Watford has seen its fair share of footballing legends pass through Vicarage Road. Over the years, a multitude of talented players have graced the club with their presence, leaving an indelible mark on the Hornets’ history. In this article, we’ll take a nostalgic journey through the annals of Watford’s past and uncover the five best players to have ever worn the yellow and black stripes.
John Barnes (1981-1987)
John Barnes is arguably the most illustrious player to have ever represented the Hornets. His impact during his time with the club and subsequent career at Liverpool solidified his position as a footballing legend. Barnes, a winger with electrifying pace and impeccable dribbling skills, began his journey at Watford as a teenager when moving from non-league outfit Sudbury Court. The fee? Watford paid for a set of kits for the Middlesex League club in exchange for the Jamaican-born player.
Under the guidance of manager, Graham Taylor, Barnes quickly blossomed into a remarkable talent. His performances for Watford were nothing short of sensational, helping the club secure a second-place finish in the First Division in the 1982/83 season. Although the league’s top-scorer was fellow Watford legend, Luther Blissett, Barnes contributed with 10 goals of his own plus an abundance of assists.
Although you could make a lengthy highlights reel of Barnes’s magic, a particular standout moment at Watford came in 1984. During this season he scored a spectacular outside-of-the-foot goal against Birmingham City, often regarded as one of his best for the club. Barnes’s time at Watford earned him a move to Liverpool, the club that beat Watford to the league title four years prior. The Reds paid £900k for the services of the talented winger and every penny was worth it as he soon gained iconic status at Anfield, just as he had done at Vicarage Road.
Luther Blissett (1975-1983, 1984-1988, 1991-1993)
Luther Blissett’s name is synonymous with Watford Football Club. The English striker is not only one of the best players to have ever worn the yellow and black, but he is also the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, with an impressive 186 goals in 503 appearances. Twenty-seven of these goals game during the 1982/83 league campaign which saw Blissett named as the league’s most prolific forward.
Blissett’s journey with Watford began in 1974 when he started as an apprentice. Having impressed his coaches there, he was handed a professional contract the next year and made three appearances in the 1975/76 campaign. By 1977/78, he was a regular in the side and played an instrumental role in the club’s remarkable rise from the Fourth Division to the First Division. His goal-scoring prowess, combined with an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, made him a fan favourite. He was an integral part of the team that achieved promotion to the First Division for the first time in the club’s history in the 1981/82 season.
Notably, Blissett scored a hat-trick against Sunderland in Watford’s debut First Division season, becoming the first black player to achieve this feat in the top tier of English football. His contribution to Watford’s success during the early ’80s remains unparalleled, and he is revered as one of the club’s true legends.
Troy Deeney (2010-2021)
Troy Deeney is a modern-day Watford hero who will forever be remembered for his leadership, loyalty, and never-say-die spirit. The striker, often referred to as “Captain Fantastic,” joined Watford in 2010 and became an integral part of the club during one of its most successful eras. During his 11-year stint at the club, he was best known for his tenacity and ability to score crucial goals.
In this time, on seven occasions, Deeney was the top goalscorer, or joint top-goalscorer across competitions for the Hornets. Out of all his strikes though, the most famous by a comfortable margin is the one scored against Leicester City in the 2012/13 Championship play-off semi-final. Having just seen a penalty saved at the other end, Watford raced down the pitch where Deeney was waiting to lash home, sending Vicarage Park into delirium.
Although Watford didn’t secure promotion that season, when they eventually did in 2015, Deeney’s leadership on and off the pitch was invaluable in maintaining the club’s Premier League status for several seasons. Overall, it is fair to say that Deeney’s impact on the club’s recent history cements his place among the best players to have ever donned the yellow and black.
Ross Jenkins (1972-1983)
By pure coincidence, Watford have had two players called Ross Jenkins on their books. The most recent being the 1990-born midfielder who made 81 appearances for the Hornets. He is not who we are talking about here though, rather we mean the Ross Jenkins who was a towering presence in Watford’s forward line during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Jenkins joined Watford in 1972 and spent a total of 11 years at the club. During this time, he helped the Hornets achieve three promotions from the Fourth Division to the First Division. He had a particularly key role during the promotion out of Division 3 as Jenkins netted a hugely impressive 37 goals across all competitions that season. Unsurprisingly, he scooped the Player of the Season award that year, something he also managed three years prior.
The imposing forward, best known for his movement and strong ability in the air, ended up appearing for Watford over 400 times. With 142 goals to his name too, this puts him as the third-highest all-time goalscorer for the club, 21 short of Tommy Barnett, who is perhaps a little unfortunate not to have made this list.
Nigel Gibbs (1983-2002)
Nigel Gibbs may not be a name that resonates with the casual football fan, but to Watford supporters, he is a revered figure who epitomises loyalty and commitment. Gibbs was a right-back who spent his entire professional career at Watford, playing for the club from 1983 to 2002.
Known for his defensive solidity and reliability, Gibbs made over 400 appearances for Watford, and his consistency made him a mainstay in the team. His debut, as an 18-year-old, came in front of 38,000 fans Watford took on Sparta Prague in a UEFA Cup (now Europa League) match and from this point on he never looked back. The St Albans-born man was a part of the squad that secured back-to-back promotions across 1997/98 and 1998/99 and his leadership qualities were invaluable during that campaign.
Had injuries not kept him sidelined, including for the entirety of the 1993/94 season, Gibbs would have no doubt taken the record for most Watford appearances. As it is though, he fell 96 short of the amount racked up by the aforementioned Blissett. Unfortunately, even when returning from injury, Gibbs sometimes found he did not automatically return to the starting line-up. Although he often found himself in and out of the team, his commitment to Watford, as well as hundreds of solid performances, make him a popular figure at Vicarage Road.