Sunday, 17 October 2010

The rivals

It all started innocently enough, with an email from my Brentford-supporting friend Stuart. He’d just worked out that the Bees had played more league games against Southend than any other club, and idly wondered if I knew who Watford’s most frequent opponents had been.

I didn’t, of course, but I had to find out. So, taking his tip and using, I spent a lunch hour at work looking up how many times Watford had played a variety of opponents – all the teams I could think of who had a shot of making the top 10, basically. I reckoned it had to be a club who we’d have played in the days of Division Three (South), where we spent nearly 40 of our 90 years in the Football League, so I didn’t bother with anyone north of Coventry.

It struck me in the process that this ought to be a fairly good guide as to who Watford’s natural rivals are. After all, most of the great derbies are fought out on a regular basis; think of those in Liverpool, Manchester, north London and so on. Conversely, even teams in the same city can cease to hate each other if they never meet; Nottingham Forest, for example, regard Derby County as the sworn enemy, while Notts County have presumably been forced to forge a rivalry with Mansfield Town, or another vaguely local club who tend to play in the same division as them most seasons.

This is all extremely relevant right now, given that our so-called rivals aren’t even in the Football League any more. I for one would be very happy to forget all about Luton and embrace new emnities.

So, without, further ado, here are the five (well, seven actually, because of ties) teams Watford have played most often in the Football League – in reverse order, naturally, for dramatic effect:

5= Brighton, Crystal Palace & Reading – 92 meetings
4 Bournemouth – 94
3 Southend – 98
2 Swindon – 100
1 Queen’s Park Rangers – 104

(Luton, incidentally, are way down the list with 76 league meetings, and don’t even make the top 10.)

I find this rather pleasing, as I’ve often thought QPR would make excellent arch-rivals. I know other league clubs are closer as the crow flies, but Rangers are the ones we tend to play most seasons, as the statistic shows. And although it was before my time, I believe that during the 1960s they were seen as our sworn enemies, before they became First Division regulars and thus literally out of our league.

Maybe that’s going to happen again, if their early-season form holds. All the more reason to get in there now – there’s nothing like a hefty dose of jealousy to stoke a good rivalry.

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