The Watford Observer has again teamed up with its friends at The Watford Treasury to share stories from previous issues.

Kit historian Geoff Allen talks to Neil Dunham about Watford in blue.

Even in an age of technology, where information can be readily accessed and detailed research can be carried out from the comfort of your living room sofa, certain ‘niche’ historical details are still only available to those who are willing to get their hands dirty in the good old-fashioned way.

For those of us who are interested in every detail of the history of our football club, we are lucky to have people like Geoff Allen, who, as a historian of Watford kit right back to the early days of the club, can fill in the blanks that most of us can’t.

A long-standing supporter, Geoff still remembers his first visit to Vicarage Road. He said: “It was during the 1960/61 season, to see Watford Schoolboys play a match. This would be the only time I saw the original floodlights, and I also seem to remember the trees that lined the top of the Vicarage Road terrace. My first ‘proper’ match was a first-team game against Notts County, early in the 1962/63 season.” He has missed very few home games since.

1959/60 was the first season Watford wore gold and black, so discussion often returned to the new kit and the change from blue and white, and sometimes even back to the change from black and white stripes back in 1927. However, Geoff’s fascination goes beyond just the colour of shirts. “Over the years, I have often made a mental note not only of the obvious changes to kits, but more importantly to me, some of the subtle colour and layout changes.”

This interest was galvanised in 1998 into a more scholarly endeavour, when a new book on historical kits was released. “In addition to Watford, I’ve always had a general interest in all football kits, so when Bob Bickerton published ‘Club Colours’, covering all Football League clubs past and present, I promptly bought a copy.”

Although a well-researched, comprehensive and highly recommended work, the complex task of covering all 92 league clubs meant that the new tome did fall a little short on a number of details, particularly, in Geoff’s view, regarding Watford. “It didn’t take me long to decide that I would, purely for my own reference, catalogue the changes in their kits season by season. Because it was only for my personal use and I’m no artist, I decided to use the excellent drawings from the book as templates on which I could draw the new kits. I set about photocopying and enlarging suitable images either to use unaltered, or of white kits that I could draw onto.”

Harrow Times:

Fans favourite George Catleugh. Photo: Watford Observer from the Nick Beach Collection. Colourised: Colin Payne

What ensued was a labour of love and perseverance. Geoff embarked on a journey of epic proportions, eventually even drawing from the knowledge of Watford Treasury team members. “Having bought the first copy of the Watford Treasury, I loved the subject matter and resolved to contact them, hoping they could help me with information on some away kits I was having trouble with. The immediate reply from the team and information they supplied put us on the road to discover not only several different away shirts from the 1950s, but two ‘Blues’ shirts that we’d been totally unaware of.

“One area that turned out to be a rich resource for these kits was an annual tradition of playing a pre-season game between the ‘probable’ first-team and the ‘reserves’, the team photos from which were often used for the programme cover pictures in the mid-to-late 1950s. The tradition of an inter-club pre-season game can be traced back to the late 1800s. This helped to identify a black-and-white-striped away kit, and a number of different red shirts.”

In regard to those ‘lost’ home shirts, Geoff recalls: “Pictures made available to me showed Watford playing a team in a white-sleeved ‘Arsenal-style’ kit, accompanied by information showing that this was the 1959 pre-season trial game ‘Golds v the Rest’ – the first-team in the new gold kit, against the reserves in a shirt of unknown colour or origin. Now able to target my research, I came across a picture from the home game v Shrewsbury in 1959, and there was Cliff Holton wearing this ‘Arsenal’ shirt. Again, the Treasury team was able to assist, and identified a new searchable resource for me, from which I was able to discover that for the last two months of the 1958/59 season the ‘Blues’ switched to these blue shirts with white sleeves, matched with white shorts and blue-and-white hooped socks. This update seems to have tied in with the appointment of new manager Ron Burgess.

“It didn’t stop there. I discovered that Watford had played the first three or more games of the 1955/56 season wearing blue ‘continental’, lightweight V-neck shirts, with short sleeves and white trim. Surprisingly, these shirts were borrowed from Watford Juniors. Then-manager Len Goulden, whilst not minding their use during hot weather, regarded them as unsuitable for the varied English climate, so they didn’t last long.”

In a footballing world that few in the business arena today would understand, it is worth mentioning that team-kit was bought ‘off-the-peg’ right up until the late 1950s. Once it was considered too scruffy and no longer fit to don in matches, kit was relegated to become training wear, and a new set would be purchased, with little consideration as to how closely the colour and trim matched the previous one.

Later, kit was ordered from the manufacturers via local sport shops, most notably Peter Spivey’s, based in Watford High Street, and Goodman’s Sports in Southgate. It wasn’t until the 1980s that suppliers provided kit directly to clubs, and another few years before they entered into commercial agreements to provide kit ‘free’.

“While the sock colours and configuration did change over the seasons, the blue shirt remained in place with a few slight changes, until that change to gold at the end of the 1950s. This of course does not include the reported change of colour to turquoise in the inter-war period, a curious enigma that due to an lack of colour images, has gained infamy to rival the Loch Ness monster.” If anyone is to rediscover this mythical beast of a kit, we can reasonably assume it’ll be Geoff.

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