Football League Division 4, 16/4/60
Team (a-z): Bell, Benning, Chung, Gregory, Holton, Nicholas, Porter, Sanchez, Uphill, Walker, Warn (gk)
Scorers: Gregory, Benning, Holton 3 (2 pens)
Attendance: 13,495, felt like 60,000
Report by Nicholas Ralph
This match was probably pivotal, since it really did confirm that Watford had embarked on a great end-of-season run which just might win them promotion, following so closely on the previous day's 4-2 walloping of Chester. I was at the time a small person, and football neophyte, who had seen a few good games that season and had come to expect lots of goals, and a Watford victory, pretty much as a matter of course. At the time, though, promotion was a long way from certain, and the newly minted-Hornets needed a lot of points from their last six games (they ended up getting ten out of twelve).
Gateshead came out in white shirts and black shorts, and looked at first to be far stronger, fitter, and cleverer than their lowly position, and dismal away record, implied as they stroked the (I think) orange footballs about with carefree and horribly unnerving accuracy at 2:50. But, before a ball had been kicked in earnest, their 'keeper - whose name I swear was Williamson even though the record books say he left them the year before - decided to warm himself up by swinging, orang-utang like, along the Rookery End goal frame, pausing in the centre to test the bar's weight-bearing limits. He came very close to breaking it, and managed unintentionally to relieve the communal anxiety - how could a team with a clown for a goalie possibly bother us ? Still, there were nagging doubts...
The game, like most that season, was played at a hundred miles an hour, despite the absence of regulars like Vince McNeice, George Catleugh, and Barry Hartle. My anxiety, heightened further by their non-appearance, was quickly dispelled, though. As I remember it, Gateshead never once touched the ball (this may not be quite right).
Cliff Holton and Dennis Uphill were of course universally expected to score in every match. On this day, Uphill must have come close at least eight times (seriously) but it was the man himself who stole the show with a second hatrick in 24 hours, to supplement the earlier goals from the wingers. The mental picture I carry of Cliff to this day has him whacking the ball - and ye Gods, he really could whack it - from 25 yards or so towards the Gateshead goal (a big reason why this game is so enduringly important for me) with the inevitable result. In fact, two of his goals were penalties, both thoroughly deserved, of course.
At some point during the game their 'keeper and full-back managed to run backwards into each other while another player was being treated at the other end of the park. The already-long delay was considerably extended as they too received treatment, and we all worked hard to do the polite thing and muffle the giggles. Actually, I think this might have been at the Workington game (we won 3-2, should have been 8-0) some months earlier because the goalie wore a shocking pink jersey, and 'Williamson' definitely was wearing the standard bottle green. All the same, it was the sort of incident which should have happened against Gateshead.
The most vivid emotional recollection is that - despite the overwhelming euphoria which accompanied a 5-0 win even in that season of multiple high scores - I left the ground still very worried. As with all crucial times, you had to be there to understand. Pending away jaunts (which I knew I would not be taking in person) to other planets such as Chester, Rochdale, and Workington, the return match with Rochdale, and a finale at home against worthy champions Walsall, all looked to me to be pretty much insurmountable barriers to my own plans for third division football. And you had to live through the next couple of weeks as we went over and over and over the possibilities of the situation until we heard that we'd beaten Workington in all their pinkness in the penultimate match of ther season.
I think that there's a lot of truth to the idea that the world, and football or whatever your sporting preference, is never more wondrous and exciting that when you're ten. The first promotion to the second division in 1969, the amazing achievements under Graham Taylor, the beginning of yet another new era under G. Roeder Esq., all have their wonderfully piquant and engaging points. But for me, the whole thing really started with games against Barrow, Bradford PA, Gateshead, Southport, and Workington - most of all, poor old Gateshead. They gave us a match which we absolutely dominated and which undoubtedly helped to haul us up out of Division Four, while effectively confirming their own impending exit from the league. Sort of marvellous and sad all at once, I thought - and still do.
For the record, the team that day was:
Keith Warn - deputising for Jimmy Linton in goal. Seemed to be rather short for a goalie, but made some spectacular saves that day (I guess Gateshead must have got the ball a few times, after all).
Bobby Bell - curly-haired iron man at the back. Little seemed to get past him, even on bad days.
Ken Nicholas - great haircut (look, this was 1960, you know), smoothly functioning fulll-back. Ex-Arsenal, which remarkably few players wanted to be back then.
Andy Porter - tall, gangly type of player with Persil-white thighs, whose contributions never quite seemed to justify the energy he put in to them. Scored an above-average number of own goals, but always came up smiling.
Sammy Chung - a man with a phenomenal work-ethic who invariably looked as if he'd just had his kit pressed. (In 1960, kit used to look fifty years old once it had been washed a couple of times).
Johnny Sanchez - replacing the absent (on National Service) Vince McNeice. Can't remember too much about him. A fantastic player, though, Obviously.
Mike Benning - vertically-challenged player attached to the greyhouind wire on the right wing. This is the only plausible explanation for his being so amazingly fast, banging in super-accurate crosses every eight seconds.
Peter Walker - twenty years later, would have been Mr. Super-Sub. Replaced anyone except goalkeepers. The sort of player who the press always say had a solid game, and probably did, even if his actual contact with the ball is hard, if not impossible, to recall.
Dennis Uphill - remarkable goal-machine who could dive great distances, perfectly parallel with the ground, at an altitude of one foot. Changed clubs every year.
Cliff Holton - enough said, already. A phenomenal talent who scored outrageous numbers of goals while simultaneously running a successful engineering business and being the Corporation of Watford's answer to Batman and Harold Macmillan. Must have seemed nine feet tall to the opposition, and was better at getting goals than Cloughie.
Tony Gregory - the sort of utterly reliable player always referred to with the faintly-praising 'a loyal servant of the club'. He deserved better, even if he did come from Luton.
and, sitting on the bench ...
Ron Burgess - the manager of the day. Ex-Spurs, Wales, Centre-Half. Sold the Cliffster to Northampton Town (for crying out loud) eighteen months later. Nobody can have been as pubclicly vilified and resented in Watford until D. Bassett forever changed the course of human history. Recalled, by me at least, for programme notes which were quite possibly more facile than the sort of drivel I was turning in for English essays at school.
Pat Molloy - the trainer. Unbelievable that he's gone. He was ALWAYS the trainer.