Watford v Kaiserslautern, 1983 UEFA Cup

September 28, 2019 2 By Paul W

Watford completed a meteoric rise from the Fourth Division to the First between 1978 and 1982, under future England manager Graham Taylor. The Hertfordshire club then finished second behind Liverpool in 1982-83, and embarked on their first-ever European campaign the following season.

Watford squad 1983-84
Watford squad 1983-84

They drew tough opponents in the First Round, Kaiserslautern, founder members of the Bundesliga and one of West Germany’s strongest teams at the time who had reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals two seasons earlier. Their side contained German internationals Andreas Brehme, Hans-Peter Briegel and Thomas Allofs, who scored twice in their 3-1 first leg home win, with another from Swedish striker Torbjörn Nilsson. For the second leg at Vicarage Road, Taylor gave a debut to young forward Ian Richardson in an injury-hit team captained by experienced former Arsenal full-back Pat Rice.

After this spectacular comeback, Watford progressed through the next round with another fine second-leg performance, winning 3-1 in extra time in Bulgaria against Levski Sofia. Their Third Round tie proved a challenge too far, as they were knocked out by Czech side Sparta Prague, 7-2 on aggregate. The 1984 UEFA Cup was eventually won by Tottenham Hotspur. Though they couldn’t maintain their League form of the previous season, finishing 11th in the First Division, Watford reached their first FA Cup Final in 1983-84, losing to Everton.

Watford's Graham Taylor & John Barnes; Kaiserslautern's Andreas Brehme

For manager Graham Taylor, this season was a first taste of European football at senior level, and his last until taking over at the helm of the national team from Bobby Robson after the 1990 World Cup. Taylor had been in charge at Vicarage Road since 1977, and in 1981 gave a debut to winger John Barnes. Having made his England bow at the end of the previous season, Barnes was selected for the 1984 summer tour of South America and went on to appear at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. Despite winning two league titles after his move to Liverpool in the summer of 1987 (both times being voted Footballer of the Year), Barnes was not to get another taste of European club competition until 1992 due to the ban of English sides in the wake of the Heysel tragedy.

While Watford have returned to the top level in England several times, they have yet to enjoy another major European competition since 1983; defeat to Manchester City in the 2019 FA Cup Final cost them a place in the Europa League. 

Kaiserslautern squad 1983-84
Kaiserslautern squad 1983-84

Kaiserslautern’s recent history has been uneven; after this game, they did not play in Europe again until winning the German Cup in 1990 – the following season they were Bundesliga champions, and were regularly at the top end of the table until their surprise relegation in 1996. They then enjoyed a resurgence, winning the 1997-98 Bundesliga in their first season after promotion and reaching the Champions League quarter-finals the following year. After a UEFA Cup semi-final in 2001, Kaiserslautern were relegated in 2006, returning to the top flight in 2010 only to be demoted again in 2011-12. Their subsequent decline led to them falling to the third division of German football for the first time in 2018.

Match details for Watford – Kaiserslautern; Vicarage Road, UEFA Cup First Round Second Leg, Wednesday 28 September 1983:

Watford: 1 Steve Sherwood, 2 Charlie Palmer, 3 Ian Bolton, 4 Steve Terry, 5 Richard Jobson, 6 Kenny Jackett, 7 Nigel Callaghan, 8 John Barnes, 9 Jimmy Gilligan, 10 Ian Richardson, 11 Wilf Rostron. Manager: Graham Taylor. Scorers: Richardson (2), Melzer (og)

Kaiserslautern: 1 Armin Reichel, 2 Wolfgang Wolf, 3 Hans-Peter Briegel, 4 Werner Melzer, 5 Andreas Brehme, 6 Manfred Plath (sub Norbert Eilenfeldt), 7 Reiner Geye, 8 Hannes Bongartz, 9 Thomas Allofs, 10 Torbjörn Nilsson, 11 Axel Brummer. Manager: Dietrich Wiese

Attendance: 21, 467

Watford-Kaiserslautern 1983: captains Wilf Rostron & Hans-Peter Briegel
Watford-Kaiserslautern 1983: captains Wilf Rostron & Hans-Peter Briegel (courtesy of www.oldwatford.com)

The fortunes of Football League clubs in European competition is one of the topics in my book Before the Premier League: A History of the Football League’s Last Decades.