Moving On Up


In the new gold shirts, 1959-60 was a golden year. Watford finished fourth in Division 4 for a celebrated promotion – the first since joining the Football League in 1920 – and also reached the FA Cup 5th round. Cliff Holton scored 48 goals, including two hat-tricks on consecutive days over Easter, and remains an idol to this day to fans from the era. His strike partner Dennis Uphill bagged 36 goals too in a team renowned for its attacking football. 

The momentum continued in 1960-61, with a fourth-place finish in Division 3, albeit 10 points short of a promotion spot. Holton scored another 32 goals, but early the following season was controversially sold to Northampton – a move that cost the club much goodwill among the fans.

Watford finished in 17th in both the next two seasons, then had a serious tilt at promotion to Division 2 in 1963-64 under new manager Bill McGarry, falling only two points short in third place.

Watford's Dave Underwood makes a good save from a shot by Rotherham's Hugh McIlmoyle at Vicarage Road. FA Cup Third Round, 1963

Watford were now operating in the upper half of Division 3. Two middling seasons followed as Ken Furphy took over the manager’s position and set about building a new team. Then 1966-67 brought another near-miss, just one point and one place short of promotion. This was followed by sixth-place in 1967-68.

Back Row: Manager Ken Furphy, Lees, Williams, Low, Scullion, Walker, Sinclair, Lewis, Green, Endean, George Aitken (Trainer). Front Row: Hale, Garvey, Walley, Eddy (C), Slater, Garbett, Welbourne, Packer, Owen and mascot Furphy.

The pieces all fell into place in 1968-69. Watford contested the top two spots in Division 3 all season with Swindon. Only goal average ultimately separated the two sides, with Watford finishing as champions. Furphy’s success was based on a tight defence, which kept a club-record 25 clean sheets, and only conceded seven goals at home. The on-field leadership came from the stylish Keith Eddy, and the goals from Barry Endean, who had been signed from pub football in the north east at the start of the season. For good measure, Watford even gave a scare to Manchester United, the reigning European Cup holders, with a 1-1 FA Cup draw at Old Trafford, before losing the replay in front of Vicarage Road’s biggest ever crowd of 34,099.

Watford players run around the Vicarage Road ground. The team only need one point to be Third Division champions, 19 April 1969

After moving from the Southern League to the Football League, for almost 50 years Watford had played in the lower divisions, while the fans dreamed of reaching the heights of Division 2. Long-time supporters had wondered whether it would ever happen. Now, finally, Watford had reached the promised land.