When the fixtures for Watford’s debut season in Division One were published no doubt many supporters scanned them, noted the final match and thought: ‘I hope we don’t need to beat Liverpool to stay up.’
After an incredible nine months, Watford faced the champions with a European place already in the bag. The season had exceeded the wildest dreams of the most optimistic Hornet.
The front cover of the programme for the final game of the season was a celebration of the club’s status, showing all the international players in their shirts.
Liverpool proved to be the best team by a distance, wrapping up the championship in April and then freewheeling to the end of the season with a string of draws and defeats. While it is true they did not come to Vicarage Road in full swing, neither did they want to surrender.
This was the last game of Bob Paisley’s incredible managerial reign before he handed over to the next man in the boot room pecking order, Joe Fagan.
Paisley had won six league titles, three European Cups, the Uefa Cup and three League Cups in nine years. Elton John presented him with a cine camera as a retirement gift.
There were changes at Watford too. On the morning of the match, Ross Jenkins was told he was going to be released, bringing to an end an 11-year spell at Vicarage Road.
Jenkins had celebrated with his testimonial match against Luton Town earlier in the week.
Paul Franklin, the young central defender, was told that if he performed well against Luton, he would make his league debut the following Saturday. The job for Franklin was a simple one: you’re marking Kenny Dalglish.
Martin Patching, whose time at the club had been wrecked by a knee injury, was brought into the team. Patching scored the opening goal, which earned him another contract, although not a happy ending. He was released early the following season but a goal against Liverpool was a wonderful way to go.
The 2-1 win was Watford’s 22nd of the season – only Liverpool won more. And when the results filtered through there was some astonishing news.
Manchester United, second in the table before the game and 2-1 up with five minutes to go at Notts County, had conceded two very late goals.
Remarkably, Watford were runners-up at the first attempt. The second best team in the country.
There is some debate whether the Watford fans really cheered when they heard Luton had won at Manchester City to save their First Division skin but really, who cared?
Watford’s rise from the bottom of the league almost to the very top was completed with a victory over the champions. Runners-up. It can never happen again. Well, not without someone spending hundreds of millions.
Watford Sherwood, Rice, Rostron, Patching, Sims (Lohman 62), Franklin, Callaghan, Blissett, Barnes, Jackett, Sterling
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Patching 39, Blissett 49
Liverpool scorer Johnston 62
Why was this match chosen? This was the match that clinched Watford's highest ever league position, confirmed a place in European competition and rounded off the finest season in the club's history. It's hard to admit that it may never be matched.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? Okay, so Liverpool were on the beach and had wrapped up the league title weeks earlier but this was still a brilliant victory. The game featured a fine (more or less) farewell goal by Martin Patching, who was soon to be forced to retire because of injury. And Luther scored his final goal before moving to AC Milan.