What makes an ordinary chap like me hate another club?
Is hate the right word? Of course not. Is it just intense dislike? Is my distaste for Watford greater than say a Burnley fans is for Blackburn? How do you gauge it? Can you gauge it?
Im going to attempt to examine some of the nature of our rivalry. Bear with me.
First of all what is rivalry? Some clubs have sort a of friendly rivalry the sort where old boys at the club might joke ho ho, were up against our old rivals such and such next week and that is that. The sort of Oxford vs Cambridge boat race rivalry or rugby club rivalry.
Some clubs have a more fierce rivalry where the sets of fans are dead against one another but that is that. I would consider rivalries like Liverpool/Everton to be in this category. Ive spent too many FA Cup final days watching grinning scousers with their arms around each other dressed in opposing shirts to be convinced that it is anything more than Tarby-esque friendly rivalry. Similarly, any city where you can legitimately walk around the city centre in either clubs shirt without let or hindrance must fall into this category.
There is a further sort of rivalry, an intense and focussed loathing where there is always an undercurrent of detestation and violence. I guess I would put ours in this category. Rightly or wrongly. Others in this category would certainly be the Celtic/Rangers one, Burnley/Blackburn, Saints/Pompey, Darlo/Hartlepool, Villa/Birmingham and Millwall/West Ham to name but a few. Of course all fans think their rivalry is the most intense.
Now I could leave it at this. But I guess all supporters will fit into a spectrum of antipathy to their nominal rivals. The degree of club rivalry and hatred is an intangible, subjective and relative thing.
How do we measure it? I dont think we can. The only figures we might use are the number of arrests per local match, or the number of police deployed or the extent teams go to avoid playing the game at 3pm on a Saturday. Documentary evidence is few and far between. I recall Simon Barnes in the Times saying that outside the Celtic/Rangers derby ours was the most disgustingly nasty. I also think a football magazine (was it 442?) saying that ours was worse than all but the Old Firm. The football fans survey tried to quantify it a few years ago and there is a link to their results here.
Im going to have a go at quantifying it in my own way though. Please bear with me for a bit longer.
Imagine a scale of rivalry/hatred if you can. I will list a suggested selection of traits from best to worst and I guess all fans would sit somewhere in respect of their local rivals. Some might fit in more than one category, but by the end of the list you will see where I am going. Hopefully.
a. At one end is someone who is not bothered by rivalry in any way and would treat their rivals like any other team. Ill give these a nominal rivalry score of 0. My father would sit in this category. Hes been a Pompey fan since he was a boy and used to watch Jimmy Dickinson from the front of the terrace (like I used to watch Bob Hatton from the front of the Oak Road ah those were the days) but if you say Southampton to him his pulse doesnt even rise a fraction. He cant understand (but doesnt object to) why I cant even speak the W-word.
b. From there perhaps someone who looks forward to a game with their rivals and has a joke about it at work but that is it. They get a score of 1. These first two stages would both fit into the first category I listed in the fourth paragraph the Oxbridge/rugby club sort of rivalry.
c. Next perhaps there are those who like to gently boo whenever their rivals score is mentioned at half time or at the end of game. These will get a score of 2. These first three stages would both fit into the first category I listed in the fourth paragraph the Oxbridge/rugby club sort of rivalry.
d. Another level might be those who might never shout scumat a Watford player but would boo and shout. They get 3.
e. Next, someone who would perhaps join in with a jovial song about the rivals, but not the nasty ones. They get 4. Perhaps fans that fall into ‘d’ and ‘e’ might fall into the second category of fan the friendly rivalry.
f. Along from that there might be another one who would shout scum periodically, they might also join in with the sort of song that you wouldnt sing in front of your wife or mum. Score 5.
g. Along from this perhaps someone who would happily chant scum for 90 minutes . Score 6
h. Along from this you might have someone who would stand up and use the C word throughout the derby game I used to sit in front of one of these they score 7.
i. Along from that you might have a fan who would throw a coin, or shout violent abuse at a player to his face. They get 8.
j. Just along from them you might have fans who seek a meet and greet with the opposition outside or in the ground on the pitch. These get 9.
k. At the far end you will have fans who if they saw a rivals shirt anywhere they might attack them; the rabidly violent. Ill give these a score of 10.
Now I would suggest that the majority of fans would sit between 0 and 3. Most fans might groan and shout a bit or even sing a few songs but wouldnt go to the ends of having F*** Watford tattooed on their forehead. All clubs have people in each category.
However, if you could take each fan and work out the numbers (and thus the score) in each of my categories listed above, all clubs would end up with a final average score for their club. Whatever that might be. For example perhaps Rangers fans might average 4.5 in their attitudes to Celtic, Millwall fans 3.9 in their attitude to West Ham, Luton fans 3.5 etc etc.
The only way to gauge the hatred between clubs would be to get an average score of the reaction of the fan base. Obviously it is impossible to do this. But if we did I am suggesting is that Lutons score concerning Watford would be higher than Liverpools for Everton. Both fans would have their fair share of nutters willing to do the opposition in, but we have a higher average score of antagonism/hostility: a higher proportion of genuine hatred for our rivals than Liverpool have for their local rivals. Call it passion or anger or whatever you like, but I suggest our average score would be higher.
Of course, perhaps Liverpool are a poor example. Whilst Everton fans would list Liverpool as their main rivals, I suspect the majority of Liverpool fans hate Man Utd more. I would certainly suggest that our average score would be higher than Watford’s is for us.
Furthermore I think true rivalry is between two clubs who are each others main rivals. It is strange and bizarre if your anti-love is unrequited. Stockport for example cant stand Burnley, but Burley fans hatred is focussed on Blackburn. Coventry hate Villa, but Villa hate Birmingham. Walsall hate Wolves, but there is no love in Wolverhampton for West Brom. Similarly QPR fans hate Chelsea with a passion but Chelsea fans hate Arsenal, Spurs and Fulham much more.
Next – why Watford? Obviously initially it was the proximity between the two towns the fact that we are linked by the M1. Is it convenience? If Watford never existed would we have Peterborough as rivals or Wycombe Wanderers? Do fans feel as if they should have a rivalry however tenuous the reasons why?
I read that our rivalry was pretty minor before the sixties. The two clubs had hardly ever met and when they did Luton usually had the upper hand. Violence flared towards the end of the decade and I have programmes from the late sixties and seventies where the club secretary urges the fans not to indulge in ugly hooliganism any more. It intensified in the eighties, generally with the rise in football violence but also with the rise of our clubs into the top flight. It remained at high level in the nineties and of course came to its most recent head in 2002 in the League cup where Hertfordshire police, happily chatted and texted each other outside the ground oblivious to what was going on inside.
When discussing our rivalry with Watford some folk (not locals) just shake their head and cant fathom why it is so bad especially as we are 20 miles apart. They chuckle and they take the mickey. First of all I think the people with whom I have had this discussion invariably themselves fall into the Tarby-esque all rivalry is is a bit of friendly banter category so they dont understand anyway. Secondly I think it is the fact that we are 20 miles apart that makes it more intense. If Watford was merely a part of Luton (God forbid) then you could expect to see Watford shirts in the Luton town centre as well as vice versa. We would be more used to each other and thus the tension and antagonism would be reduced. The fact that we are a significant distance apart means that very few fans have much business in the other ones territory and the mutual distrust intensifies behind our own battle lines. I think Newcastle and Sunderland and Derby and Forest are similar to this.
So, why do I ‘hate’ Watford? What is it about them that I dislike so much?
Personally, I think they are a nasty little club, with their modern history based on long-ball football, with managers who think that cheating is acceptable. Generations of misguided kids going through the turnstiles at Vicarage Road would have been deluded into thinking that whacking the ball up the middle is the best way to play, and surely that is a form of cruelty or neglect?
I dont like the town itself much either. I think their fans tend to be arrogant even though they have absolutely nothing to be arrogant about, having never won anything. I also think their fans are good at talking us down, but are very wussy when confronted.
Most of all what annoys me above all else is the fact that they would still be a perpetual League One or Two team, like they always were, were it not for the money that was pumped into the club by the alcoholic, junkie, song-writer whose uncle scored the winner in 1959.
Perhaps this is jealousy? But they have been punching way above their weight since the late 70s and have got above themselves. Traditionally they are a Lincoln City or a Stockport but Eltons riches gave them an ambition not becoming of them. Their progress through the leagues is owed to Graham Taylor, a terrible manager and a subscriber to Charles Hughes methodology, and whose brand of football set the English game back 20 years when the idiots at the FA gave him the national job.
They also have the luck of the devil. They have all of the luck that we never have.
There, Ive got it out of my system. But is my dislike rational? Is it any more or less than the average fan? At least I can back up my dislikes with reasons Im sure some fans (Luton or otherwise) would just hate the opposition for the sake of it. Im a successful family man, with a degree, with a lovely house and good income yet I have an irrational hatred of the club not so far away from where I live. My wife cant understand it. What makes it so? What has turned me into this?
I recall when we were going through our latest bout of administration Watford fans would leave messages of support on the outlaws message board. Part of me was very touched by this, as I could never imagine myself doing this for them. In fact when Watford toyed with administration a couple of weeks ago my wife suggested Luton needed their locals rivals and we would be sad to see them go. I replied that if they went under I would gladly dance on their grave. Which I would. I would see them disappearing as the final victory. Some hope, by the way, whilst Lord Ashcroft and the junkie singer are still around.
When attending a local derby I love the tension, the vitriol and the drama of the occasion. I love the fact that I can stand outside Vicarage Road in my Luton shirt watching the stream of coaches disgorge their contents 50 at a time, the length of Vicarage Road. I love the sight of the Luton hordes being frogmarched from Watford Junction by the police with all of the local shops closed and an alcohol ban as far as Bushey. I also enjoy it as it is the only fixture I ever get to walk to. In 1998 I took the newlywed Mrs Mosque to the Valentines day derby (her first and last ever football match by the way). She enjoyed the banter between the fans especially when the chant 4-0 we beat the scum 4-0 was countered by our 10 years, it only took 10 years. She said, naively, at one point, why are they fighting?
I love being part of the white-clad throng that poses a menace to Watford fans (who think we are all gypsies). I love the fact that Watford dont sell out their end at Kenilworth Road because of the perceived threat from us. And because they are mostly chicken.
I dont feel it is wrong for me to enjoy the edgy atmosphere of the derby especially as I will always contribute to the singing and the chanting. But is it wrong for me to enjoy the tension and anger our fans generate? Is it wrong to enjoy the sense that violence is potentially only a stones throw away (literally)? If it wasnt for the police and stewards it would only take a few chaps to throw a few punches and we would have a riot is this wrong for me to anticipate, to enjoy and to wallow in this climate of anger and fear -especially as I would never become involved in the violence?
After the 2002 game I recall listening to a woman phoning Three Counties Radio complaining that her 5 year old had been crying at the violence he witnessed. I recall thinking how naive and foolish she was to consider that a Luton/Watford game would be appropriate for a young child. I dont take my boys to away games, let alone derbies. Clearly she thought everyone attending the game would or should also score 0 on my scale of rivalry, above.
On my occasional sorties into Watford town centre I happily take a bit of stick walking through the Harlequin centre in my Luton shirt but I would rather like to think that a scummer walking through the Arndale centre would be hounded out of town; but it wouldnt be me doing the hounding I would rather expect someone else higher up the categories I listed to do my bidding for me.
It is a strange one certainly. I always used to enjoy the home and away derbies more than all of the remainder of the games put together. In my mind our season was judged on how we got on against Watford more than our league position. And beating them was always a consolation for dropping down a league. For the most recent home Luton/Watford game in 2006 I made my family get up at sparrow fart so that Mrs Mosque could drive me down from the Lake District where we were on holiday at the time, in time for a few pre-match pints before the noon kick off. Fan is short for fanatic of course. Some would say my attitude is blinkered, immature and foolish, others would say I am just keen: a Luton fundamentalist. I guess, once again, it depends upon where I am on the scale of 0-10 I listed, and where the person judging me is. To a person with a score of 0 to 3 I am over-passionate and take things too seriously, as it is just a game. To others with scores of 6,7,8,9 or 10 they might see my attitude to Watford as that of a girly lightweight.
I actually think that the average Luton fans antipathy to Watford has fallen in the past few years. Our average score, using my scale above, would have decreased. Once upon a time I thought that the majority of Luton fans were fundamentalists and in fact the only way to be a Luton fan was to be totally passionate, but if this were ever true, then I think this has declined in recent years.
Why do I say this? I think we are presently, as a fanbase, bloodied, bruised and shell-shocked after the three relegations and the financial nightmares in the past few years. Because of this our standards have dropped and we have had more important and vital things to worry about than our rivalry. It is for this reason I think that the fanbase didnt wholly object to Paul Furlong, Matthew Spring and Clarke Carlisle coming to our club, however briefly. I know Spring is a special case, especially after the winner in 2002, but as far as I am concerned once you are sullied, you remain sullied. Now there was a time in the past, when we weren’t quite so crisis-torn, when I think that you would have seen demonstrations and bricks thrown in the car park if those players had come to our club; the same spontaneous passion that saw off Lee Power and Roger Terrell.A few years ago, when discussing with a colleague about the Southampton fans apparent tolerance of the recently-appointed Harry Redknapp, I was asked what would happen if Graham Taylor came to Luton. I replied that it couldnt happen because our fans would just tear up the club. Nowadays, Im not so sure.But am I just indulging in a myth? Would it ever have been the case?
Then we go and let Sam Ellis become Blackwells assistant, which turned my stomach and made me hate John Mitchell and co even more than I hated Watford, in the borrowed time they had left at our club.
So back to the nature of rivalry. Is it a contrived thing? Would I find something else to dislike intensely were Watford not to exist? What if football didnt exist – would I find something else to perturb the dark side of my soul? Is my dislike for Watford just a modified step down from those thugs who would gladly meet up with their kindred spirits from Watford? Because of my perceived social standing should I not know better? And does my hatred help to legitimise the behaviour of those more predisposed to violence?
Young men in England have always liked a fight. More so than those in Europe. I dont know why, but it is a fact highlighted and picked up by Jeremy Paxman in his book The English. This never excuses violence, but young men, with their behaviour modified by alcohol, packed full of testosterone, do like a bit of fisticuffs. Just go out to any town centre on a Friday or Saturday night. It is a myth to think it didnt occur in the fifties or in the Victorian era either. It has always happened. For a thousand years. Wrongly maybe, but we cant escape historical evidence. If pub fighting were an Olympic sport, we would get gold medals as a nation. And a proportion of those young men over time became attached to football clubs with their bunker mentality and tribal ethos, with the inherent goading and the warlike chanting on the terraces.
Possibly my dislike of Watford is piggy-backing on this violent history. Perhaps if I was less intelligent, more drunk and much braver it would be me in the frontline wanting to have a fight with them, and for all my long words (and even longer sentences) my dislike for Watford is just a genetically watered-down version of that violence?
Or perhaps my ‘legitimate dislike of the club just down the road is more of an inflamed, expanded version of the cheerful rivalry demonstrated by the old boy who sits next to me? Perhaps rather than me being a diluted violent lunatic, I am more of a puffed-up scarfer, with gaps in my nice middle-class life that I have self-indulgently filled with hate, when there is no need? Anger where there is no threat.
Maybe all football rivalry other than the jovial happy-clapper style rivalry is needless, self-indulgent and ignorant? Unless your mother was brutally beaten to death by Watford fans what legitimate angst has anyone got? But the world isnt like that is it? We dont live in a well-done old chap, bravo, well-played, bad-show, ooh Watford you dirty-rotters world. We live in an imperfect world with suicide bombers, poverty, greed, and bullying. Hatred for another football club just a few miles up the road sits quite well in that company I guess.
Just a few more tales and Ill sign off. Im sure the psychiatrists would already have a field-day at my rantings, and if not with the rantings then with my obsessive navel-gazing.
About ten years ago in the summer I was sitting outside the pub opposite to where I used to live (which was convenient) discussing Luton loudly with my mate when I got into a bit of a ding dong with a Watford fan (there were a lot of them around, it was a Watford pub). Both of us had been on the pop for quite a while and our inhibitions were lowered whilst our tongues were loosened and we traded insults and nearly blows before we were physically separated by a more sober acquaintance and made to sit down and apologise. We actually got on quite well once we had calmed down and he sympathised with our recent (our first) administration and I pointed out where I lived and he put two and two together and worked out that it used to be his aunties house and was a bit miffed that it was now owned by a Luton fan.
Another occasion just before Christmas, the day after the snow had first fallen and this illustrates the wussyness of Watford fans – I was walking across our local park, very obviously wearing my Luton scarf, when a couple of yoof standing in the nearby tennis courts started making comments, which I ignored, but which got louder and more offensive to LooTown as they seem to call us for some reason. I felt that I should point out the error of their ways, and I am a big lad, both tall and heavy, and turned around and made my way towards them. To say that they scarpered is an insult to scarpering. I fully expect them to be in the 2012 100m team. Happy to dish it out, but not happy to stick around for a debate. Proper Watford fans then!
Lastly when I first moved to my present location in 1997 I moved next door to an ardent Watford fan. He was my age, a nice chap, a larger than life character, and a season ticket holder from a family of season ticket holders. He was also dying from cancer. When we first met, he said Shit, I knew the Almighty had it in for me when he gave me cancer, but now I know he hates me as he has moved a scummer in next door. He professed to prefer the cancer, which alas took him the following year. I attended his funeral, a very sad affair, but wore my Luton shirt underneath my shirt and tie and suit, which I know he would have chuckled at, then winced and put his head in his hands.
Congratulations if you have made it this far in this marathon piece. Apologies if you now think I am either a violent thug or a girly lightweight, or worse a ranting lunatic.
In any case Im off to Southampton on Saturday for the next instalment of the Road to Wembley 2010.
In his press conference Richard Money said that he was debating whether or not to extend Nwokejis loan because Hatch might be back soon. Blimey, Ive seen both and I know which one I prefer. Id have Rio and Basham ahead of Hatch and he is a long way behind Craddock, B-H, Gallen and Nwokeji.
And, after such a cheery post discussing violence and hatred Id like to wish slightly ironic Happy New Year to my fellow Hatters: heres to a successful 2010. Who knows what it might bring? Another trip to Wembley? Promotion? This time next year we might be 7th in the division above. Now that would be good progress in twelve months…