So Watford are officially a feeder club. Calling the shots from now on is an Italian patron whose primary concern is Serie A’s second oldest club Udinese, nicknamed Zebrette (little zebras) on account of their black and white kit. We should all be laughing, shouldn’t we?
Luton fans hate Watford. Watford fans in turn hate Luton.
The team you hate is fairly central to the identity of a football club. They shape the lyrical content of your most disgraceful and distasteful songs, and provide a metric to judge your own success against over seasons, decades and generations.
The games between you usually begin at 12 noon and end in jail sentences and banning orders. You belittle each other in the pub, the workplace and if you’re really unlucky, the wedding reception. For all the jibes and digs, the soul of your rivals reflects on you. No matter what we say, no one wants to hate a team unworthy of hatred.
With this in mind, the takeover of Watford FC by Giampaolo Pozzo has changed more than the landscape at Vicarage Road - and associated allotments. Luton’s local rivals have had their balls removed. As a club they are no longer in it purely to win trophies, delight their faithful and to progress. They have been subject to a corporate takeover that has merged the passion and dreams of a few thousand vegetable clutching fans with the business plan of a multinational sporting enterprise.
The new regime wants to buy low and sell high. At the snap of a finger they will summon the brightest talent home to Udinese when sufficiently ripe from a season or two at the training grounds of Hertfordshire and Granada, Udinese’s other feeder outfit.
Luton have had several suitors try to foist rivalries on them in recent years, from the sickly new-car-smell of the MK Stealers, to the well meaning upstarts from proper-non-league-club Stevenage Borough. New rivalries in football are sad. They lack the weight of conflicting stats, twisted and intertwined with local tales of battles past and family names that you know.
The historic rivalry with Watford has an important role in the foundations of the town’s identity. That they are no longer the club they once were, their purpose shifted from symbol of county pride to cog in a European business wheel, takes something away from us too.
New manager Gianfranco Zola, replacing former Luton ginger Sean Dyche, is treading a careful PR line with the Yellow Army (snigger) and is doing what he can to play down the submissive nature of the new era. If the reversal in Granada’s fortunes is anything to go by, Watford could well thrive in their new role playing second fiddle; a tidy production line with fans ploughing money, sweat and tears into the trophy cabinet of your parent club. All well and good if that’s what you’re into.
But just as Luton fans don’t want their rivals to be out of town retail park franchise merchants, or non-league stalwarts made-good like the MK Stealers or Stevenage Borough... we don’t want them to be a just a feeder club either.