Post-War Struggles

1939-1959

The outbreak of war in September 1939 brought an immediate end to Football League competition. Regional leagues ran during the war years, with guest players, servicemen and amateurs often featuring in team line-ups. The FA Cup resumed in 1945-46, and league football in 1946-47, with Watford finishing in 16th place in the first post-war season.

The next 12 years might be classed as the least remarkable in the club’s history. There were few highlights for fans to celebrate, as Watford failed to challenge regularly at the top end of Division 3 South in the way that they had in the late 1930s. The FA Cup offered the chance to escape the humdrum, but only one campaign delivered anything to recall fondly – a victory away to second division Preston in 1950, followed by a narrow and controversial home defeat to Manchester United. Otherwise results were disappointing, especially the three defeats to non-league opposition within four years.

The low point came in 1951, when Watford finished 23rd and were obliged to seek re-election for the second time. 1952 brought a 21st place finish, just one point above the re-election line. The board resigned and a public share issue was organised. The new era began with some high-profile player signings, soon followed by further investment in floodlights.

Watford's James Hernon and Roy Brown. Football League Division Three, against Coventry City at Highfield Road, 1954

The next three years saw something of an upturn, with even a fourth place finish in 1954, but by 1956 the average crowd was down to 8,000, the lowest level since the war. Money was short, and Watford finished 21st again.

1958 brought the re-organisation of Division 3 North and South into Divisions 3 and 4. A top-half finish would mean being placed in the new Division 3.  Watford flirted with the dividing line, but eventually finished five points short and found themselves in Division 4.

Rigby Taylor stepped down after 20 years as chairman, making way for Jim Bonser, but the first season in Division 4 saw Watford finish 15th. By the end of the season though, Ron Burgess had joined as manager and Cliff Holton as a player.    

The 1959 close season brought a change in colours to gold and black, and a new nickname as the Blues became the Hornets. Would this finally signify the new era for Watford?