5) Arsenal 1 Watford 3, FA Cup 6th round, 14/3/87
Of all the glorious FA Cup ties I’ve witnessed, this is the one I remember most vividly – more so than the semi-finals, which were generally anti-climactic (or, in the case of the one game we actually won, unbearably tense). I’ve written about the game at Highbury before, but it’s worth repeating the sheer exhilaration of watching Luther Blissett steaming towards the Watford fans in the Clock End in the final minutes, completely alone (the Arsenal team up the other end having stopped in expectation of a whistle that never came), and scoring the third goal that sealed victory.
4) Watford 4 Bolton Wanderers 3, Division 1, 23/10/93
Doubly memorable, both as the last Watford match my younger brother (a West Ham fan, for reasons I’ll go into another time) attended with me, and as the greatest comeback I’ve ever witnessed. After an hour, Bolton were 3-0 up and Watford hadn’t had a shot. The atmosphere in the ground was flat as we waited patiently for the referee to put us out of our misery. Except that it didn’t work out that way. A scrambled Gary Porter goal heralded the start of a miraculous recovery, which Porter fittingly finished with a last-minute penalty, to seal the only hat-trick of his long Watford career and a 4-3 victory. I could tell that Chris was impressed, despite himself.
3) Watford 4 Hull City 0, Division 3, 14/5/79
As I say, we’ve been spoilt, especially in terms of promotion games, but this is the one that stands out for me. Watford went into the game needing a win to be sure of promotion (having been top for most of the season, before a late wobble), but it turned out we needn’t have worried. On a gloriously sunny spring evening, the goals came easily (Blissett, Jenkins, Bolton, Joslyn – a roll call of heroes of the Golden Age) to seal promotion to the Second Division for only the second time in the club’s history. At the end, I ventured onto the hallowed turf for the first time to join the jubilant throng in front of the Main Stand.
2) Watford 2 Bolton Wanderers 0, Championship Play-Off Final, 31/5/99
I didn’t have to look up the date of this one, for the simple reason that it was two days after my father’s death from a sudden heart attack. I talked it through with Mum and there didn’t seem to be any reason why that should stop me going to Wembley (as it was a bank holiday weekend, it wasn’t possible to start taking care of the formalities until the following day anyway), so Watford’s big day was one of churning emotions for me. Nicky Wright’s overhead kick was special, but it was Allan Smart’s second goal that did it for me, as I cheered and cried simultaneously. Football as catharsis? No question about it.
1) Watford 7 Southampton 1, League Cup 2nd Round, 2nd Leg, 2/9/80
When I started thinking about this list, I knew at once what would be number one. How could it be anything else? Having attended the depressing 4-0 defeat in the 1st leg, I went to this game with low expectations, only to be blown away by the best display of sustained attacking football I’d ever seen, even from a Watford team that had come to specialise in such things. Unless my memory is playing tricks, I watched this from the terracing in front of the Shrodells Stand, because I’m sure I kept looking at the electronic scoreboard to check that the score really was what I thought it was. In a typically innovative move, the club handed out yellow biros at the next home game that had ‘Watford 7 Southampton 1’ printed down the side, and I still haven’t quite got over the loss of mine.