Watford Football Club
Watford Football Club is based in Hertfordshire, and play their home games at Vicarage Road. The team is otherwise known as the Hornets, and are famous for once having Elton John as the club’s Chairman in the late 1970’s. In modern times, Watford have become the proverbial yo-yo club in league status. Despite such fluctuations though, the club have always shared a fierce and passionate rivalry with neighbours Luton Town. Better known over the years for their courageous cup conquests, Watford is a club with a rich footballing history.
The club was originally founded as Watford Rovers in 1881, and football was played at Vicarage Meadow from 1883, before they eventually moved to Cassio Road in 1889. The club was then called West Herts in 1893, but this later became Watford Football Club from 1898, following a merger with Watford St Mary’s.
John Goodall became Watford’s first official manager in 1903, and he successfully guided the Hornets to the Southern League Division Two title in his first season in charge. It was fair to say that Watford struggled thereafter, and after the club narrowly survived relegation in the 1909/10 season, Goodall’s time at Watford had come to an end. Harry Kent took the managerial vacancy and quickly set about bringing in new players who he felt could propel Watford up the table.
One such player was Skilly Williams, who Kent moulded from a striker into a successful goalkeeper during his time at Watford. The first few seasons were largely unconvincing, but the team certainly found their goal-scoring touch in the 1914/15 season. Harry Kent’s tactics had paid off, and Watford were crowned Southern League Division One Champions.
War then intervened, and it wasn’t until 1919 before the league resumed. Some may have doubted whether Watford could continue their good form after the war. However, the team showed no signs of relinquishing their title without a fight. Unfortunately, Watford’s form slipped towards the end of the season, and they were eventually forced to settle for second place, having lost the title on goal average. Although the team still performed well in the forthcoming seasons, their league positions were beginning to show a continued downward trend.
Move to Vicarage Road
Watford left Cassio Road in 1922, to move to their new home on Vicarage Road. The change in venue had no effect on their form, however, as the team eventually slumped to a disappointing 20th place finish in the 1923/24 season. Kent was finding life at Watford increasingly difficult, and he was eventually forced to leave the job in 1926, after another below par season in the bottom half of the league.
Fred Pagnam took over the managerial responsibilities at Vicarage Road, in a less than memorable three year period. He was replaced by the player/manager Neil McBain in 1929, and the team’s form continued in the same vein for a number of years. It wasn’t until the 1934/35 season when the squad then started to show genuine title form. The side now included quality forward players including Taffy Davies, who helped to push Watford up to sixth place, their highest position for 14 years. This good form continued, and Watford finished fourth in 1936/37, establishing themselves as one of the top sides. McBain had long since hung up his boots as a player, but he now felt that the time was right to move on as a manager. A few months into the 1937/38 season, he left Watford to become the next manager of Ayr United.
Although many felt that McBain’s hard work in changing the team’s fortunes would come undone during the remainder of the season, those worries proved unfounded. Bill Findlay came in as manager, and picked up exactly where McBain had left off. Findlay secured a comfortable fourth place finish in the 1937/38 season, and repeated the feat the following campaign. Watford were unable to progress any further, however, as the outbreak of war meant that the 1939/40 league programme had to be abandoned.
After the war, Findlay only stayed for a short time at Vicarage Road, before eventually leaving his post in 1947. Following Findlay’s departure, Watford found themselves in a difficult period of managerial instability for the next decade. Managers including Jack Bray, Eddie Hapgood, and Haydn Green all had significantly short stays as manager of the Hertfordshire club. This meant that the club was unable to build any kind of momentum domestically, or plan a long term vision for the club.
Neil McBain returned to manage Watford in 1956, and he was in charge when the league was reshuffled in the 1958/59 season, when Watford were placed in the Football League Division Four. McBain’s reign was this time only a short one, and he was replaced by Ron Burgess in 1959. It was in his first season in charge that Watford were promoted to the Football League Division Three, after a serious of phenomenal performances from their prolific striker Cliff Holton. The goal machine fired his way into the record books, with his 42 goals in the 1959/60 campaign capping off a fine promotion-winning season for the Hornets.
Watford immediately carried that good form into Division Three, and finished fourth in their first season. Unfortunately, that was the point where things started to go wrong for the Hornets. Consecutive 17th place finishes saw Ron Burgess leave Vicarage Road in 1963. Bill McGarry took over for a single season, and enjoyed instant success, as Watford finished in a highly commendable third place. Ken Furphy was quickly installed at Watford’s next manager, hoping to continue the success that McGarry had instantly delivered. Furphy ensured that Watford finished around mid table for his first few seasons at the helm, but it was during the 1968/69 season when his players finally showed their true worth. Stuart Scullion and Tom Walley were both key members of the side which were crowned Football League Division Three Champions in 1969.
Watford were now slowly beginning to climb the league ladder, and Furphy had moulded a team which looked capable of taking the club even further. Watford enjoyed a memorable cup run in the 1969/70 season, which saw them beat the likes of Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City and Liverpool, before losing to Chelsea in the semi-final. However, their league form was less than convincing, and the team avoided immediate relegation by just one place, after finishing 19th. Another disappointing league season followed, and Ken Furphy was soon replaced by George Kirby.
Kirby found life difficult at Vicarage Road, and was unable to prevent Watford being relegated back into Division Three in his first season. Then, when Kirby almost oversaw another consecutive relegation, the Watford board decided they had seen enough. Although immediately bringing in Mike Keen looked like a masterstroke at first, Watford were ultimately relegated after a dreadful 1974/75 campaign. In 1977, Keen left Vicarage Road following another poor series of results.
The Elton John era
It was at this time that boyhood Watford fan Elton John could no longer sit back and watch his club slide any further into mediocrity. He bought the club, and Graham Taylor was appointed as the new manager.
Taylor’s success at Watford was instant. In his first season, he ensured that the Hornets were crowned Division Four Champions. The following season he guided the team to a second successive promotion, this time after finishing as runners-up on goal difference. Watford also reached the Football League Cup Semi-final in the 1978/79 season, before losing to Nottingham Forest.
Luther Blissett was instrumental in Watford’s domestic success at this time, and it wasn’t long before the Hornets reached the top division in English football for the first time in the club’s history. Watford finished as runner-up in the 1981/82 campaign, and that was enough to see them promoted to the Football League Division One. The success continued as Watford finished as Football League Runners-up in the 1982/83 season, which saw them qualify for the UEFA Cup for the first time.
Watford fought bravely during their only season in European competition. After beating FC Kaiserslautern and Levski Spartak, Watford were finally humbled by Sparta Prague 7-2 on aggregate. Watford also reached the FA Cup Final in 1984, after seeing off stern opposition including Charlton Athletic, Birmingham City and Plymouth Argyle, before finally losing to Everton at Wembley.
The Hornets finished in a comfortable mid table position for the next couple of seasons, and also reached the FA Cup semi-final in the 1986/87 season. However, Taylor’s success had caught the eye of other clubs, and the Watford boss took over at Aston Villa in 1987.
Decline in fortunes
Dave Bassett then took charge for a single season at Vicarage Road. Unfortunately this was also the season in which the Hornets slipped out of English football’s top division and into Division Two.
Steve Harrison then guided Watford to the play-offs in the 1988/89 season, but this was sadly to end in disappointment, as the Hornets lost on away goals to Blackburn Rovers. Colin Lee became manager of Watford for a matter of months, before Steve Perryman took over at the end of 1990.
Watford were consistently finishing in the bottom half of the table, although the Hornets were now in the reclassified First Division due to the Premiership’s formation. Perryman left in 1993, to be replaced by a young Glenn Roeder. Apart from a solid seventh place finish in the 1994/95 season, Roeder endured a fairly torrid time at Vicarage Road. This eventually ended in the relegation of Watford Football Club to Division Two in the 1995/96 campaign.
Kenny Jackett took over from Glenn Roeder in 1996, after spending a decade as a player with the Hertfordshire club. He led the team to a 13th place finish before becoming assistant manager at the end of the season.
Graham Taylor returns
Watford’s most successful manager Graham Taylor took up the managerial reigns once more in 1997. His knack of leading the team to instant success was remarkable. In his first season back at the helm, he ensured that Watford were crowned 1997/98 Football League Division Two Champions. The following season, Taylor led Watford all the way to the Premier League, after a memorable play-off final victory over Bolton Wanderers at Wembley. The Hornets predictably found life difficult in the Premier League, and finished bottom of the table in the 1999/2000 season. Taylor tried his best to get the club promoted back to the Premiership at the first attempt, but after finishing in ninth position, he resigned from his position.
Gianluca Vialli was brought in, followed his sacking from Chelsea. Vialli attempted to completely redefine Watford as a club, and brought many new faces into the club, though not all of his decisions were popular with the fans. In an expensive and ultimately disappointing season, the Hornets finished in 14th place. The board were acutely aware that the club’s finances were spiralling out of control, and made the decision to sack Vialli, following his refusal to resign.
Ray Lewington became the next manager, during a time when the club was experiencing intense financial hardship. The collapse of ITV Digital exposed holes in the club’s finances that were not to dissimilar to those in the team’s defence. The problems on the field were not helped by the club being forced to sell a number of key players, including crowd favourite Paul Robinson. The Hornets did have more success in cup competition, however, as Watford reached the semi-final of the FA Cup in 2003, before reaching the semi-final of the League Cup the following season. Lewington was then controversially sacked in 2005, after a run of bad results.
Happier times under Aidy Boothroyd
Aidy Boothroyd was brought in from Leeds United to become Watford’s new manager. At 34 years of age, many doubted whether he had the experience to become a successful manager at Vicarage Road. However, he soon proved those people wrong, as he led the club to the Premiership in his first season, after a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Leeds United. New signing Marlon King had been instrumental in Watford’s promotion that season, as well as Clark Carlisle, and Ben Foster, who had been brought in on loan from Manchester United.
Watford were relegated after their first season back in the Premier League. However, this was largely due to the fact that Marlon King missed the majority of the season through injury. This season though, Watford seem all set to regain their Premiership status. Marlon King has returned from injury and regained his goal-scoring form, while many other quality players such as Jobi McAnuff and Nathan Ellington have also been brought in to bolster the squad.
Many clubs would have sacked Boothroyd following the club’s relegation in 2007. However, the Watford board are aware that they have a manager who fits the Graham Taylor mould perfectly, and have therefore offered him a new contract until 2010. With the team currently sitting proudly at the top of the Coca Cola Championship, few would bet against the Hornets being a Premiership club this time next year.
- Football League Division One – Runners-Up (1982/83)
- Football League Division Two – Winners (1997/98), Runners-Up (1981/82)
- Football League Division Three – Winners (1968/69), Runners-Up (1978/79)
- Football League Division Four – Winners (1977/78)
- FA Cup – Runners-up (1984), Semi-finals (1970, 1984, 1987, 2003)
- Football League Cup – Semi-final (1979)
- Record League Victory – 8-0 (v Sunderland, Division One, 25 September 1982)
- Record Cup Victory – 10-1 (v Lowestoft Town, FA Cup 1st rd, 27 November 1926)
- Record Defeat – 0-10 (v Wolverhampton Wanderers, FA Cup 1st rd (replay), 24 January 1912)
- Most League Goals – 92 (Division Four, 1959/60)
- Highest Scorer in Season – Cliff Holton (42, Division Four, 1959/60)
- Most League Goals in Total Aggregate – Luther Blissett (‘’148’’, 1976-1983, 1984-1988, 1991-1992)
- Most League Appearances – Luther Blissett (‘’415’’, 1976-1983, 1984-1988, 1991-1992)
- Youngest League Player – Keith Mercer (16 years 125 days, v Tranmere Rovers, 16 February 1973)
- Record Transfer Fee Received – £9,650.000 (from Aston Villa for Ashley Young, January 2007)
- Record Transfer Fee Paid – £3,250,000 (to West Bromwich Albion for Nathan Ellington, August 2007)