Monthly Archives: February 2010

“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,

Yours truly, in the presence of greatness

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

The dear old East Stand

Not great is it?

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.

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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!

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My sporting 2010 – It’s in your hands…

Apparently we’re through the worst of it. Whilst it still seems like the depth of winter to me, last Monday (February 1) is by all accounts the most depressing day of the year, with the highest number of sickies (Duvet days for the politically correct) being thrown on this date, year in year out. So, if we’ve all made it past then intact, we should be OK.

Despite refusing to succumb to seasonal affective disorder and the overpowering urge to stay in bed with season seven of 24, I do still need something to look forward to. I need things in the diary. I need to plan stuff.

It should be pretty apparent that I’m partial to watching sport. A lot of sport. A borderline unhealthy amount of sport. It therefore follows that much of my advance planning revolves around going to watch sporting events. Regular

I'm the Daddy

readers will also be aware that I am now a proud Father. Now, whilst life as a Dad has proved wonderful, exciting and rewarding, it also means that with reduced free time, I have to be increasingly selective with the sporting events I choose to attend.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a wide range of sporting events and with Fatherhood resulting in rapidly diminishing disposable income and time, I thought it best to channel my efforts into trying to go and witness sport that I have never seen live. This is where you come in. I’m asking for your help. I need advice and inspiration.

I have listed the sporting events that I have been to below, so you know what I’ve don and what I haven’t. What I need now are suggestions as to sports I have thus far missed, and where I should go to witness them at their finest. Whether it be hurling in the Highlands, Super Slalom in Kitzbuhel or turtle racing in downtown LA, I want to know what I should do next, where, and ideally, why.

There is always the possibility of building a family holiday round a sporting event, so location isn’t important. Seeing something that I have never seen before, is.

So, I’ll leave you with my list, a brief outline of my sporting CV, and trust that you fine people will help me fill in the gaps. Don’t let me down people. My 2010 sporting diary is in your hands…

Football. I’ve seen a lot of football. In a lot of places. I’m a Watford season ticket holder, so much of it has varied in quality, but have also been lucky enough to be at European Championships and World Cups. I’ve even seen live Australian “A” league. My football cup runneth over.

Rugby Union. My first rugby match was England V Australia at Twickenham in 1988. England won 28-19  and apart from rousing choruses of “Swing Low” the atmosphere was created by the (seemingly entirely drunk) crowd stamping their feet on the wooden floor. For an 11 year old boy this was intoxicating stuff indeed.

No subsequent visit to Twickenham has inspired the same thrill and excitement, and I’m now content with the occasional trip to Wasps or Saracens.

Cricket. As a youngster I played as much cricket as I possibly could. Then I discovered the healing properties of real ale and pork pies, and now I watch as much cricket as I possibly can. I’m a member at Middlesex and have heard the

My chum Boba Fett

sound of leather on willow in venues ranging from Bristol to Brisbane.

I still play a bit too, and my favourite claim to fame actually comes from playing cricket. I’m not one to name drop, but wouldn’t you if you had played cricket with the actor who played Boba Fett in Star Wars? I thought so.

Darts. Before anyone starts, it is a sport. Of course it is. It’s on telly and everything, you must have seen it. Phil the Power doesn’t strut his stuff live on a channel called Sky Hobbies does he? The clue is in the name – Sky Sports.

Anyway, I went to the spiritual home of darts, the Lakeside, to see the much maligned PDC darts championship some years ago now, and I have to say I loved every minute of it. I mean, what’s not to love? Any place where you see Andy Goram clutching a Bacardi Breezer to your left and Ray Stubbs interviewing the terrifying looking Colin Monk to your right is alright by me.

Tennis. I’ve only been once. To Wimbledon. It was back in the day when Number One court was bolted on to the side of Centre Court and at the back of the arena there was a place for standing. Well, that’s where I was on one of the hottest days I have ever experienced. I was a spotty schoolkid at the time too, so wasn’t exactly flush with cash. For those of you that haven’t been, Wimbledon isn’t the place to be without access to money and on a fiercely hot day I went hungry and thirsty, but did have the privilege of seeing Boris Becker and actor Jack Nicholson (only one of whom was playing tennis by the way…)

Speedway. I’m not quite sure how, but I’ve been to two speedway meets. Once to see Coventry and more recently to see the Poole Pirates. I actually quite enjoyed it. It’s noisy, fast, messy and generally pretty dangerous. I am a man. These things please me.

Horse Racing. Birthdays and stag-do’s. There is inevitably one such event each year that involves in a trip to the races. I have left Ascot, Goodwood, Newmarket, Kempton Park, Windsor, even the rather strange track in Budapest with a much lighter wallet but fantastic, if slightly hazy memories.

Oh, and if there is a more enjoyable way to get to a sporting event than the water taxi down the Thames to Windsor racecourse, I want to hear about it.

American Football. Anyone remember the London Monarchs? Well, I do. In their first couple of seasons season

The London Monarchs are no more

they played at Wembley Stadium, culminating in a “World Bowl” victory over the Barcelona Dragons in front of 80,000 odd fans. One of which was me.

Of course it was all downhill from there and the Monarchs have long since disbanded, (That’s Monarchs, not Monarchy – no treason here), but Wembley does still play host to Gridiron, and I have been lucky enough to be at two of the phenomenally successful trio of NFL regular season games, with the game last year hosting the newly crowned Superbowl champs the New Orleans Saints.

Ice Hockey. I was in New York City. As a sports fan, I was therefore required to go to Madison Square Garden. It didn’t matter what I saw there, I just had to be there for something. As it turned out, that something was an NHL fixture between the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers were having a dreadful season and what really sticks in the memory is the home fans letting their team have it with both barrels. We are used to the occasional bit of booing over here, but in the Garden, where you’d expect the New York home crowd to be passionately behind their team, there was no support, just annoyance, and well, pretty poorly disguised disgust.

I was impressed that they clearly weren’t prepared to accept poor performances from their home town team, but the grief they dished out to their own team was a bit of a shock. I can’t remember the final score, but true to form the Rangers lost. And yes, before you ask, there were plenty of on ice fights.

Basketball. During that same visit to the States, I crossed the Hudson River to see a sporting franchise that were performing slightly better than the hapless New York Rangers. The NBA’s New Jersey Nets.

The Jason Kidd inspired Nets were due to play the Washington Wizards, and this was exciting on two counts. Firstly, a win for the Nets would secure the Divisional title and a place in the play-offs and secondly, the Washington Wizards boasted a certain Michael Jordan amongst their ranks.

You may well look displeased. I was...

Jordan - Crocked

As with all best laid plans, there was a hitch and Jordan sustained a knew injury in the week leading up to the game. Frail old sod. The Nets however stuck to my personal script and triumphed by 101 points to 88 and qualified for the play-offs. For the record, They lost four games to none against the LA Lakers in the Finals.

Golf. When the American ExpressWorld Golf Championships, featuring the worlds top 50 players is hosted approximately 20 minutes from your front door (It was hosted by The Grove in Hertfordshire in 2006), it’s a tough opportunity to pass up. So I didn’t. I was lucky enough to be one of about 20 people to walk round with Tiger on his practice round, and was also able to be there on the final day to see him win the trophy after a masterful four rounds.

Apart from being fortunate enough to witness some of the greatest golfers the world has ever produced, I was also privy to the slightly rarer sight of Vijay Singh attempting to kill a man with the power of his unblinking eyes, after an unsuspecting spectator stepped on and snapped a twig during the Fijians backswing. Vijay was not impressed.

Baseball. Of all the American sports I have seen live, baseball was the one I was most uncertain of enjoying. As it turns out, it was the one I enjoyed the most. I saw the New York Mets at Shea Stadium on a bright April day, and enjoyed it from start to finish. The crowd is usually big, and (during the regular season at least) pretty good natured and relaxed. You can drink beer in your seat and various food vendors meander their way bewteen the seats selling all manner of appallingly unhealthy food. Perfect.

Shea Stadium

Baseball is of course a game  full of traditions, and the seventh inning stretch is up there with he most random and enjoyable. The Americans, love them or loathe them, also know how to sing their National Anthem. The game lasts a good three hours or so, so there is a real chance to relax and soak up the gameas it unfolds. When I’m in the States next, tickets for a Major League game will be high on my shopping list.

So, there you have it. A quick run down of the sport I have encountered over the past fifteen years or so. What I want to know now is, what next? Over to you…

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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.

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