Watford FC Profile
|Major Honours||Second Division/Championship play-offs (2), Third Division/League One (2), Fourth Division/League Two (1).|
Promotion, relegations and sacking managers have become part of Watford's DNA. The club are back in the Championship for the 2022/23 campaign...and are already on to their second manager.
The 'Hornets' were founded in 1881 as Watford Rovers before becoming Watford FC in 1898.
The football club's glory days were the 1970s and '80s, when legendary singer and lifetime fan Elton John took over the club as chairman.
During this period, Watford climbed from the Fourth Division to the First Division in just seven years.
Watford have had several spells in the Premier League, their most recent in the 2021/22 season, where they suffered relegation back to the Championship after one season in the top flight.
Watford FC's home ground is Vicarage Road, which has a capacity of 22,200.
The early years
Watford's origins go back to 1881 when Watford Rovers were formed by Henry Grover, who played for the club. The team were originally made up of amateur players.
Five years after the team were formed, they competed in the FA Cup, and in 1889 Rovers won the County Cup for the first time. Watford Rovers changed their name to West Herts in 1893 and joined the Southern Football League three years later.
Despite performances and attendances dropping, West Herts decided to turn professional and their fortunes began to change. At the same time, the more heavily attended Watford St. Mary's were playing in a lower league to West Herts and the two teams decided to amalgamate. In 1898, they became Watford Football Club.
The team were relegated to the Southern League Second Division in 1903, but bounced straight back. They then won the Southern League title in the 1914/15 season. Due to the First World War, they held on to their crown for five years, finishing second by goal average when soccer resumed in 1919/20. After the season ended, the team resigned from the Southern League to join the new Football League Third Division.
From the 1921/22 season, the third tier of the Football League consisted of two parallel sections of 22 clubs. These clubs were both fighting for promotion to the Second Division and trying to hold on to their league status.
Watford were unable to gain promotion between 1922 and 1934. They finished in 21st place in 1926/27, but were unanimously re-elected to the league after a ballot was taken from clubs in the top two divisions.
A change of management brought fresh success to Watford and they won the Football League Third Division South Cup in 1937. They also achieved five straight top six finishes between 1934/35 and 1938/39. Then, soccer was suspended due to the Second World War.
Soccer resumed a year after the war ended, with Watford in the Third Division South. Due to a 23rd-place finish in 1950/51, the club had to apply for re-election and for the second time in their history, the higher league clubs unanimously voted for them to stay in the league.
In 1958, the league was reconstructed into four national divisions, with Watford participating in the Fourth Division in 1958/59.
Eleven years after being placed in the Fourth Division, the team had managed two promotions and found themselves in the Second Division for the first time in their history. It was a short stay for the Hornets though as just three years later, they were back in the Third Division and forced to sell players just to survive.
Sadly for Watford, it was a short stay in the Third Division too as they continued to fall through the Football League, ending up in the Fourth Division in 1975.
Elton John takeover - promotions to relegations
In the mid-1970s, Watford were languishing in the English Fourth Division with little chance of being a First Division club.
However, a new spark of energy was injected into the club when Watford fan and singer Elton John became chairman in 1976. Elton John's ambition was to take the Hornets to the top flight and he soon assembled a team with similar ambition.
Manager Mike Keen was sacked in April 1977 and was replaced by former Lincoln City manager Graham Taylor, who had the same aim as Elton John for the Hornets.
Under the guidance of Elton John and Taylor, Watford won the English Fourth Division for the first time - in extraordinary style. The club recorded the most wins, the fewest defeats, the most goals scored and the fewest goals conceded by any side in the division.
The club then achieved back-to-back promotions and titles, winning the Third Division by 11 points in 1978/79, finishing ahead of Southend United, Swansea City and Bradford.
Watford would then have two seasons of consolidation in the Second Division, finishing in 18th and ninth-place respectively.
This was the springboard that enabled Watford to realise their dream of playing in the First Division as they achieved their third and final promotion in 1981/82.
Elton John's investment and belief drove Watford further forward. In their first season in the top flight, they secured a second-place finish, qualifying for the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history in the process.
Taylor then lead Watford to the 1984 FA Cup final but they fell at the final hurdle, losing 2-0 to Everton.
Taylor stayed at Vicarage Road for a further three seasons, leaving at the end of the 1986/87 campaign to take over at Aston Villa.
Taylor's successor was Dave Bassett. However, after just a half-season in charge and four wins from 23 games, Bassett was sacked. He was replaced by former Watford player Steve Harrison, who had the difficult task of keeping the Hornets in the Premier League.
Despite his efforts, Watford were relegated at the end of the 1987/88 season and they failed to return to the top flight in 1989.
Colin Lee and Steve Perryman would take the managerial hotseat next, before Glenn Roeder assumed the role in July 1993. Watford struggled during Roeder's third season in charge and in February 1996, Taylor returned as interim manager to prevent a second relegation in eight years. He was unsuccessful though as Watford were relegated from the second tier.
Kenny Jackett came in for the 1996/97 campaign but after a mid-table effort, Taylor was once again appointed head coach in June 1997. He had been director of football during Jackett's tenure. Success quickly followed, with the Englishman leading Watford back to the top flight in 1999 after winning the Second Division title and First Division play-offs in two successive seasons.
Return to the Premier League and Championship survival
Despite their return to the top flight in 1999, Watford only lasted a season, finishing bottom in the 1999/2000 campaign to confirm their relegation to the newly-formed Championship. Despite this, Taylor left the club at the end of the 2000/01 season a hero.
Gianluca Vialli and Ray Lewington followed before Aidy Boothroyd was appointed manager in March 2005. This was a period of severe financial constraints, with Boothroyd coming in as Watford were hovering around the Championship relegation places.
However, within 14 months, Boothroyd had guided Watford back to the Premier League. They survived in 2004/05 and in 2005/06, they finished third, defeating Leeds United 3-0 in the play-off final to secure promotion.
Watford struggled in the Premier League though, only picking up five wins during the 2006/07 campaign. This saw them relegated as they finished rock bottom.
Boothroyd would leave the Hornets halfway through the 2008/09 season after finishing sixth in the previous campaign. At the time of his departure, the Hornets were 21st in the league but new boss Brendan Rodgers managed to guide the club to 13th in the end.
The Hornets would then endure a few mediocre seasons in the Championship and at one point were even under threat of entering administration. They were managed by Malky Mackay and Sean Dyche during this period before being bought out by the Pozzo family in 2012. They replaced Dyche with Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola.
The Pozzo family and the managerial merry-go-round
In their first season, the Pozzo family and Zola achieved a third-place finish in the Championship, just missing out on Premier League football after losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace in the play-off final. Zola was sacked in December 2013 and replaced by Giuseppe Sannino.
This would be the start of a rotating door policy when it came to managers at Vicarage Road. Sannino resigned after a 13th-place finish in 2014. He was replaced by Oscar Garcia for the 2014/15 season, but he left after just four games due to "health reasons".
Garcia was replaced by Bill McKinlay, who was replaced eight days later by Slavisa Jokanovic. Within a year, the Hornets had been through four managers.
Jokanovic seemed the right choice though as he gained automatic promotion to the Premier League in 2014/15, finishing second behind Norwich City.
However, Jokanovic's one-year contract was not extended, and as Watford entered the Premier League, Quique Sanchez Flores came in as head coach.
In their first season back in the top division, Watford finished 13th, as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-finals. However, once again, the Pozzo family initiated another change in management, replacing Flores with Walter Mazzarri. He resigned at the end of a disappointing 2016/17 season which saw the Hornets just cling on to their Premier League status.
Marco Silva took the job at the start of the 2017/18 campaign before being replaced six months later by Javi Garcia. He managed to last 20 months, but was dismissed four games into the 2019/20 season.
Former boss Sanchez Flores was appointed within 30 minutes of Garcia's dismissal, but he was soon out of the door too, replaced by Nigel Pearson in December 2019.
Pearson was in charge for the majority of the season, but was let go with two games to go. Watford were subsequently relegated in 2019/20, finishing a single point from safety.
In that campaign they did miraculously beat Liverpool, ending their 44-match unbeaten run by beating the champions 3-0 at Vicarage Road.
For the 2020/21 Championship season, Xisco Munoz was announced as head coach and he managed to guide the Hornets back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
However, after just seven games in charge of the Premier League, Watford announced that they parted ways with Munoz despite his side sitting 15th in the table. In his place, Claudio Ranieri took charge - six years after his Premier League win with Leicester City.
His time in charge lasted less than four months. He won just two games, which included a 4-1 victory over Manchester United, and lost 11. Ranieri was dimissed on January 24 a few days after a 3-0 home defeat to then bottom club Norwich City, which pushed Watford into the relegation zone.
Former England manager Roy Hodgson stepped out of retirement to become Ranieri's replacement as the club battled to stave off relegation.
But despite shoring up the Hornets' leaky defence the 74-year-old was unable to inspire a 'great escape' and the club feebly dropped back into the Championship after a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, with three games to spare in the Premier League season.
Hodgson announced he would be leaving the club at end of the season, and Watford moved swiftly to appoint Forest Green Rovers boss Rob Edwards as the new manager for the 2022/23 season.
The 39-year-old had won the League Two title with Forest Green, and promotion to League One for the first time in their history. He was also named EFL League Two manager of the season for 2021/22.
But his tenure was also brief. In late September 2022, with just 11 games under his belt and only three wins, Edwards was sacked and replaced with former West Ham and Croatia manager boss Slaven Bilic.
Watford's biggest local rivals are Luton Town, with the two clubs separated by just 19 miles. They regularly met between 1900 and 1937, but Luton were then in a higher division than Watford through to 1963.
In the 1960s and '70s, the matches were often quite violent, with one particular game in 1969 seeing three red cards shown to ill-tempered players.
Due to the two sides' varying fortunes, the rivalry is played out irregularly. It did resume in the 2020/21 Championship season, with both sides winning their home fixture 1-0. However, with Watford's return to the Championship in 2022/23, the rivalry is back on once again.
Luton have by far the better head-to-head record though, winning 37 times compared to Watford's 29. However, Watford have finished higher than Luton on the league ladder every season since 1997.
Watford FC News
- Sep 26, 2022