The Watford Observer has again teamed up with its friends at The Watford Treasury to share stories from Volume 7.

When Graham Taylor joined Watford as manager in 1977 his effect was instant and dramatic. Two away games at the same ground, separated by barely four months, were a world apart in significance. David Harrison was there for both.

On Easter Monday 1977, Watford travelled to Edgeley Park to face Stockport County in Division Four. It was not what could be termed a high-profile encounter, a fact reflected in a less-than-bumper Bank Holiday attendance of 2,536.

County had begun that 1976/77 season in tremendous fashion and topped the league deep into October. However, by Easter they had slumped to 14th place, with their matchday programme bemoaning the loss of ‘really silly’ home points to the likes of Southport, Halifax and Darlington.

To be honest, Watford weren’t much better, although we had at least remained unbeaten at home until two days earlier, when Brentford won a horrible affair (during which we contrived to miss two penalties) by a single goal. It was an appalling away record that held Watford back and we arrived at Edgeley with just two away league wins to our name all season, at Workington and Southport. Sandwiched between those two, of course, was the humiliation whose name is still rarely mentioned in these parts. Northwich Victoria. Sorry about that.

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In truth, County’s league standing and attendances probably reflected the potential of the club. The brief flurry of excitement provoked, in late 1975, by George Best’s fleeting three-game spell (he’d scored against Watford, needless to say) had long since dwindled away, along with the crowds. For Watford the position at that time was broadly similar but the prospects entirely different. Looking at the side that represented the club that day, ‘chronic under-achievement’ is a description that springs to mind.

The likes of Andy Rankin, Dennis Bond, Alan Garner, Alan Mayes, Keith Pritchett and company shouldn’t even have been playing in Division Four, let alone preparing for a third season at that level. For goodness’ sake, even the great Tom Walley was in that side!

No, the whole thing was something of a shambles, on almost every level.

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Tom Walley

Meanwhile, my friend Ted and I had reacted to the Brentford nightmare in the only way we knew. By jumping into the trusty Vauxhall Viva and driving to Stockport.

For readers used to a rather higher standard of football than the club was able to offer in the mid-70s, it’s worth briefly outlining the planning required for an away trip, made under one’s own steam, at that time.


The motorways were deserted while the entrance process involved nothing more complex than plonking down a handful of change (that season’s matchday admission at the Vic was 65p) at the turnstiles.

So Ted and I headed north that sunny Easter Monday. The fact we’d also be driving – in completely the opposite direction – to Aldershot the following evening was of no consequence.

The game that afternoon ended 2-2. Alan Mayes and Keith Mercer were on target for the Horns in a dismal affair, but the conversation on the return journey centred around another striker and his club manager.

Ross Jenkins at that stage already had 45 Watford career goals to his name, but the relationship with manager Mike Keen had not been entirely smooth. Ross was in and out of the side but saw himself as having unfairly been made a scapegoat for the Brentford defeat, when dropped to the bench at Stockport.

We knew roughly how Ross felt because he told us.

We were standing in the largely deserted paddock in front of County’s main stand as the substitute warmed up. I say ‘warmed up’, but in truth Ross was doing nothing of the sort. Having done a bit of extremely light stretching, he was actually sitting on the perimeter wall taking the sun, seemingly happy to chat. He’d been out there for 15 minutes. We asked, not unreasonably, why he hadn’t been sent on.

I won’t repeat, in a family Visual History publication, the actual words he used but they ran along the lines of ‘the gentleman in the dug-out over there has forgotten I’m out here.’ Ross eventually got on and lolloped around for a while but to say his heart wasn’t in it would have been a significant understatement.

Something was clearly very wrong and on the drive back we agreed that steps needed to be taken, and quickly, before we found ourselves an established Division Four club.

We continued our tour of the motorway network with a trip to Aldershot the following evening. There, against a poor side, we suffered a 2-1 defeat notable mostly for a fine display by Steve Sherwood, making his Watford debut.

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Mike Keen, above, had been a terrific player and was, by all accounts, a thoroughly good bloke and extremely popular among most of the players, but his time at the Vic was up. The potential around the club, with Elton now actively involved, was so apparent you could almost smell it. The club badly needed someone to unlock that potential and that man was not going to be Mike Keen.

One question that still lingers is when exactly Keen was relieved of his duties. The following Saturday the Vicarage Road faithful enjoyed an epic nine-man victory over Huddersfield Town, but those heroics came too late to save the boss.

The side, under the caretaker supervision of coach John Collins, played out the remaining six games to complete the season. Those six included an extraordinary 4-1 win at promotion-seeking Swansea, a result serving no meaningful purpose other than to confirm the unrealised potential in the squad.

The town was alive with speculation as to who might be entrusted with the task of reinvigorating this demoralised, underachieving squad. Bobby Moore was a noisy Fleet Street choice but the reality, as we all know, proved very different. Our gratitude should forever be directed towards those responsible.

The new manager, together with the process of making the appointment, has entered club folklore and needs no repetition here. Suffice to say that GT was appointed in June 1977 and nothing was ever the same again.

Forgive me if I digress briefly at this point. My Dad had been my steadfast football companion ever since he first took me to Vicarage Road, as a wide-eyed six-year-old in the wonderful Holton season of 1959/60.

By then he’d already been a regular at the Vic for some years and had consequently endured a succession of miserable low points, even before the dismal return to Division Four in 1975. If anyone deserved a change of fortune at the club, he did.

So how did he plan for the impending upturn? He and my mother moved to Derbyshire, that’s how. The week Graham arrived at Vicarage Road. Had the timing not been so unfortunate, it would have been hilarious. In fact it was hilarious, a point I never tired of making.

The justification for including that brief family diversion was that my Dad was in touch with a senior figure at the club. Conscious that my parents were moving north, in those pre-internet days, his friend kindly dropped him a note, dated July 24, 1977, explaining what was underway at Vicarage Road. I kept that letter because… well, you never know, do you?

‘As you can imagine, everything at Vicarage Road is buzzing and everyone wants the season to start, not least the players, who have never had it so hard. About time too! It will take time to get the foundations right, but I am very optimistic for the long-term. In the short-term, promotion this season would be nice but I wouldn’t expect it. My aim is Division Two in seven years, then for the top!’

Wildly ambitious yet spookily prophetic. Not bad, eh?

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But spin forward four months and we returned to Edgeley Park for the very first league fixture under Graham.

Eight of those who played on Easter Monday were still involved. Steve Sherwood replaced Andy Rankin in goal, prior to the two of them sharing keeping duties for the next couple of seasons. But it was the outfield changes that defined the GT version of Watford.

Out went Arthur Horsfield, never to be seen again, unless you followed Dartford. Out went Peter Coffill, headed for Torquay. And out went Tom Walley who still had many years of outstanding service to offer the club, but had lost the fight with his own battle-scarred knees. Tom, of course, remained at the club to seal a position as a much-loved, bona fide club legend.

However, it was the incoming players who characterised the difference between the sides managed by Keen and Taylor. Roger Joslyn came back in and was joined by two massive GT signings, in Sam Ellis and Ian Bolton. Ellis was simply GT’s representative on the pitch, while you’ll never convince me the club has made a better value-for-money signing than Ian Bolton. In retrospect, the game at Stockport was to prove hugely significant as a precursor of what was to come.

Stockport hadn’t been standing still that summer and made eight changes to their Easter Monday line-up, provoking great optimism amongst the locals. They introduced high-profile acquisitions in England internationals Chris Lawler and Mike Summerbee. But GT’s first game was all about the attitude and resilience of the team he was just starting to build.

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Ross Jenkins

Big Ross – reinstated and visibly loving every minute – bore no similarity to the dispirited figure we’d seen slouching around the same pitch just four months before. He nodded in a free kick to put Watford ahead, but it was what followed after County equalised that made the performance memorable.

Led by Ellis, vociferously skippering from the back, the side rolled up their sleeves and met the challenge of a motivated home team head on. Alan Mayes won a penalty that had the home fans howling in indignation. They were soon howling even louder though, when Sam Ellis crashed home the spot-kick and stood motionless, facing the crowd, both arms aloft.

In these days of extravagant, meticulously-rehearsed goal celebrations, that reaction sounds nothing out of the ordinary, but that simple gesture so eloquently demonstrated the passion lacking under the previous regime. We were off and running, not just at Stockport but for the next decade. The rejuvenated Jenkins made it 3-1 and a glorious awayday was in the record books.

Previously unconsidered adventures lay ahead, but the pieces began to fall into place on that sunny August afternoon at Edgeley Park, Stockport.

Volume 7 of the Watford Treasury is available to buy at