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Has it finished…? 12/05/2007

Posted by Ian Grant in Thoughts about things.
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So, that was that. It went on a bit.

There is a longer version, of course, and it contains a great deal more subtlety, contradiction and general befuddlement than history may record in relation to our second single-season visit to the top flight. Things weren’t quite as simple as our league position might suggest; they rarely are. Still, it’s nonetheless impossible to avoid the central truth of the matter: that this has been rather a chore, a gradual and dispiriting evaporation of last summer’s romantic dreams, and that it feels like something of a relief to find that it’s finally over. There is not much that we’ll remember. Not even as much as last time around, both good and bad.

Then, we had the extraordinary highs at Anfield and against Chelsea; those results stand alone, famous victories to be cherished outside of their context. And we had some catastrophic lows too, moments when it seemed as if the ninety minutes would never end. This time, just an endless greyness, a dreary and frustrating and pointless nearly.

Oh, it’s easy enough to say that it was always going to be thus…but I don’t believe that, not now and not in August. And you couldn’t believe that, watching the insane pace with which we took on West Ham in our first home fixture, seeing the desperate hunger in our eyes and the shock in theirs. We had a chance. Remote, perhaps, but a chance. We needed early points, swift confirmation that it was possible…and then, who knows?

You only have to look back at the results, remember some of the stories behind those scorelines, transport yourself back to those first couple of months when we were so nearly getting off to a very decent start indeed. Skip the Everton game – it’s been conveniently forgotten that we were slaughtered in the first half, whatever misfortune might’ve befallen us in the second – and look at the sequence that follows. West Ham. Bolton. Villa. Wigan. Christ, Fulham. Charlton. Spurs. Countless draws that might’ve been wins, defeats that might’ve been draws. By the time that Middlesbrough shambled into town in a flash suit with flies undone, it was far too late, the agenda had already been set.

None of this is to ignore our own failures, of course. So much of it was our own fault: little mistakes that cost us very dear, repeated over and over. Missed chances, defensive errors, tactical slips. The point is not to suggest that we were better than we really were, but merely to emphasise that we weren’t a lost cause from the off; while Europe might’ve been fanciful, being somewhere around mid-table as winter set in was far from impossible. It could have happened. In some ways, it doesn’t matter now. In others, it’s actually quite important: as the post-mortem begins, it’s all too easy to confuse a bad result with a bad plan…and to be tempted to do something foolish next time around as a consequence.

The stark reality is that for a club like Watford, survival in the Premiership will always be a long shot. On that basis, the plan that we put into action – one, spend prudently on (mainly) established names; two, design a playing style to maximise our strengths and minimise our weaknesses; three, hope for the best – was a perfectly good one. It might not have worked, sure…but there is no foolproof plan, no brilliant scheme that we overlooked. Were we to be given the opportunity to rewind and start again, I’d hope that we’d try much the same thing again…with a few tweaks here and there, naturally. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but not if it blinds you to the context in which reasonable, sensible and prudent decisions were made.

Of course, there’s no hindsight required when it comes to one of the key points: everyone knew that we needed another striker long before the August transfer deadline closed, before Marlon was injured, before Doris had started mis-firing. Hell, we’ve needed another striker since the previous August, never having filled the obvious gap left by Junior. Last season, we got lucky. To rely on the same luck again was plain irresponsible, rank poor planning; there were times when you could’ve wept for poor Darius Henderson, chasing lost causes for ninety minutes while we waited for January and a chance to repair the manager’s mistake. We let him down and we let ourselves down, and a manager who took the helm with inspiring talk of attacking football was reduced to putting out teams with all the scything penetration of a month-old aubergine.

Back in August, you could be sure of one thing: that whatever happened, there’d be no regrets. We’d give it our best shot, throw everything we had at it. It didn’t turn out quite like that, sadly. Too often, this was a stodgy and dour Watford side; without Marlon, the direct tactics descended into parody and the promise of open, exciting football was quickly rescinded. There was still the team spirit, and Adrian Boothroyd must take enormous credit for prolonging the imbalance between performances and results for as long as he did; it wasn’t until the visit of Sheffield United in late November that we put in a display worthy of our eventual league position. But we’d hoped for much more. Often, it just felt as if we didn’t have any guns to blaze.

(Then again, there is a savagely efficient two-word counter-argument to the oft-voiced suggestion that we should’ve just found ourselves an available striker in late August and taken a chance: Steve Kabba. Nobody pretends that a manager’s job is easy.)

Thing is, the margin between relative success and absolute failure is small. We didn’t need that many more points to be in contention with the other relegation strugglers. Even in mid-February, there was that tremendously dogged win at West Ham, the moment at which it suddenly opened up for you to see the path to safety…and then, sure enough, the light was snuffed out again by the woeful draw against Wigan and a comprehensive stuffing by an Everton side that we managed to make look lavish and elegant. That’s the story of the season: you could conjure up different endings in your imagination on so many occasions, feel that great rush of celebration almost as if it were real. But it never happened. It never came true.

In particular, I’m thinking of the twenty minutes in the semi-final when we’d raised the possibility of something other than the assumed inevitable, when we had Manchester United in a bit of a spin. A small victory in itself, I guess…but nothing compared to the mayhem that would’ve been unleashed if Hameur had buried that chance. We might still have lost, obviously. My God, I’d give so much to find out. Or the goal that we could never quite score in the home game against Chelsea, sitting there as tantalising as a word on the tip of your tongue, unspoken. So much of that. So much nearly.

Maybe we’ll be back to try again. Maybe. For some of us, it would be a bittersweet achievement: this season hasn’t felt like something that’d bear much repetition, even with better results. The Premiership is a deeply tiresome place, and it quickly starts to feel like you’re stuck in a lift with the worst kind of second-hand car salesman. So much bluster, so little substance: cushioned seats and vast legroom and a rubbish view at the Emirates; team handshakes and that preposterous faux-national anthem before kickoff, leaving the fans to wait until the bigwigs’ egos have been massaged sufficiently before they can greet ‘their’ team; forty-five quid to see a match with an inevitable outcome; endless video replays of daft handball appeals and theatrical tumbles. Too many personalities. Too much controversy. Too much drama. Not enough bloody football.

That, my friends, is the future. For those in charge of Watford Football Club, it will be our future: it seems that the intensity of the vision peddled by Graham Simpson, Mark Ashton and Adrian Boothroyd is undimmed; we will be a top ten club by 2010, somehow. Somehow. It isn’t a vision that I share…but then, we all know that ‘realism’ isn’t a popular word at Vicarage Road nowadays. In a way, I’m being unfair: there’s nowt wrong with a bit of ambition, with aiming for the sun; it’s what this club was built upon, in modern terms. And the fact that the manager has fallen at a hurdle for the first time neither takes away from his previous achievements nor excludes the possibility of more; next season will be a challenging one for Boothroyd and a revealing one for those who wonder where he’ll be in five years’ time, but you don’t doubt that he’ll attack it with typical gusto.You wouldn’t want to bet against him, still less to let him know about it.

But somewhere amid all of this, and amid the recent boardroom bitterness, is a football club that’s not terribly comfortable with itself. I make no apology for harking back: the cornerstone of Graham Taylor’s success was to create a club with a clear sense of its own identity, its difference and uniqueness. We took on the world with a firm knowledge of ourselves, of what we were and why we were. Now? We just want to be Blackburn. Or Middlesbrough. We did want to be Charlton, but everyone’s gone a bit quiet on that front. Adrian Boothroyd asks: “Do we want to go back to being little Watford? Or do we want to keep moving forwards?” and you can almost feel the intensity of the glare, the pressure to provide the correct answer.

But hand on heart, I’m not sure that I can. You?

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Comments»

1. DC United - 12/05/2007

By far the best thing to happen during the Vialli era was the collapse of ITV Digital. Yes it meant that we REALLY suffered financially to the point of almost not having a club at all but how very cathartic it was to watch Ray Lewington transform us back from being Wolves wannabes into the club GT had left back in 2001.

Aidy, Graham, Mark Ashton and the late Salad Boys have not yet turned us into Vialli’s Watford. But the question of “Do we want to go back to being little Watford?” implies that it might be on the agenda. Its the wrong question Aidy and the wrong agenda.

If anything should be glaringly obvious from this season its that we do always want us to be little Watford. That is what I and so many thousands of others love about the club. We don’t want soulless stadiums, rock concert ticket prices and players who are more interested in the name of the league they play in than which team they turn out for.

However, ask us the question “Do we want to keep moving forwards?” and the answer is a resounding yes. Move us forward but don’t lose the identity.

But I’m not sure we can do by stating we want to become a Top 10 club. Top 10? Really? What, Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Newcastle, Everton, Villa, Man City(?) and Watford. Sorry even with Aidy’s boundless confidence this just isn’t realistic.

Go back and dig out GT’s plan. An established Top 30 club. Maybe putting an Aidy spin on it lets say top 25. That would suit me and I reckon many others just fine.

2. Jeff - 12/05/2007

Ig, fantastic stuff as always, so much to think about.

3. Esp - 13/05/2007

At the risk of being thwacked by Fran’s hardback this is not really a comment about the season and maybe it should have been placed in the Watermelons at Reading thread but I would just like to add a little support for poor old Shorty our pilloried PA who has been hammered in print on BHaPPY (especially by Matt) for accepting his supporters’ award. Is he really an “Employee” of the club I ask rhetorically? He is just as much a fan as me or you the lovely reader surely? I don’t believe he or Tim up in the stands draw a fee from the club and do ity for their love of the club (and their own voices) which negates them from being called employees imho. There are more deserving cases for wordly attacks at Vicarage Road Matt et al, and we all surely know who they are.
Great piece ig as always and your essay sums up eloquently what my feelings were about the season. “Scything penetration of a one month aubergine” will remain long in my memory!

4. Adam J - 13/05/2007

One word season report:

Lacking

5. Apperley 'Orn - 14/05/2007

So tell me ESP – are you suggesting that “he of the overactive vocal chords” pays the club for the honour of shouting at us through the PA? Of course he doesn’t – if I’m wrong I will gladly eat one of Ig’s month-old Aubergines.

Whether he draws a fee in hard cash or not is neither here nor there. You can bet your yellow-tinted specs that he gets to see all home games for free and, as such, is receiving a payment in kind for his “services”. That makes him an employee in my books, just one that isn’t necessarily on the payroll.

I don’t know the bloke personally, he is probably a very nice chap and I have no real gripe with him (other than I wish he wouldn’t leave my ears buzzing every time I visit the Vic). However, do you believe that he deserves this award more than, say, Don Fraser, Frances Lynn or our esteemed BHaPPY editors (to name but a few)? It is nothing more than the club patting one of their own on the back in a way that has left them with much egg on their collective faces.

6. lazza - 14/05/2007

Great article – can we have BDS back please?

7. Ian Grant - 14/05/2007

Very flattering, Mr Apperley ‘Orn…but the purpose of that award, it always seemed to me, was to celebrate those who don’t usually get a moment in the spotlight. Witness the fantastic gesture to whoever-it-was-who’d-not-missed-a-home-game-in-fifty-years before the Player of the Season presentation yesterday. That’s what it’s about. Richard Short gets more than enough of a platform and his fair share of back-slapping; we do too.

And it was BSaD, Mr Lazza. And no, I’m afraid that you can’t. Not until we both retire, anyway.

8. David Wheatley - 14/05/2007

As always, a very interesting article, Monday mornings have not been the same since the death of BSaD and the reading of the weekend game review..

Personally I enjoyed this season more than the previous visit in 1999/2000. I think this team, player for player is relatively stronger with only Robinson, H and Johnson good enough to be included into the 2006/2007 version.

Every supporter has a list of if’s, buts’ and maybe’s but 28 points is about right. Yes there where games we could have won/dawn but there were others when we received points when we shouldn’t; the 2 away wins at West Ham & Reading being good examples.

Next season is not going to be easy, for the first time in 7 years there is an expectation that we will win most of our games and this as Boothroyd has rightly identified calls for artists not soldiers out on the pitch. I agree with IG’s contention that WFC is not at ease with itself and the goal of being a top 10 club by 2010 does seem ridiculous. Unless one refers to a more literal definition like finishing in the top 10 as Reading have just achieved. Having said that, better to aim high than to settle for abject mediocrity as defined by much of the 1990’s.

9. twinkle12 - 14/05/2007

well dude…
your blog is very cool……….

10. lazza - 14/05/2007

Ooopps sorry, busy day at work.

So farwell Ben Foster…

11. Esp - 15/05/2007

Apperley ‘Orn wrote; “So tell me ESP – are you suggesting that “he of the overactive vocal chords” pays the club for the honour of shouting at us through the PA? ”
Please tell me where I stated that I thought Richard Short pays the club to shout through the PA!?!. If you can prove that I did say that I will ‘apperley apologise. I was just pointing out he was a supporter, worthy of the accolade and in my view he bloody well needs to gee up Vic Road sometimes as we are not the loudest stadium in ANY league! Which (before I am flamed) is not the same as saying we have some of the best supporters … just some quiet ones!

12. Anders - 16/05/2007

Good stuff ig. I’ve missed these reports.
I’m afraid we’ll be back in a year’s time though.

13. DM - 16/05/2007

“But hand on heart, I’m not sure that I can. You?”

My answer. No. For the first time since 1979, I will enter next season without a season ticket. It’s partly financial, but I’m sure I could find the money if I really wanted to. I’m just not buying into the club’s future as laid out by Messrs Simpson, Ashton and Boothroyd. Football in 2007 has finally proved itself to be a twisted parody of the game I grew up eating, sleeping and breathing, the same goes for Watford as a club.

Next season I will watch on from afar, I’ll still go to games as and when I choose but being a part of the game and blinldly supporting Watford FC is no longer for me.

14. Apperley 'Orn - 16/05/2007

Esp – you suggested that he draws no fee from the club. I’m suggesting that his fee could be classed as the cost of the ticket that he almost undoubtedly doesn’t have to fork out for. I don’t recall asking you for an apology!

We are all entitled to our opinions – I just feel that IMO his shouting does nothing whatsoever to “gee up” Vic Rd, rather has the opposite effect on me and many others that I know.

Which ever way you want to cook it, he will be seen as an employee by the majority of people and as such the wrong message has been sent out by the club, plain and simple.

15. Tapps - 17/05/2007

All this talk of Watford’s rightful home being the Championship takes me back to the White Horse pop quizzes of the ’80s. First prize for each team member was a brand new 45 from the quiz master’s sack – typically Cliff Richard, Sheena Easton etc; second prize was a free pint. The skill required was not to get all the answers correct but to get enough wrong to ensure second place.

If on the last Sunday of next season we need a win for automatic promotion what are we supposed to do? Cheer for our opponents, hope we lose and eventually gallantly lose on penalties at Wembley so we can stay in a division where the supporters are real, the prices are not absurd and football is as we like it?

I just cannot get away from being desperate to see Watford win in any game they play. Sadly, the result affects my mood for at least 24 hours. If the price I have to pay for winning every game next season is another trip to the billionaires paradise then I guess I’ll have to pay the (exorbitant) price.

16. Matt Rowson - 17/05/2007

🙂 I’m with you Tapps. Not exactly comfortable though, is it? Lingering in the background is the knowledge that the things that are unpleasant about the Prem really aren’t going to get any better any time soon. Football is in the process of slowly eating itself…

17. Esp - 20/05/2007

Matt wrote: “Football is in the process of slowly eating itself…” and of course Magnusson the millionaire from Iceland and his club’s erstwhile chairman Terence Brown really have taken the biscuit this season; they’re continuing the process started by Murdoch and the formation of the glorious Premier League in making our sport more about MONEY than SPORTING HEROES like the England skipper at the end of Empire Way.
A paltry 4,000 tickets for each of the clubs in yesterday’s FA Cup final at £35 and the rest for families with incomes of £50k plus FA lackies and the corporates?? Bollocks to all that and you can keep your overpriced beer and £5 burgers.

18. stephen hoffman - 23/05/2007

what i dont get it watford football club has to be the best it can be , if we can establish ourselves in the premiership why not . we can be better than a top 30 club and we should try to be . vialli got it wrong but boothrooyd is nothing like vialli .. boothroyd gives his all to watford and is always congragulating the fans , vialli had a go at the watford fans

the future is bright the future is watford .

why is ambition a dirty word it isn’t it means aidy wants for us to go places , to get into premiership to stay in the premiership and im with him for the journey

the problem with lewington was yes after vialli we needed someone to steady the ship but it went on too long , he didn’t have the ambition or the will to take us up to premiership , he just kept this little old watford picture in his head , that we weren’t good enough for the premiership . If you think you can’t do it — like lewington getting into the premiership you’ve lost the battle . no one thought watford would go up last season we did — because aidy had ambition drive and vision and he still does .

im quite frankly annoyed at people having a go at him . remember he got 4 more points with a smaller squad than taylor had in the premiership ,and with a squad which had only had a year not 3 years like taylor had to bed in .

so sorry if im upsetting all you people who want to stay being little watford , but i have ambition for watford to be the best it can be , so does aidy ,and if you don’t like it , well then quite frankly good ridddance we dont want supporters who dont want watford to get into the premiership and beyond .

19. Ian Grant - 23/05/2007

Good work there, Stephen. Not sure if that was supposed to contradict any of my points or merely validate them, but you’ve done a fine job of the latter. And while I might not be Adrian Boothroyd’s most gushing admirer, even his worst enemy could come up with a better defence than the fact that we managed to finish bottom with four more points than in 1999/2000. That’s desperate. We’re not desperate.

20. stephen hoffman - 24/05/2007

to those who have criticised and believe me i sit in the rous , i’ve had to take the twitterings of people having a go at boothroyd what has aidy boothroyd done then , people were always praising ray lewington ,and aidy boothroyd has done an even better job than him . i dont think people give aidy boothroyd enoguh . what sickens me is the way that people have got on boothrooyds back this season , forgetting , that last year we were expected to go down to league 1 and he took us up to the premier

when in the rous and it does happen not in the rookery , but in the rous did our support become so fickle

sure boothroyds made mistakes but even taylor our best manager did . do u remember swindon –home 1999 — he admitted he got the tactics wrong

just remember boothroyd is only 35 he’s going to get better.

the one thing i do find odd is with jay demerit and this whole thing now he’s in the american squad he’ll be more tired and not fit enough — it doesn’t seem to affect brian mcbride at fulham .. i just personally dont think jackson is a worthwhile buy i think we could squeeze another year out of a better centre back –mackay –who seems to have bascially retired

and if shittu stays and carlisle def is , we’ll have no pace in our side unless avinel plays in defense —.when demerit aint playing

21. Ian Grant - 25/05/2007

Sorry, Stephen, but I can’t see your point at all…although I thank you for making it in slightly less offensive terms than before. Every manager gets things wrong and every manager receives criticism; it’s just part of the job, a mundane reality that never changes.

As long as you’ve got the support of a) the board and b) the majority of fans, you’re in a position as good as any manager can possibly hope for. There might well have been mutterings and twitterings, but there’s little doubt that Adrian Boothroyd has the absolute backing of an enormous percentage of supporters…and even less doubt that he has what remains of the board behind him. Rightly so too.

And if you genuinely believe that “people were always praising Ray Lewington”, then I hope that you’ve managed to remove the cheese from your ears since then. It’s true that there were some passionate defenders of his record – and I’m extremely proud that I was one of them – but my God, we had our work cut out….

22. Piet Nirvana - 19/09/2007

they say where to young,to get are self’s sprun. Piet Nirvana.


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