How Elton John Twice Owned His Favorite Childhood Soccer Team
On April 23, 2019, at halftime during a Watford Football Club match at its stadium, the team helped promote the release of the Elton John biopic Rocketman by leading the fans in a singalong of "Rocket Man."
It was the most recent event in John's lifelong love affair with the team.
At the age of six, Reginald Dwight attended his first Watford match at its home stadium of Vicarage Road and became a fan. But as rock star Elton John, he wound up buying the team, leading the small club to levels that it had never achieved before.
John joined Watford, which us located only a few miles from John's hometown of Pinner, as a vice president in 1973, and was elevated to its president a year later. At the time, Watford had spent the bulk of the previous 15 years in the Third Division of the Football League. (In England and many other countries, soccer teams can be promoted to higher divisions or relegated to lower ones based on the results of the previous year.) But a 23rd-place finish in the 1974-75 season sent it down to the Fourth Division, the lowest professional rung in the league.
Watch Watford FC Fans Sing 'Rocket Man'
A year later, John bought out Jim Bonser's majority stake in the club and installed himself as chairman. After the team finished seventh in 1976-77, John fired manager Mike Keen and replaced him with 32-year-old Graham Taylor.
The decision proved fortuitous. With John's infusion of cash and Taylor proving to be one of the best young managers in the English game, Watford earned promotion in both of the next two seasons and in 1982 made its way into the First Division for the first time in its 86-year history. Then they shocked even more people by coming in second place the next season, with Luther Blissett leading the league with 33 goals, and the legendary John Barnes, only 18 years old at the time, adding another 10.
The team never got that close to the title again, though it lost in the FA Cup Final the next season. The inevitable comedown followed, with the mid-'80s finding Watford in the middle of the pack of the First Division. Then in 1987, after a decade in charge, Taylor left for Aston Villa, and Watford faltered. They were relegated a year later, and by 1990 John sold the club to Jack Petchey.
Watch a BBC Report About Elton John and Watford
He didn't stay away long, purchasing the team again in early 1996 and rehiring Taylor, this time as general manager. It wasn't enough to save the season -- they were relegated again -- but Taylor re-assumed the managerial spot in the off-season, and they again pulled off the same feat of promotion in two successive seasons to return to the top flight, which by now had been renamed the Premier League.
Watford struggled in the Premier League, in part due to the league's financial structure, which now made it tough for smaller clubs to compete, and it was soon sent down again. Taylor retired in 2001; a year later John stepped down as chairman. In recognition of his accomplishments with Watford, he was named as its Honorary Life President.
"With the huge changes taking place in football, it is obviously necessary for the board to be led by a chairman who will be able to devote more time to the club," John said. "I am sure that they will find the right person who will be able to devote time and energy to leading the club through these difficult times."
Even though John was no longer involved in charge of Watford, the club has been a huge part of his life. In June 2005, he returned to Vicarage Road to play a concert that raised more than an estimated $1.5 million to be used on new players.
Watch Elton John Perform at Vicarage Road
John resigned his position in 2008 after the team parted ways with manager Aidy Boothroyd only a few months into the season. He issued a statement that said he "has decided to resign as Life President of Watford Football Club. In a letter to Watford chairman Graham Simpson, Elton affirmed that he would always be a fan of Watford. Elton wishes the team every success for the future. However, in the light of developments over the past few months, he feels he cannot remain in any formal position within the club.”
But he didn't stay away long, returning after chairman Graham Simpson stepped down only two months later. And he's since become a permanent part of Vicarage Road, first with a luxury suite named after him, then in December 2014 the rebuilt Main Stand was renamed in John's honor, complete with "Your Song" lyrics -- "I hope you don't mind that I put down in words / How wonderful life is while you're in the world" -- painted in yellow across the top.
"Thank you very, very much, everybody," he told the crowd while wearing a scarf in club colors. "This is one of the greatest days of my life. ... My years at the club were so magnificent. The memories are so magnificent. All the people in football are magnificent, the home supporters, away supporters, the the chairmen and the boards of every club I went to, treating me with so much love. I love football, and I always will, and Watford is embedded in my heart."
Watch the Construction of the Sir Elton John Stand
And he remains active in the club's direction. In February 2019, chairman Scott Duxbury said he speaks to John nearly every day about something related to the team, including scouting players he thinks Watford should buy.
"He recommends players that I have not heard of, and I say I will pass it to my scouting department," he said. "They come back and say, 'Yeah, yeah, really good player, let's look at this.' He absolutely has an encyclopedic knowledge of the lower-division players, it is incredible."
Watch Elton John's Speech at the Naming of the Stand