For the first and only time in Watford’s history, the club could stand at the very pinnacle of the game and stare down at everyone else below them.
The First Division’s new boys had enjoyed an exceptional start to their debut season.
In those days, the Football League and the newspapers waited until three league matches had been played before publishing the tables.
While it is possible to look back at the results and make a case that Watford topped the league ten days earlier, after winning their opening two games, that is not really the case.
Admittedly the league was still in its embryonic stages but the visit of West Bromwich Albion was already a top-of-the-table clash.
The Baggies were second, a point behind Liverpool. Watford were fourth, level on points with their guests that day. By a quarter to five, Graham Taylor’s team were top of the pile.
What an extraordinary rise it was. Just seven years earlier they had been bottom of the lot.
Going top of the table was not uppermost in the manager’s mind before the game. He simply wanted Watford to build on their fine start.
Albion were a tough team to beat. Luther Blissett had started the season in midfield because of injuries to Les Taylor and Jan Lohman but he returned to the attack to partner Gerry Armstrong. Albion’s central defenders, Ali Robertson and Martin Bennett didn’t quite know what had hit them.
Afterwards they compared the Watford striker favourably to their own striker Cyrille Regis, who was an England international.
West Brom were stubborn but they couldn’t deal with Watford’s constant pressure. As Robertson said: ‘They just keep coming at you. In the end, you are just clearing your lines and getting back into position before they come at you again. They make it very difficult to play your own game.’
They held out until six minutes before half-time, when Blissett scored. Taylor added another early in the second half before Blissett gave them a comfortable advantage to see out the remainder of the match.
With three points in their grasp, Watford needed results at Anfield and Old Trafford to go their way.
Liverpool, who were a point ahead before the match, were hosting Luton Town, while Manchester United, level on points and goal difference with Watford, were playing Ipswich Town.
When the final scores were read out, United had beaten Ipswich 3-1 while Liverpool were held to a 3-3 draw by the Hatters.
Incredibly, Watford were top of the Football League on goal difference ahead of the two Manchester clubs. The margins were tiny, but an Ipswich goal and a draw for their biggest rivals were enough for the Hornets.
Elton John had delayed a trip to the West Indies so he could see the Hornets in action. He flew out of the country knowing that his club, the one he had bought when it was a struggling Fourth Division team best known for midweek greyhound racing, could go no higher. They were ahead of all of English football’s illustrious names.
That evening, Graham Taylor, Bertie Mee and their wives went to see the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Taylor, the manager of the best football team in England at that moment – remember the league table never lies – was prouder than he had ever been. He calls it the happiest night of his life as he stood alongside his wife, singing Jerusalem with everything he had.
The stirring adaptation of William Blake’s poem took on extra meaning. His team, his Watford, were the finest in England’s green and pleasant land.
With no midweek fixtures to follow, Watford’s supporters could bask in the glory for a full week. How many schoolchildren cut out the league table from one of the papers and stuck it on their exercise books?
There is one Watford fan – perhaps more than one – who laminated a clipping of that league table and carried it in his wallet for years. You know who you are.
The following week, Watford faced Nottingham Forest. When the two sides had met two years earlier, Forest had been reigning European champions.
Now, in his programme notes, the great Brian Clough was welcoming the league leaders to the City Ground.
And those league leaders were us, little Watford. Wasn’t it amazing? Wasn’t it surreal?