The club now known as merely Watford started life as Watford Rovers in 1881, and briefly became known as West Hertfordshire as part of their affiliation with West Hertfordshire Sports Club, who housed their ground on Cassio Road. The other relevant strand to their existence was a club called Watford St Mary's which the Sports Club merged with, and the more orthodox name of just Watford was taken on in 1898.
Like Yeovil Town, Watford graduated from Southern League football, winning the title in the 1914-15 season. The outbreak of World War I meant that they couldn't progress their club any further for five years, but when football recommenced for the 1919-20 season, their runners-up slot was enough to see them invited to join a new expanded third tier of the Football League. With Yeovil Town graduating from the Western League to the Southern League in 1922, we missed each other by two seasons.
Watford's early progress in the Football League was slow, as members of Division Three South, with it taking them until just before the Second World War for them to look like heading any higher - they had to apply for re-election in 1926-27 to stop their stay at that level being a short one. Eventually though they began to find their feet in the 1930s, winning the Third Division South Cup in 1937, and stabilising into one of the third tiers more consistent clubs.
After the resumption of League football, another poor finish in 1950–51 required the re-election system to save them again, and when the third tier regionalisation was restructured into four national divisions, Watford were placed in Football League Division Four. It therefore might have come as a bit of a surprise when a year later, in 1959-60, the Hornets gained their first promotion for 40 years, and the first time they'd stepped up from the Football League's lowest rung, as former Welsh international Ron Burgess took them up during his first season in charge.
A further promotion followed in 1968-69, as they rose to Division Two - by now Watford were becoming a force to be reckoned with, as they reached the FA Cup Semi-Final a year later. But that rise didn't last for long, with relegations in 1972 and 1975 sent them back down to where they'd come from - back in Division Four.
At this point, the club was sparked back into life from an unlikely source. Having a pop star take over your football club instinctively looks like a gimmick - a case of a rich man meddling in things that he doesn't understand. However, Elton John was a lifelong Hornets fan, and as owner and Chairman, he was apparently pretty astute at appointing managers. Graham Taylor had led Lincoln City to promotion in 1976, but few could have predicted the effect he would have upon Watford. They became Fourth Division champions in 1977-78, gained Third Division promotion in 1978-79, and then followed that up with Second Division promotion in 1981-82. A year later they'd gone from being a basement club to being the Football League First Division runners up in the space of five years.
Watford also broke ground in other ways. With football having been stuck in the dark ages with an overtly racist culture, players such as John Barnes and Luther Blissett became some of the country's top players, role models and heroes, and were a strong influence in dragging football into the modern era. They continued to be one of the country's 'new' likeable clubs, right up until Taylor's departure to Aston Villa in 1986-87.
At that point, Watford's star began to wane rapidly. They were relegated in 1987, and since then have only had two singular seasons in the Premier League. However, that rise up through the leagues sparked by Taylor's reign had established them as a sizeable club in the Football League, and bar two years between 1996 and 1998 where they dipped into third tier football, they've largely stabilised as a Championship club.
Today they've established a rather Italian flavour to this part of Hertfordshire. In the summer of 2012, they were taken over by the Pozzo family, who own Serie A outfit Udinese and La Liga side Granada. Football management also got a similar flavour to it, with Gianfranco Zola becoming the new boss. The link between the continental sides created some controversy as Watford took advantage of a loophole in the Football League's loan rules, bringing in Udinese players en masse - a tactic that gave them a third placed finish in the Championship, and ultimately a Play-Off Final appearance, only to lose out in extra time to Crystal Palace.
Over the summer, the Football League belatedly closed off the loan loophole that Watford had exploited, although permanent acquisitions have still kept the Italian theme - six of their squad hail from that country, whilst Zola has brought in players from Paraguay, Jamaica, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Brazil, Spain and Algeria to give one of the division's most international line-ups. Early signs are that they look a little short of last season's quality, but are not that far short that they couldn't make a charge for the play-offs during the second half of the season.
A final note about Vicarage Road. The stadium is one of the older-looking large stadiums left in the country, and has been getting a bit frayed at the edges. The East Stand, which is one of the original parts of the ground, when it was constructed in 1922, is the part that has suffered the most. Although it still hosts the club's dressing rooms and press area, it was closed to spectators in 2008 for health and safety reasons. Plans were submitted to the council for it to be demolished and rebuilt, but whilst the club meandered its way through takeovers, this work wasn't initiated until the current owners took over. As such, Vicarage Road is currently a three-sided ground, with one side a building site, in a reduced capacity of 17,477. A new 3,000 capacity stand is intended to be built as a new Main Stand to push the club's capacity back over 20,000 again.
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