The greatest Holton season
By Chris Salter and Nicholas Ralph
Then came 1959 - 60, a season that for many of us old timers remains "The Season". Maybe the Board sensed historic times for, when the team ran out for the first game, gone was the old blue and white strip, the players appearing in gold and black colours for the first time. Some of us wondered what things were coming to; the answer was a lot more than we had bargained for! Two vital signings had been made over the close season; firstly Holton's old club mate, Ken Nicholas arrived from Arsenal to cement the defence, and the 28-year old Dennis Uphill was piped aboard from Mansfield. Most of us had never heard of Uphill, but to this day to say the name, "Holton" is to get back the echo, "Uphill". Every Don Quixote needs his Sancho Panza, and Big Cliff and Portly Dennis formed an unstoppable combination that set Watford alight over the next 9 months.
Inevitably, Watford's most-successful season in its 40-year league history began with 3 defeats. Finally, Holton was brought back into the attack and the fun began. Crewe were trounced 3-1, and the team took off. Holton had shown his wonderful ball control and raking passes the year before, but now his awesome two-footed finishing came into its own. The football was gripping as Holton and Uphill matched each other goal-for-goal, Holton eventually edging ahead thanks to his role as the team's penalty taker. However, if ultimately successful, it was a roller-coaster of a season; an amazing 8-1 defeat at Crystal Palace was followed up by 12 Watford goals in the next 3 matches, and then a 7-2 thumping of Hartlepool.
The scent of promotion began to waft over Vicarage Road after 40 years with barely a sniff and, if that wasn't enough, a wonderful Cup run was thrown in for good measure. It started hesitantly with Cheltenham only being disposed of at the second attempt, though Wycombe Wanderers (then in the Isthmian League) fell 5-1, with pairs of goals from both Holton and Uphill. The 3rd and 4th rounds produced two of the very finest performances that this compiler ever saw at the Vic. Mighty Birmingham City of the First Division came first, and departed 2-1 losers in a game that had my finger nails bitten to the elbows; goals courtesy of Holton and Uphill, of course. In the 4th round, a 2-2 draw at the Dell brought Southampton to Watford. This then-sixth former can still feel the agony of awaiting the final whistle, while with a 1-0 lead we gave as good as we got.....and better! Round 5 meant Sheffield Utd at Bramhall Lane. As I sat by the family radio awaiting news, the first flash was what we hadn't even dared to pray for; Watford 2 Sheffield Utd 1 with a brace for the Big Fella. It was too good to last. In those pre-substitute days, United crippled two Watford players, and sneaked the victory 3-2.
Back with the bread and butter of the league, the Cliffster's pair v Aldershot in mid-March 1960 took him to 35 goals for the season, and past the previous club record. Over Easter, he became the first Watford player ever to hit hat tricks on successive days as Chester were disposed of 4-2 and Gateshead 5-0; (see BSD's "Famous Victories" for a wonderful account of the latter game by Nicholas Ralph, bringing out all the excitement that rippled up and down the terraces and earth banks of the Vic that season.) Though promotion was still far from guaranteed, Watford managed to win or draw each of their final 8 games. In the middle of these, the unthinkable happened; Big Cliff missed his one game of the season v Rochdale. However, 3 days later he turned out, loaded with pain-killers, to inspire the defeat of the same team in the return game. The season culminated far away in the north-west, at Workington where Holton scored the goal that clinched promotion to Division 3 by leaving us safe, sound and untouchable for fourth place in the division. The season's final game was against champions, Walsall, at the Vic. Over 20,000 of us shouted ourselves hoarse as the lads drew the match and celebrated Watford's first ever promotion after 40 years of league football with a lap of honour that left us feeling as if we had won Division 1 and the F.A. Cup rolled into one. Over the season, the Mighty Cliff had netted 48 times, including 10 penalties, in 52 appearances, while chief lieutenant, Uphill, had put away 36 more from his 51 outings.