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02/03: Review:
"Evening out"
By Martin Patching
First published in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, 05/12/02

The Hornets snatched three valuable home points against a very useful Burnley side to stay in touch with the top six. It was a hard fight and the visitors left Vicarage Road disappointed not to have taken at least a point for their efforts. The Clarets bossed the first 45 minutes, but Watford's new found team spirit won the day.

Neil Cox was outstanding in defence, making a marvellous goal-line clearance in the second-half to prevent Burnley from making a comeback. Heidar Helguson put The Hornets in front with a timely header and a revitalised Tommy Smith capped a promising display by driving home a confidently struck penalty. To his credit, Jermaine Pennant fared better. Playing in a free role behind the strikers, Jermaine prompted attacks and delivered a wonderful cross for the first goal. My man of the match was captain Neil Cox at the heart of the Watford defence. Neil once again led by example and his amazing goal line clearance will be talked over for many years to come.

Following three defeats on the trot, Ray Lewington's men deserved the change of luck and won a game which maybe they were not entitled to. As the Watford manager pointed out, "These things balance out over the course of a season", and having been unlucky themselves to lose at Reading the previous week The Hornets' determination, effort and grit earned the win. Certainly, the increase in attendance and encouragement given to the players is helping enormously.

The play was at times sloppy, however, Watford do look a threat to the opposition at home. A closer look at the away form highlights a problem. The Hornets have the worst away "goals for" tally in the division (7 goals in 10 games) and will be looking to improve on this at Derby County on Saturday. The Rams have struggled to come to terms following relegation from The Premiership and sit in 16th place in the table. A narrow defeat at Norwich City last Saturday was an improvement on recent displays and Derby have recalled Deon Burton from Portsmouth to add more strike power. It will be close and another game The Hornets must pick up points from.

Promising news regarding injured striker Gifton Noel-Williams. The popular front-man is ahead of schedule following knee surgery and featured for 45 minutes in a training ground friendly against Spurs this week. This, after Gifton played for 30 minutes in a similar fixture last week when Brighton were the opponents. Manager Ray Lewington said, "He looked good and came through the game without any problems, we are delighted to have Gifton back, but at this stage he simply needs games to get himself back to full match fitness". We all look forward to Gifton's return to first team duty.

Moving on to the "Save our Club" share issue, time is running out should you wish to make an investment with the deadline set for 3.00PM December 11th. The minimum investment is 100 and details are available from the club's website at

The Supporters Trust Fund passed a resolution to invest monies raised through their members, into the share issue. The trust have produced an informative promotional video and this can be viewed by logging on to The five minute clip features, among others, Luther Blissett and Nigel Gibbs in or around Vicarage Road and honorary president of the trust fund, Graham Taylor, on a training ground. Me? In a pub in Watford! I must speak with the film director! No, GET ME THE LOCATION MANAGER! GET ME MY AGENT ON THE PHONE...ARE THEY TRYING TO SAY I DRINK!?

For BSaD only...
(Please use the word "allegedly" liberally as you read... - Ed.)

So the game comes under even closer scrutiny and, surprise surprise, "The Untouchables" lookalike John Gregory is made the sacrificial lamb. Gregory's crime? A b-movie actor in a "James Cagney" blockbuster movie! He dressed the part, looked the part, but once "Deadly Doug" recognised his manager was fleecing his club, GT and the FBI were called in! Gregory was told in no uncertain terms to walk the plank to Derby County. It could make a great "Dukes of Hazzard" episode!

Listening to the in-depth Radio 5 live special (as I write) on the financial state of the game, it gets me thinking...has it always been so bent? crooked? open to backhanders and skullduggery? Oh yes it has, throughout its entire history. That is exactly why the city boys...some who know no shame...were keen to cash in, persuading clubs that flotation was the best option. Remember? Football was ordered, and financed through grants, to clean up its act...and its stadiums and not before time. The City helped a little, not too much, most help for stadium development came from the government. But when Alan Sugar led, the rest of the sheep followed and football became "the new commodity".

Previous to these landmarks, where did all the money go? Good question, I hear you say - for sure it didn't go to the players, legally at least! Nor of course, on the stadiums built in the main by the wealthy industialist families of the early 1900s. Of course, cash overpayments were commonplace in the seventies (i.e, the practice of lodging a players' contract with the Football League for one amount and paying the rest in cash! See the Chesterfield website for further information). With the high taxation enforced at the time, the PFA launched their players' pension scheme, circa 1976/77, from which their whealth has grown considerably. Most top clubs operated with a slush fund. For those younger readers out there, this meant the board of directors having "their own men" on the gate, taking cash, not clicking the counter, which went towards the attendance total and returning the takings to the "Slush Fund". In the "gentlemanly sixties", the term was "boot-money". Of course pre-maximum wage players deserved these added incentives and had Jimmy Hill and the newly formed PFA not made a stand, Tommy Smith would be on a minimum wage, driving a "moggy 1,000" and sleeping on someone's couch! Make no mistake about that, the majority of people running the game were keen to keep it their way. Players were there to do as they were told and play for a fraction of what their "owners" earned.

The PFA were again called upon to make a stand last year over the ITV Digital money. At the time many people were bemused. The fact was that the PFA, not being party to the deal negotiations and also of sound mind, realised that if they did not receive the vast amount due in the agreement - an agreement they knew would never be repeated, ever - the "city boys" would have grabbed their share and run for the cover of a new commodity or bond to reinvest in. With the threat of a strike settled, the PFA received their monies and now pay the wages of their members when a club defaults...on average one a week, as I write. Are you getting it now?

At Watford, we will see the Supporters Trust, ex-players (some high-profile, some not so) and "hollywood film stars" join together with the present board of directors to move the club forward from the grass roots of its academy (see Nottingham Forest) into what is hoped is a bright future. The future IS yellow....supporters, ex-players, people who care, Ray, his staff, players, entertainment on the pitch, and off.

A few wins also help. May they continue!


In the charts:
Mirror Man by the Human League

Football League Division One
Watford 4 Brighton 1
Sherwood, Rice, Bolton, Sims, Rostron, Callaghan, Taylor, Jackett, Barnes, Gilligan, Blissett.
Scorers: Blissett (2), Barnes and Taylor

Reproduced courtesy of Gazette Newspapers