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1996-2001

After Graham Taylor left in 1987, it took Watford 10 years to find another manager as good. When they did, it was Graham Taylor again.

After the 1996 relegation Graham took up the role of General Manager, with Kenny Jackett taking charge of the team. But with money tight, and no significant additions to the squad, 1996-97 was not a memorable season. The 46 league games included 19 draws, and Watford finished in mid-table. 

In summer 1997, Graham returned to the team manager role. New directors had joined the board, and Watford invested in the playing staff. Things went well from the start, with the 4-0 win at Luton a highlight of the early part of the season. Watford dominated the division and were promoted comfortably. Bristol City came close, but Watford’s final day win at Fulham meant finishing as champions.

Graham’s first two seasons at Watford in 1977-78 and 1978-79 had both ended with promotions. Remarkably, history repeated itself exactly 20 years later. After a strong start to 1998-99 the team seemed to run out of steam, until Tommy Mooney’s goals inspired a run of seven wins and a draw from the final eight games, and Watford sneaked into the play-offs. An epic evening at St Andrew’s saw Watford overcome Birmingham on penalties, and a famous victory over Bolton at Wembley put the club back into the top division.

Tommy Mooney holds the trophy aloft after Watford win the 1999 play-off final at Wembley

Watford found the Premier League, as it was now called, a rather different place to how it had been in the 1980s. With the influx of money from television rights a major factor, a dominant small group of big-city clubs had formed an elite. All the rest found it hard to compete, and Watford were no exception. 1999-2000 proved a tough experience with only six league wins, although one was over Liverpool at Anfield, and another against Chelsea. Relegation looked on the cards from an early stage, and indeed came about.

In pursuit of an immediate return, Watford started 2000-01 spectacularly with 39 points from the first 15 matches. But only 30 points were collected from the remaining 31 games, and with the early promise dissipated Watford finished ninth. In March 2001, Graham announced that he would be retiring from club management at the end of the season. 

Graham Taylor bids farewell to management, flanked by his coaches Tom Walley and Luther Blissett

Graham would be leaving with Watford in far better shape than five years earlier. As well as the improved league status, there was much more financial backing. Another group of wealthy investors had recently come into the club, and were willing to spend in a push to return Watford to the Premier League.