Dan Coker's Match Preview
Welcome to the latest in a series of articles designed for international matches – a look back at former Hammers players who wore the Three Lions of England.
Today, as England prepare to face Belgium in the third-place play-off of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we look back at a former Hammers and England goalscorer. Victor Martin Watson was born in Girton, Cambridgeshire on 10th November 1897, one of 12 children born to Philip and Alice. His father was an agricultural labourer before becoming a factory hand at the Jam Factory. He signed up for the British Army in November 1914, eight days before his 17th birthday and fought during World War One in the 1st Cambs. Regiment and later in the 7th Northants. Regiment, reaching the rank of sergeant.
Watson began his junior football career with Girton before joining Cambridge Town. He also played with Peterborough & Fletton United and Brotherhood Engineering Works, his works team in Peterborough. He was seen playing for Wellingborough Town when West Ham’s Syd King signed him in March 1920 for a fee of £25 as cover for Hammers hero Syd Puddefoot. Watson made his Hammers debut in a goalless draw at Cardiff on 25th September 1920 and scored his first goal for the club in a 1-0 win at Coventry on 4th October 1920. He made nine appearances in 1920/21, scoring two goals. Watson started his West Ham career at outside-left due to the presence of Puddefoot – it wasn’t until two years later, when King sold Puddefoot for a British record fee of £5,000 to Falkirk, that Watson took his place at centre-forward. The rest is Hammers history. The following season, we reached the FA Cup Final and won promotion to the First Division, with Watson scoring 27 goals in 50 matches.
Watson, who stood just over 5’9, also made his England debut during the 1922/23 season whilst playing in the Second Division at the age of 25. His first cap came in a 2-2 against Wales at Ninian Park on 5th March 1923 and, fittingly, he scored. He also scored in his second appearance for his country the following month in a 2-2 draw at Hampden Park against Scotland. To honour his first caps for England, Watson received a clock from the inhabitants of his home village of Girton. To round off an eventful few months, Watson married Kathleen Smith in June 1923.
Due to a broken toe, Watson only made 11 appearances in 1923/24, the Hammers’ first ever in the top flight – he scored three goals. He scored 23 goals in 1924/25, 20 goals in 1925/26 and 37 in 1926/27. Amazingly, he was placed on the transfer list in November 1927 after being dropped from the team but he would end up staying at the cub for a further eight years. He only scored 16 goals that season but was back to his best in 1928/29, scoring 30 goals before an astonishing 1929/30 campaign saw him score an incredible 50 goals in just 44 matches as the Hammers finished seventh. Watson’s goal celebration was to pick a blade of grass from the turf and put it between his teeth – no wonder the grass didn’t seem to grow back at Upton Park until the mid-1990s!
Watson’s goalscoring form brought him back into the England fold and he won his third cap on 5th April 1930 at the age of 32. He showed the selectors what they’d been missing for the previous seven years, scoring twice in a 5-2 win over Scotland at Wembley. He made two further appearances for his country, in a 3-3 draw in Berlin against Germany and in a goalless draw in Vienna against Austria, both matches in May 1930. He had won five England caps and scored four goals. He was the only centre-forward to play for England before and after the change in the offside law in 1925.
Watson only played 18 games in 1930/31 but still managed to net 14 goals. He scored 25 goals in 1931/32 but the Hammers were relegated at the end of the campaign. He netted 28 goals in 1932/33. Watson played and scored in a 2-0 FA Cup fourth round win over West Bromwich Albion on 28th January 1933 just a few hours after the death of John, his four-day-old son. John was the fourth of five children born to Vic and Kathleen – Phyllis was born in 1925, Betty in 1927, Beryl in 1931 and Gerald in 1938.
Watson scored 29 goals in just 32 matches in 1933/34 and nine goals in 15 games in 1934/35. At the age of 38, he was granted a free transfer by Charlie Paynter after 15 years’ service and joined former team-mate George Kay at Southampton, also in the Second Division, with whom he spent a season before retiring.
Vic Watson is, without question, the most prolific striker East London has ever seen and undoubtedly ranks as one of West Ham United’s best players of all-time. He scored 298 league goals in 462 appearances, bagging a further 28 goals in the FA Cup, making him the club’s record goalscorer with 326 goals from 505 matches. He scored six goals in one match, on a rain-lashed afternoon against Leeds in an 8-2 win in February 1929, scored four in one game on three occasions and scored a further 13 hat-tricks. He was described by a contemporary writer as being a “dashing centre-forward whose tactic was to persistently harass the opposing defence”.
Watson ran a fruit and vegetable small holding back in Cambridgeshire, growing cucumbers and tomatoes, and was also a market gardener in Girton. He also worked as a nurseryman and gas maker. He was the uncle of Harry Cranfield, who played for Fulham, Bristol Rovers and Colchester in the 1930s and ‘40s. Vic Watson died at the age of 90 in his hometown of Girton on 3rd August 1988, nine days after West Ham sold one of his goalscoring successors, Tony Cottee, to Everton and six days after fellow Hammers legend Billy Bonds retired. A plaque honouring Watson was unveiled in Girton in June 2010.
Belgium v England
England face Belgium this afternoon in the third-place play-off match of the 2018 World Cup – it will be the 23rd meeting between the two nations. The pair have met three times before in the World Cup, with the most famous being the 1-0 win for the Three Lions in the second round of Italia ’90 which was chronicled in my piece two weeks ago. The first World Cup meeting came in front of 14,000 in Basel, Switzerland, on 14th June 1954. Doris Day was number one with ‘Secret Love’, codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing had died a week previously and UEFA was formed the following day.
Walter Winterbottom’s England were on the back foot early on with Belgian forward Leopol Anoul giving his side the lead after five minutes. England stormed back, equalising through Newcastle inside-right Ivor Broadis in the 25th minute and going ahead courtesy of Bolton legend Nat Lofthouse 12 minutes later.
Broadis extended England’s lead to 3-1 in the 62nd minute but two goals in three minutes brought the Belgians level, Royal Liege inside-left Anoul scoring his second before a penalty by Beerschot centre-forward Rik Coppens levelled the game with 13 minutes to go.
Extra time was played in the group games at the 1954 World Cup if the score was level after 90 minutes, with the result being a draw if the scores were still level after 120 minutes. Lofthouse scored a minute into extra-time but an own goal by Portsmouth left-half Jimmy Dickinson just two minutes later restored parity for Belgium – the game finished in a 4-4 draw. England would top Group 4 but would be knocked out by Uruguay in the quarter-finals. West Germany beat Hungary in the Final.
England: Gil Merrick (Birmingham), Ron Staniforth (Huddersfield), Roger Byrne (Man Utd), Syd Owen (Luton), Billy Wright (captain, Wolves), Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth), Stanley Matthews (Blackpool), Ivor Broadis (Newcastle), Nat Lofthouse (Bolton), Tommy Taylor (Man Utd), Tom Finney (Preston).
Belgium: Leopold Gernaey (Oostende), Marcel Dries (Berchem), Constant Huysmans (Beerschot), Alfons Van Brandt (Lierse), Louis Carre (Royal Liege), Victor Mees (Antwerp), Pieter Van Den Bosch (Anderlecht), Denis Houf (Standard Liege), Rik Coppens (Beerschot), Leopold Anoul (Royal Liege), Jef Mermans (captain, Anderlecht).