Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Big things for little people...

Fernando. A goalkeeper he is not.
I saw some stuff today.

I saw children physically shaking with excitement as they patiently stood in line to take a penalty against Fernando Forestieri. (Insert your on diving gag here). I saw Gianfranco Zola watching on, encouraging, celebrating with those who were successful, smiling with and high-fiving those that weren't. I saw autograph books being filled up, players taking the time to talk to both kids and parents alike. I saw children explaining to their Mums exactly who had signed their shirt where.

I saw happy faces everywhere.

Today saw the doors of the Legends Lounge at Vicarage Road flung open to any children who wanted to come along and say hello to their heroes. The response was incredible, a seemingly never ending stream of wide eyed children trooping into the venue, the excitement and enjoyment plain for all to see. Watford supporters are rightly proud of the emphasis the club has placed on encouraging young talent on the pitch, but this afternoon was a nice reminder of the importance of nurturing the next generation of supporters, too.

It was rewarding to be there on a number of levels. Firstly, seeing the youngsters faces as they interacted with members of the first team squad and the incredibly friendly and welcoming head coach (Take time to remember how lucky we are to have Gianfranco Zola at the helm, folks. He's a special chap) was an absolute joy. Their obvious excitement provided a pure, stripped back reminder of the joy that football can provide. Secondly, it was nice to know that the club bothers to put these things on. It shows they are thinking. It shows they care.

In a time when there is an awful lot wrong with football, this afternoon was a welcome reminder that there is a lot right with it, especially at Watford. Long may it continue.


When Jason, Jon and I weren't stood admiring Fernando Forestieri's goalie skills, we recorded a fantastic interview with a real goalkeeper - the mighty Manuel Almunia. You will be able to hear the full interview on the new podcast which will be out at the beginning of next week. To keep you going until then, we recorded a micro pod at the event today, and you can hear it below:

Come on You Horns!

Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.

EXTRA TIME: Pre Derby @ home

From time to time we may do a short mini podcast that we call "From The Rookery End Extra Time.

Listen to the first one below where we have a question for you.

Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Pozzo Way or Holloway?

It's a thumbs down from us, Ian. 

“...there comes a time, for making your mind up”
- Bucks Fizz, 1981

Back in 1981, English pop outfit Bucks Fizz were the toast of Europe (sort of). They swept all before them as they stormed to Eurovision Song Contest glory, singing of speeding up, slowing down, hitting the top and playing around, all set to a routine that culminated in Cheryl Baker’s skirt being ripped off (It’s true kids). Thirty years on and Watford Football Club are having their own little dalliance with Europe. Having been purchased by the Pozzo family, Vicarage Road is now home to a cosmopolitan mixture of talent, and the Hornets are starting to attract attention.

More accurately, they are starting to attract criticism.

The loan situation wasn’t one that immediately sat well with Watford supporters. Truth be told, it’s still too early to tell where it will leave us as a club. There remains uncertainty amongst Watford’s own supporters, so it should come as no surprise that those outside Vicarage Road should be inquisitive and sceptical. It started off as expected, a few jibes from opposition supporters (more often than not the wonderfully imaginative “Udinese B” - oh go on, say it again, please...) but after an initial high profile outburst from West Ham fanatic Martin Samuel, all was relatively quiet.

Then something strange happened. Watford started winning. A lot. They became realistic promotion contenders. They became a threat. They became public enemy number one.

Faux bumpkin Ian Holloway became the catalyst for the latest swathe of anti-Watford feeling, complaining on live TV both before and after Watford’s recent fixture with Crystal Palace about the situation at Vicarage Road. The deliberately contrary Adrian Durham of talkSPORT was only to quick to wade in with a few well placed digs in the following days, whilst opposition supporters warmed to their task, taking to the airwaves and the internet to speak out about the growing problem to football that Watford are posing. The strange thing is that whilst the majority are quick to voice their concern and opposition, most seem startlingly unsure of exactly what it is they are so unhappy about.

Well, as Bucks Fizz so eloquently said, there comes a time for making your mind up. That time is now.

“You’re losing your identity...”

Identity. What is identity when it comes to Football Clubs? For me it’s quite simple, quite stark. A Football Club is it’s name. The badge. The shirt. The supporters and the community it serves. Owners, managers and players come and go, they are completely transient. Amongst them are heroes and villains, legends and losers, the unforgettable and the unforgivable. Each and every one of them plays a part in making the club what it is, but no one player, no team or squad provides an identity. That is something else entirely, something long lasting and indelible.

It’s impossible to ignore that the class of 2012/13 has many more new faces than normal, with the future destination of many of them unsure and an unprecedented number on loan. As with any other season however, the team play at Vicarage Road, and they take to the field in the famous yellow shirt with the Hart upon the crest. Z cars is till played over the PA. They are active in the community and continue to welcome families like no other, whilst the supporters continue to love their golden boys. Any initial concerns at whether or not a team comprised of temporary signings would care about their adopted club have long since been banished, hard working, battling displays have been plentiful.
This is a club in the midst of transition, not an identity crisis.

“You’re just a feeder club, you’ve had it when all the loanees go back...”

It’s been established beyond all reasonable doubt that Watford have a lot of players on loan (thanks to all those who continually point this out, it’s nice to know we’re not going mad). It’s therefore fair to assume that if all of those players were to leave Vicarage Road at the end of the season, the squad would be somewhat threadbare. Of course, imagining that this scenario could actually take place is another thing altogether. To suggest it’s a possibility is to do two things. 1) To ignore what the Pozzo family have achieved in football, and 2) To assume that the Pozzo family are daft. I’ll help you out here. The answer to 1) is: A lot. The answer to 2) is: They are not.

After a recent brush with a less than desirable owner, Watford supporters know that blind faith in the top brass is dangerous, so with the Pozzo regime still in its infancy, it would be prudent to reserve total judgement for the time being. This said, the omens are good. Success at Udinese and latterly at Granada illustrate that these guys know what they are doing. They are also in it for the long haul, they are happy playing the long game.  They don’t just achieve success (Champions League for Udinese, promotion to La Liga for extinction threatened Granada), they do it in a sustainable fashion.

Let’s be clear, The Pozzo family want their teams to be successful because this helps them make money. Successful teams are usually filled with successful players, players that can be sold for a profit. It’s a simple premise and there’s no reason to suggest that they want to apply a different business model at Vicarage Road. They want to build a football club that can hold its own, whilst developing high quality players that can eventually be sold on for big money. Not much is certain in football, but it’s pretty obvious they won’t do this at Watford if they simply send all the players back each year. It’s not how they operate, it’s not going to happen.

“All those foreigners mean there is no hope for English talent...”

I like this one. It’s easy. It’s easy because it’s not about opinion or conjecture, it’s about fact. I’m going to give you a list of names. Jonathan Bond. Fitz Hall. Lloyd Doyley. Adam Thompson. Tommie Hoban. Nathaniel Chalobah. John Eustace. Mark Yeates. Jonathan Hogg. Craig Forsyth. Sean Murray. Connor Smith. Troy Deeney. Lee Hodson. I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve twigged by now.

That’s right, they are all British/Irish players who have played for Watford this year, many of them youngsters at the very beginning of their careers with all but Chalobah owned outright by Watford. Indeed, seven of these names came through the Academy at Watford and it’s been a rare occasion where a team in opposition has boasted more academy graduates in their match-day squad.

“All those foreigners mean there is no hope for youngsters...”

Have you learned nothing? See above.

“Why should Watford have all these loans from one club? It’s ridiculous...”

It’s hard to argue that a high number of loans from a single club isn’t a bit strange. It’s certainly not been seen in this country before, and as Ian Holloway was keen to point out again and again and again, clubs can only have a maximum of two players on loan from any one English club. So, yes, I’ll admit, the number of loans from Udinese is, shall we say, unique. There’s an important thing to note here though. It’s perfectly legal. The rules are the same for Watford as they are for every other club. There’s a difference between it being surprising or different to being cheating the system. It’s a level playing field. You think the Pozzo way is going to ruin Watford? Fine, let us worry about that. We’ll cope.  You think the system gives Watford an advantage? Fine, you go and get yourself a legion of loans from abroad, too. There isn’t anything stopping you.

Except there is.

You can’t, can you? Not really.

And this is where we get to the crux of the matter. The complaints and allegations I’ve highlighted above are a bit halfhearted. The people making those statements don’t really mean them, Ian Holloway and Adrian Durham included. What they are actually upset about, what they actually feel is a lot more straightforward. They don’t think it’s fair.

One of the most cringeworthy aspects of Holloway’s pre and post match bleating was his mention of Alec (sic) Ferguson. “What must fantastic people like him at the top of our game think?” mused Holloway, presumably by this stage not realising that he was talking out loud. What does Sir Alex Ferguson think, Ian? He probably thinks that Watford are lucky to have resources afforded them by a clever, successful and wealthy owner, that others don’t have. he probably remembers that Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world on the back of being top of the league when the planet went Premier League crazy. A bit of luck, right place, right time. He probably thinks they are vaguely similar to Manchester City, a club taken over by one of the richest men in the world, the poor relations of Manchester turned into a global superpower overnight. He probably thinks it has some similarities to Abramovich taking over Chelsea, who went from Ken Bates to Billionaires in an instant. None of these clubs earned their access to additional resources, but they’ve got them. It isn’t fair is it? Sir Alex doesn’t care, Ian.

The moral outrage is a smokescreen. The game is in a precarious state, with clubs facing winding up orders and administration with alarming regularity. League clubs are saddling themselves with millions of pounds worth of debt, gambling on getting to the Premier League, where they will then be forced to gamble further still in an attempt to stay there. The football landscape is dominated by mountain after of debt, and where there is none, hugely wealthy owners such as Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour continue to build the least sustainable model of football club humanly possible. Compare this with the Pozzo way. Use an extensive scouting network to find young, promising players. Utilise these players, loan them to partner clubs with a view to getting the clubs promoted. Sell the players when they are successful, reinvest and start the process again. Too simple to work? Have a look at what Udinese and Granada have achieved and come back to me.

So, whilst the world stands by and is spoon fed the ‘best league in the world’, blindly queuing up to pat the English game on the back for attracting the best players in the world to the Premier League whilst the game teeters on the brink, we are to believe it is Watford and the Pozzo family who are the enemy of football. It is they who are subverting the natural order. Of exploiting loopholes, of threatening the fabric of our once great game. I’m pretty sure I know why football is failing, and it isn’t because Watford have signed Almen Abdi, Marco Cassetti and Matej Vydra from Udinese.

The long and the short of it is that thanks to their owners, Watford have a chance of something special. I don’t expect everyone to be delighted by this, as for some bizarre reason not everyone supports Watford, but if you really have a problem with it, I want and expect you to be certain why. It’s time to make your mind up.

It's only fair.

Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Silence is Golden

We love a guest contributor on the blog, and Jordi Connor (@jordiconnor) is back with another blog post. This time Jordi looks at the post match reaction after Watford's 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.


We’re all unique. Every single one of us has a number of attributes that make us different from everybody else. These differences can be incredibly powerful. Over time, little differences have powered evolution.

But differences can work against us too. Sometimes people look for differences to find enemies. Being on the receiving end of such an attitude is unpleasant and leaves you with two options. Depending on the circumstances, you have to choose whether to fight back or ignore it.

Right now, the main thing that distinguishes Watford from other clubs in England is our relationship with the Pozzo family. Their ownership has brought us some much needed stability and financial security off the pitch. However, the most visible benefit of the association is the number of players we have signed on loan from Udinese and Granada. 

After the game on Friday night, Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway used his post-match interview to draw attention to our new look squad and claim that such arrangements aren’t right or fair. To many it seemed a strange topic to dwell on. His side had just overturned a two-goal deficit to snatch a point. Surely he would want to focus on praising his players. Instead he turned the spotlight on us.

In the face of such an attack, many Watford fans took to social media and radio to defend our transfer policy and clarify the situation.

Such a reaction is understandable. But it misses the point. Holloway doesn't care whether a year-long international loan counts as a transfer. Nor does he care whether local lads are missing out on the chance to pull on a Hornets shirt. He is looking at the bigger picture.

 The battle isn't about who has the most ethical business practices, it's about who gets promoted.

That's all that matters. And it won't just be decided on the pitch.

The New Watford 
One of the differences between the pre-Pozzo Watford and the current Hornets team is that we are now a threat to teams who fancy their chances of promotion, amongst them, Crystal Palace.

Last season, Manchester City won the Premiership title on goal difference. That's the margin of success and failure. In professional sport, anything that gives you a competitive advantage is to be exploited.

Following Holloway's outburst, we are now under scrutiny. Footballers are humans too and while some thrive when they are the focus of attention, others struggle.

He's manipulated the puppets in the media and made us the bad guys. And he’ll be hoping that the extra attention affects our form. It might not be nice, but we have to get used to it because as we get to the business end of the season, we can expect more attacks.

It is said that in war, truth is the first casualty.

The fact that we have English, Irish, Swedish, Czech and Swiss players in our squad is irrelevant. Our visible link is to Italy, so we'll probably be accused of diving, gamesmanship, of influencing officials and much more before we head off for our summer holidays.

The fact that we started the game against Palace with only four players from the Pozzo portfolio is irrelevant.
When people have an opinion they tend to adapt ‘reality’ to suit their own viewpoint. So, there is no point entering into a debate or arguing with everyone who has a go at us. They almost certainly aren’t interested in being enlightened.

Just as the players need to show they can deal with the pressure that come with success, so too the supporters have to learn to roll with the punches. Particularly as it will be ten times worse when we go up!

If we respond to every attack, all we do is fan the flames and do Holloway's job for him.

Oscar Wilde was spot on when he observed that the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. So over the next few months, whenever someone has a pop at Watford and tries to distract us from our goal of promotion, let’s accept it as a compliment, ignore them and keep our eyes on the prize.

Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

COMPETITION: Marvin's England U21 Shirt

Win with FTRE!

In the February edition of the podcast, we launched our exclusive competition that gives you the chance to win a match-worn and signed Marvin Sordell England Under 21 shirt.

This is an amazing prize, so as you might expect, you're going to have to work for it. When we spoke with Marvin recently, we asked him to name his favourite Watford team, comprising players that he played with during his time at Vicarage Road. All you have to do to win, is match Marvin's selection!

To win it send an email to with the subject "Marvin's Shirt" and tell us the 11 players. We'll be nice and give you a clue - Marvin is in the team, and has gone for a 4-4-2 formation.

Thanks very much to Marvin for the amazing prize, and good luck!

Entries will only be accepted by the above email address. We will pick out two to three answers every podcast, read them out and state how many of the 11 are correct. You can enter as many times as you like.

Be sure to check out the fantastic work Marvin is doing for charity with the Marvin Sordell Foundation. You can find out more information here -
Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.