The GT Years Ranked: 7 - 1977/78
Nick Catley presents his list of GT's greatest seasons at Watford
By a distance the most comprehensive of the three times we have topped a division in our 103-year Football/Premier League history, the season brought with it the sense of revolution and boundless possibility. If three points for a win had come in four years earlier, we’d have (Alan) garnered 101 points and finished 16 points clear. Even that underestimates our dominance, given that we’d taken our foot off the gas and drawn five games in a row after the title was secured, before beating Southport in their final Football League game (something a Sandgrounders fan got very excited about when he discovered my loyalties on a trip to Haig Avenue a few years back).
Given the sense that this was a complete break from what went before, it’s worth noting that only four new players played more than a couple of games, with just two – Ian Bolton and Sam Ellis – significantly involved in the season-starting run of 14 wins from 17 games, which created a five-point lead and made the title Watford’s to lose. Taylor transformed a team (and a club, and indeed a town, though that would take a little longer) that was already there, rather than having one bought for him. Ellis was ever-present during that run but played only sporadically thereafter, and it seems remarkable that someone who looms so large in the club’s history appeared only 40 times for us – but perhaps that prominence reflects the importance of those first few Taylor months in the club’s history.
Promotion was secured at Bournemouth in early April, with seven matches still to play, while the title was sealed at Scunthorpe, Taylor’s hometown, a few days later (with a metaphorical lap of honour at Grimsby, the club for whom he played most games, the following Tuesday). This pair of wins are not widely remembered, largely because the title was a matter of when, not if, from that autumn run onwards.
The transformation in confidence, attitude and belief, of fans, players and the wider club, was so absolute and immediate that 1977/78 might deserve to be a little higher up the list. However, the achievement itself pales slightly in the light of those that were to come. Watford weren’t a bad side at that level in 1976/77, finishing seventh, and might conceivably have gone up the next year under a different manager (although it’s more difficult to envisage them storming to the title in quite the same way). Also, the season doesn’t have many obvious reference points, based as it was on relentless competence at a level above the rest of the division, rather than particularly notable performances (there were a couple of near misses in the cups, at West Bromwich and West Ham. The near misses became hits soon enough). A glorious taste of what was to come.