Donner und Blitzen!
Report by Kevin Birdseye
Kaiserslautern away has been well-documented elsewhere (see Famous Defeats). We came, we drank, we saw Jimmy Gilligan score, but we didn’t exactly conquer. 1-3 down from the first leg. "Europe has found you lot out", sneered the establishment press, conveniently overlooking our epic injury list.
No worries, we thought, we’ll turn ‘em over at the Vic. Back then, bravado was big among ‘Orns followers, of course. Although, as the second leg loomed and more players dropped out, our confidence probably comprised ten per cent logical positivism and ninety per cent super-heated oxygen.
After all, the Kaiserslautern defence was marshalled by the fearsome West German international, Hans-Pieter Briegel: "The epitome of coolness under pressure", drooled the establishment press. While Watford, ravaged by injuries and missing seven (seven!) first-team players, would be trying to overhaul a two-goal deficit with what amounted to a reserve/junior invitation XI.
When the team was announced, we’d been reduced to fielding an unknown half-pint called Ian Richardson up front. Surely a side as euro-street-wise as these Germans would stroll past our kids, no matter how many times the Scoreboard fans belted out the "Dambusters" and (my personal favourite) "633 Squadron" themes ...?
Many among the local populace seemed to share this negative rationale: only (only!) 21 thousand or so turned up to see our home debut in Europe. Yet GT had still done his bit, priming us in the local press beforehand for another of those "Special Watford Nights". We, the faithful, remained confident but prayed for an early goal.
Early goal? Why bother with one, when you can have two? Kicking towards the Vic Road end, wearing black shorts and socks in deference to our guests' all-red kit, dreamland was reached with barely ten minutes gone. The first goal came when young Richardson raced onto a Barnes flick-on, left his marker for dust and coolly slotted home in a one-on-one with the German goalie as a defender lunged in. Cue mayhem beneath the Scoreboard. Yeeeeeeeeeeessssssssss!
We lay siege, the pressure almost incessant, and the second goal duly arrived: a wicked cross from Palmer was deflected out by the diving keeper, only to rebound back in off a startled defender’s knee. Who said Germans have no sense of humour?
More incredibly, before our very eyes, here was a depleted team of Golden Boys, not just beating a (cliché alert!) crack German side, but absolutely ripping 'em to shreds. You could see it etched on the visiting defenders' faces: "Don’t panic, don’t panic! Donner und Blitzen! SCHEISSE!"
After somehow scrambling the ball away for the umpteenth time in that opening salvo, the panic-stricken expression worn by a dazed and confused Briegel - the epitome of coolness under pressure, remember? - spoke volumes. Gone was the pre-match arrogance and poise. As he gasped for breath while waiting for yet another corner to come spearing in, Briegel now wore a befuddled look that said, in German: "Zis iz nut suppussed too bee heppennin'!". Oh, but it was, my German friend. And I bet the watching establishment press had gone jolly quiet by this stage, too.
We couldn’t maintain that sort of pressure, of course, and as the half wore on the visitors came back at us, going close three times. Then Allofs (another ruddy German international!) fluffed a golden chance on the break. But the kids held on. Half-time!
The second half was a more cagey and tense affair. Technically we were through, while they had to score. Kaiserslautern probed at us; we tried to hit them at speed on the break. One breathtakingly simple move involving Callaghan, Rostron and Gilligan was delightful: a Taylor side at its scintillating best. But nerve ends still jangled at thoughts of an away goal. Then, out of the blue, Jobson swung in a low cross, and Richardson (inspired team selection!), at full stretch, slid in and volleyed the ball in a crazy arc over their keeper and into the net for our third. Three-nil! Drei-Nul! UEFA Cup? Piece of piss, mate!
Young Ian did little of note in a Hornets shirt after that night, but who cares? His place in Watford folklore is assured.
We had chances to make it safe, but were ultimately grateful to Steve Terry’s knee for a vital deflection to safety near the end after Shirley in goal, quite inexplicably, had failed to come for a ball that bounced in the six-yard box and presented a German forward with a gift-wrapped chance from close range. Cardiac arrests, all round. On the night, Steve Terry was a colossus. Hell, they all were!
After what seemed an age, the ref finally blew for time. Unbelievable. Watford Reserve/Junior Invitation XI 3, Euro-Meisters 0! This, like those other Special Watford Nights, was something else. A thing of beauty, a joy forever!
The mighty Taylor later described it as his greatest ever result as a manager. Candidly, he also admitted that pitching in young Richardson had been his one and only remaining option, what with injuries and ineligibility. A touch of the good fortune, possibly, that so cruelly eluded him later on at vital moments during his England reign, particularly against his Dutch nemesis.
In UEFA Cup Round Two, GT’s Golden Babes bravely overcame another, em, crack European outfit in Levski Spartak. Alas, our youngsters couldn’t be expected to perform miracles indefinitely. And so we were undressed in Round Three by a slick (sorry, crack) Sparta side on a skating rink in Prague. On the type of night when Shirley in the Watford goal was probably right, just this once, not to bother diving for any of their four strikes.
To this day, I’ll bore the pants off people by telling them how we’d have won the UEFA Cup in 83-84, had we been at anything like full strength. What ample consolation for defeat in the Cup Final it would have been.
In a parallel universe somewhere, perhaps we actually did do the double of FA and UEFA cups. With Michael J. Fox officiating as referee during both finals, ably assisted by Moulder (red flag) and Scully (yellow flag) ...