Nearly-Men Watford’s Two Unwanted Records

Watford fans away game

Watford don’t hold many records in football, but there are two they hold jointly that they would certainly rather not. Firstly, the Hornets are one of eight sides to have finished as runners-up in the top flight of English football but to have never won the title itself. Secondly, to rub salt in the wound, they are one of only four sides to have lost the FA Cup final twice while never lifting the trophy.

Both are bitter pills to swallow for Watford fans who have experienced their near-yet-so-far missed opportunities over the years. And though we don’t want to be too masochistic about it, let’s take a closer look at each of the records and see which other sides share Watford’s unwelcome accolades.

Top Division Runners-Up Who’ve Never Won the League

As mentioned, there are eight clubs who have finished second in the English top division but have never won the top flight title. These sides are as follows:

Club Season
Bristol City 1906/07
Oldham Athletic 1914/15
Cardiff City 1923/24
Charlton Athletic 1936/37
Blackpool 1955/56
QPR 1975/76
Watford 1982/83
Southampton 1983/84

At least Watford aren’t alone in finishing second but never winning the top-flight title. But given the current state of affairs (of both Watford itself and English football in general), there’s a fair chance the Hornets may never get a chance to remove themselves from this club of bridesmaids, or certainly it is not something we see happening anytime soon. And even when they finished second in the 1980s, did they really have a chance of ending the season at the top of the pile?

Southampton are the only side since Watford who have never won the title but have finished second. The Saints got even closer than the Hornets managed and finished just three points behind eventual champions Liverpool. But even that is not as bad as Cardiff’s outcome in 1923/24 when the Welsh side finished level on points and had the same goal difference as Huddersfield Town. The metric used to decide the winners was ‘goal average’, i.e. goals scored divided by goals conceded. Cardiff had scored 61 and conceded 34 for a goal average of 1.794; Huddersfield, meanwhile, scored one fewer, but conceded one fewer too, so earned the slightly better goal average of 1.818. Injustice? Perhaps. Tough luck? Definitely.

Although it was a long time ago, things were almost as agonising for Oldham Athletic back in 1914/15. The Latics almost did the business but in the end they missed out on the title by just a single point, pipped to glory by Everton.

How Close Did Watford Come to Winning the League in 1982/83?

Given that Watford were playing in the fourth tier of English football in the 1977/78 season, to even be competing in the top flight in 1982/83 at all was a massive achievement. That success was down in no small part to Watford legend Graham Taylor. And even he must have been somewhat surprised when his side won four of their first five league matches to put themselves right in the mix at the top of the table.

Plenty more victories followed and the Hornets posted 22 wins in total from their 42 league matches, with five draws. Unfortunately, the mighty Liverpool, then managed by Bob Paisley, were just a little bit better. Well, quite a lot really! The Reds won 24 games and drew 10 to leave them 11 points clear of eventual runners-up Watford.

However, given that Liverpool won eight of the 11 available league titles between 1975/76 and 1985/86, Watford were very much up against it in the title race. And finishing second, ahead of the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham and then-mighty Nottingham Forest was no mean feat. The Hornets did at least score a victory over Liverpool in their final game of the season, but that was scant consolation for missing out on their best chance ever to become the champions of English football.

Most FA Cup Final Appearances Without a Win

Let’s now turn to Watford’s other unwanted record: the most appearances in FA Cup finals without actually ever winning the cup. There are only three other sides in that boat:

  • Queen’s Park – 1884, 1885
  • Birmingham City – 1931, 1956
  • Watford – 1984, 2019
  • Crystal Palace – 1990, 2016

A total of 44 teams have won the FA Cup over the years. Many of those are familiar names such as Arsenal (who top the table with 14 wins), Manchester United (12 wins), and Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs (with eight apiece).

But there are also plenty of less familiar teams, many of whom are no longer in existence, who’ve done what Watford haven’t and lifted the FA Cup. The likes of Old Etonians, Wanderers, Royal Engineers and Old Carthusians are blasts from the past who’ve won the cup. What’s more, a few of today’s relative minnows have been there and done it at some point in their history (Barnsley, Bradford, Huddersfield to name but a few).

Alas, for Watford, Queens Park (who, to be fair, haven’t been eligible for the English FA Cup for well over a century), Birmingham and Palace, two finals are as close as they’ve come. But what happened in Watford’s two finals?

How Close Did Watford Come to Winning the FA Cup?

Watford’s first FA Cup final came in May 1984 when Graham Taylor was still at the helm. Taylor had built a solid team that included John Barnes, Mo Johnston, David Bardsley and Steve Sherwood. But they faced an Everton side managed by Howard Kendall who were very much on the up.

Their line-up in the final included Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp, Peter Reid and Kevin Ratcliffe, with the larger-than-life Neville Southall between the posts. Although Taylor’s Watford gave a decent account of themselves, goals from Gray and Sharp proved the difference and Everton won the cup for the fourth time in their history, setting them on their way to a real glory period when they won two league titles as well and a European trophy as well.

In their other FA Cup final, Watford found themselves on the wrong end of a 6-0 drubbing against Pep Guardiola’s rampant Manchester City. Javi Garcia was the man in the dugout for Watford, but he was helpless to prevent the mauling that saw goals from such greats as David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, with both Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling bagging braces.