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A Nightmare at Elm Park (Volume 4)

Geoff Wicken describes an afternoon’s events at Reading that have never been repeated. 


These two action images illustrate a unique occurrence in Watford’s history: the only known match in which goals were conceded by three different goalkeepers. They come from Watford’s away game at Reading’s Elm Park on 14 September 1955. It was a disastrous day which, as well as a goalkeeping curiosity, represented a low point for the club: a 1-6 defeat to the league’s bottom team. It rounded off a three-week period in which Watford conceded 16 goals in four away games, while scoring only two. 

The pictures show the second and third goals scored by Reading, in hoops, against a red-shirted Watford. The two goalkeepers are Ted Bennett and Maurice Cook. Bennett, an ever-present in 1954/55 and thus far in 1955/56, started the game but broke his finger in this challenge as Trevor Long headed home to make the score 2-0 to the Biscuitmen (stand roof advertisers Huntley and Palmers were a major biscuit-manufacturing firm in Reading until 1976).  

The 1950s were tough times for goalkeepers. Failing to finish matches was not uncommon, although Bennett’s injury this day seems freakish, rather than the result of a robust challenge. Ernie Bateman is the defender in the six-yard box. 

Maurice Cook took over in goal, and is shown watching Reading’s Brian Kirkup head in for 3-0 just before half-time. Cook returned to the forward line for the second half, with centre-half Bateman – one of two brothers on Watford’s books at the time – becoming Watford’s third goalkeeper of the day. Bateman conceded another three, one of them an own goal by Dave Bewley, while Cook’s goal for Watford meant that he achieved the feat of both scoring and conceding in the same match.    

According to the Watford Observer’s match report: “For 20 minutes Watford sparkled with promise. Then they collapsed. The defence was at sixes and sevens against a lively Reading attack who ran up their first big score of the season. The forwards moved into position well enough, but their shooting was everywhere except at goal”. 

Manager Len Goulden wrote in his programme notes for the following home game: “We were up against tremendous odds at Reading, but we played good football and hit the bar twice, and the result was 6-1 against us. What a game!” With that afternoon’s opponents Colchester in mind, he added: “My lads have, I am sure, got over the dejected evening at Reading.”   

The rest of the 1955/56 season would also prove a disappointment. The club went through three managers – Goulden, then Johnny Paton, then Goulden again – and lost to Bedford Town in the FA Cup. Watford finished 21st of 24 in Division 3 South, avoiding the need to seek re-election by just three points. The two clubs obliged to endure that ignominy were Swindon and Crystal Palace. Watford have never finished as low in the league since.  

Both Ted Bennett and Ernie Bateman lived to a great age, and passed away recently within a month of each other – Bennett aged 93 in August 2018, and Bateman aged 89 in September 2018. At the time of their passing, 63 years after these pictures, Watford were not struggling at the bottom end of the Football League but among the pace-setters in the Premier League.  


This article is from Volume 4 of The Watford Treasury, to purchase this publication in all its visual glory, please follow the link below:


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