The Watford Observer has again teamed up with its friends at The Watford Treasury to share stories from its new book, Coming Home.

James Garrett remembers a game that's still special to him.

"Remember Bolton?” I wonder how many of you have said that in the 27 years that have elapsed since one of the most remarkable matches ever seen at Vicarage Road. Whenever the team is struggling, or even being outplayed, I think of that afternoon. I might remember it, but saying those two words doesn’t usually help; I mean, lightning is never supposed to strike twice and all that.

We have witnessed some memorable comebacks from two goals down, of course. Only five years ago we were 0-2 down at half-time against Blackpool, and our first game at the London Stadium is one of our finest modern Premier League moments. Three goals though? Not since that damp, autumnal Saturday in 1993. Despite the fact I clearly remember my 14-year-old self watching the match from the barely half-full Vicarage Road end, checking back on a few facts I’ve realised my memory has played a few tricks on me.

I remember the 1993/94 season as a really tough one; it was Glenn Roeder’s first season as a manager and he really struggled. The Hornets seemed set for relegation near the end of March, when just before deadline day (at the end of March back then) a host of players were signed, the team was transformed, and a heroic last ten matches brought 20 points that saved the season, ending in a 19th place finish.

Just take a glance at the team that day. Not exactly many players there who will push for inclusion in the Hall of Fame; eight had come through the youth ranks at Vicarage Road though, a gentle reminder of how football used to be. There was some quality in the squad. Andy Hessenthaler, signed from non-league football, was a bundle of energy and determination in the middle of the park. He was joined by a Watford stalwart in Gary Porter. Gary had the proverbial cultured left foot and a sharp eye for both a pass and a shot, and he eventually played over 400 matches for the club. My own personal favourite was Paul Furlong, who had been cruelly taken away from the team: banned for the Bolton game and the following six matches after receiving two harsh red cards in the space of three games. He was probably the best striker in the division, despite playing for a struggling side.

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It was the late Glenn Roeder's first season as Hornets boss. Picture: Action Images

I fully expected my research to highlight that Watford were in the relegation zone going into this game and newly promoted Bolton much higher up the table, but I was wrong. Before the match, Watford were 12th, one place above the visitors. It actually wasn’t until after this match that the team started to struggle, not winning another league match for over two months.

They had made a disastrous start to the season at Luton, with both Jason Drysdale and Barry Ashby sent off in a 1-2 defeat. By mid-October the team had settled down, and Furlong’s efforts were being supported by the emergence of exciting young winger Bruce Dyer, yet another local boy making good.

And so to Bolton. Thankfully, there are some (rather poor quality) highlights available on YouTube. What those brief moments don’t show is that Bolton were dynamic, ruthless and completely commanding for the great majority of this match: as one-sided a game as you could imagine at this level, racing into a 3-0 lead. Gerard Lavin was repeatedly beaten by skilful right-winger David Lee in the first half, as the Watford centre-backs did their best statue impressions. I am, by proxy, a fully paid-up member of the Goalkeepers’ Union, but even I can’t understand what Simon Sheppard was doing for the first two goals, he seemed to be stuck in quicksand; it was all quite comical. In fact, I do remember laughing when the third goal went in shortly after half-time. Despite this, I knew I wouldn’t get a tap on the shoulder from my dad suggesting an early exit. He saw every game through to the bitter end, no matter what.

What happened next became a thing of legend, being rightly remembered as the Gary Porter show. There is, though, a slightly different narrative, involving the key substitution just before the hour mark, when Ken Charlery replaced youth product Alex Inglethorpe. The latter had a built a big reputation as a striker for both the youth team and reserves, but was never able to deliver at first-team level. Charlery, a journeyman striker who had better times at Peterborough United, went on to make two assists and score a stunning equaliser, his last-ever Watford goal. What I still clearly remember is that it wasn’t like this struggling Watford side suddenly started playing beautiful football; each goal seemed to appear completely out of nowhere.

Shooting towards the Rookery, with 19 minutes left, Porter played a neat one-two with Charlery, and scuffed a shot from 20 yards past the keeper. A few minutes later, a Charlery flick-on and a Lee Nogan touch allowed Porter to chest down and instantly volley home with his right foot. Then, from a long clearance in the 88th minute, Charlery took the ball down, turned, and smashed it into the corner of the net: the goal of the game by some distance. With 90 minutes nearly up, Porter swung in a corner from the right that was flicked on, and then inexplicably handled by a Bolton player jumping alongside Jason Soloman. It was so clear I could see it from the back of the Vicarage Road end. And you know what happened next. As cool as you like, Porter slotted the ball to the keeper’s right as he dived the wrong way. Bolton had no time to reply, the final whistle blew, and the match became part of Vicarage Road folklore.

It all felt, in truth, a bit strange. The team shot up to eighth in the table, but the euphoria was short-lived. If anything, the result had a detrimental effect on the team, given they failed to win any of the next ten matches, losing seven. Without Paul Furlong, the team looked toothless in attack, and Bolton proved to be Ken Charlery’s finest (half) hour in a Watford shirt, as he returned up the A1 to Peterborough a few weeks later. It had been a really difficult winter, and as the Hornets rolled into the home stretch of the season it looked like it was all over, despite the signing of a highly-rated midfielder from Derby called Craig Ramage. Just as Watford looked destined for relegation near the end of March, defenders Colin Foster and Keith Millen were signed, alongside two on-loan forwards, Tommy Mooney and Dennis Bailey. These signings somehow instantly clicked, and the end of the 1993/94 season was like a dream. Most of it had been a nightmare.

In truth, the Bolton match summed up the season perfectly. Its outstanding contributor Gary Porter was a great servant for over 13 years, leaving just before the good times started all over again in 1997. He is rather an unsung Watford legend, and thanks largely to him I will always ‘remember Bolton.’

Home Tied was a short-lived fanzine produced by The Watford Treasury through the spring and summer of 2020, sold to a small, but enthusiastic, readership by mail order only. Mutating in YBR! (Yellow Black & Red!) later that year, an anthology of articles entitled Coming Home was produced, featuring the best of Home Tied, and available through the Hornets Shop, as well as Watford Museum.

YBR! is available at: