From: One corner flag...
Via: The touchline in front of the home end, in a casual, just-wandering-over-to-the-Rous-Stand-and-minding-my-own-business, oh-look-some-people-are-applauding kinda way...
To: The other corner flag. And back again after a plausible pause, if necessary...
He wasn't: A nobody
I want to make it clear from the outset that I believe
Brian Anderson to be a nice man. Energetic, open,
gragarious and generous, Watford Football Club was
lucky to have him as a director for many reasons.
It is a shame that just as Gianluca Vialli's
illustrious playing career will always be tarnished in
the minds of Watford fans by the farce that was his
season as manager, Brian Anderson's time at Watford
will always be tarnished by his clear association with
All in all, Brian Anderson arrived bringing with him a
rather vital ingredient in the fortuituous mix which
propelled us into the Premiership from 1997 to 1999 -
optimism. He is a successful man, and was obviously
proud to have become a director of our football team.
Fans will remember that in the 1997-98 season, he and Rumi
Verjee would walk around the pitch before every game
applauding the fans and taking their applause. Yes,
this had its critics (it was egotistical, for instance),
but it elevated the two of them from faceless
bureaucrats running the club into recognisable
'co-conspirators' in the Watford success story. By
walking around the pitch applauding the fans, I believe
they were saying, "We're with you, and thank you for
being with us", I really do.
The 1998-99 season saw this practice stopping, but
Anderson was still high-profile, and one of my
favourite pictures from the playoff final is his face
as he congratulated Robert Page just before our captain
picked up the trophy.
Importantly, Andersen never shirked from him
responsibilities in communicating to the fans. He came
to AGMs, and more importantly he came to supporters'
evenings and was open and happy to speak to anyone. He
was friendly and approachable, and unlike Haig
Oundjian, he tended to avoid a rather patronising
jollity which wasn't that neccessary.
You also couldn't ignore his generosity. The marathons
that he ran to raise money for charity showed a side to
him that should be commended. He was always happy to
publicise the causes, and must be very highly valued
by the charities he represented.
Now read back over what I've said. I've used the words
'our' club a lot, and 'our' captain to describe Robert
Page. This is because too much evidence suggested that
Anderson wasn't really one of 'us'.
Back in 1998 I received tickets for an event called
'Jews in Sport' in Mill Hill. Brian was chairing a
panel consisting of Ronny Rosenthal, Eyal Berkovic,
Gary Jacobs, David Pleat and Jarvis Astaire. It was an
interesting evening, not least because Anderson
singularly declined to talk about Watford, prefering to
talk about his love of Spurs. Whilst he admitted he was
a director of Watford, his sporting stories were about
Spurs. With quite a few Watford fans in the audience,
I'm surprised that Anderson was so surprised to see
this rather glaring ommission relayed to the mailing
list the next day.
In fact, at the Watford AGM the next week he was
steaming about it, telling me how upset he was about
the accusation that he wasn't Watford through and
through, arguing that since he had had a Tottenham
season ticket and a Watford season ticket for years
there shouldn't be a question about his allegiences.
I pointed out that I was there and he had spoken mostly
about Spurs, his retort was that at that event there'd
be more Spurs fans so he was responding to the audience
- which in some ways is fair enough.
Unfortunately, though, Brian Anderson will be most
remembered for his cheer-leadership of the Gianluca
Vialli appointment. As I have said before, I was as
optimistic as he was about the appointment, could see
some of the possible sense in it and wanted it to
succeed as much as he did. When Vialli signed, there
were stories about his wife's pasta being the clincher
of the deal. He came to the supporters evening a week
afterwards and spoke openly about it, asking fans what
they thought and taking the time to convince the
doubters. He also said what many of us thought but
didn't have the guts to say - that Graham Taylor was
losing his grip on the team, and his resignation was
fortuitous, as the board didn't want to have to
consider sacking him.
Had Vialli been successful, then Anderson would be
remembered far more fondly, as a courageous visionary
who had moved the club onto the next level. Alas,
Anderson's name will forever be etched in my mind as
almost an accidental architect of the collapse of
Watford Football Club.
Last season, he became an increasingly peripheral
figure in terms of exposure to the fans. I don't think
this was down to a lack of courage, because he wasn't
that sort of man. I believe he was probably as upset as
we were at just how much went wrong in the 2001/02
I don't think he's famous enough to write his life
story, but I'd love to know why such a successful
businessman thought that Gianluca Vialli would be able
to handle managing a club without having an
open-chequebook to hand. I'd love to know why he didn't
make sure sufficient safe-guards were in place to make
sure that Vialli knew exactly what he was taking on and
the restrictions therein. Someone should have had a
word in the Italian's ear about the changes he was
making, but most people associate the directors at the
time with being starstruck.
Shame, shame, shame. Brian Anderson actually deserves
to be remembered fondly for being part of three of the
greatest years in the club's history. We won a
Championship at Fulham, won a trophy at Wembley and
beat Liverpool at Anfield, for pete's sake!
Nobody's perfect, and Brian Anderson never was, and
never will be a nobody.
He came, he saw and he departed under a cloud. In many quarters, the resignation of Brian Anderson from the Watford Board is welcomed as long overdue. Irrespective of Brian's good charitable work outside of the club, his period at Watford will be forever tarnished by his very well-publicised involvement in the appointment of Gianluca Vialli as Watford manager, the repercussions of which the club and fans will suffer for many years to come.
Appointing Vialli was attributed to Brian's other, and better, half's pasta. What better way to capture Chelsea's most successful manager than cooking an Italian meal? The secret criteria developed by the "gang of three" empowered to employ the new boss on Taylor's departure had obviously found the magic ingredient...that, and throwing in the offer of an £800,000 a year salary, huge financial benefits on promotion, qualification for Europe, etc., assisted by a £5 million pound transfer fund, an open chequebook to sign up unlimited backroom staff and a complete myopia to Watford's hugely increased salary bill.
Analysis conducted on behalf of the FSF for the 2001-2002 season (see here) shows staff costs as a percentage of turnover at the club reached a whopping 92.47%. Forget the loss of the ITV digital revenue, the huge salary cost is the key factor in Watford closely avoiding administration in the summer of 2002. Costs had escalated to a point where money was pouring out of the club faster than it could be earnt.
Hardly all Brian's fault - after all, he was part of the Board which collectively suffered from a similar myopia to the club's disastrous change of strategy, from "little old Watford", a community club, to the "Manchester United" of the First Division. Old Watford stalwarts like Luther and Kenny were jettisoned in the pursuit of Premiership lucre, whilst football mercenaries arrived from all and sundry. With the notable exceptions of Galli, Glass and the later-to-emerge Gayle, the impact of the new arrivals did little to improve Watford on the pitch.
Surely, Brian's recruitment of Luca would lead back to the top division? From a fans perspective Brian's image was closely linked to the success of the club's glamorous new manager. Had Watford succeeded with Vega, Blondeau, Hughes and Issa, under the guidance of Ray Wilkins as coach, won the league, Brian would have been glorifying in the club's success. Alas, the strategy of throwing pots of money to gain immediate Premiership promotion failed miserably. While Brian was no doubt disappointed - rumours of his departure abroad were plentiful - he didn't do the decent thing and resign.
Let's look at the cool, hard facts of the outcome of Watford's one season of financial madness:
- Luca Vialli was a one season failure - with his contract terminated two years early, with a potentially multi-million pound legal case pending,
- Luca's dismissal led to Sir Elton, Watford's greatest ever financial backer, walking out,
- The contracts of Vega, Blondeau, Issa, Baardsen, Wilkins and many of the backroom staff were paid up,
- The flotation of Watford Leisure plc proceeds were squandered on funding Luca's campaign and buying the freehold of the Vic,
- The freehold of the Vic was sold for £6 million - to a still mystery buyer - due to the catastrophic financial situation at the club, due not just to Luca's reign but to the poor stewardship of the Watford board,
- The redevelopment of the East Stand was put on hold - the self-financing via the Executive bond scheme proved to be disasterously positioned and less than a handful of the required five hundred executives expressed an interest in paying up their hard-earned,
- Watford's support for Premiership Two/Phoenix League almost led to a schism with its historic rivals in Divisions Two and Three, before the plans were voted down,
- A second share issue was conducted last December - not to build the club, but to keep it afloat after a potential £9.5 million deficit. Whilst Tim Shaw and Graham Simpson dipped into their personal fortunes, other Board members were less forthcoming,
- The players and staff took a 12.5% salary deferral to play their part in keeping the club in business, while fans formed a Supporters Trust to preserve professional football at Vicarage Road.
In short, due to one season of financial madness, the club was a "basket-case" and narrowly avoided going into Administration. A situation which would have led to an emasculation of Watford's community, academy and educational schemes. Irrespective of Luca's brief managerial reign - all of his decisions were backed by the Board - nobody took responsibility for the situation and did the decent thing and resigned, particularly Brian Anderson.
Going further back, Brian and Rumi Verejee as the new directors who expensively bought out Jack Petchey were known as the "milkmen" for walking round the ground and accepting applause from fans for "saving" the club. It was a gimmick, which eventually grated on fans, particularly as promotion to the Premiership in 1999 led to £2.5 million being used to pay off the outstanding debt to Jack Petchey - Graham Taylor called his most expensive Premiership signing.
Verjee went also under a cloud, Haig Oundijian and Nigel Wray arrived, plans for a "multi-sport" stadium were floated and potential sites around Watford were discussed, Saracens Rugby Club arrived as tenants. Many Watford fans were concerned that the club's identity was under threat. Too many kites were being flown and decisions were not forthcoming. The Boardroom was a maelstrom of ideas but little direction.
The arrival of Graham Taylor saw Petchey depart and Watford eventually climb out from the Second Division, via a First Division play-off final to the Premiership. Was this a grand strategy plotted by the Boardroom or the result of hard work, desire of the team on the pitch, the inspired management of Graham and a little bit of luck? Many Watford fans would say it was more of the latter than a grand strategy.
The year in the Premiership on the field has been discussed to death. However, the massive hike in season ticket prices, the marketing "hype", the failure to remain true to Watford's family club image left a bitter taste. Many fans were upset by the club almost jettisoning its heritage and culture on arrival in the Premiership. If it weren't for community-minded Graham Taylor, who provided the link between fans and the Board, the Premiership year would have led to some friction between the "traditional" fans and the "Premiership" club.
Unlike some in the Boardroom, Graham realised what the ethos of the club was all about. Perhaps this was part of the reason why there was some fall-out between the Board and Graham Taylor. Recognising Watford weren't strong enough, Graham didn't chuck the Premiership money about as he didn't want to mortgage the club for future generations by signing up the multi-million pound players that would have serious financial repercussions on relegation - huge salaries with substantially less revenue in Division One. The club for the first time in living memory was consequently in financial rude health when relegated.
Alas, a mediocre season in Division One, possibly due to players, fans and the club being shell-shocked by the previous season, saw Graham resign to go into retirement. There was no doubt some bad-blood between Taylor and the Board on his departure. Money which hadn't been available to Taylor suddenly became available to the new Watford manager. Some injudicious comments by Elton John about Watford's ambitions and the need to spend grated with the former manager.
Two periods in charge of Watford - the club's golden age - were quickly forgotten as Vialli was welcomed as the "greatest" thing to manage Watford. Swapping a multi-millionaire boss who knew little or nothing of the club ethos for the man who lived and breathed Watford had huge consequences for not just the club but also the town.
With Brian Anderson's resignation from the Board, a line can be drawn under the Vialli period - though with the court-case outstanding. The architect of Vialli's arrival and subsequent departure has finally gone. He should have left earlier, and with a public apology for his culpability for the very expensive mistakes of the Vialli regime. Surely, any Director wishes to leave the Boardroom with the business in a stronger position than when they arrived. Alas, Anderson's departure, coincides with what is likely to be a very tough period in Watford's history. While he made his mark with Vialli's appointment, it isn't perhaps the testament he would have liked to have left.