The Formative Years

1881-1939

The beginnings of the club can be traced back to 1881, when Watford Rovers was formed by Henry Grover and a group of fellow teenagers who had been given permission by the Earl of Essex to kick a football around in Cassiobury Park. Friendly matches began in 1882, with various sites in the town being used for matches. The first competitive game was an FA Cup tie against Swindon Town in 1886. In 1890 West Herts Club and Ground was set up in Cassio Road (where it remains to this day) and Watford Rovers moved in as the football section, changing name to West Herts in 1893.

Regular league football began when West Herts joined the Southern League Division 2 in 1896, and the club turned professional the next year. In 1898 the rival town club Watford St Mary’s was absorbed, and the club’s name became Watford.

Watford were promoted to the Southern League Division 1 as champions in 1900, but were relegated in 1903. At this point Ralph Thorpe stepped in as a benefactor, and the great former England captain and double-winner John Goodall was appointed as manager. Watford were promoted again as unbeaten champions of Division 2 in 1904.

Harry Kent took over as manager in 1910, and in 1915 led the club to the Southern League championship. Watford can be regarded as one of the leading clubs in the south of England at this point.

Hostilities were occasionally suspended - often on Christmas Day - as soldiers enjoyed a game of football

Operations were suspended during the First World War, and restarted in 1919 with the local Benskin’s brewery as club benefactor – an association that would last over 40 years. In 1920 Watford became members of the Football League when the Southern League joined en masse. 

Vicarage Road became the home ground in 1922. However the mid-1920s was a troubled period. By 1926 the club was in financial crisis, caused by the costs of the move, and launched a public appeal. In 1927 Watford finished 21st of 22 in Division 3 South and had to apply for re-election.

Watford's Bill Brown under pressure from Bristol Rovers' Phil Taylor, in the 1935 Division Three South Cup Final

The 1930s saw fortunes improve. The club enjoyed its most successful period to date, with five consecutive top six finishes in Division 3 South from 1935 to 1939, and a share of the Southern Section Cup with Millwall in 1937. In 1939 the Second World War intervened.