Veteran Watford fan Fred Bridgland recalls to newspaper Scotland On Sunday of June 6, 1999, the team enjoyed similar success when Elton was still a little boy and again in the 1980s. We offer you an edited glimpse.
Reg Dwight and I used to stand on the terraces at Watford Football Club in the 1950s and cheer our great hero. We have gone separate ways. Reg Dwight transmogrified, took the name Elton John, became a singer, made lots of money and bought the club. I married a Scot, settled in Scotland, produced and nurtured Scottish children – and bought a Rover Metro (car).
Our mutual hero died in 1996. Cliff Holton was the greatest
centre-forward who ever lived. He came to Watford from Arsenal, having won a first division championship medal and appeared in the FA Cup Final. Holton was tagged the best footballer never capped for England, so Reg and I could hardly believe it when this player joined our club, in the fourth division.
Until recently I didn’t know how our Scottish manager, Neil McBain, wangled Holton away from Arsenal for £10,000. But it was magic. In his first season he scored 48 goals and scored hat-tricks on successive days. He was big, handsome, intelligent, fast, could lay off pinpoint passes over vast distances and had an explosive shot in both feet. He
chose Watford because he wanted to work part-time. Arsenal, where he was tipped as the next England centre-forward, would not countenance that, so Reg and I saw a proper footballer at Watford for the first time.
Most Watford players were useless. There was one named Tommy Anderson. My God, he was fast. No one covered the distance between the centre spot and the goalmouth as quickly as he did. Unfortunately, I never once saw him go all the way with the ball under control. Tommy impressed the
girls in the espresso bars in Watford High Street, but not Reg and me on the terraces.
Cliff Holton was sold in an act of vandalism after only two years. It caused the nearest thing to a riot. And things did not recover until Reg, alias Elton John, bought the club in the 1970s and signed an immigrant from Lincolnshire, Graham Taylor, as manager. Suddenly Watford rose in five seasons from the Fourth Division to the First, where in the initial season we ended runners-up to the champions, Liverpool.
We beat Sunderland 8-0 that season, but they were handicapped by an ungainly centre-forward called Ally McCoist. The next season we reached the cup final, and for a while had an outstanding young Scottish centre-forward called Mo Johnston, who was good, but not as good as
Cliff, and made the mistake of moving to a Scottish team. The stars of the team at that time were two forwards, John Barnes, who had silky skills, and Luther Blissett, who mis-hit more goals than anyone else.
The Watford dream evaporated after five years in the top league. Graham Taylor went to Aston Villa, Barnes was sold to Liverpool, Blissett to AC Milan. Elton struggled with drugs and drink, gave up Watford and came out as a homosexual.
Watford descended again, but now we’re back in the top league, the Premiership, having leapt three divisions in the past 12 months. And we have yet another exotic Scot, Allan Smart, born in Perth, of whom no one had ever heard except Taylor, who bought him for £100,000 from Carlisle.
Smart scored last week’s second goal at Wembley which secured victory over Bolton and a place in the Premiership. But there’s still only one Cliff Holton. On that, Reg and I remain agreed.