1888-1889 h r x
1889-1890 h r x
Formed by merger of Watford Rovers and West Hertfordshire Rangers
1893-1897 h q r s
Formed by merger of West Herts and Watford St Mary's
1898 q r s
1902-1909 h q s
1910-1914 h s
1928-1938 g p s
1949-1951 t w
1951-1954 b p
1954-1957 p w
1960-1961 p v
Aug-Sept 1962 v
Sept 62-March 63 v
April-May 1963 y
1964-1965 a v
August 1965 v
Sept 1965-1968 v
Nov 1971-1972 o
1974-1976 e j n u v
1979-1982 c e j
1982-1983 c k l
1985-1988 c e k l
1988-1989 k m
1989-1991 c i k m
1993-1995 c k l
1995-1996 c k l
1996-1997 c k l
1997-1998 c k l
1998-1999 c k
The club takes the year of its formation as 1881 when Watford Rovers was formed. This club amalgamated in 1890 with West Hertfordshire Rangers, believed to have been formed in 1865 and became known as West Herts. In 1896, the club joined the Southern League Second Division, turning professional the following year. For a period the town boasted two professional clubs but it quickly became clear that this was not sustainable and in 1898, West Herts and Watford St Mary’s FC merged to form Watford FC.
The first mention of the club's colours dates from 1888, when their colours were described as blue. Over the next few seasons, press reports researched by Trefor Jones, describe various combinations of olive, scarlet and later orange and yellow or amber and scarlet. More recently (October 2018) Brian Webb discovered a press cutting from September 1889 that describes a match against Caledonians in which the Rovers players wore a variety of shirts including "the discarded light and dark blue." It goes on to say that "the new shirt, when it does appear, is to be in black and two colours, oiley olive and fiery scarlet." It is likely that knickers in various colours were worn at this time.
When the team kicked off as Watford FC in 1898 it was in attractive yellow, red and green vertical stripes (see illustration). Around the turn of the century, the stripes changed to hoops.
In 1900 Watford won the Southern League Second Division title and in 1915 they won the Southern League championship itself. The hoops had been dropped in 1909 in favour of far more prosaic white shirts and black knickers and in 1914 black and white striped shirts were adopted.
Along with the rest of the Southern league First Division, Watford became founder members of the new Third Division of the Football League in 1920. They made little impression and in 1927, facing serious financial difficulties, a new start was attempted: the club announced that the unpopular "semi-mourning" black and white strip was dropped in favour of blue and white. Their old nickname of "The Brewers," which had never really caught on, was dropped and the team became "The Blues."
The first evidence of a crest comes from 1927 when a simple shield with lettering appeared on Watford's plain white change shirts: it does not seem to have been worn on the first choice blue tops.
In the early 1930s Watford's colours were registered as turquoise and white, a unique combination. As all records of the period have been destroyed, this has yet to be corroborated. Graham Brack recalls reading an account by a former player who made his debut in 1936 and who mentioned that this unique colour was adopted in an attempt to avoid the expense of having to buy a set of change shirts. Eye witness accounts confirm that the team certainly played in conventional blue in post-war years even though many publications continued to describe their colours as turquoise and white.
In the seasons preceding the Second World War Watford's performances improved markedly and they finished in fourth place for four consecutive seasons.
After the war, Watford continued to struggle and had to apply for re-election in 1951. The club crest of the period (which did not appear on team shirts) included a hart (male deer), the symbol of Hertfordshire. This motif would be revived much later on.
In 1959 Watford adopted gold and black along with a revival of the old crest from 1927: the effect was more or less immediate. In 1960 they won promotion to the Third Division where they stayed for nine seasons before winning promotion to Division Two for the first time in 1969. A year later they reached the FA Cup semi-final where they were defeated by Chelsea.
The "WFC" badge was dropped in 1962 and for much of the decade the team played in plain gold shirts with no adornments apart from black trim, very much the fashion of the period. In 1968, however, in keeping with the new nickname adopted by their supporters' club, a red hornet was embroidered onto the shirts. This seems to have been dropped midway through the 1971-72 season but appeared again, with slightly different lettering, the season after.
A cartoon version known as "Harry the Hornet" was adopted in 1974 but fripperies like this are rarely popular with hard-core supporters and Harry did not last long. Relegations in 1972 and 1975 took Watford back to Division Four.
In 1976 Watford made yet another change in their colours, this time to yellow, red and black. A new crest was introduced in 1978 that featured a hart (although it is frequently but incorrectly identified as the head of a moose). This striking image would serve the club for well over 30 years although there have been subtle design changes along the way.
The arrival of pop star Elton John as chairman in 1977 marked the beginning of a remarkable climb to the top. Graham Taylor was appointed manager and in 1978, “The Hornets” stormed to the Fourth Division title. The following season they reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and won promotion to Division Two.
In 1982 Watford’s dream was realised with promotion to Division One. Against all expectation, they finished in second place behind Liverpool the following season to secure a place in the UEFA Cup. In 1984 they reached the FA Cup final where they lost 0-2 to Everton.
In 1987 Taylor resigned and was replaced by Dave Bassett. Watford were relegated in 1988 and, having narrowly missed promotion in their first season, the club struggled. In 1996, Graham Taylor returned as general manager but he could not prevent relegation to Nationwide Division Two (formerly the Third Division).
In 1998 they won the championship and a year later, they beat Bolton Wanderers in the play-off final to earn a place in the Premier League. This time they could not hold on to their status and were relegated the following season, seven points adrift at the foot of the table.
Watford made semi final appearances in the FA Cup (2003) and League Cup (2005) while in the second flight before they unexpectedly beat Leeds United in the play-off final to make another brief return to the Premiership. To mark the occasion, which coincided with their 125th anniversary, the club adopted a kit featuring red shorts not unlike the one worn in the First Division during the 1980s and a suitably modified crest.
In June 2012 ownership was transferred from Laurence Bassini to the Pozzo family who had previously owned the Italian club, Udinese and three seasons later they won promotion back to the Premier League having finished as runners-up in the Championship.
For the 2018-19 season, striped shirts were introduced, a startling break with tradition. That season the team reached the FA Cup final for only the second time in their history but came up against Manchester City at their peak and on the way to a domestic treble. Their 6-0 defeat equalled the record set in the 1903 final.
* Yellow V neck shirts occasionally worn in 1977-78.
- (a) Club Colours (Bob Bickerton 1998)
- (b) Swindon Town FC - Images of Sport (Richard Mattick 2000)
- (c) empics
- (d) Football Focus
- (e) Classic Kits
- (f) Watford Official Website
- (g) The Football Encyclopaedia (Associated Sporting Press 1934)- information provided by Arthur Fergus
- (h) Trefor Jones - the club's official historian
- (i) Greg Hattingh
- (j) Pete's Picture Palace
- (k) True Colours 2 (John Devlin 2006)
- (l) David King
- (m) Pat Heywood
- (n) Steve Atkinson
- (o) Alick Milne
- (p) Hornet History - independent site run by Wayne Godfrey that concentrates on the post-war era.
- (q) Watford Junction
- (r) Wayne Godfrey
- (s) Sarah Priestley, Heritage Officer, Watford Museum
- (t) Simon Monks
- (u) Christopher Worrall
- (v) Geoff Allen
- (w) Keith Ellis (HFK Research Associate)
- (x) Watford Observer (28 September 1889) submitted by Brian Webb.
- (y) Mick Rollitt
Crests are the property of Watford FC. Crest artwork provided by Geoff Allen.