Main Menu
What's New
99/00: Season preview:
Watford on Watford

Acute schizophrenia
By Ian Grant

"The A-Team". Classic plot (or, more accurately, only plot) as follows:

Having successfully captured our Vietnam veteran heroes, the bad guys look for a suitable place to imprison them. Faced with a choice between a concrete-sealed bunker with hi-tech security system and a rickety old garage containing a rusty tank, lumps of scrap metal and various bits of welding equipment, they naturally opt for the latter.

Half an hour later, our heroes have constructed an ungainly-yet-impenetrable armoured vehicle with which, soundtracked by their rousing theme music, they smash out of captivity and win the day. Hurrah.

No doubt about it, then - Graham Taylor is "The A-Team" of football managers. Foolishly, his enemies fell for a familiar trap. Thinking he was finished, they decided to let him rot in a rickety old football club containing a rusty squad, lumps of scrap talent and various bits of coaching staff.

Two seasons later....

While there's no question that the heartless, gutless money-grabbing of his employers is directly at odds with the philosophies to which Taylor still adheres, that doesn't make what he's trying to do any less admirable or extraordinary. And we should be quite clear what he is attempting to achieve, not least because there are future arguments to be won if our club is to survive the coming season still vaguely resembling the thing we've all come to love.

Part of it should be bleedin' obvious. To quote the old programmers' maxim, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". After successive promotions - the first, instantly addictive taste of success that many Watford supporters will have enjoyed - it seems safe to say that it ain't broke. No amount of good fortune can account for the phenomenal achievements of the last two years; this is no fluke. To change the strategy now would be a feeble surrender.

But there's so much more to it than that....

Y'see, simply being in the Premiership is not enough for me. Why should it be? I've spent four and a half years editing BsaD, a fanzine that's consistently and fervently denounced most of the values that the Premiership (as an increasingly singular entity) holds dear. If you don't know my stuck-record views on Sky, ticket prices, the Champions League, commercialisation, private ownership, media hype and the like, you probably never will.

I despise it all - never more so than now, with Manchester United complaining about fixture exhaustion while whoring themselves on a vast tour of Asia. Forget Luton, there's nothing worth your hate quite so much as the Premiership fat cats.

That's not going to change just because we're now one of the twenty. Quite the reverse, if anything - the closer you get, the uglier it looks. No, simply being in the Premiership is not the fulfilment of a dream.

But being in the Premiership like this.... Damn, you couldn't have written a better script. We're doing it our way, two fingers raised defiantly to the world, contributing precisely nothing to the pre-season transfer bedlam like vegans at a hog roast. You half expect a Premiership bouncer to throw us out at any moment - "I've told you before, sunshine - NO RIFF-RAFF!".

Heaven only knows or cares what on-lookers are making of this (although I did particularly like the comment from a Pompey fan on the mailing list, accusing us of not taking the Premiership "seriously enough"). Whatever, I'm loving every insane moment. This football team is almost becoming a political statement, something to believe in as much as support.

Note - football team, not football club. Not even in Jack Petchey's era was the difference between the two terms so marked. No matter how head over heels I am about the team, I can no more support what's happening in the boardroom than I can ride a unicycle underwater.

The directors have merely seen GT's low-spending strategy as an opportunity to widen profit margins, they're deafened by the cash registers ringing in their ears whenever he talks about refusing to pay obscene transfer fees and unreasonable wages. As a consequence, what should've been a one-for-all, us-against-them crusade is in danger of becoming a bickering, divided shambles. Ask a Forest fan.

On the one hand, as already heralded, we have the least expensive team in the Premiership by several billion pounds. The club is also, presumably, in profit for the first time in God knows how long and will finally be able to send Petchey packing (albeit with his pockets full of cash). That's brilliant. On the other, we have ticket prices that rise by seemingly arbitrary, hyper-inflationary figures, no sign that the club is at all interested in treating its core support with due respect, and a defiant, arrogant (or possibly just confused) silence from the people responsible while their staff hurtle around clearing the mess up. That stinks. It's not "business-like", it's amateurish. It will not do.

The stupidity of it is quite breathtaking. There is only one way for clubs like Watford to make real money - and that is to stay in the Premiership for more than one season. And yet, by pursuing fast bucks so rudely and single-mindedly, the directors have put at risk the very thing that got us into this position and the only thing that'll enable us to avoid relegation - a sense of true solidarity. The cynical view is that the directors see relegation as an inevitability, and are furiously making hay while the sun shines; the more charitable view is that they're simply clueless. Whatever, the results are the same.

So, like this article, my hopes for the season swing wildly from fanatical optimism to gloomy pessimism by the day.

Given the chance, given the unequivocal backing of everyone involved, including the boardroom, I genuinely believe that the team is capable of more than survival. Forget the money being spent by the other nineteen clubs - you can't buy what these players have, nobody else has the extraordinary, life-affirming spirit that they've repeatedly demonstrated over the last two seasons. And nobody else has Graham Taylor.

The pundits will dismiss that, of course. It's depressingly appropriate that the arguments about Premiership survival always come down to money, not players - the "Top Trumps" view of football prevails. It's time we started to proclaim the merits of our heroes, several of whom will grace the top flight and all of whom will play with heads held high. They have more than mere passion. Six million quid does not make Kieron Dyer and Robbie Keane better players than Richard Johnson and Micah Hyde, it merely makes them more fashionable. There's no room for inferiority complexes at Vicarage Road.

Approaching every game like we approached that Wembley showdown is one helluva tall order. But that's got to be the aim. The focused, positive energy of that glorious afternoon spread over an entire season. It is possible. The more we're written off, the more these great players will pull together, the better our chances. "The new Wimbledon"? Nah, "the anti-Blackburn"....

But not if the ever-growing Watford support cannot follow the club whole-heartedly. The team cannot do this alone. We don't have time for doubts or arguments right now, yet that is exactly what many fans are troubled by. At the current rate of ticket price rises, Premiership survival will mean the end of an era for people like me - if the cost of actively supporting a successful club is so high that I can no longer actively support the club at all, then it is hardly surprising that I find myself unable to throw myself into the forthcoming campaign with the breathless enthusiasm it deserves. Selfish, I know, but no-one else is looking after my interests. There is an undertone of sadness around Vicarage Road right now.

Let's not end on a downer, though. Whatever else happens, as long as we have this team and this manager, we're still Watford and we're still gatecrashing the Premiership party. This is the moment we've been waiting for and, with the finest set of players in a generation, this is the best chance we'll ever have. Let's kick some ass.

Ready or not, here we come.