Borough Park in Workington was no place for a party. Hardly anyone had made the trip from Hertfordshire to witness Watford clinch their first Football League promotion. The gate was just over 3,000.
Three days later, more than 20,000 people turned up at Vicarage Road for some proper celebrations.
As much as they were there to toast the team’s success and cheer them on in their final game against Walsall, the side that had won the championship, really they had come to see one man. ‘We want Cliff,’ they chanted over and over.
This will always be known as Cliff’s team. While the names of Linton, Bell, Catleugh and Uphill will also be fondly remembered, the way Holton stood head and shoulders above them all will never be forgotten.
It is no exaggeration to say that Holton led the club out of the Fourth Division and the rest followed. He struck up a partnership with Dennis Uphill that terrified defences. That season Holton scored 42 goals in the league, while Uphill got 30.
That’s not to say that promotion was a foregone conclusion. Watford were only able to take the fourth place on offer. And it was not until the final three weeks of the season that they forced their way into the picture.
It helped that most of their final fixtures were against struggling teams from the north.
Easter was a hectic time. Watford had to play three games in four days. It was when faced with such challenges that Holton came into his own.
He scored a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Chester on Good Friday and another three in the 5-0 thrashing of Gateshead the very next day.
Watford had been on the shoulder of Millwall for several weeks but now the Lions were really wobbling it was time to make their move.
All Watford had to do was hold their nerve. They beat Chester again, this time away, on Easter Monday then got a draw and a win over Rochdale in the space of four days.
There were now two games to go. Workington away and Walsall at home. Not wanting to leave anything to chance against the team that had proved itself the best in the division, Ron Burgess knew Watford had to finish the job at Workington.
There’s an apocryphal tale about the match that has gone down in local folklore. Here is how it goes.
Concerned about the possibility of coming unstuck at Borough Park, someone, rumoured to be one of the players, was sent north the day before the match to see if the result couldn’t be helped along a bit. He had a bag with him, containing enough notes to make it worth Workington’s while to go easy.
The player arrived at Workington’s ground while the team was still training on the pitch. He studied the playing surface, uneven and rutted even by the standards of the day.
He watched the players in their hotch-potch kit. He saw the crumbling terraces and poked his head into the changing rooms, noticing the peeling paint and cracked basins. And he decided there was no way Watford would not beat them.
So he took the bag of money and decided he’d share it among his team-mates as a little promotion bonus when they got the job done. Whether there’s a grain of truth in it or not, it’s an entertaining yarn.
Watford did what they needed to do. Holton, who had a painkilling injection in his shoulder before the match, to numb an injury he’d picked up against Chester, scored the only goal of the game after nine minutes. He collected the ball on the edge of the area, took a couple of touches and fired it home in his trademark fashion.
What followed was scrappy but Watford held on. The nerves were evident as Workington went close near the end but, as it turned out, even a draw would have been enough.
Millwall had already finished their season so it all hinged on whether Northampton Town could win at Stockport County. One of the reporters made a call to his sports desk to find out the result and relayed it to the Watford team. Stockport had won 3-0.
The atmosphere on the evening Walsall visited was electrifying. Watford had enjoyed some fleeting successes in the past, the odd cup shock here and there, but never had they had a season of such achievement.
‘I still look back on that promotion at Watford with a greater sense of satisfaction than when I won the league with Arsenal,’ Holton later said. ‘Seeing how much it meant to the supporters and the town was tremendous. They were not used to success and so they valued it more.’
Newlands, Wilson, Brown, Burkinshaw, Tennant, Keen, McGarry, Hinchcliffe, Harburn, Gibbs, Kirkup
Manager Joe Harvey
Linton, Bell, Nicholas, Catleugh, Porter, Sanchez, Benning, Walker, Uphill, Holton, Gregory
Manager Ron Burgess
Scorer Holton 9