This week’s object come from Watford writer Lionel Birnie (who has a new book out – see the bottom of post) and it does mean that we can’t have anymore football boots in our list of Watford in 100 Objects. Well not unless someone else can come up with a better reason to put in different pair.
Some goals are the stuff of legend. In my mind’s eye, Gerard Lavin’s strike at Peterborough United on April 5, 1994 was from at least 65, possibly 70 yards.
Let’s set the scene. Glenn Roeder was the manager. There were seven games to go. Watford were third from bottom, three points adrift of safety, Posh were bottom. This was a relegation six-pointer no one could accuse of being a cliché.
Defeat would spell the beginning of the end, so it was typical that Watford were a goal down in the first five minutes.
As we would see later, particularly in his third and final season, Roeder was not a lucky manager but he did make some excellent signings that spring. Somehow he managed to prise Jack Petchey’s bony fingers off the club’s piggy bank.
One of those new players, Colin Foster, was injured for the trip to London Road so Roeder went with the two Keiths – Millen and Dublin – and the 19-year-old Robert Page.
“Keep it tight for the first 15 minutes lads…” said Roeder.
Five minutes in and Watford’s defence was sliced open. One-nil to Peterborough. Division Two (League One as it’s called now) here we come.
Furlong levelled before half-time but a scrappy, nervous first-half gave few clues of the drama to come.
The second half was scrappy, nervous and absolutely exhilarating. This was heart-stopping, panic attack-inducing stuff. The football was abysmal. The pitch was a barren plough field, rutted and rough. The ball bounced about as if it had been swapped for a rugby ball and no one had noticed.
This was a comedy of errors. A clown show. You wouldn’t have been surprised if one of the defender’s shorts had fallen down round his ankle as he attempted a clearance or if the ball had suddenly exploded in a puff of smoke. Had it not been so important, so tense, it would have been genuinely funny.
Peterborough scored a penalty at the start of the second half and Andy Hessenthaler missed an incredible chance before Keith Dublin equalised by bundling the ball over the line.
The Watford supporters crammed into the away terrace went bananas. The surge through us and spilled over the wall and onto the pitch.
Then came the only moment of sublime clarity in an error-strewn match. Gerard Lavin drove the ball in from 30 yards. The ball skimmed across the London Road dust that passed for a pitch and into the corner. We were cheering before it had reached the six-yard box. It was a goal the moment it left his boot. It must’ve been from all of 40 yards. Maybe even 50. Three-two to Watford. Not long to go.
The terrace erupted and tumbled and jumbled together. We were still straightening our jackets and turning to face the right way when Peterborough made it 3-3. I didn’t see it but Perry Digweed made a howler.
In the dying minutes Dennis Bailey forced a mistake and claimed a goal and this time we held on.
It was epic stuff.
Watford stayed up, although it was touch and go at times. Peterborough went down.
We were still singing “We are staying up” when we got back to the car.
By then legend had already decided that Lavin’s shot was from at least 60 yards, possibly 70.
And that is why Lavin’s boot has to be among the 100 objects that define Watford’s history.
Postscript: As an aside, I’d like to claim a minor role in the sale of Gerard Lavin to Millwall. I was working at the Watford Observer and the sports editor Oliver Phillips was on the phone. I needed to have a word with him so waited for him to finish.
He broke off his conversation to say to me: “If you were offered £400,000 for Gerard Lavin, what would you do?”
“For that money I’d offer to drop him off at his new club’s training ground.”
Oli relayed this to the person on the other end of the phone, who happened to be Glenn Roeder.
To be fair to Roeder, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that represented an excellent deal.
Even at that price his goal at Peterborough that night in April 1994 was worth 10 Gerard Lavins.
Peterborough 3 Watford 4 features in The 100 Greatest Watford Wins, along with 99 other days when it was great to be a Hornet. The book is available now from www.lionelbirnie.com.