To help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Watford’s move to Vicarage Road, Daily Mirror sports writer Mike Walters recalls his encounters with those who have occupied the Hornets’ hotseat.
On a grey March morning in 2005, the phone rang at home and retired Fleet Street legend Jack Steggles had a tip to impart.
A few days earlier, Ray Lewington had been relieved of his duties as manager at Vicarage Road, and all lines of enquiry about his successor had gone up dead ends – until now.
“I’m told the next manager of Watford is a chap called Adrian Boothroyd,” said Steggles, who was a familiar face in the press box on the Hornets beat in Graham Taylor’s heyday. “Do you know him?”
Your correspondent stroked his chin, scratched his head and finally conceded defeat. Nope, I had never heard of him. No offence, Aidy. It is fair to say that, 14 months down the line, Boothroyd had left the shadows of anonymity behind and made a name for himself at Vicarage Road.
In recent times, Watford have become masters of plucking managers or head coaches who had been operating in obscurity - as far away as Russia, Georgia, Spain, Italy or Israel - and turning them into household names.
But Boothroyd’s appointment turned out to be a good one. He would become only the second man, after Taylor, to lead the Hornets through the skylight into the top flight.
His first two games in charge, at Burnley and Plymouth, ended in defeat, and for his third - at home to Leeds - he introduced himself in the dugout wearing neither collar-and-tie nor tracksuit, but three-quarter length training bottoms. Oh, dear. First impressions were not great, but they were misleading.
Boothroyd chiselled out crucial away wins at Rotherham and Stoke to keep relegation at bay, but our first meeting, by chance, was not until Elton John’s concert at The Vic over the summer. I bumped into him backstage and wished him luck in the hope he would have a few bob to dabble in the transfer market.
Before the night was out, Elton had announced on stage that the £1.3 million proceeds from his gig would be handed to Boothroyd for new players and told the audience: “Let’s get behind the new manager.”
Famously, at an early team meeting in pre-season, Boothroyd arranged the chairs in the configuration of a team coach and told his startled players: “This bus is heading for the Premier League - who’s coming with me?”
Happily for Watford fans, they were all aboard. Boothroyd took the Hornets on a joyride to promotion. By the time Leeds had been swept aside 3-0 in the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium, his stock had risen stratospherically, and the fans left Cardiff chanting a refrain about Aidy Boothroyd being a football genius. Some of them undoubtedly believed it; perhaps Boothroyd himself believed it, too.
Watford’s stopover in the top-flight was only one season, their inexorable fate cushioned to a large degree by a run to the FA Cup semi-finals, but Boothroyd would have to wait more than a decade for another job in football’s higher altitude - as England’s Under-21 coach.
Unfairly pigeon-holed as a long-ball merchant, he left that job in 2021. I watched Boothroyd’s Young Lions three times, and they didn’t hoof it aimlessly down the middle or the channels once.