Team Highlight: Watford F.C.

Hornets coming from behind to take the win on Tottenham. Photo: talksport.com

Watford Football Club started off in 1881 as another club name, the Watford Rovers and was only established as the team we loved today in 1898. After finishing the 1914-1915 season as Southern League Champions under the leadership of Harry Kent, the club joined the Football League in 1920. The club then played at various grounds during its early days but finally settled down at Vicarage Road in 1922.

A significant time period which saw the club’s rise was when Graham Taylor stepped in as manager between 1977 to 1987, the promotion from the Fourth to First Division. As of today, Watford still stands toe to toe with Luton Town, forming a long and strong standing rivalry. Famous for their choice of colours, they embedded the idea of “The Wasps” into their fans’ minds till today. Even though they might not be the best performing team out there, they definitely have one of the most passionate fan bases in the world.

How did Watford F.C. come about

Watford Football Club, 1898. Photo: historicalkits.co.uk

Watford F.C. was first known as the Watford Rovers in 1881, when George Devereux de Vere Capell, Earl of Essex and owner of the Cassiobury Park, gave a certain group of boys the permission to use the grounds for their football sports activities. However, the agreements between the two parties stated that the team is not allowed to compete in any organised competitive matches on the estate. Interesting enough, the members of the group then included Henry Grover, the man who became the club’s founder, and Charlie Peacock, who played for Hertfordshire, became involved with the board meetings at the club, which later on became the proprietor of the Watford Observer, the local newspaper.

Over the next couple of years, the team participated in friendly matches against various schools and local clubs around the neighbourhood. The very first fixture for the club was against future rivals Luton Town with a convincing 1-0 home win to Watford on 5 December 1885. In the 1886-1887 season, the Watford Rovers got to taste the FA Cup for the first time even though they were eliminated in their opening game. Despite that, the club still manages to compete in at least one competition in every season since. However, in contrast to the previous seasons, from 1886, the team participated in the Herts Senior Cup, a competition where it opens up to all clubs in Hertfordshire, taking home the victory in 4 occasions. They too participated in the Hennessey Cup which was open to clubs within a 10-mile (16 km) radius of Uxbridge—between 1888 and 1891.
Watford with their famous black and yellow stripe jersey.  Photo: premierskillsenglish.britishcouncil.org

In 1896, the West Hertfordshire joined the Southern Football League, proceeding with the transitioning to professional level the following year. In 1898, they merged with Watford St Mary to become what we know of today as the Watford Football Club. That very same year, the club relocated to a new ground in Cassio Road but the pressure from the owner then pushed the club’s manager, Harry Kent, to search for a new home in which he found in 1914 at Vicarage Road, the club’s current home till today. However, they still remained at Cassio Road for another eight years before officially moving over. Since then, Watford has won the Southern League title in the 1914-1915 season, and missed out on retaining their title in the 1919-1920 season based on goal average. Along with the rest of the divisions then, Watford left the Southern League in 1920, which eventually became the founding members of the Football League Third Division. During the early years, the club was sponsored by Ralph Thorpe, chairman of Wells Brewery and Benskins brewery sponsored the purchase of the Vicarage Road which earned the team nickname of “The Brewers” Another early nickname that popped up was “The Wasps” because of their jerseys which bore coloured hoops.

Watford F.C. in the 21st Century

Legendary Graham Taylor statue outside Vicarage Road. Photo: https://www.thesun.co.uk/

Till the current day, Watford F.C. has indeed like many others, experienced the ups and downs. Graham Taylor returned to the club in February 1996 as the Director of Football with former player Kenny Jackett as head coach which was demoted soon enough to assistant manager and Taylor playing the managerial role. However the switch turned out good as Watford secured the Division Two championship in 1997-1998, beating Bristol City into a second place finish. Following that is again a victory over Bolton which secured the club’s promotion to the Premier League.

The Premier League season started off amazing with an early surprising win over Liverpool but the club were relegated after finishing bottom. Taylor soon announced his retirement at the end of the 2000-2001 season and was replaced by Gianluca Vialli. From there, Vialli made server high-profile signings but finished off with a disappointing season. Soon after that, Vialli was sacked, having refused to resign. He was then replaced by Ray Lewington, who had come to the club the previous summer as Vialli’s reserve team manager. 

It wasn’t until 4 November 2006 that Watford got their first league win of the 2006-2007 season against Middlebrough. This was despite proceeding positive performance by Ashley Young, who ended up being sold to Aston Villa in January for a fee of £9.65 million which was a record transfer fee for the club then.However, despite the numerous signings, Watford still only manages to record a total of 5 wins in the Premier League and sat at the bottom of the league table. However, they reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where they dropped to Manchester United.

Following that comes a similar pattern of relegations and changing of managerial roles. However, the saddest period comes during the 2017 season, the passing of legend Graham Taylor. The loss had definitely impacted the society greatly, while recalling the things that he left behind, both for the team and the town. Once again in the 2017-2018 season, Watford F.C. had a great start to the season but ultimately falling short and finishing mid-table. All of these with the help of new coach, Marco Silva which includes a home victory of 2-1 over Arsenal. But once again, due to poor performance, Silva was replaced by Javi Gracia as coach. However, this time round, the club managed to pull up their game face and defeat the reigning champions then, Chelsea 4-1 to finish the season safely with 41 points.