This is a question you could ask of many clubs below the upper reaches of the English game. Trophies are, after all, in relatively scarce supply – just one of the many reasons why winning one is so satisfying for players and fans alike. For most sides within the league system, each new season brings only three opportunities for success: the League, the FA Cup, and the EFL Cup, with the additional pots of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League only available to the select few at the summit of the footballing pyramid (and some less prestigious competitions for those nearer the bottom).
Modern football fans may believe Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United win everything, but it wasn’t always this way. Many clubs have experienced at least one golden era over the course of their lifetime. Sunderland, Huddersfield Town, Preston North End, and Sheffield Wednesday may be among the lesser lights of the 21st century, but all have multiple top-flight league titles. But what of current Championship side Watford? Have the plucky Hornets from Vicarage Road ever looked down upon all other sides?
The quick answer to that is a resounding no. Despite the best efforts of Graham Taylor, Elton John, and the trigger-happy Gino Pozzo, The Yellow Army haven’t had too much to celebrate over the years, barring a yo-yo period between the Championship and the Premier League in recent times. However, it isn’t fair to say that Watford have never won anything at all – which would be some feat for a club established in 1881. So, just what honours occupy the shelves within the Watford trophy cabinet? Here, we open the doors to find out and look at those occasions when the Hertfordshire club came closest to hitting the big time.
A Look Inside the Trophy Cabinet
If the question is “Have Watford ever won a major trophy?” this would be a very short article, difficult to extend beyond the four words of, no they have not. The English League title, the FA Cup, he EFL Cup and the European honours have always eluded the well-supported club.
However, if we are to expand our net just a little, we find that various Watford captains have at least raised something silver above their heads over the years. Without further ado, we now present Watford’s gallant list of successes:
- Championship Playoff Winners – 1998/99, 2005/06
- Second Division Champions – 1997/98
- Third Division Champions – 1967/68
- Fourth Division Champions – 1977/78
- Southern Football League Champions – 1914/15
- Football League Third Division South Cup Winners – 1937
- Hertfordshire County FA Cup – 1888/89, 1890/91, 1891/92, 1893/94, 1896/97, 1977/78, 1978/79, 1980/81, 1981/82, 1982/83, 1983/84, 1984/85, 1987/88, 1988/89, 1993/94, 1994/95, 1997/98, 2003/04
As we can see, the Hornets boast a mighty record in the Hertfordshire County FA Cup, winning the trophy 18 times in all under the names of Watford Rovers, West Hertfordshire, and Watford FC – only Barnet can better that tally with 19 wins. Elsewhere, Hertfordshire’s finest have topped the table of the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions, in addition to winning the Championship Playoffs twice, but are yet to taste success in the top tier of the English game.
The Near Misses
As of 2024, the site of the Watford colours emblazoning one of the most famous trophies remains but a dream. However, there have been occasions when that dream has come tantalisingly close to becoming a reality. The following Watford sides didn’t quite manage to get over the silverware line, but they came closer than other outfits in Vicarage Road history.
1982/83 First Division Season
Having finished the 1981/82 campaign in second place in the second tier, behind arch-rivals Luton Town, many expected Watford to struggle in the top fight. Instead, they won four of their first five games to top the table – a mere seven years on from sitting rock bottom of the old Fourth Division… quite the turnaround!
Ignoring those who criticised their direct and aggressive style of play, Watford stuck with the Graham Taylor system to pick up a stream of memorable results, including wins at White Hart Lane, Highbury, Villa Park, and an 8-0 annihilation of Sunderland – a game in which Watford also hit the woodwork four times.
In the end, the Hornets couldn’t quite live with the relentless pace of Liverpool but rode their “us against the world” mentality to a second-place finish – still the highest ever by a newly promoted side and enough to herald the club’s only European campaign in the 1983/84 UEFA Cup. Nigel Callaghan, Ross Jenkins, Steve Sherwood, Pat Rice, Wilf Rostron, Ian Bolton, Steve Sims, Les Taylor and Kenny Jackett were all influential; John Barnes burst onto the scene, and frontman Luther Blissett finished as the season’s top scorer with 27 goals. No trophy, but comfortably the greatest season in Watford’s history.
1984 FA Cup Final
One year after their spectacular arrival at the top table, Watford couldn’t maintain that pace in the league, with Luther Blissett heading to Serie A with AC Milan. However, the club did enjoy an almighty run in the FA Cup.
Handed a mouthwatering tie away at the arch-enemy Luton Town in the third round, Watford picked up a 2-2 draw before conquering their rivals in a 4-3 thriller in the replay. Charlton Athletic were next to be dispatched 2-0 on the road, followed by a 3-1 home success over Brighton & Hove Albion. Sweeping past Birmingham City by that same 3-1 scoreline at St Andrews, an early George Reilly header was enough to edge past Plymouth Argyle in the Semi-Final at Villa Park.
Everton stood between a Watford side, including Nigel Callaghan, Kenny Jackett, John Barnes, Les Taylor, and Steve Sherwood, and immortality. Unfortunately, Everton were in no mood to spurn their own chance at a first trophy in 14 years – ultimately coming out on top 2-0 thanks to strikes from Graeme Sharp and a controversial Andy Gray header. So near, and yet so far.
2019 FA Cup Final
35 years on from that near miss, a Javi Gracia-inspired Watford were at it again. Performing respectably in the Premier League on route to a solid 11th-place finish, the Hornets saved their best efforts for the biggest domestic cup competition in the world.
Easing past minnows Woking 2-0 in the third round, the Hornets then repeated that scoreline in the more imposing atmosphere of St James’ Park, thanks to strikes from Andre Gray and Isaac Success. Navigating a tricky trip to QPR with a 1-0 win and squeezing past Crystal Palace at home 2-1 in the quarter-final, Wolves were up next in an epic semi-final at Wembley. 2-1 down with time running out, talisman Troy Deeney equalised from the spot in the fourth minute of added-on time before Gerard Deulofeu sent the fans into raptures with a coolly taken winner in extra time.
Having made it to the final once again, Watford were at least theoretically within touching distance of the trophy. Sadly, the team on the other side of the pitch played in Sky Blue, were managed by Pep Guardiola, and went by the name of Manchester City.
The FA Cup Final has provided the stage for a number of shock results over the years, but not this time. Goals from David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne and braces from Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling put Watford to the sword in no uncertain terms, with that 6-0 scoreline being a joint record FA Cup Final defeat.
One year on, Watford suffered relegation from the Premier League and fell into yo-yo mode once more – promoted in 2020/21 and relegated in 2021/22. Fast forward to 2024, the club currently resides in mid-table in the Championship and are out of the Carabao Cup. However, all is not lost, with Valérien Ismaël’s men facing a trip to Southampton for a place in the FA Cup Quarter Finals. Could 2024 finally be their year?