'You'll shock a few if you play like that'
Determined to ensure that Watford were among the fittest, if not the fittest, in Division One, Graham Taylor took his team to Norway for an old-fashioned boot camp. It was brutal. They got up early and ran a couple of miles from their lodgings (hotel would be too grand a word for the place) to the training ground. They did a couple of hours of work, then ran back for breakfast.
There would be another, longer, session later in the morning before they rested while the sun was at its hottest. And most evenings they played a match, against some fired-up local side. The players were used to being pushed hard by Taylor but this was extreme.
But it was for a good reason. Taylor knew the players had to be fit enough to start matches at a high tempo and sustain it to the end. Established First Division teams with more accomplished players might wilt in the face of such a physical challenge.
Watford’s first away game was at The Dell. Only two years ago, they had been humbled 4-0 in the first leg of a League Cup tie before that incredible comeback at Vicarage Road. Now the two teams met as equals.
Most of the First Division teams thought they knew what to expect. Plenty of long balls and lots of aggression. Taylor wanted to surprise them.
Shortly after Watford had won promotion, they went on tour to New Zealand. Southampton’s Alan Ball happened to be on the same flight and he encouraged the Watford players to have a drink, which didn’t please Taylor too much.
When they got off the flight, the 1966 World Cup winner said: ‘Wait until you get into the First Division, boys. We’ll teach you how to play football.’
In fact, it was Lawrie McMenemy’s Saints who were taught a lesson. This was one-way traffic, even if David Armstrong managed to equalise after Nigel Callaghan’s early goal. Watford pulverised the Saints and created 26 attempts on goal. The home players were given barely a second to dwell on the ball. Having led 2-1 at half-time, they might have expected Southampton to come at them in the second period but Watford kept their boots on their opponents’ throats. Gerry Armstrong scored the third and Ross Jenkins got the fourth near the end.
In only their second match in the top flight, Watford had put the ball past the England goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, four times.
As they came off the pitch, Graham Taylor waited for Alan Ball. ‘Not bad for a side that can’t play, are we?’ he said.
‘You’ll shock a few if you play like that every week,’ came the reply.
Watford Sherwood, Rice, Rostron, Blissett, Bolton, Jackett, Callaghan, Armstrong, Jenkins, Lohman, Barnes
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Callaghan 12, 33, Armstrong 48, Jenkins 77
Southampton scorer Lawrence 16
Why was this match chosen? Watford's first match in the top flight ended in victory over Everton but the big test would be how they would do on the road. Three days later, they went to Southampton and put four goals past England's World Cup goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? It was the first proof that Graham Taylor's commitment to fast-paced, attacking football would pay dividends in the First Division.