"I remember the first time we played them at Vicarage Road, and before the game I walked through the town centre and they were boarding up a few of the windows of some pubs & stores in case of riots. I knew then, that this was much bigger than a football game."
In the fifteen seasons since the last tie between bitter rivals Watford and Luton Town, it's fair to say a lot has happened. For Watford, unforgettable ups and downs. For Luton, the same. But for completely different reasons.
Both sides endured financial woes during the time period since, and Watford came out stronger. Under the ownership of the Italian Pozzo family, they've experienced promotion to the Top-Flight, an FA Cup Final, and historic wins against the giants of English Football.
Fortune didn't favour Luton. Their troubles saw them fall down the leagues, and even a Football League Trophy win couldn't have healed the Hatters' wounds. But they've come out the other side, and their impressive rise through the English Divisions now brings us back to an M1 Derby in the Championship.
I, aged 17, am too young to have consciously experienced the heated rivalry between the two clubs, so I decided to ask someone who knows better than most about the feeling of being involved in this fixture.
Jay DeMerit played in the last two Derbies, in the 2005/6 campaign. Just over a month after the 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road, DeMerit scored the opener in the Championship Play-Off Final, a thumping header in a 3-0 win over Leeds United. DeMerit etched his name into Watford folklore with his defensive displays, and is undoubtedly a legend of the club.
1. How crucial was the crowd atmosphere for each game against Luton, and how much of an impact will it be now fans aren't allowed in?
JAY: I think any time you can play in your home stadium it’s an advantage. Even getting to sleep in your own bed and sit in your own locker to get ready for the game. Of course the crowd was always a big part, but you still have little advantages at home, so hopefully they can use them.
2. Did you approach the game differently to usual because of its importance/rivalry?
JAY: I always tried to approach every game the same, but the energy was always a little bit higher for this derby. The intensity from the fans is more on edge for these games because it means so much for bragging rights. And the players feel that, so we always want to help get those 3 points!
3. Some players perhaps won't understand the importance of this tie. How do you ensure that the players appreciate the significance of such a game?
JAY: A little history and education to the guys is always a good place to start & the history of this rivalry is intense. I think if you can channel that energy through the players, it’s gives the locker room a lift.
4. Out of the games you played against Luton, are there any lasting memories?
JAY: I remember the first time we played them at Vicarage Road, and before the game I walked through the town centre and they were boarding up a few of the windows of some pubs & stores in case of riots.
I knew then, that this was much bigger than a football game.
5. This is possibly an even bigger game for Luton than us, having spent so long in the lower divisions. Do you think this could potentially give them the edge? Or will both sides try to treat it as just another game?
JAY: I think it will be good for them to build a new reputation by beating a team that just came down from the Premier League, but because of that, Watford should still take confidence in being the better team.
Any time you can put a stamp on a rivalry, especially early in the season, you have to take that chance & make the most of it. So I would imagine the message in the locker room will be just that! And the fans can keep their bragging rights ;) #COYH
Many thanks to Jay DeMerit for agreeing to this interview. You can check out his social media pages at @D6MERIT (Twitter and Instagram).
This may be tough to hear for Watford fans, but the Hatters are in fine form. With two wins out of two in the League after dramatically surviving the drop last season, Nathan Jones' side will hope a full season without managerial change can be enough to improve on last season's finish.
A 3-0 loss to Manchester United in midweek did not reflect their efforts, and Luton fans will be encouraged by their performances so far.
Jordan Clark has two goals already, and may be preferred to start in Hertfordshire, having come off the bench to head home the winner against Derby.
New signing Tom Lockyer is also impressing after his summer move from Charlton Athletic, and the best may be yet to come from the Welsh International in a Luton shirt. Luke Berry and Harry Cornick have put in strong performances too, but it is a Luton team effort that has rewarded them with maximum points.
The away side have lined up in a 4-3-3 formation so far this season, so expect the same when the lineups are released. James Bree is doubtful for the game at Vicarage Road, having picked up a minor knee injury.
Jordan Clark has impressed since his arrival at Kenilworth Road and will hope to continue his goalscoring form.
Home Lineup and Who's Out?
There are fewer updates this week, but very notable ones. Ismaïla Sarr is available, as is Club Captain Troy Deeney, after recovering from a knee injury. Roberto Pereyra is expected to join Udinese over the next few days, and Étienne Capoue will not play for the club again, having submitted a transfer request.
Will Hughes (expected in training mid-October)
Stipe Perica (Three Game Suspension)
Luis Suarez (not fit)
It feels quite pointless to speculate about the Starting XI given Vladimir Ivic's unpredictable sides put out so far, but I would expect a similar side to the draw at Sheffield Wednesday last week. With full-back options limited, Ken Sema will likely be preferred to fellow converted winger Ignacio Pussetto on the left side.
With Stipe Perica suspended after a Red Card in the Carabao Cup, Glenn Murray, João Pedro or the returning Troy Deeney are likely candidates up top. James Garner may also make his first Championship start, having played well in the defeat to Newport County.
Instead of my usual Head to Head section, I've instead included some memorable moments sent in from fans ahead of the big Derby. Make sure to comment yours, either on here, or on the Vibe 107.6 FM Social Media pages.
Hammering them 4-0 in 1997. But sitting with the Luton fans and not being able to celebrate aside from joining the sarcastic clap some of their fans did for the 4th goal! - Ian Roullier
Ashley Young with some top quality time-wasting in the 2-1 win in 2006, which wound them right up! - James Sinclair-Day
In the early 90's this fixture was a regular relegation clash. They would usually be rock bottom but still beat us, so when they beat us 2-4 at The Vic in 1994 it just seemed like another standard derby day defeat. Nobody knew at the time, but it was to be the last time they beat us in the league for decades (hopefully ever)! - Kevin TG
Elliot's Score Prediction
Neither side, nor their fans, will be content with a point. Unfortunately, that's what I'll think they'll get. Don't expect entertainment for the full 90 minutes, as this could be cagey or scrappy. Regardless of what happens, the first Watford vs Luton Derby since 2006 will surely be one that we won't forget for a while.
Watford 1-1 Luton Town
Kick Off: 12:30
Televised? Incredibly not, but it will, as always, be on the Watford Hive Live service to purchase.
Referee: John Brooks