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So near, yet so far

The Second Division was within touching distance, but having forced their way into a strong position on Good Friday, Watford collapsed over Easter and the dream of promotion would have to wait another five years.

Bill McGarry (pictured) had built a good team, one that looked capable of making the step up. He had young Pat Jennings in goal and Charlie Livesey in attack. The arrival of Duncan Welbourne from Grimsby added steel to the defence and when McGarry persuaded Jim McAnearney to join from Plymouth it was the firmest indication to date that the club was determined to push on.

Before McAnearney, Cliff Holton was the only player to cost Watford as much as £10,000. A brilliant run of results since the turn of the year had thrust Watford into contention. They won 12 out of 15 and were suddenly being talked of as the most likely side out of Crystal Palace, Coventry City and Bournemouth to make it.

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As it often does, Easter held the key. Watford hosted Colchester United at Vicarage Road on Good Friday. Colchester were frustrating opponents and would often go away having restricted Watford to a single point.

This wasn’t a free-flowing display but it was just the sort of stubborn performance teams destined for promotion are adept at producing.

Ron Crisp gave Watford the lead after a neat move involving Ken Oliver, Livesey and McAnearney.

It was a controversial goal, perhaps foreshadowing the one that finally achieved promotion for the Hornets against Plymouth five years later. Crisp’s firm drive from 25 yards hit the bar and bounced down on the line.

Colchester equalised when the jitters in the Watford defence got the better of them. The visitors then spent ten minutes camped in Watford’s penalty area, winning four corners in a row as a result.

But Watford dug in and then eased away. McAnearney was brought down in the area and George Harris smashed home the penalty. Late on Oliver rode two challenges to add the third.

Vicarage Road sensed that this was it. With two promotion places up for grabs, Watford had risen to second in the table at just the right time. They could almost smell Division Two. Unfortunately it all unravelled with indecent haste. They were thumped 3-0 at Shrewsbury the following day, then won only one of their last seven games. The dream was to be put on ice until Ken Furphy arrived as manager later that year, although it would take him five years to reach the promised land.

Watford Jennings, Bell, Jones, Crisp, Chung, Welbourne, Spelman, McAnearney, Livesey, Oliver, Harris
Manager Bill McGarry
Scorers Crisp 26, Harris pen 67, Oliver 78
Colchester scorer Grice 53
Attendance 18,393

Why was this match chosen? That Good Friday night Watford supporters could have been forgiven for thinking that this would be the year the club would reach the Second Division for the first time.

How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? The whole of the 1960s was shaped by the battle to get out of the lower divisions. There were a couple of seasons when they came close but this was probably the best opportunity to make it. The wheels fell off during the run-in and had Watford managed to grab another win and a couple of draws from the final eight games they'd have made it. But this game represented a high water mark in the club's history that would not be beaten for another five years.