PAN back to May 14, 1977, when one man’s dreams for Watford were captured on canvas and displayed for all to see.

Back then, Vicarage Road was alive with rumours and counter-rumours.

Just a few weeks earlier Watford had been reduced to nine men in a home game against Huddersfield Town but managed to emerge 2-0 victors.

The crowd, many of whom had joined in earlier in the campaign chanting for manager Mike Keen’s head, parodied their own chants by shouting out “Keen in, Keen in”.

However, just before the kick-off, I had talked with the manager and Mike, fresh from a meeting with chairman Elton John, informed me: “It is all over”.

The deal had been done and the manager was left with the task of congratulating the players after the match and explaining he was no longer in charge.

Elton, promoted to chairman after being a director for four years, had taken over the club the previous May after buying out the hitherto intransigent Jim Bonser. Elton disliked the idea of axing Keen and had intimated earlier in the season that some major funds were heading Watford’s way.

It was generally believed that Elton was negotiating a sponsorship deal with a major corporation and that the money would be paid to Watford FC.

It all sounded promising but then Watford’s promotion bid from Division Four had floundered under Keen despite some occasional moments of brilliant football. The manager had some skilful players at his command but they lacked the steel necessary to follow inspired home displays by gritty performances away from home.

The weakness in the side was epitomised by the FA Cup defeat at non-league Northwich Victoria earlier in the season. Capable of putting in some entertaining displays, such as the brilliant 5-1 win over Doncaster Rovers, Watford were brittle, lacking the real appetite needed to trade punches away from home. During those years, I saw Elton John regularly as he and I travelled away with the team. I knew he had big plans, or perhaps it would be fairer to say big hopes, but even I was surprised when he laid them all out in his negotiations for the next manager.

The Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell, subsequently a harsh and some, like myself, would say obsessive critic of Watford and their style of play, revealed that Elton was talking to Bobby Moore, the former England skipper, and wanted him to take the club into the top flight.

I checked with the writer and Jeff informed me that it was a done deal, no matter what the club’s other directors said. Ultimately the other directors said enough to steer Elton away from a potentially disastrous appointment, leaving Powell with egg all over his face and Bobby Moore both disappointed and discomforted.

Moore never demonstrated any managerial aptitude in his subsequent time in the game but the whole saga had not gone unnoticed by a friend and colleague who lived in Chester Road.

Terry Challis was still working “down the Sun” but, as an avid Watford fan whose cartoons had become a regular feature in our sports pages for the previous five years, he welcomed the news that Elton had plans and intent, not just hopes. The concept inspired him and he set to work on a project. For a man who would seldom achieve in one day if he could spin it out for a week, he completed his idea very quickly.

So the season came to an end with a home match against Darlington.

In those days we presented the Player of the Season Award on the pitch and Elton John came out to make the presentations. However, he was also the recipient of a special presentation.

Terry Challis had captured the breadth of Elton’s ambition for the club in an allegorical painting, depicting Elton, astride a giant hornet, pointing the way forward as a Watford figure emerged from the bog and looked towards the chessboard of football pitches, past new stands up towards the Liver Bird near the horizon and the Eiffel Tower, denoting Europe, beyond.

Elton was genuinely delighted with the painting because it captured the essence of his Watford dream.

That summer, Elton made the move, egged on by directors Geoff Smith and Muir Stratford, and finally agreed to appoint Graham Taylor as manager.

We all know the story from then onwards for Watford did make their way across that chessboard of pitches, embraced a new stand as depicted in the painting and finally reached the top flight to finish second to Liverpool and qualify for Europe.

Terry, who sadly died last year, had captured it all in one painting, which became a fund-raising poster for the club as we approached Christmas 1977 with the Hornets heading Division Four.

Chief photographer Malcolm Orvis and I organised the fundraising. We had achieved similar success with the Elton John calendar, depicting the star in local situations a couple of years earlier. With some help from a few ladies and girls, we sold the posters through the newspaper columns, over the counter and spent several Saturday mornings waylaying Christmas shoppers by Charter Place, raising in excess of £2,500.

The poster sold out and, over the subsequent years, there have been enquiries as to whether we would reprint it. Terry, whose exhibition is taking place currently at Watford Museum, was unable to locate a pristine copy. So many posters were torn or creased, dog-eared or ripped, not least the copy at Watford Museum, but finally we have unearthed one and it is now in negative form and the presses are ready to roll.

Well, Graham Taylor is back, as is Elton, so in essence the poster is still topical but what is the demand? Do you want a poster or something that will last? We have engaged a printer who will print on canvas at the same size as the poster (735 x 615mm), varnish them, stretch them round a good quality frame and string ready for hanging.

The price will be £130 and this time it will last.

On the other hand for the more reasonable budget, we will be reprinting posters at £9.99 plus postage and packing. Interested? Then let us know.

  • To express an interest, email sports editor Anthony Matthews at, with the words ‘Terry Challis Picture’ in the subject line, or write to him at Terry Challis Picture, Sports Desk, Watford Observer, Caxton Court, Caxton Way, Watford Business Park WD18 8RJ.

Please state whether you would be interested in a canvas or poster and include your name, address and a daytime telephone number.