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.
In the file of English football’s great escapes, it is by no means the most prominent - and among supporters of a certain age at Vicarage Road, it is probably the most under-rated.
But Steve Perryman’s rescue act, to save Watford from their second relegation in three years, was a fabulous achievement.
When Perryman replaced Colin Lee in the Hornets hot-seat in December 1990, the league table read like a threatening letter. Just 10 points from their first 17 league games had left Watford adrift in the Second Division basement, and hope was ebbing away like the tide going out.
Better late than never, we sensed the tide was turning when, in the second week of December, Perryman presided over the Hornets’ first home win of the season, as Paul Wilkinson’s second-half goals saw off Plymouth Argyle 2-0.
I remember the day vividly because Watford had been spared in a wintry blast of weather which forced Tottenham’s home game with Sunderland, a few miles to the east, to be postponed - which I had been down to cover from the press box.
And a few miles to the west, Wycombe Wanderers’ FA Cup tie with Peterborough also fell victim to the snow. You may remember BBC commentator John Motson braving a blizzard to deliver the news from the Adams Park pitch in his sheepskin coat live on the Beeb’s Football Focus lunchtime programme.
So it was a minor miracle that Watford’s game beat the elements at all, and a bonus helping of providence that their barren home run should come to an end.
Much to the amusement of home fans, midway through the second half the loyal rump of travelling Argyle fans were informed on the Vicarage Road tannoy that the M4 was closed (Translation: Good luck getting home).
Perryman harnessed the renewed optimism to such telling effect that, by the New Year, an eight-match unbeaten run had lifted Watford off the seabed.
Their form tailed off again after a derisory cup defeat at Shrewsbury before seven wins and two draws in 10 games on the run-in, with David Byrne’s spectacular winner at Middlesbrough the catalyst, steered the lifeboat ashore.
The magic carpet years of Elton John and Graham Taylor’s double act had given way to relative austerity under new owner Jack Petchey, but Perryman’s assessment of his boss is enlightening.
He said: “I can only speak as I find, and Jack was the best Chairman I ever worked for - because you always knew where you stood with him.
“When he came to board meetings, he minuted everything in detail, and as a manager I liked that clarity. From the outset I was told there was no money to spend on new players, but if I generated any funds through sales, I could spend it.
“The Chairman was great with me, and avoiding relegation with a game to spare when we won at Oxford felt as good as winning promotion.”
Perryman was almost two years into his reign when he produced his single biggest shockwave at Vicarage Road, knocking reigning champions Leeds out of the League Cup with a 2-1 win.
Like his great escape, that result is too easily forgotten.