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Hornet Heaven Deceased Player of the Month: Spencer Lister

Did you know that a Watford player was awarded a knighthood? (If you’re thinking it can’t have been for football, you’re correct.) Olly Wicken explains.


Spencer Lister joined Watford FC in 1897/98 when we were still known as West Herts. He was 21 and played on the left wing.

His first couple of appearances were in friendlies, including an away match against Watford St Mary’s at a ground known as ‘The Bog’. (One of the ends was known as ‘the Sewer Farm end’. Sounds lovely.)

He played in ten Southern League matches that season and Watford lost only two. (Unfortunately, the defeats were 0-8 and 0-11, at Dartford and Warmley.) He was on the winning side against Wycombe Wanderers and he scored his first goal for us against Chesham. Against Southall, he bagged us a brace (as did his team-mate with the famously strange nickname ‘Tuggy’ Beach).

In the January he played in front of the biggest home crowd of the season in a match watched by the Home Secretary, Viscount Ridley. It was against the team who had beaten us 0-11 earlier in the campaign: Warmley. We thrashed them 4-0.

The next season, Spencer played in two games, including the FA Cup win over Lowestoft that was one of Jack Cother’s first matches for the club. By now we’d changed our name from West Herts to Watford FC. We finished above both Brentford and Fulham in the League. Then Spencer left the club.

For a while, he played for St Bartholomew’s Hospital where he studied medicine before qualifying as a doctor in 1905. At this point he emigrated. In South Africa, Spencer became a medical officer for mining companies and developed an interest in bacteriological diseases affecting mine workers. He developed vaccines for pneumonia.

Meanwhile, Watford FC were improving. When football resumed after the First World War, in 1919/20, we were Southern League runners-up, narrowly missing out on the medals. Spencer Lister, though, improved on that. In 1921 he was awarded a gold medal by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. 

But that wasn’t his most notable honour. By then he had already received the star and cross as Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (the sixth-highest order in the British honours system). He was knighted for his work on pneumonia. He was now Sir Spencer Lister.

In 1926, Sir Spencer was appointed honorary professor of pathology and bacteriology at the University of the Witwatersrand. He died in Johannesburg in 1939, and was buried there. He now resides in Hornet Heaven.

In the Watford afterlife paradise, Sir Spencer is great mates with his old team-mates. Up there, Tuggy Beach and Jack Cother (as footballers do when they play with someone a bit brainy) call him ‘the Professor’. Unlike Steve Palmer and Almen Abdi, though, Sir Spencer Lister actually was one.

As a wise and serious man, Sir Spencer has so far kept himself out of the Hornet Heaven audio stories due to their occasional frivolity. Find out more about the podcast at