These two teams go back a long, long way and, in some ways, their FA Cup and league pedigree is pretty darned close. Their first meeting of note was a 1902 example of a promotion play off (then called a ‘test match’) between a rubbish Southern League Division 1 side and a good Division 2 side. Brighton won a rather splendid ding-dong by 5 scores to 3. Rah!
Between 1924 and 1931 the Hornet/Seagull axis crossed a mind boggling seven times in the FA Cup, including a frankly ridiculous four consecutive seasons. This would be less odd if they were brilliant sides meeting regularly in the latter stages but they weren’t, it wasn’t and it was three times in round 1. CAN WE PLAY YOU EVERY YEAR?!! Honours were fairly even.
The most recent game in the old jug, however, was more significant. It was in the 5th round in 1984, Watford won 3-1 at home and went all the way to the final. Brighton, of course had done the same the previous year. Since then, both teams have spent a good deal of time muddling around the second and third tiers of English football but, for Brighton, May the 21st 1983 was the time they got their sea legs. With hindsight, it was the very start of a tidal wave of nonsense that only this season do they appear to have stemmed. I apologise for these sea-faring similies.
In fact, though, 1982/83 was a high old time for both sides. A week earlier than Brighton’s final Watford beat Liverpool 2-1 at Vicarage Road to seal 2nd place behind the scousers and nick it from Big Ron’s Manchester United, who Watford had also knocked out of the FA Cup the previous season and who would beat Brighton in the replayed final 10 days later. And, lurking somewhere in a dark distant corner of Europe, Big Ron’s successor was winning the European Cup Winners Cup. Circular.
Brighton’s lead up to the final was spent in a courtroom. Their talismanic headband wearer, Steve Foster, had been booked a few weeks earlier and was suspended for the Cup final. Feeling he’d be a playa, Brighton went all judicial and argued that missing the highlight of his career was an overly harsh punishment for a single booking. Rightly, the court told them they knew the rules when they entered the tournament and they should hurry off back to the Goldstone (remember that?) to prepare for their big day.
Without the bandaged leader but with the sea air (sorry) clearly still under their wings (meh), Brighton raised their game, held United to 2-2 and, in extra time, Gordon Smith missed one of those classic cup chances that can haunt forever. Foster returned for the replay and Brighton got whooped 4 zip.
A dozen years on and Brighton were getting knocked out by Kingstonian and Sudbury. The rest of the sorry decline can be found here but now THEY’RE BACK!! Well, nearly. A new ground due for opening in a few months time, top of League 1 and flying under the stewardship of a Uruguayan legend and his Argentinian sidekick.
East Anglia’s favourite angry Argie (Mauricio Tarrico) might well get a run out. He’s been turning out in the FA Cup while Gus rests his troops and plots for the Championship onslaught. Oh – and he is quite busy fending off suitors of Elliot Bennett with a shitty stick. Watford are going well too but Brighton have already despatched Portsmouth and only Goostavo Poshay’s decision to play weak teams in the cup undermines their threat.
Exactly a year after Brighton’s Cup final and their relegation to the old Division 2, Watford were an established top flight side but fared little better against the might of Everton in the 1984 showpiece. As favourite you’d not expect us to dwell too much on Watford and we won’t but this two year era of cup success is quite interesting. Charlton were just realising the error in buying a Barcelona player on wages that would make Robert Maxwell blush and … errr … the yachting enthusiast himself was annoying Reading fans, or ‘Thames Valley Royals’ as he wanted to call them when he merged them with Oxford United.
In September ’82 attendances fell to a post-war low, ‘the professional foul’ was introduced sending 120 players for an early bath before November was out and the proposal for teams to have two substitutes was vetoed on the basis of ‘it might cost a bit much’! England won the European U21 tournament (golden generation!) by beating West Germany in Bremen. THEY DID! Unfortunately, the seniors weren’t so golden as they were just one of the four home nations that failed to even qualify for the proper version.
The main issue, though, and one which is seemingly starting to bubble again at non-league grounds across the country, was hooliganism. On that record low day in September, Middlesbrough turned into a warzone when Leeds came to town and down in Brighton seven policemen were badly injured in running battles with Chelsea fans. Spurs fans kicked off in Rotterdam, England fans tore up Luxembourg, West Ham were nearly banned from the FA Cup for two pitch invasions against Birmingham and UEFA first mooted the plan of banning English fans from Europe. In one very big way, it is a shame their words were hollow.
Watford, though, started the season in a bit of a trough, so much so they advertised in the Times for professional footballers. Showing the kind of foresightedness Gray & Keys would sneer at nearly 30 years later, they didn’t mind if these players were “men or women” but showed an alarming disregard to the differently abled by saying that “preference will be given to applicants with two arms and two legs in working order”. That would have ruled out Garrincha, mind, but hear hear to their attempt at inclusiveness.
The reason for this misty eyed look back is partly in homage to the two teams’ flirtation with success but also because Watford’s ground is stuck in 1984. Far form being a dig, we’re glad that relics such as Vicarage Road exist, it’s part of football’s rich heritage. We’re heading there with the EFW chaps and hope to meet Watford Blog legend Rookery Mike. We’ll be tweeting updates and having a rollicking good time.
Watford v Brighton – Vicarage Road 3pm 29th January. Very few tickets left in Watford sections, Brighton long since sold out. For some more previews of the underdogs check out the EON FA Cup Blogzine.