Wednesday, 12 Jun 2024

Watford History – All about the Club

Watford Football Club, located in Watford, Hertfordshire, is an English professional football team that competes in the EFL Championship, England’s second-highest football division. In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive account of Watford history, narrating the path it has taken since its establishment back in the 18th century.

Starting Small and Local

In 1881, Watford Rovers was established when George Devereux de Vere Capell, the Earl of Essex and Cassiobury Park’s proprietor, allowed a group of youngsters to use his estate for soccer. This arrangement prohibited the team from playing any formal competitive games on the property. For the subsequent five years, the team only engaged in friendly games with local clubs and schools. Notably, their first game against their soon-to-be adversaries, Luton Town, occurred on December 5, 1885, ending in a 1-0 victory for Watford. By the 1886-87 season, Watford Rovers marked their debut in the FA Cup, though they were knocked out in the first match.

Since then, they have taken part in a competition every season. In 1898, the club united with Watford St Mary’s, taking on the name Watford Football Club. They also transitioned to a Cassio Road ground that year.

Founding the Third Division of English Football

Yet, due to the insistence of the property’s owner, Harry Kent, the manager, initiated a search for another permanent location. In 1914, he identified Vicarage Road, which remains the club’s residence. However, they continued to play at Cassio Road for another eight years. In the 1914-15 season, Watford clinched the Southern League championship and narrowly lost it in the 1919-20 season due to goal average. In 1920, they, along with other teams in the division, left the Southern League to become founding members of the Football League Third Division.

Ralph Thorpe, the chairperson of Wells Brewery, sponsored the club during its formative years. Benskins Brewery also backed the acquisition of Vicarage Road, leading to the team being called “The Brewers.” Another early moniker was “The Wasps,” inspired by their hoop-patterned shirts. From the 1921-22 season, the Football League’s third tier had two concurrent divisions of 22 teams each.

Trying to Find Their Footing

The 1959-60 season saw Watford ascend from the Fourth to the Third Division under the guidance of ex-Tottenham Hotspur player and manager Ron Burgess. This feat was primarily due to the 48 goals netted by Cliff Holton. Burgess proceeded to offload more players, such as Dave Underwood, to Fulham, to ensure the club’s financial stability. Burgess’ successor, Bill McGarry, introduced new talents like Charlie Livesey, who scored 25 goals in a single season, Ron Saunders, who would later helm various top-tier teams, and Irish young talent Pat Jennings from Newry Town. Ken Furphy, coming from Workington Town in 1964, took over as the player-manager after McGarry’s departure to Ipswich Town. With young talents like Dennis Bond and Keith Eddy, the team showed promise, even drawing with Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Elton John & Graham Taylor

Their performance in the Third Division wasn’t particularly noteworthy, leading to a further relegation to the Fourth Division in 1975. However, a silver lining appeared in Watford history in 1973 when international music sensation Elton John became affiliated with the club, initially as its president and later, from 1976, as its chairman. He envisioned elevating Watford to the First Division and injected hope into the club’s future.

In 1977, when the club was acquired by global superstar and devoted fan of the club Elton John, he hired Graham Taylor, at the age of 32, as Watford’s manager, an important event in Watford managers history. At the time, Watford was a nondescript team in the Fourth Division. Under the combined efforts of the chairman, manager, and players, Watford began a rapid ascent through the ranks.

The club’s upward trajectory started in 1978 when they clinched the Fourth Division title, leading by an impressive 11-point gap over the second-placed Southend United. The achievement of an 11-point lead was especially commendable, considering wins were awarded only 2 points back then. The upward journey continued as Watford secured the second spot in the Third Division the following year.

First Division Contenders in The Golden Era

By 1982, they broke into the First Division for the first time, finishing as runners-up in the Second Division. This successful squad featured players like Wilf Rostron, Roger Joslyn, Les Taylor, and their first international recruit, Jan Lohman. Key figures like John Barnes, Ross Jenkins, and Luther Blissett emerged as some of the most esteemed players in English football during that decade. Their prowess was evident as they registered triumphant victories over powerhouses like Everton, West Bromwich Albion, and Southampton in the early stages of the season, capping off September with an 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland.

Watford concluded their debut top-tier season as runners-up to Liverpool and even managed to overcome the champions 2-1 on the season’s last day. The 1983-84 season didn’t witness a title push from Watford, but it was significant as the club marked its European football debut in the UEFA Cup. They advanced to the third round, getting past teams like Kaiserslautern and Levski Sofia, only to be ousted by Czechoslovakia’s Sparta Prague. Watford’s league campaign was tumultuous, with them battling relegation initially. However, a mid-season resurgence saw them finish in a respectable 11th position. This season was also special for Watford as they reached the FA Cup final for the first time, facing Everton, which they unfortunately lost 2-0.

The End of Taylor Era

The subsequent 1984-85 season was a mixed bag for Watford. They showcased their might by winning against prominent clubs such as Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, and Tottenham Hotspur and drawing with Liverpool. Yet, setbacks in critical matches restricted them from finishing 11th again. The season took a challenging turn in March as Watford’s league form deteriorated, leading to the dismissal of manager Ray Lewington on March 22nd. The decision was polarizing, with many fans lamenting the departure of a leader who had navigated the club through financial challenges and to two cup semi-finals in three years.

Out of the Top Tier

Bassett’s tenure didn’t begin well. The 1987-88 season saw Watford struggle to find their footing, leading to Bassett’s dismissal after merely eight months at the helm. The season concluded with the club’s relegation from the First Division. The ensuing 1988-89 season brought more disappointment as Watford’s bid to return to the First Division through the Second Division playoffs was unsuccessful. Despite these challenges in the senior ranks, Watford’s youth team showcased promise. They clinched the FA Youth Cup in the 1988-89 season, edging out Man City 2-1 in extra time. Notably, future England international goalkeeper David James played a crucial role for Watford during this victory.

In 1996, Graham Taylor made a return to Watford, this time in the role of Director of Football. Kenny Jackett, a former player, partnered with him, serving as the head coach. However, Watford history shows that this collaboration couldn’t prevent the club from descending into Division Two. By the end of the 1996-97 season, with Watford settling for a mid-table finish in Division Two, roles shifted. Jackett was repositioned as assistant manager, and Taylor resumed his more familiar role as the club’s manager. This reshuffle yielded positive results. During the 1997-98 season, Watford emerged as Division Two champions, edging out Bristol City after a season of intense competition. Their ascent continued the following year as they clinched a spot in the Premiership, thanks to a triumphant playoff final against Bolton.

Gianluca Vialli Replacing Graham

The initial phase in the Premiership seemed promising, with an unexpected win over Liverpool. However, the momentum couldn’t be sustained, and Watford concluded the season at the bottom of the table, facing relegation. The 2000-01 season marked the end of Taylor’s tenure at Watford as he announced his retirement. Interestingly, he soon made a comeback to football management, this time with Aston Villa. Watford’s next managerial appointment was a surprising one. Gianluca Vialli, formerly with Chelsea F.C., took over the reins. Despite these investments, the club’s performance underwhelmed, culminating in a 14th-place finish in the league. Vialli’s tenure was brief as he was dismissed after a single season, declining to step down voluntarily. The responsibility of managing Watford then fell upon Ray Lewington, who had joined the previous year as Vialli’s reserve team manager.

Aidy Boothroyd Surprising Everyone

In a surprising turn of events, mid-April 2019 brought about a shift as the players started making their entrance to the anthem “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John, a legendary music artist and one of the club’s most famous supporters. However, as the 2019-20 Premier League season commenced in August 2019, the club heeded the voice of its fans. Watford returned to the Z-Cars theme as the players’ entrance song, re-embracing the cherished tradition and showcasing the influence of the club’s supporters in its decisions.

Throughout its existence, Watford’s football kits have undergone numerous transformations, showcasing a rich tapestry of design evolution. The iconic yellow and red combination has become synonymous with Watford, symbolizing the club’s resilience and evolution over time.

Initially known as The Brewers, Watford’s moniker paid homage to the Benskins Brewery, which held the Vicarage Road freehold. However, when the team donned blue-and-white uniforms in the 1920s, they were popularly referred to as The Blues. The winds of change blew again in 1959, steering the club towards a new color scheme and a fresh identity. It was during this time that fans christened the team “The Hornets.” Their emblem showcases a hornet, and the club’s nickname, The Hornets, has become a cherished moniker among the fans.

Watford has a long-standing rivalry with Luton Town. The competition between the two clubs intensified over the years, with notable encounters and fierce clashes on and off the pitch.

Vicarage Road is the iconic home ground where Watford plays its matches. It has witnessed international fixtures, music concerts, and various events throughout its history. The stadium has undergone renovations and expansions, with stands named after legendary figures like Elton John and Graham Taylor.

In conclusion, Watford Football Club has a rich and eventful history, marked by periods of success, challenges, and significant moments. The club’s resilience, passionate fanbase, and commitment to its traditions have shaped its journey and made it a prominent name in English football.