Watford FC: pre-1960

Geoff Wicken

The accepted date for the founding of what became Watford FC is 1881.  That was the year in which Henry Grover and his teenage friends formed Watford Rovers and began their kickabouts in Cassiobury Park.  They moved into Cassio Road in 1890, subsequently changing the club’s name to West Herts, and joined the Southern League Division 2 in 1896.  In 1897 the club turned professional, and in 1898 joined forces with local rivals Watford St Marys, at which point the club name of Watford was adopted.

After a promotion and a relegation, in 1903 Ralph Thorpe assumed the role of benefactor.  Footballing great John Goodall was hired as manager, and promotion in 1904 led to more permanent status in Southern League Division 1, where Watford competed with most of the major clubs of the south of England.  Under Goodall’s successor Harry Kent, Watford won the Southern League in 1915.

After the Great War, in 1920 the Football League expanded and adopted the Southern League clubs including Watford as Division 3 South.

Watford moved into their new ground at Vicarage Road in 1922, but experienced fluctuating fortunes.  Money was usually short, and there were major financial crises in the late 1920s and the 1950s.  Second division football was the goal, but the closest Watford came was fourth place – at a time when only one club was promoted annually.  Twice, in 1927 and 1951, Watford finished in the bottom two and were obliged to apply for re-election to the Football League as was the custom at the time.

The troubles of the 1950s led to a ‘fresh start’ in 1959.  As a symbol of this, the club’s colours were changed to gold and black, and the nickname to ‘the Hornets’.  This time, things began to improve.

This page was added on 24/05/2018.

Comments about this page

  • Hi Adrian,
    The WFC nickname was indeed ‘The Brewers’, which originated from the association with Benskins. The earliest known nickname was ‘The Wasps’, due to their red, green and amber hooped shirts.
    The Benskin family actually bought two grounds for the club, both Cassio Road (1919) and Vicarage Road (1921).
    As you said, Ralph Thorpe is he of Wells Brewery fame. He was also Alderman, Mayor and even Captain of the Watford fire brigade – a remarkable man. He pretty-much single-handedly saved WFC from oblivion in 1901/02.

    By Watford Gold (01/02/2022)
  • I heard something else of interest about the early days of WFC, in that their original nickname apparently was “The Brewers”, because of close ties with Benskin’s brewery. I also heard that Benskin’s had donated the land at Vicarage Rd.
    Also, the Ralph Thorpe mentioned would have been the owner of Wells Watford Brewery, which was (and part of still is) on St Albans Rd.
    So perhaps the name “The Brewers” was because of its association with both firms.
    I wonder if anyone knows more about it.

    By Adrian Perry (28/01/2022)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.