Everyone makes mistakes. The man who criticises another for screwing up is effectively only criticising them for not being perfect, which is pretty silly when you look at it. You don't criticise your top scorer when he sidefoots an easy finish into the middle of the goal rather than lashing it into the top corner, and you could argue the spectacular goal is more "perfect" than the meaty sidefoot. There's something to treasure about a Paolo Di Canio executing a sinuous, balletic mid-air mid-stride scissors kick to send the ball screaming precisely into the back of the net...but by the same token, screaming at a linesman over nothing until the referee's obliged to send you off is a mistake. Don't get me wrong - Di Canio's not a microcosm of the ways in which people can err, but nonetheless, he raises the question: what sort of mistakes do you make?
I make different mistakes in different situations, and I don't think I'm unusual in that. When you're at a family party with a bit of a hangover and have met a dozen people in the last half-hour with a bastard behind the eyes, you're going to get names mixed up, for instance. The mistake's a careless one, certainly, and perhaps a lazy one - if I hadn't been concentrating on making the hangover go away, and on trying to remember the anatomy of the abdomen for an exam on Monday morning I'd probably not have got the two confused. On the upside, I can now tell you among other things where the appendix is and how to remove it; on the downside, I've appeared to be a brainless oaf to a member of the family I met not five minutes previously. So it goes.
On the football pitch, the errors I make are very different: basically, I'm crap. My concentration, even with a hangover, is great...but I can't get my feet to do what I want them to with the ball. There's no danger of my making the sort of mistakes a Craig Ramage did - you won't catch me disappearing so far up my own preening backside that I never actually get around to applying my talent to the task of winning games rather than fuelling the fire of my own ego - but then that's because you'll never catch me jinking past two players on the edge of the box and effortlessly planting a curling ball into the near corner of the goal with the keeper flat-footed. The mistakes someone like Ramage made weren't because he couldn't play; they were more because he didn't have a proper appreciation of his position, and of what he needed to do for himself to become the player he could be. What about someone like Wilf Rostron, picking up that booking at Luton which ruled him out of the FA Cup Final? It'd be hard to put that mistake to anything other than bad luck. Or what about someone like Richard Johnson, losing his range for twenty minutes and dumping a succession of sweeping crossfield balls five yards past their target and into touch? Right idea, badly executed.
Do you make mistakes because you're careless? Or because you're inept, or lazy? Or are they just bad luck, or a good idea gone wrong somewhere?
Football fans can make mistakes, too. When Johnno first started playing regularly in the side, I thought he was bloody useless, and said as much in a number of articles I wrote for BSaD at the time. Given that he's now comfortably my favourite player of the past dozen or so years, I misjudged him back then. I screwed up. Your mind can get clouded, because you're looking at something you care about, something you're intimately bound up in, whether you like it or not. Even now, when like so many supporters I feel very little inclination to support the team, to shout for a club that I feel has been betrayed by those running it, I know the feelings are still there. This isn't a lack, it's an absence...and when I have to sit back over the summer and digest the string of defeats which are dragging Watford towards relegation, it's going to hurt. All the numbness does is delay that. For now I can tell myself it doesn't hurt, but when it wears off, I just get the cumulative effect of seven games at once. That's clouding my judgement, because even if I don't feel about the club at the moment, I know it's still there. I still care about what we've achieved, and so it still hurts, and it's still going to hurt, even if by some miracle we do survive. I'm likely to make mistakes in assessing the situation as a result; we all are.
When you make mistakes about things you care about, though, you're more likely to learn from them. Because they stay with you; you have to live with them, sometimes your whole life. That's true of football up to a point...but as Nick Hornby said, there's always next season. You can always redeem the past, AFC Wimbledon being a case in point. It doesn't mean the mistakes don't matter, just that you can always get over them (and people do make the wrong choice and never get over it, make no mistake). That assumes you care, though.
What worries me about the board at the moment is the type of mistakes they're making. Let's leave the Vialli debacle largely to one side; you can just about put it down to a schoolboyish dazzlement with the glamorous Italian and a well-intentioned gamble which required gross mismanagement of the club to finance it. What sort of mistakes are they making now? The mistakes I'm talking about are largely: sacking Lewington; swapping Cullip for Webber; letting Gayle go; letting Ardley go; the manner in which Lewington's sacking was carried out; trying to fob off the fans with spin. You may not agree with all of them, and that's your prerogative. Maybe you think Lewington was the wrong man for the job, or that Danny wouldn't have scored the two goals he got for Sheffield United today while we were staggering to a 2-1 home defeat to Leeds had he stayed with us, or that Gayle won't play again this season anyway, and would have had nothing to offer the dressing room regardless, or that Ardley's not playing that well for Cardiff and that they'd have stayed up anyway, or that a sacking is a sacking and how it happens doesn't matter, or that feeding your customers bullshit dressed up as fertiliser is just something that needs to happen. That's your prerogative, as I say; if you think none of the above qualifies as a mistake, then maybe time will prove one of us right and maybe it won't. Time will say nothing but I told you so....
A more interesting question is: what's behind the mistakes? I wish Adrian Boothroyd every success as Watford manager; whether we survive or not, we won't see his true colours until next season. However, they've sacked a manager who was proven as a coach as well as a manager, and who had success with other clubs in the divisions below us, and with this club in this division. The only way to explain it kindly is by saying that Mark Ashton thinks Boothroyd is the next big thing - an Alan Curbishley for Watford, perhaps. But the man's meant to be a businessman, the sort who analyse risk as well as just hypothetical future benefits...and the risk inherent in appointing someone with no managerial experience into the middle of a relegation battle without any time (seven games!) to learn, it's staggering. Absolutely staggering.
At least Vialli had a pedigree as a player, at least he had a full pre-season to work in without pressure, at least he'd proved elsewhere that he could manage with vast sums of money to throw at a situation; that may not have adapted from the Premiership to the Second Division, but you can see where the thought came from that he might work. The financial stuff you can't forgive, but the appointment in isolation you can explain. What's the thinking here? Where's the trade-off for losing the known quantity of Ray Lewington? Why not let Boothroyd learn over the summer, and start with a clean sheet (what we wouldn't give for one of those...) next season, whatever division that's in? Why take the risk? How many young managers get appointed and go on to success? Seriously, what are the percentages? How many managers appointed under forty can you name who've done well with their clubs? I can't think of another club deep in relegation trouble who have, with seven games to go, sacked an experienced manager in favour of a total unknown quantity. It would have been more understandable if they'd brought in Harry Bassett, for christ's sakes, or some other "wily old fox" who'd be good for a dozen games or so until their new man could come in. But no. It's a mistake I can't explain.
The player exodus I'm going to leave to one side. I know I said you were entitled to your opinion, but if you are honestly looking at your TV screen and seeing "Webber" crop up twice on the scoresheet for Sheffield United and not feeling the bubbling, seething frustration I am, you're an idiot. Or rather, you're not being terribly objective. Similarly with Neal Ardley; I'll leave Gayle and the hitherto-unmentioned Fitzgerald as moot points, but Ardley and Webber were two of our best players, and losing them's unforgiveable. It's a mistake I can explain, though. Ardley went because he was fed up of the board trying to sell players over the manager's head, and the board decided to judge him on the risk he posed to their position rather than on his playing ability. Webber went because the people who paid for his wages want a return on their investment, he was always going to score more goals for Sheffield United in the remainder of the season than he was for us, and they don't think relegation will hit the miserable value of their shares overly. That's the players dealt with.
What about the manner in which it was done? I'm afraid I'm losing the will to write this, so I will keep this brief.
The people I respect in this world are not perfect. They are not infallible; no-one is. They make mistakes, even in those areas at which they are best and in which they excel. But they do so honestly, they hold their hands up, and they tell me the truth about the ways in which they've f***ed up. And above all - jesus, above all - they learn from their mistakes, and from the reaction of those around them to their reactions, and they don't make the same mistakes again.
How much honesty do you feel the club's showing right now? Has anyone held their hands up and said the manner in which the sacking of Lewington and subsequent fire sales were held was wrong? Have you been told the truth about those sales? I mean, they look to me very, very like the board deciding to usher relegation onto the books as a given, to ship out as many players as possible in eager anticipation of it, and thereby remove the very good chance we had of avoiding it. They've done that by pretending all's well, that we're going to be fine, that they've got our best interests at heart, with solemn head-nodding about living by the sword and dying by it. They've reacted to the palpable outrage Watford fans have felt about the current situation not by acknowledging it, not by responding to its causes, but with tired, hackneyed calls for "unity at this difficult time", with brittle rallying-crys, and with awkwardly ghost-written pap from a player whose style is not to waffle, not to attempt to gloss over his failings, but to get out on the pitch and react with actions rather than words. And above all - jesus, above all - they haven't learned from Vialli that gambling with the future of my club is not acceptable, and - whether Boothroyd's the next big thing or not - they've made the same mistake again.
Everyone makes mistakes.