The highly questionable decision to dismiss Ray Lewington has rightly resulted in much comment emanating from fans and press alike. Overwhelmingly, reaction to the timing has been critical, described by the sports editor of one respected national newspaper as "outrageous". How ever sceptically we view a sad development that was seemingly mishandled by the club chairman, it must be accepted as another sympton of the general malaise existent since the enigmatic concluding months of Graham Taylor's second reign. Doubtless Graham Simpson and Chief Executive Mark Ashton will have substantial mobile phone bills this month, preferring to keep quiet on calls around the time of the catalystic Preston game and subsequent statement regarding a replacement manager in place for the Burnley fixture. So now has to be the time for deep reflection.
Following Vialli's catastrophic appointment, many would support a claim that our directors mainly represented a collection of fantasisers and gadflies; with a sum total of living brain cells in respect of financial acumen unlikely to raise more than the merest flicker on the Richter scale. There followed the inevitable "shake up" with Graham Simpson emerging as the new chairman and, to his considerable credit, he has not only offered monetary support, but hours of dedicated endeavour at "The Vic". However, subsequent events unfortunately clearly indicate the strong likelihood of becoming a forlorn figure, overtaken by events and out of his depth.
The departure of Vialli in July 2002 was, praise be, followed by the directors involved with his appointment slinking off, leaving Chief Executive Tim Shaw with an untenable position. Now was the time for Graham Simpson to seek a replacement with essential experience, professional expertise and vitality, both sensitive towards and appreciative of the Club's history since the halcyon days of Elton John and Graham Taylor. Dangerous to dwell unduly on the past and must acknowledge our need to evolve positively, bringing through fresh blood if appropriate but always remembering when it comes to control freakery, there's only one Josť Mourinho! And so our chairman appointed Mark Ashton, surprisingly willing to leave a club newly promoted to the Premiership; waving a C.V. that should perhaps be taken now not as an abbreviation for "curriculum vitae" but rather "caution vulnerable"!
Working for high profile companies rarely secures a job for life and staff upheavals subsequent to changed circumstances are often the norm at such as Watford F.C. but for me alarm bells rang over the surprising redundances of Glen Calverley and other admin staff when our powers that be decided there were shortcomings needing rectification. By this time, the day to day running of the club was shared with the somewhat nebulous W.F.C. Community Sports & Education Trust who employed Glen as a senior manager. Without due regard to current contracts and employment legislation, the redundancies were announced followed by bitter, adverse comment and an acutely embarrassing climb down when Glen was re-instated temporarily followed by an inceased financial "pay-off" that presumably bought his silence.
We are all sometimes guilty of oversights or mistakes but the club's executives learnt nothing from this mishap, leading to the following avoidable situations:
(i) November 2004. The Elton John ticket fiasco and resultant temporary breakdown in the working relationship between the club and Watford Observer.
(ii) November 2004. Liason Officer, Nicky Hattingh departed. Mark Ashton issued an official statement explaining the claimed circumstances. When aware of this Nicky strongly disputed the club's version pointing out she quit when her professional integrity was compromised.
(iii) March 2005. Finance director Steve Simmons parted company with the club. Again Ashton issued an official statement, firmly denied in Steve's letter published by the Watford Observer.
(iv) March 2005. Made known that ex-club secretary Cathy Alexander was still contesting via an Industrial Tribunal her redundancy last year.
Only the myopic can fail to detect a total lack of professionalism and appalling P.R. deficiencies at the highest executive level that eventually can have only one disastrous conclusion for everyone. We are led to believe that Ray Lewington was sacked following a unanimous board decision, citing inter alia the players' poor body language. The reasons for this may well relate to matters other than Ray's claimed shortcomings over match results but anyone with even nominal club connections has been commenting for months on the staffs' considerably less than good "language" - body or otherwise! So, Mr.Simpson, who carries the proverbial "can" for this predicament? Our chairman in his latest press interview correctly drew attention to our still precarious financial circumstances, but one should ponder on the gains presently accumulating from a squad of senior employees carrying the title of either "Executive", "Financial" or "Commercial", sufficient numerically to give the first team a game. In no way doubting the commitment of the majority, but it's the top layer that scares me! We need more in this area than constantly putting Heidar Helguson and Danny Webber in the shop window.
In conclusion, it would have been wonderful for Oliver Phillips to retire with "The Horns" challenging strongly for a play-off place culminating in a return to the Premiership, but regretfully I can only mention that there are better ways to avoid playing Luton F.C. than relegation! So to rural France-bound Ollie, it's "un grand merci mon ami et bon voyage"; hopefully at the season's end to Graham Simpson, "merci et au revoir"; and for Mark Ashton, "voici votre P45, matey". The Russo brothers have to date been thankfully beyond criticism and can only pray they can help guide us to more stable times and are not seen as wealthy men pouring money into a lost cause.
We are fortunate to have in place, at least for a while, Nigel Gibbs, well respected within the game, who will give all for his only much loved club to date. Finally, to the players, including several great young talents; rule a line across and go for it, as you are fully capable of keeping your heads and Watford F.C. up! We need one or two senior players prepared to lead by outstanding example, clearly displaying the manager's tactical requirements on the field.
My contribution will be somewhat feeble, intending to stand quietly for two minutes when the kick off whistle blows for the next home game out of respect for Ray and his shabby treatment together with memories of better times at Vicarage Road. Would be good to know that a few others share my sentiments.