Their darkest hour
7:30 pm, September 23rd 1959
How, you may well ask, can a side winning promotion, scoring 92 goals in the process and emerging victorious in 24 matches, lose by eight goals to one in a Division Four fixture during the same season? Well, that is precisely what happened at the start of the 1959-60 season when Watford travelled to South London to take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Watford, under manager Ron Burgess, had made a good start to the season and had won four league games including a 6-0 thrashing of this afternoon's visitors Oldham Athletic at Vicarage Road, before the trip south of the river. At the end of this particular evening's football Watford appeared as victims of the cruellest Hammer (or Eagle?) Horror movies as they dominated the play for large periods but poor Jimmy Linton in goal was forced to retrieve the ball from the net eight times.
In terms of possession the Hornets had the upper-hand but a succession of defensive mistakes literally presented the game to Palace on a plate, starting in the fourth minute when John Roche scored after a comedy of errors between Vince McNeice and keeper Linton. Three minutes later, Palace were two up when John Price failed to cut out the threat of Liverpool-born striker Raymond Colfar and the Palace man easily beat the Watford keeper. Worse was to follow for Price seven minutes later when he attempted a back-pass and John Byrne nipped in to score number 3 for the home side. Crystal Palace went in four up at the break thanks to a 34th minute spot kick from full-back Alf Noakes. Current Doncaster boss Sammy Chung gave away the penalty when referee Mr Horner from Coventry ruled that Dave Sexton had been brought down in the area.
Former Watford player Johnny Gavin was the next player on the scoresheet when he netted the fifth goal after 65 minutes play, after Linton had failed to clear properly. Amazingly, though, by this time the Hornets had missed at least five opportunities to score themselves with Cliff Holton, Dennis Uphill, Barry Hartle and Micky Benning all guilty of failure in front of goal.
Just to compound Watford's misery, Palace scored three more before Cliff Holton scored an 85th-minute consolation - scant reward for his side's efforts that evening.
First John Roche completed his hat-trick with goals in the 70th and 79th minutes, and finally Raymond Colfar grabbed his second a minute before Holton's sixth League goal of the season. The big Watford striker scored with a low shot after shaking off the challenge of centre-half Len Choules.
In an act of swift revenge, however, Watford won the return game at Vicarage Road a week later by four goals to two. Cliff Holton netted twice himself, with Watford's other two coming from Dennis Uphill and Barry Hartle quickly burying the nightmare memory of that Selhurst Park disaster.
Watford: Linton, Price, Harrop, Catleugh, McNeice, Chung, Benning, Uphill, Holton, Hartle, Bunce
by Paul Levene - taken from Watford v Oldham Athletic programme (1/4/95)