Luton Town ‘supporters' who hurdled the advertising boards and entered onto the pitch, only to be met by rival home fans. Predictably, violent scenes followed, and riot police had to be called to restore order.

One can only hope that common sense amongst supporters will prevail this time around and everyone can take their seats and watch a contest that promises much.

The greater emphasis lies with the hosts as they attempt to get their automatic promotion bandwagon back on track after successive defeats, while for the visitors, victory would avenge the defeat earlier in the season and consolidate what has been a pretty good year following promotion eleven months ago.