Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Lonely Hearts Football Clubs

I wasn't surprised when Watford Chairman Graham Taylor told last nights Fans Forum that our major shareholder Lord Ashcroft wanted to sell his 37.16% stake when it becomes a "Sellable Investment". He's not been a present or vocal owner, and it took the extreme situation of the last AGM for him make any moves. He's a rich man with a investment portfolio. Watford were only ever an investment for him. He isn't a massive Watford fan or a fan of football.

So if it's the job of the current board to make Watford FC a "Sellable Investment" then I'll a very happy Watford fan. It means we are a club with a happy bank manager, we're living within our financial means and performing in the Top 10 in the Championship and challenging for the Play-Offs.

But what then?

Well there will have to be a fairly hefty bit of matchmaking to be done by Graham Taylor and Chief Exec Julian Winter to find the right kind of investor for our community based football club. They'll have to put together a sort of lonely hearts ad for Watford. I don't know if you saw this recently, but Crystal Palaces Administrators placed this advert in the Financial Times which gives us an idea of what they are working on to make us that little bit more attractive to all those single football investors out there.

The Lord Ashcroft and Russo Brothers Ownership situation isn't the best for us to make quick progress. However, the Board and Executive we have are doing all they can to grow this club and we now have a base to grow from. We are not without a few decent challenges both on and off the field, but we will soon be a stable football club.

East Stand Fat Club

Watford's all but empty East Stand was always going to be a big talking points at last nights Fans Forum. And it only took until the first question from the floor for it to be brought up. The was great to hear that both Chairman Graham Taylor and Chief Exec Julian Winter hate seeing it as much as we do. Of course they do. Imagine the embarrassment they must feel when they sit in the Rous Stand black seats with all the guests, club sponsors and see this:

It must be like putting a photo of yourself on your fridge-freezer when on a diet. The theory goes that the sight of seeing yourself at their worst stops you from opening the door and taking out a delicious pot of ice cream.

So how do we get the new East Stand we have been promised for so long?

With our recent financial problems I had thought that a new East Stand was years and YEARS away. Now in reality it's still a few years away. However, Julian Winter gave us some hope that could make it happen in the next few years if a Public Sector partnership could be formed.

He gave the example of Preston North End's new East Stand housing a Primary Care Trust facility - I've found some details on it here. So we're after a public sector partnership that would act as a tenants with facilities in the stand and the club then being be able to secure a loan from the bank. This would be a far more secure financially for Watford, it wouldn't take away from the player acquisition funds, it would give the community a great facility, Vicarage Road would be far prettier and a new stand is always a great way to raise the interest in a club.

It's a win-win for everybody!

I wonder what promises of help and support we can get from our MP and Mayor, both who will soon need re-election?

"Watford People"

For a while back there it all seemed a bit dicey. A tax exile in Belize and two Chelsea supporting entrepreneurs were fighting a very public battle for control of my football club. As you will recall it wasn’t pretty, with claims, counterclaims and threats of administration bandied about all to freely. Even GT got a bit hot under the collar. Now I’ll be the first to accept that the bond between fan and football club has changed dramatically since I stood on the family terrace as a starry eyed kid, but never had I felt so detached and disheartened as I did during all that post AGM financial wrangling and brinkmanship.

Watford aren’t alone in being owned by those without a heartfelt interest, but the financially motivated unrest that is in evidence right across the footballing spectrum, from the splendour of Old Trafford to the blood and thunder of Roots Hall, didn’t make it any easier to stomach. This is Watford. A community club. Home of the family terrace. Home of the Junior Hornets. A safe and happy place. Or at least it was...

I’m starting to hope that those days might return.

Having attended the excellent Fans Forum at Vicarage Road last night, it is clear to me that whilst the club isn’t exactly in an enviable position, we’ve got a team of people in charge that are talented, focussed and above all passionate – and in this day and age, that counts for a lot.

I won’t be able to say much about Graham Taylor that hasn’t already been said, but seeing him in full flow last night was for a Watford fan, gratifying,

[caption id="attachment_148" align="alignright" width="265" caption="Yours truly, in the presence of greatness"][/caption]

heart-warming, exciting and encouraging. A true joy. Graham was at pains to explain that becoming Chairman was never originally in his thoughts, and it was with an understandably weary air that he talked us through the events that led to him eventually taking the role. He also left us in no doubt as to the extent of his powers. “I’m not a saviour. I am not a saviour” he proclaimed. Who did he think he was kidding? To Watford fans, whatever happens, GT will always be god.

He was serious though. A lot of water has passed under the Vicarage Road bridge and even Graham Taylor can’t undo a lot of what’s happened. For example, we’re a PLC. If, as Lord Ashcroft desires, the club is sold, the major shareholders (Ashcroft, the Russo brothers and Graham Simpson) will decide who the buyer is. The Board will provide advice, but that is the extent of their influence.

The Board’s hands are tied when it comes to the East Stand too. It was clear last night that the Board share the fans appetite to begin the long overdue

[caption id="attachment_149" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Not great is it?"]The dear old East Stand[/caption]

development of what is nothing more than a dilapidated, dysfunctional mess. It was equally apparent that we haven’t got the money to do it, and without outside help and support we never will. Chief Executive Julian Winter wasn’t throwing in the towel though. Instead Watford are currently seeking “partners” who could help us develop the stand in return for access to the facilities. A simplified description, but you get the idea. You see this is where we should have been anyway, in Partnership. Watford FC gets a new stand; Watford the town gets a new facility. It isn’t rocket science…

Of course other topics were discussed and I have no doubtthese will be covered in greater detail elsewhere. Malky refused to be drawn on contract talks. He and Graham Taylor praised Birmingham City and Martin Taylor for their conduct during the successful completion of his transfer – Malky’s number one target during the transfer window. Graham Taylor made it clear that Elton John is not and will not be coming back as “the money man”. The panel discussed agents and the shady dealings that still go on, the success of our loan dealings and the interesting story surrounding the signing of “Footballs next star” runner up Connor Smith.

The thing I took away from the event was less tangible. It was a feeling. A feeling that at long last, Watford have worked out what has been going so terribly wrong and more importantly, a willingness and desire to start putting it right. There were no wildly optimistic promises, no suggestions of preparing for the Premiership. No nonsense. Instead there was a powerful undertaking to get Watford back on track. To put them back at the heart of the community and back into the hearts of fans who have had to watch from a distance as the club they love lurched from crisis to crisis.

In summing up at the end of the night, Stuart Timperley was quick to praise Malky Mackay, Julian Winter and Graham Taylor, all of whom are experiencing their roles as Manager, Chief Executive and Chairman for the first time. He described them as understanding the challenge and appreciating the Watford way. He described them as “Watford people”.

The club has been in trouble. Is in trouble. The financial strife is just the half of it though. Watford has lost its soul. I’m confident that if nothing else, Graham Taylor and his fellow “Watford people” can at least help us find that again.

Come on you Horns.

Monday, 22 February 2010

How many points to stay up?

Last week the Watford Observer reported that Malky Mackay had said:

“52 points is everyone’s target in the division as it makes you safe. Everyone wants to get to that as quickly as possible and then you see where you go from there.”

It got me thinking... is he correct? In a previous post I looked across the last three seasons and had said 48 points was enough.

Now I’m no statto in the traditional football fan sense, but I do love a good statistical analysis to help prove a point. So I’ve gone back over the last 10 season of the Championship/First Division to get the points total for the teams in 22nd place, who were relegated, and the teams in 23rd place who managed to stay up after what was a tense final day of the season.



23rd SAFE


































Looking at it from the 22nd place numbers, on average you'll need 48 points to stay up. You’ve needed as little as 43 point in 06-07 and 05-06, but as many as 53 points in 07-08.

It seems that Malky is looking at the 23rd place teams. On average the 23rd place team has gained 51 points. They've needed as many as 53 points, but as low as 49 points in 4 out of the last 10 seasons.

So statistically Malky is wrong, but 52 points seems to be a conservative points target to stay up.

As of 21st February 2010 – when Watford held 39 points - we only need another 13 points to get Malky's target. However, for almost total comfort of 54 points we still need 15 points... and 16 games to do it in - Easy!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Footballing food for thought...

It’s one of the oldest ice breaking exercises known to man. The catalyst for countless pub conversations and fuel for endless idle chit chat in the office. A question that even the most inspirationally challenged dullard should be able to engage with.

“If you could have any four dinner guests – who would they be?”

This question was most recently posed via Twitter, by Football Focus presenter Dan Walker (his choices were Jesus Christ, Delia Smith, Oliver Cromwell and Guy Fawkes). Top of my guest list was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Graham Taylor and this got me thinking about a slightly amended version of the question.

“If you could have four Watford players, past or present for dinner – who would they be?”

If you hadn’t guessed already, you are about to hear my choices.

So, imagine if you will. The table is set. The Great Wall of China Cup (won in 1987 – as if you need reminding) provides the magnificent table centrepiece. The elegant coasters are, upon closer inspection, replica FA Cup runners up medals. A string quartet are performing an orchestral version of Z Cars whilst a dinner suited Harry the Hornet busies himself polishing cutlery and straightening the oil painted portraits of Wilf Rostron and Dave Bamber.

I’m sat proudly at the head of the table supping my 1984 Benskins “Cup Final” Commerative Ale, loking resplendent in my full Solvite sponsored replica kit from '87 when the tranquillity is shattered by Master of Ceremonies, Richard Short.

“The two minute bell has gone, and your guests are in the foyer. Please, let’s raise the roof and give a warm dining room welcome to your first guest…Mr Kenny Jackett”.

It would take a cold hearted character to deny Kenny’s status as a Watford legend. Injury brought his career to a premature end at 28, but before his untimely retirement he managed to squeeze in 337 appearances for Watford and 31 for Wales – his entire playing career was spent at Vicarage Road.

Following the end of his playing days, Kenny continued to have a big part to play at Watford, he was both assistant manager and manager before he was unceremoniously given the boot by our old friend Luca, a sad and unwelcome end to Kenny’s association with the club.

However, simply being a Watford legend isn’t enough to get you into this party. You see, there is a very specific reason that Kenny gets an invite to this exclusive bash. On the evening of Tuesday 24 February 1987 in a home FA Cup tie with Walsall, Kenny Jackett notched the first goal I ever saw Watford score. I’d love to say I remember the goal, a moment etched in my memory, fondly replayed ad nauseum in my mind. Well I don’t and it isn’t. It could have gone in off his elbow for all I know. What I do remember though is the match. I remember the square programme. I remember the dancing, animated pacman-esque characters on the Vicarage Road scoreboard, jumping up and down after each of Watford’s four goals that night (Luther and two from John Barnes completed the scoring). I remember the noise. The floodlights. I remember the fun.

Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t seen eight goals that night. Would I still have been so drawn to football, to Watford? Would I have wanted to come back again, and again had I not been so richly entertained that night? To be perfectly honest, I think I would have been hooked had the game been 0-0 with not a single memorable moment among the 90. (We’ve had enough of those since…). What is for certain is that Kenny Jackett kick started my 23 year (and counting) love affair with the Hornets that night, and for that reason he is my first guest. Come on in Kenny. Make yourself at home.

Last season I was lucky enough to be at a dinner with Charlie George, scorer of Arsenal’s 1971 FA Cup winning goal. My brother and I chatted to him at length and his stories and insights into the game both then and now were fascinating. With this in mind, I wanted my second guest to be someone who had been there and done it. Someone who has not only played for Watford, but has experienced the full footballing spectrum away from the undeniable glitz and glamour of WD18.

This guy ticks all the boxes. He played over 700 times in the top flight, won the UEFA Cup, appeared over 100 times for his Country and represented them at two World Cups. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Pat Jennings.

Whilst his name instantly conjures up visions of his appearances for Spurs and Arsenal, Pat Jennings started his pro career at Watford in 1963 and was capped for Northern Ireland that same year, making his debut in the same game as a certain George Best. Following a year at Watford in which he played 48 times (every game in the ‘63/’64 season), Jennings was sold to  Tottenham Hotspur for £27,000, where he went on to play 472 times. In 1977 he shocked the footballing world by joining Spurs’ fierce North London rivals, Arsenal. Jennings was as loved at Highbury as he was at White Hart Lane and played 237 times for the Gunners.

Away from the domestic game he received 119 caps for his Country, appeared at the World Cup in ’82 and ’86, and has been honoured by the Queen with an OBE. Jennings even managed to score in the Charity Shield at Wembley.

If he doesn’t have a wealth of good yarns to spin to as a result of all that, then I’m Mick Harford. Come in and take a seat Pat.

Vicarage Road has been home to all sorts of colourful characters down the years, but none can have been as suave, cultured, composed and downright unexpected as my next guest…

I’m sure that even those of us with the roughest of rough edges would agree that a dinner party needs a bit of class. A bit of sophistication. Someone who knows the difference between a Chateau Margaux and a tin of Vimto. Someone that doesn’t use the same cutlery for all three courses.

Very few of us will need reminding of the car crash that was Luca Vialli’s time in charge of Watford. His reign of ineptitude can be summed up neatly with just two words that still haunt fans of Spurs, Celtic and Watford, whilst bringing joy to pretty much everyone else.

Ramon. Vega.

Vialli did do one decent bit of business though. I don’t know how he did it, and I definitely don’t know how much we paid him, but somehow, for one season, Watford boasted a real life AC Milan legend at the heart of their defence.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in saying “Benevenuti” to Filippo Galli. True, his time in a yellow shirt was brief (29 appearances) and he was undoubtedly in the twilight of his career, but watching Galli operate was a real privilege.

For those of you who didn’t get to see him, Imagine a tanned Iggy Pop with a face not quite so ravaged by countless years of rock n’ roll based excess. Imagine him in a Watford shirt, casually marshalling the defence, exuding calm and authority, seemingly without breaking into a sweat, and you’ll have a fairly accurate picture of him.

Galli was considered and deliberate, graceful and steely. The archetypal Italian defender, he was utter class. For Watford fans used to defensive talent such as Keith Dublin and Gerard Lavin, being able to feast our eyes on someone that a) could tackle and b) didn’t look prone to slicing the ball into his own net with every attempted clearance was a rare and welcome pleasure indeed.

As well as playing for Watford, Filippo Galli won five Italian Championships, three European Champions Cups, three European Super Cups, and three Italian Super Cups for AC Milan, and in doing so played with some of the greatest names in football. I’m certain he’ll be good value as a dinner guest. Welcome Filippo.

Three down, one to go. The final piece of the jigsaw. It’s a big piece. A player I never saw play, but a name you can’t fail to have heard again and again as you delve into the glorious details surrounding Watford’s rise under Sir Elton and GT.

A player who seems to epitomise all that I hold dear about Watford. Unfashionable, often derided, hard working but ultimately successful. My final invitee is (the original) Ross Jenkins.

Jenkins joined Watford in 1972 and at £30,000 was the then record signing. As has seemed to be the case ever since, the big money signing failed to make an immediate impact. Fast forward to 1975, Jenkins was in the reserves and Watford were relegated to Division 4. Two seasons later, Graham Taylor arrived as Manager, and this is where the fortunes of both club and player improved. Alongside the equally legendary Luther Blissett, Jenkins’ goals helped Watford to two successive promotions.

After two seasons in Division 2, Jenkins left Watford for a brief stint in America before returning to the Watford side that finally won promotion to Division 1.

From what I gather, Jenkins was never the greatest player to watch. He split opinion amongst fans and was almost sold on a number of occasions. Four seasons as top scorer apart, he was never prolific. Watford have had more exciting, skilful performers, players with international caps and worldwide acclaim. Jenkins though, was there during the golden era. That period in Watford history that, despite me not being anywhere near old enough to remember, is the very essence of the Watford football club I know and love. He helped us win promotions. He played in that game against Southampton. He paved the way for those heady days in the top flight – Wembley, Europe. He helped Watford become what they are today.

He’s a Watford legend and he’s my fourth and final guest.

Kenny Jackett, Pat Jennings, Filippo Galli and Ross Jenkins. Between them, they have provided joy and entertainment to not just Watford fans, but the footballing world in general. They have won pretty much every honour there is in the game, and have played with some of the best players the world has ever produced. Just this small list of players, this tiny cross section of Hornets history should serve as a reminder as to how lucky we are to be Watford fans. How lucky we are to have seen the things we’ve seen, and to have been the places we’ve been.

So please, join me in raising a glass to Kenny, Pat, Filippo and Ross and toasting the past, present and future of Watford FC.

Come on You Horns!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Watford 2-0 Bristol City

For the second week in a row Watford won comfortably at home on a cold Tuesday night. In a match that was literally a game of two halves Watford started brilliantly - passing, running and attacking Bristol almost constantly. It seemed that every midfield ball fell to the feet of a yellow shirt and Scott Loach must of been freezing up with little to do. The pressure led to goals - a classic Heidar Helguson header on 17 minutes and a first goal for Martin Taylor on 34 minutes where he volleyed across the goal after a Landsbury free-kick.

The second half was slightly different. Watford seemed to take their foot off the gas and it made for a slightly uncomfortable watch at times. The Watford midfield might have been giving up the ball, but Bristol were never a real threat and the Watford defence held them back nicely. Since the introduction of Taylor at centre back we seem to be much steadier ship and we've only let in 1 goal in the last 3 games.

As for individual performances:

- Jon Harley played a solid game in midfield. He might not be a wow player, but he certainly never falters
- Danny Graham returned to the starting line up and was very sharp. Having him up front feels much better then having Landsbury up with Heidar
- Both Lloyd Doyley and Adrian Marriappa play very well - getting forward and were much more stable on the defence
- Henri Landsbury had an slightly off form second half. He certainly seems to play better when along side Cleverly
- Liam Henderson lack any real gust when he came on for Graham. This needs to be addressed before next season - otherwise a new striker is a must in the summer when we lose Heidar

Our next home game maybe against top of the league Newcastle United, but if Watford play to their full potential then I have no worries that we could get another home win.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Who cares wins...

At the risk of opening by stating the obvious, it isn’t always easy supporting Watford. It isn’t even always fun. Having said that, I count myself lucky to be a Hornet.

We’ve had a brief stint in the limelight, we’ve been in Europe and played at Wembley. Not many fans of clubs our size can say that. What pleases me most of all  is that when all is said and done, we are far, far removed from the Sky Sports generation and all the ghastly hype that goes with it.

Alright, so we’ve had a crack at the big time a couple of times and continue to sail pretty close to the financial wind as a result. However, we have a three sided ground and when asked for their favourite player, most Watford fans would answer Lloyd Doyley. Watching Champions League football from a fifty quid seat we are not.

Occasionally I see Watford fans complaining that we don’t get enough coverage across the media. This has been an oft repeated complaint, and during our pomp in the 80’s, it was made with some justification. Now though, why should we have any coverage apart from that afforded by the Watford Observer and seeing goals on the TV? We are an average Championship club, and quite frankly that’ll do for me.

At our level, there is still just the faintest hint of what football should be like. There are still brick outhouse defenders, awful refereeing decisions and quaint grounds to visit. You can get a ticket. If you were so minded, you could probably get a couple of your heroes to sign your match programme. Who knows, you might beat a bigger opponent in a Cup competition (although judging by the celebrations when Priskin netted against Chelsea last year, simply scoring could be enough…) It’s all pretty straightforward really.

Tuesday night was a prime example. Anyone other than Sheffield United or Watford fans would probably have to have been paid to watch the game. Had they seen the first 20 minutes, they would probably have to be paid again to stop them from leaving. It wasn’t pretty, and Watford’s three goals came as a result of calamitous defending as oppose to breathtaking attacking. It wasn’t a great game or a great spectacle, but then again it didn’t need to be. We don’t, or at least shouldn’t suffer from the illusions of grandeur that seem to inflict much of the footballing world. We don’t need to qualify for the Europa Cup and to then pretend that playing in Europe justifies the ludicrous sums of money paid out in fees and wages. We don’t need to play slick one touch football to keep those football tourists paying £1,000 for a season ticket happy. We don’t have to put up with endless speculation about our mollycoddled, overpaid, undereducated players and their performances on and off the pitch. If our team turns up and wins, that’ll do for us. In fact scrub that. If our team turns up, plays well and loses that’ll usually do too.

I rarely watch Match of the Day any more. I find the whole thing so tiring. The endless analysis. The banal comments from players, managers and pundits. The inevitable highlighting of an awful challenge, constant diving and woeful refereeing decisions. I just don’t need it in my life, no matter what Sky Sports and Andy Gray tells me. I still love football, and I thoroughly enjoyed Manchester Uniteds’ demolition of Arsenal on Sunday. My view isn’t so jaundiced that I can’t recognise and enjoy brilliant football. I just don’t need to be endlessly told it’s brilliant over a Kasabian soundtrack.

Watford V Sheffield United didn’t matter to the wider footballing world. Watford don’t really matter to the wider footballing world and the coverage we get reflects that. But that suits me just fine. Why? Because Watford matter to me.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Watford 3-0 Sheffield United - Dominant

It had been so long since the last game at Vicarage Road that Jason said if felt like the first game of the season - "It's been over a month away and we have a bunch of new signings to have a look at".

Going into the game I was a little wary of Watford winning a convincingly. It was exactly what we need to get us back to the form we had in October and November, but Sheffield United aren't normally an easy team to play - How wrong I was.

Watford started 4-4-2 with Landsbury up front with Helguson. This lead to a very scrappy first 25 minutes from both sides where neither seemed to know how to pass the ball along the ground. It wasn't until Landsbury dropped deeper and we played 4-5-1 that Watford took control - and control we took. The midfield was dominated by Watford and with 5 in midfield it seemed that we out numbered them. We were breaking them down quickly, not letting them settle or play their game. The last 20 minutes of the first half were almost played exclusively in the Sheffield United half with Watford applying plenty of pressure.

All three goals came from mistakes and ill communication in the Sheffield United defence with Watford working those mistakes well to . Cleverly's header on 39 minutes came from a nothing ball up field from debutant Taylor. The ball floated up with the Sheffield defence seeming to leave it while alone whilst the goal keeper came out. This left Cleverly with a clear header into an open goal. Helguson's goal on 55 minutes was after a bad ball through the Sheffield defence. Helguson needed just one touch to stick it in the back of the net. 5 minutes later Cowie took a free kick near to the dug out. It wasn't a power hit and it seemed to bounce into the goal unchallenged. I had thought that it got a touch off Martin Taylor, but apparently not. The 5 in midfield means we get control of the ball and the game a lot more and with players like Cowie, Landsbury and Cleverly we have the speed to run at teams and it turns into a 3 or 4 man attack very quickly - it's exciting to watch. All of our 6 prong attack had great games, Hoskins a little quieter, but still he is coming on well - which is important for when we lose the loanees in the summer.

Defensively I felt a lot more comfortable - you can't feel much else when you see a man the size of Martin Taylor walk out at the start of the game. He clearly had some ring rust at the start of the match. However, he settled in and he limited Darius Henderson. Having a strong man at Centre Back meant Mariappa was back at right back where he is far more effective. Malky will have some difficult decisions as to who he plays at Right Back - Hodson or Mariappa. Both still need the games to develop. Demerit was fine, and was certainly helped with the introduction of Taylor. Doyley had a positive game and was getting stuck into players a lot more. At times this season he has been a little too stand off for me. He also came close to goal number 2. He found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but alas it didn't fall right for him. If he had then it would have been a great "strikers goal".

So it was a great performance - Watford were back to playing the attractive, attacking passing game that made us shine a few months back. And a convincing 3-0 win will raise the confidence of the team no end.