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Luton Town F.C.–Watford F.C. rivalry

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Title: Luton Town F.C.–Watford F.C. rivalry  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: David James (footballer), Local derbies in the United Kingdom
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Luton Town F.C.–Watford F.C. rivalry

Luton Town vs Watford

City or region Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire
Teams involved
First contested
Number of meetings 118
Most recent meeting
All-time series 53–29–36 Luton Town
Largest victory

South-eastern English football clubs Luton Town and Watford have been rivals since their respective formations in the late 19th century.[1] The clubs are respectively from Luton, Bedfordshire, and Watford, Hertfordshire, and for this reason a match between the two teams is sometimes called a "Beds–Herts Derby".[2] Another name occasionally used in the press is "M1 Derby", which comes from the M1 motorway, which passes both towns.[3][4] The clubs, which were both founded during the 1880s, met competitively for the first time in the 1898–99 FA Cup. Following this they played each other regularly in the Southern League and The Football League until 1936–37, when Luton's promotion separated them in league competition until 1963–64. The animosity intensified during the late 1960s and the 1970s, and reached a peak during the 1980s, when both teams played in the top-flight First Division.[5] Watford were relegated at the end of the 1987–88 season, while Luton followed four years later.

The clubs regularly played against each other in the league for six seasons during the 1990s, in the second and third tiers of English football. Since then, however, the teams have not met regularly, as Watford have played in higher divisions than Luton for 15 of the last 16 seasons. Since the 1997–98 season, at the end of which Watford won promotion, there have been only two league meetings between the two teams, both of which were played during the 2005–06 season, when both teams were in the Football League Championship, English football's second level. The most recent match, played at Watford's Vicarage Road ground on 9 April 2006, ended in a 1–1 draw. As of the 2013–14 season, Watford remain in the Championship, while Luton contest the Conference Premier, English football's fifth tier.

Since 1898, there have been 118 competitive Beds–Herts Derbies. Luton hold the superior record in these matches, with 53 victories to Watford's 36; there have been 29 draws. The most decisive result in a Luton–Watford game is Luton's 5–0 victory at Kenilworth Road, their home ground, in January 1926. There have been two incidences of 4–0, both of which have been won by the away side; in September 1929, Luton beat Watford 4–0 at Vicarage Road, and in October 1997, Watford beat Luton 4–0 at Kenilworth Road.



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Luton and Watford are about 16 miles (26 km) apart, just to the north-west of London in southern England. They are both primary locations on the M1 motorway, which was built during the 1950s and 1960s to connect the capital to Leeds in Yorkshire.

The first match between the two clubs can be dated as 5 December 1885, as Watford Rovers hosted Luton Town in a friendly. Watford beat Luton 1–0 at Vicarage Meadow in the inaugural match. The first match at Luton's Dallow Lane came on 20 March 1886 – Watford won 3–0. Luton's first success in the fixture came at Vicarage Meadow on 16 October of the same year, where they emerged as 4–1 winners.[6] Two friendlies between Luton Town and West Herts, as Watford Rovers were now more commonly known, took place during the 1891–92 season; West Herts won 4–3 at Luton and the match at West Herts was a draw. Five more friendly matches were played over the next three seasons, all Luton victories.

The Southern League

Luton Town did not join a league until 1894–95, when they joined the Southern League. West Herts also joined the Southern League two years later. However, as Luton Town had left the league the same year, a league meeting did not occur. The first competitive meeting of the two clubs came on 29 October 1898, as Luton drew Watford in the 1898–99 FA Cup third qualifying round. The second meeting came soon after, as the 2–2 draw at Luton meant that a replay was needed – Luton ran out 1–0 victors at Watford. The next season saw Luton drawn against Watford again, and this time Luton needed only one attempt to beat Watford 3–2.

Luton rejoined the Southern League in 1900,[7] and the fixture then became a regular one in the Southern League calendar. Save for the 1903–04, 1912–13 and 1913–14 seasons that the clubs spent in different divisions, two matches were played each year. Luton's was the superior record, as they won 13 Southern League meetings to Watford's eight. 1920–21 saw both clubs made members of the Football League when the Southern League First Division was incorporated as the Football League Third Division.[8]

The Football League

Matches occurred regularly in this division until 1937, when Luton were promoted.[9] A Southern Professional Floodlit Cup meeting in 1956–57 was won 4–3 by Luton at Kenilworth Road, and was the only meeting until Luton dropped back to the Third Division for 1963–64.[10] Luton were nearly relegated again, but in the last home game of the season, against Watford, Luton won 2–1 to both ensure survival and deny Watford promotion.[11] Luton were relegated to the Fourth Division a year later, with Watford winning both matches held over a two-day period at Christmas. The game at Kenilworth Road finished 4–2 to Watford, and two days later Watford won 2–0 at Vicarage Road. Luton were not promoted again until 1967–68, so there were no matches until then.[12]

Growth in prominence

The 1968–69 season saw Watford promoted as champions of the Third Division, having led the division for almost the entire season. This led to the crowd violence associated with the fixture growing in prominence, and Watford won the first league clash with Luton that season 1–0 at Vicarage Road. The return match at Kenilworth Road was originally intended to take place on Boxing Day, but was abandoned due to fog with the game tied at 1–1. The game was eventually played after several postponements on 30 April 1969, by which time Watford had already been promoted as champions. The match was a bloodbath, and three players were sent off – two from Luton, one from Watford – as Luton won 2–1. After the game came incidents between the fans in St Albans, a town between Luton and Watford home to fans of both sides.[5] Luton were promoted to the Second Division a year later to keep the fixture going. However, Watford's relegation in 1971–72 ended it once more.

The sides didn't meet again until 1979–80, when Watford were promoted back to the second tier. In 1981–82 Luton won the Second Division, with Watford coming second – both teams were promoted to the top flight. In their first season in Division One Watford fared significantly better than Luton, and finished Runners-Up to Champions Liverpool (and so qualified for European football in the UEFA Cup for the following season), beating Luton 5–2 at Vicarage Road along the way. Luton, on the other hand, only avoided relegation in the last minute of the last match of the season. The match at Kenilworth Road on 28 April 1984 intensified the rivalry even further, as despite Watford's 2–1 victory, captain Wilf Rostron was sent off after a series of goading tackles from Luton players; meaning that he would miss the 1984 FA Cup Final. Despite being favourites on the day, Watford lost 2–0 to Everton, and even to this day most Watford supporters blame their loss on the absence of Rostron, and therefore on Luton.[13]

The fixture continued until 1987–88, when Watford were relegated. Luton were relegated to the second tier in 1991–92, and the fixture continued – the two teams were even relegated together in 1995–96. In 1997–98, Watford finished as Champions of the third-tier Second Division and won 4–0 at Kenilworth Road along the way – all four goals came within the first 32 minutes. The match was marred by yet more crowd trouble as Luton fans tried to prevent Watford fans leaving the ground and small pockets of running battles occurred towards the railway station. As a result, the police took no chances for the return fixture at Vicarage Road: a large police presence ensured no return of the October violence. The game ended in a 1–1 draw. With Watford's promotion at the end of that season, the fixture was over once more.

The 21st century

A League Cup meeting at Vicarage Road on 10 September 2002 was marred by hooliganism, with fighting in Watford town centre, railway station and approaches to the football ground before the match. Once in the ground but before the game, Luton fans invaded the pitch several times and this led to the kick-off being postponed by a quarter of an hour. A minute's silence, intended to mark the first anniversary of the 11 September Attacks, was also abandoned. When the match finally got under way, Luton went on to win 2–1.[14] After the game prosecutions were brought against 29 supporters; 25 from Luton – some of whom were banned from all football grounds for life – and four from Watford.

The two clubs were back in the same division when Luton won League One and promotion into the Championship for a renewal of the rivalry during the 2005–06 season. Watford won 2–1 at Kenilworth Road on 2 January, and the return fixture was a 1–1 draw at Vicarage Road on 9 April. Watford ended the season with promotion to the Premier League, while Luton finished 10th. Although Watford were relegated back to the second-tier Football League Championship at the end of the 2006–07 season, Luton were concurrently relegated straight back to the third tier. A Further relegation followed for Luton in the 2007–08 season to the fourth tier; and yet another relegation in 2008–09 season (this time outside of the Football League altogether) to the Conference Premier. This was largely due to docked points and financial mismanagement. As of season 2009–10 Luton have played their football three divisions below Watford. At the end of the 2013–13 season, Luton have not won a league match against Watford for 18 years (since 17 September 1994, seven matches – one Watford win and six draws), or a competitive match of any kind against Watford for more than 10 years (since 10 September 2002, two matches – one Watford win and one draw). As of the end of the 2012–13 season, Watford have remained the higher ranked team at the end of every season since 1997 (and for 20 of the last 21 seasons, with only 1996–97 seeing Luton finish higher in the league than Watford).


Up to and including 9 April 2006, there have been 118 competitive first–class meetings between the two teams since the first meeting in 1898.[15][16]

Head-to-head record by competition

Match result Football League Southern League FA Cup League Cup Others Total
Luton Town win 32 13 5 2 1 53
draw 19 5 4 0 1 29
Watford win 25 8 2 0 1 36

Honours and achievements compared

Team Number of top-flight seasons Best top-flight finish FA Cup Football League Cup UEFA Cup
Luton Town 16
(1955–60, 1974–75, 1982–92)
[note 1]
Watford 8
(1982–88, 1999–2000, 2006–07)
3rd Round

All-time results

Competitive matches only.[15][16][19][20][21][22][23]

The Rigby-Taylor Cup

The Rigby-Taylor Cup was a competition played between 1953 and 1962 in order to give "the friendly rivalry between Luton Town and Watford an organised and competitive basis".[24] The annual contest came about when floodlights were installed at Watford's Vicarage Road ground in 1953;[24] to mark the occasion, the decision was made to play a match under the new lights against Luton Town, against whom the club had not contested a competitive match since 1937.[25] A home-and-away system was agreed upon, and the first match, billed as the first leg of the "Watford F.C. Invitation Cup", took place on 13 October 1953: a 1–1 draw at Vicarage Road. The competition had been renamed "The Rigby-Taylor Cup" after Watford's chairman, T. Rigby-Taylor, by the time of the second leg on 24 March 1954, at Kenilworth Road; Luton beat Watford 4–1 to win 5–2 on aggregate and thus claim the inaugural title.[24]

After the first season, the two-legged basis was abandoned in favour of a single match at Vicarage Road. The competition was then suspended from 1958 to 1961 due to FA Cup and League engagements. After returning for two seasons, the 1962–63 fixture was abandoned due to harsh weather – the annual match never returned.[24]


There were seven matches played over the course of six editions of the competition: the first (1953–54) was a two-legged competition, while the remaining five consisted of a single match. Of the seven matches, four were Luton victories, two were wins for Watford and one was a draw. Luton Town won the competition four times to Watford's two; the trophy, a silver, 12 inches (30 cm) tall, two-handled cup, was last won by Watford, who have since retained it.[24]

Season Date Venue Home Score Away
1953–54 13 October 1953 Vicarage Road Watford
Luton Town
24 March 1954 Kenilworth Road Luton Town
Luton Town win 5–2 on aggregate
1954–55 14 March 1955 Vicarage Road Watford
Luton Town
1955–56 12 March 1956 Vicarage Road Watford
Luton Town
1956–57 26 January 1957 Vicarage Road Watford
Luton Town
1957–58 Competition suspended due to fixture congestion
1960–61 20 March 1961 Vicarage Road Watford
Luton Town
1961–62 30 April 1962 Vicarage Road Watford
Luton Town
1962–63 Competition abandoned due to snow


The competition saw 23 goals scored, 14 for Luton and 9 for Watford; the individual player who scored the most goals was Luton Town's Gordon Turner, who appeared in all seven matches and scored five goals.[24]

See also



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