Thursday, 10 November 2011

Five simple questions...

EXTRA PODCAST: Listen to an extra podcast we have produced to talk about our 5 SIMPLE QUESTIONS and the worrying week at board level since Laurence was a no show at the Fans Forum.

Listen on-line HERE or via iTunes

Some questions are destined never to be answered. 'Which came first, the chicken or the egg' for example, is a poser that will most likely never have a wholly satisfactory answer. Some questions are difficult to answer. As a parent, 'Daddy, where do babies come from?' are the six single words most likely to have me running for cover. Some questions are just plain daft; 'Would you rather be attacked by 1 horse sized duck, or 50 duck sized horses?' is one you have no doubt given careful consideration to after a few pints or glasses of wine. In the main though, questions are good. And answers are better. It is answers that allow us to learn and to understand. Answers empower us.
Since Watford's new owner was revealed as Stanmore businessman Laurence Bassini in April, there have been plenty of questions, but not many answers. The developments at the club this week; Mr Bassini's absence from the Fans Forum and subsequent statement of intent to leave his role as a Director of the club, have only served to provide yet more cause for confusion for fans. As owner of the Football Club, Mr Bassini is the one ideally placed to steady the ship and calm the frayed nerves of Watford fans worldwide. All he has to do is answer a few questions.

On the latest From the Rookery End podcast, recorded ahead of the Fans Forum, Jon, Jason and myself identified five simple questions that we wanted asked and answered at Tuesday's event at Vicarage Road. Needless to say, they weren't answered.

For those of you that haven't listened to the podcast (yet!) here are the five questions and a brief explanation as to why we chose them

1.Why did you decide to 'invest' in football?

Did you know the only way to make ANY money from taking part of the Europa League is to win it? All the other clubs involved will most likely make a loss. Whilst the Europa League has it's critics, what this does show is that making money from football, even at the top level, is hard. Some of the hardest nosed businessmen in the world have tried and failed. Why would a man who, by his own admission, has faced some challenging times as a businessman enter an industry in which it is almost impossible to make money?

2. Why Watford?

If it is hard to make money out of football, it is a colossal challenge to make any money out of Watford. An average Championship team with a three sided ground, shorn of it's star players hardly screams 'Business Opportunity' does it? Especially when you take into account that previous owner, Lord Ashcroft, a man with a business track record infinitely superior to that of Mr Bassini's failed to turn the club into a profitable operation. As he also isn't a Watford supporter, we think it is important to know why Mr. Bassini chose to get involved with our club.

3. As owner, what will represent a successful tenure?

Businessmen have targets. It's what business is all about. Build a brand. Buy something and sell it on for a profit. Come up with a new product. Whatever the business, there are always targets. Aims. As a businessman, Mr Bassini must have had a set of goals and aims when he purchase Watford Football Club. He paid £400,000 to buy the club, its implausible that anyone would part with this sort of cash without a clear set of aims and objectives. As fans who make a regular financial and emotional commitment to the club, we have the right to know what the owner has planned. Why would he not want to share, what one must assume are plans for success?

4. What are your plans for the Stadium redevelopment and the timescale for completion?

In Mr Bassinis's rare public statements, he has gone on record as saying that the redevelopment of Vicarage Road is a priority. Music to our ears. There is only so long that we want to see the dear old East Stand staring back at us, empty and condemned. What he hasn't done is tell us exactly what is going to happen and when. If it's going to take 5 years, fine, just tell us. Rome wasn't built in a day, there is no reason Vicarage Road should be. As the owner though, he must have a plan. Share it with us. There really is no need to keep us in suspense.

5. Where is the money for bond repayments, stadium redevelopments and future player purchases going to come from?

Let's be clear here, we don't expect figures. Mr Bassini has the same right to financial privacy as you or I. However, it's important that we understand how Watford are going to be steered out of what is still a hugely precarious financial position. Yes, Watford have made signings this year, but it doesn't take a mathematician to work out that the money spent is dwarfed by the money received following a swathe of high profile transfers, money from the Ashley Young deal, compensation following Malky's defection to Cardiff and the unexpected windfall of more rent money from Saracens. The summer purchases have been covered and then some. What is unclear is where the money required to keep Watford afloat and hopefully moving forward is going to come from. With no evidence of any personal investment from Mr Bassini at this stage, it's important to try and get an understanding of how our owner plans to meet the vast financial commitments and obligations faced by our beloved Hornets.

So. That's it. Five simple, yet as yet unanswered questions.

Imagine you own a football club. Imagine you own Watford. Read each of them back and ask yourself if you wouldn't want to answer any of them.

As supporters with Watford dear to our heart, we feel that it wouldn't just be nice to have these questions asked, we believe it is vital. Without these answers it is impossible to have any degree of faith in where the club is being taken and we will therefore be writing to, emailing and calling the club to request that Mr Bassini answers these questions as a matter of urgency. Whether he answers in person, over the phone or via email, we really don't mind. We just want and deserve answers.
Mr Bassini may own our club, but it is us who carry it in our hearts. We have a right to be heard.
We will be sending a letter and email directly to Mr Bassini containing these questions and inviting him to respond. We'll also call the club and leave the same message. We'll keep you posted. His answers, or lack of them, should tell us all we need to know.

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  1. Would be great to hear any answers you get. We need to know where he sees himself taking our club.

  2. Cheers Noel. We will of course share any responses.

    Whilst we will try to get these questions answered directly, I think we ALL need to be asking them whenever we get a chance. They aren't over complicated questions and they don't need overly complicated answers. we DO need answers though.

  3. All fair enough Mike, except the 'no evidence of investment of personal money' bit. It was well documented at the time of the takeover that £3.5m was put in to fund working capital and £1m of the bonds were paid (which is a debt and cashflow requirement of the club)

    We might not know if it was Bas's own money or he was fronting, but it was certainly put in.

  4. Thanks for that Barry - serious question, could you please let us know where that information is available/confirmed? Cheers.

  5. I'm away in France at the moment, but at the time of the takeover I downloaded lots of the documents surrounding the takeover - including a letter from Baz's solicitor confirming the lodgement of these monies. I have them saved on another computer - I'll try and get chapter and verse next week.

  6. Good questions. I particularly like #3. What are some of his key performance metrics for Watford FC as a business? Does he have 2012 targets for sales revenue, operating profits and cash flow? Does he have a plan to grow each of these, particularly profit and cash flow so he can retire debt and make the necessary capital investments in the business? I too understand that as a privately held business Mr. Bassini does not have to give us absolute numbers but surely it's appropriate for us as supporters to seek his confirmation that he is indeed intending to run Watford Football Club AS A BUSINESS. Asking him HOW he intends to grow revenues and HOW he intends to generate positive cash flow from operations is surely fair game isn't it? Because I'll tell you what - it's one thing for someone to attempt to run a business while ignoring fundamental financial principles through ignorance but its another thing entirely when they do it on purpose. When that happens it is quite likely you are not talking about "businessmen" at all.

  7. I think that these are extremely well thought out and pertinent questions. No businessman on earth could take exception to them. Mr Bassini will, of course do just that. He has a poor track record of business failure and during the takeover, there were many examples of former colleagues speaking out against him and his practices. These comments have now, more or less been confirmed by the comments of our own Graham Taylor. This was a doomed venture from the start and now we can only wait and see how our beloved club will fair in the hands of a man in a deep strop.

  8. Why not try writing to him at his home address... As he's so ill he's more likely to pick up your letter there.

    Mr L Bassini
    Limes House Lodge,
    Wood Lane,
    HA7 4LF

  9. Out of interest, why not ask other football chairmen similar questions, perhaps contacts at other clubs might have tried. Try Newcastle, Man U, Chelsea,Luton tried telling everyone and were ridiculed (rightly) Mike whatever he says will be used against him, if I were him I would tell you to shove it. Not one Chairman has told us before.

  10. if you follow this link, you will find documentation relating to the takeover

    Lots of stuff there - worth looking at in detail if you want to see what is fact and what is speculation (most of the Bassini critics claims, from this at least)

    Re the working capital here is a shortcut-£3.5m-10.03.11.pdf

    Note that the loan is interest free which is a hell of a lot better than (any of) the previous owners. The more I look back at this lot, the more I tend to think that Bassini is getting a raw deal from us, and I for one would probably react negatively (understatement!) if slagged of in public by an officer of my own company (which like it or not, GT is, and was at the forum in that capacity.

    Note there are 2 further loan letters - whether these are formalisation of the working capital loan or are additional funding is not clear.

  11. Barry, thanks very much for posting these links. We'll certainly read and digest this information. We do have a responsibility to be as informed as possible when passing comment.

    Of course, with a bit more transparency and communication, Mr. Bassini could have put our minds at rest himself.

    Thanks again Barry, we at FTRE appreciate your comments.

  12. Anonymous (Comment 9). Thanks for your feedback.

    Firstly, Laurence Bassini is the clubs owner, not the chairman. This role is currently held by Graham Taylor.

    I genuinely don't know why Mr Bassini wouldn't want to answer any of the questions. I assume that as a businessman, he is planning to build Watford into a successful business. If so, what is wrong with sharing the outline of how he plans to achieve this? We don't expect the minute detail, but a rough idea might be helpful?

    You say: "Whatever he says will be used against him" - well, why should anything be used against him? The only time he would have to worry would be if he said something that turned out not to be true, or if he wasn't able to carry out his promises. Even then an update explaining that there has been a delay, this is the new plan, would suffice.

    Lets be clear - we are not trying to trip up Mr Bassini or ask him searching, overly intrusive questions. We want an idea of where the club is headed and a rough idea as to how and when. I think it is a fair set of questions.

  13. The key questions are: 1. Did the £3.5m "Working Capital" actually go in - let's see some audited accounts and 2. Did the £3.5m come straight back out when Danny Graham et al. were sold ?

    Iain Lees

  14. The fact that we are making ongoing losses which need to be funded answers the questions Iain - 1 - yes 2 - no. the money from DG and AY will just about cover this year's losses.