A Great Leap Forward

With Graham Taylor back and in charge of team affairs, this was a period of success on the field.  It also saw significant development in the aims and activities of the Trust, with visionary and far-reaching major projects being set up.  These included the Player Development Centres and the construction of the Learning Centre at the stadium.

The organisational structure was also put onto a new footing.  The club set up the ‘Families, Youth and Community’ department, with Football in the Community and Watford Learning along with the Junior Hornets coming under its banner.  Staffing levels increased too, with co-funding arrangements put in place to employ a full-time teacher (Julia Bateson) for the Learning Centre, a sports development post in the Dacorum region (Simon MacQueen) and a regeneration post in West Watford (Gareth Jones).  

Trivia Time

The Learning Centre first opened in 2001 but in which stand was is situated?

  • Rous/GT Stand
  • Rookery Stand
  • East Stand
learning centre

We’ve still got young people that we coached and grew up with from U11’s and U12’s, running out for our Ladies First Team today.

Rob ClarkeFormer Head of Girls Centre of Excellence, now Head of Skills and Quality Assurance

Highlights of the era

Girls Centre of Excellence established in 2001 – the first of its type in Hertfordshire. The sponsorship partnership with TOTAL is launched.

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The Girls Centre of Excellence opened in 2001 and at the time was the first of its type in Hertfordshire.

It started with just two teams, for U12’s and U14’s, who were given expert coaching under the guidance of Rob Clarke and Rob Smith. Further age groups were added so that it met the full FA Centre of Excellence criteria and teams were entered into the London and South-East league.  Success soon followed, and some notable achievements included Laura Davey being selected to represent England as first choice goalkeeper.

At the time the teams were on a par with Arsenal Ladies and coaches included Nick Cox, who is now head of the Manchester United Academy, John McDermott who now heads up the Spurs Academy and John Salomon who went on to manage the full Ladies team to great success.

The Centre of Excellence became a pathway for many girls to build a career in football and sport. Some went on to play in America through University scholarship schemes and others benefited from gaining FA Level 1 coaching qualifications. Coaching and Physio mentoring schemes were also established with links to both the University of Hertfordshire and Brunel University.

The Girls Centre of Excellence is another example of how the Trust was a pioneer and gave expert coaching to many hundreds of girls, many of whom went on to play at a high level as well as developing a lifelong career in sport.


A total of 20,000 juniors and adults involved in Football in the Community projects in 1997, this increased to 44,000 by 1999.

First Player Development Centre (PDC) opened for higher ability junior players - seen as a pathway into the Watford FC Academy.

New initiatives in girls’ football and special needs coaching introduced.

Learning Centre opened in the old East Stand and its head, Julia Bateson, launches “Playing for Success” scheme in 2000. Advanced PDC players take part in Paris tournament.

Partnership with Herts Careers Services to help 14-16 year olds make the transition into full-time employment. “Opportunities Day” held to support learning disability students with job-seeking skills.

Share Your Memories

Were you one of the pupils who studied at the Learning Centre? Do you have any memories or photos to share?
Do you have any stories from the early days of the Player Development Centres?
If so, please share them and we will post the best ones on this site. 

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