The GT Years Ranked: 1 - 1982/83
Nick Catley presents his list of GT's greatest seasons at Watford
The greatest season in the Taylor era. The greatest season in Watford FC’s history. The greatest season we will ever have. The year we were the second-best team in the entire country.
There are plenty of highlights from the season, of course. The opening-day win against Everton, as Gerry Armstrong scored our first-ever top-flight goal while Pat Rice added a second from somewhere in Bushey which, if we’re honest, probably didn’t cross the line. The win over West Bromwich that put us top of Division One, seven years after we’d been bottom of Division Four. The 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland, which included Luther’s first hat-trick (four, in fact). And that was all before the end of September.
November wins at both north London clubs delighted Hornets everywhere and riled a few in the media, while having endured the obligatory 1-0 defeat at Luton on what was still called Boxing Day back then (27 December when the 26th was a Sunday), we finally beat them – thrashed them – on a glorious Easter Monday on which they were ultimately overwhelmed 5-2. For many, the season would have been even better had they not famously survived at Maine Road on the last day – David Pleat’s dancing slip-ons and all – but Taylor and Pleat had done plenty to cool the rivalry over the years, and after Luton played a full team at Ross Jenkins’ testimonial just four days before that denouement, there were plenty who – whisper it – weren’t that disappointed. (Certainly not everyone though – Taylor appealed on the PA for Watford fans to stop singing ‘Going Down’ during that game.)
Our last-day win over champions Liverpool had a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust. Admittedly they’d been on the beach for some time having secured the title (if not the beach, they’d certainly been on something), but even so, Martin Patching scoring a wonderful opener in his last game before injury-enforced retirement, coupled with the pair of late Notts County goals against Manchester United which sealed our second place, would have stretched credulity in a film script.
The real highlight, though, was the whole season. Our consistency, especially at home, was ridiculous for a team and manager with – Pat Rice’s storied career aside – only bits and pieces of top-flight experience, mostly some distance in the past. We did it largely by focusing on ourselves rather than changing our game to suit the new surroundings, and very few teams could deal with our wealth of attacking options. Traditionally, promoted teams want to make themselves difficult to beat at home. That wasn’t really what happened that year though – instead, teams found it difficult not to lose at Vicarage Road. Of the 21 teams that tried, only Norwich (on a biblically wet day – I suspect my jumper is still drying out on Stuart Mitchell’s radiator after his birthday treat), Coventry, Manchester United, Tottenham and Forest went home with anything at all. Along with the consistency came excitement – those 16 home wins included scores of 3-0, 8-0, 4-1, 5-3 and 5-2 (with a 4-1, a 4-2 and a pair of 3-1s away for good measure), and just a single 1-0 victory.
It helped that nine players – Sherwood, Rostron, Rice, Bolton, Taylor, Jackett, Callaghan, Barnes and Blissett – played 37 or more League games. Essentially, if it wasn’t broke, Taylor didn’t fix it.
A sweet piece of icing on a very substantial cake was that Luther – dubbed ‘Miss-it’ by the press – scored 27 League goals, more than Ian Rush, John Wark, Kenny Dalglish or indeed anyone else in Division One that year, winning the Golden Boot. If he missed enough chances to be given a derisory nickname, how bad must all the others have been?
The season’s success had knock-on effects. Luther’s goals meant he was signed by AC Milan for a barely-believable £1 million, although happily he came back after a year away, while the whole club were on their travels too – our second-place finish gave us a European place for the first (and so far only) time. Less happily, we’d created a very difficult act to follow, and arguably we never quite did. We had a bloody good go though…