Try telling today’s Chelsea fans, with their expectations of Champions League football and regular trophies, that only three decades ago they lost 5-1 at home to Watford in a stadium that was crumbling around them.
Tell them that only 12,017 people turned up for their final league match of the season and they will probably deny it ever happened. Tell them the cracked and broken terraces were so sparsely populated that the big electric fences installed by Ken Bates to keep hooligans in check looked like some kind of perverse joke.
At the time, Chelsea were symbolic of almost all that was wrong with the English game. Run-down, unfriendly, almost bankrupt. How times change...
There were no expensive foreign imports in this workmanlike Chelsea team, just Joey McLaughlin, Doug Rougvie, Nigel Spackman, Gordon Durie and David Speedie. Watford had actually considered buying Durie when he was at Hibernian but, unlike Chelsea, didn’t think he was worth a £400,000 punt.
Chelsea’s young keeper Les Fridge, standing in for Eddie Niedzwiecki, had a nightmare. He just didn’t warm up. He had to pick the ball out of the net after a minute and 40 seconds when Worrell Sterling’s deep cross was headed down by John Barnes for Brian Talbot to drill in. Talbot scored again just ahead of half-time before Watford ran amok in the second half. Taylor threw David Bardsley on in an advanced position, convinced that the full-back could thrive. The term ‘wing back’ hadn’t been invented yet but that was the position Taylor had in mind.
Bardsley’s first goal was a sweet free-kick. The second was a mazy run from his own half. Bardsley covered 50 yards and beat five Chelsea players before slotting the ball under the keeper.
Speedie got one back before Colin West made it five. That, perhaps, was the day’s only downside. The Rangers manager, Graeme Souness, was there to watch West and a week later he signed him for the Scottish club.
Watford, meanwhile, rounded off their fourth season in Division One with an emphatic away win. And yet there were doubts from some about the club’s progress. They had finished 12th in the table and reached the FA Cup quarter-final. The fact some saw that as a disappointment demonstrated how far the club had come. Admittedly, Chelsea were not of the stature then that they are now but it was still an incredible result. It was proof that on their day, Watford could rip other First Division sides to pieces with the pace of their attacks.
Oh what we’d give for a 5-1 win at Stamford Bridge these days.
Watford Coton, Gibbs, Sinnott (Bardsley 45), Talbot, Terry, McClelland, Sterling, Blissett, West, Jackett, Barnes.
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Talbot 2, 43, Bardsley 64, 77, West 85
Chelsea scorer Speedie 79
Why was this match chosen? This one is personal. In September 1999, a few days before Chelsea were due at Vicarage Road for a Premier League game, I was at a drinks thingy and got chatting to a Chelsea fan. I joked that I wouldn't mind a repeat of the 5-1 win. He looked at me as if I was mad. This was before everyone had a smartphone in their pocket and the internet at their fingertips so there was no way to prove that this game had even happened and it represented, to me, how the Premier League money had redefined what it meant to be a big club.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? Chelsea were nothing, really, in those days but a 5-1 top-flight away win is something to be savoured. Watford have only won away in the top division by a four-goal margin or more four times and this is the most recent of those games.