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End of Term Report – A Slightly Pointless Extra Bit 14/06/2010

Posted by Ian Grant in Thoughts about things.

And finally, before the World Cup wipes our memories completely, some thunks on the season just passed….

1. “He’ll get us relegated!” shrieked a depressing number of messages to Three Counties Radio as a heavy defeat at Leicester made our situation still more precarious. Which makes you wonder whether some people have been paying attention at all: the idea that it would’ve been Malky Mackay who “got us relegated” is akin to blaming the king’s men for Humpty Dumpty’s unfortunate demise.

Already in desperate financial trouble, Watford Football Club was deserted by its manager last summer; key players followed in varying circumstances – some predictable, others much less so – before the transfer window closed. Other players didn’t, much as we’d have liked them to. Boardroom squabbling – you’ll have your own view, no doubt – in mid-season very nearly tipped the ship over. The financial trouble didn’t get any better; it just became a fact of life, a steady and persistent drizzle that never went away.

In those circumstances, to end the season more or less intact is nothing other than a miracle. The same will apply if we’re still here in twelve months’ time.

2. Much was made of the manager’s relentless conservatism: in the main, any changes beyond those forced by suspensions and injuries appeared to be the subject of many hours of deliberation, brows furrowed as arguments and counter-arguments were weighed and compared. That was undeniably frustrating, particularly when the changes required were during a game. “Cautious” would be rather an understatement.

But there is a flip-side to that. The faith kept with the core of the squad, with a line-up that you can recite from memory in a way that’s rarely true in an era of substantial squads and media-led knee-jerk reactions…well, that faith was eventually justified by a spirit that seemed to hold even when things got very tough indeed and by performances from key players that ultimately saw us through.

You can, of course, suggest that earlier changes might’ve avoided the end-of-season crisis altogether…although you do so at the risk of using Will Hoskins as potential saviour for the umpteenth, and mercifully last, time. Me, I tend to think that the manager might’ve been right – and not a little brave – to stick with it.

3. Although we surely could’ve done something when it came to the away games. Like driving as fast as possible in the opposite direction.

In many ways, the course of the season changed as much from what didn’t happen as what did: a club so completely dependent on its home form can’t afford to lose vital fixtures. By the time the winter freeze relented and home games became a possibility once more, albeit on an unplayable pitch, continual setbacks on our travels meant that we were under tremendous pressure. Games in hand are all very well, but you could see the sudden, stricken terror in that wretched defeat to Peterborough.

4. Which is a shame, really, because it’s not what the season should be remembered for. Nor does it accurately represent the performance of players and management across the whole season, the credit or debit to be carried forward. Of course, someone who barely saw an away game will have a skewed perspective…but that in itself makes for a welcome change, for it’s been a little while since Vicarage Road regulars have seen the very best of a Watford team.

And that very best was simply dazzling. A side cobbled together from bits and pieces played football that was fluent, mobile and, crucially, viciously direct; where we’d expected to sit through months of grinding struggle, we were treated to something extravagant and expansive, a skiffle band striking up a symphony. A Watford team that played with hearts on sleeves provided some wonderful, enduring moments: Tom Cleverley skirting round the Sheffield Wednesday defence to cross for Henri Lansbury to seal victory; Heidar Helguson flying in at the far post to level against Leicester; Danny Graham belting in that volley for the ten men desperately holding West Brom; Jon Marks’ commentary (“Doyley! LLOOOYD DOYLEEEY!”).

We weren’t always that great, of course. But this is Watford we’re talking about…and we really were buoyantly, brilliantly great on more occasions than you could reasonably expect, more than enough occasions to make it seem vitally important that it didn’t all end unhappily in May.

5. It didn’t, so we start again in August. Nothing’s changed: it’s every bit as hard to look forward to the coming season as it was a year ago. Except that it was possible once and it must be possible again.

In many ways, football is the least of our worries; it will be for some time to come, you suspect. The reality of the Championship is that the financial equation no longer adds up. It probably never did…but the pull of Premiership multi-millions has ensured that the sums involved even at our level are sufficiently ludicrous that clubs are fated to search endlessly for someone rich and foolhardy enough to take a punt. Or, more likely, someone with not altogether benign motives. The truth of football’s love affair with “Big Business” is that it’s created a whole load of utterly failed businesses, marooned far from anyone who cares enough to rescue them.

For now, Lord Ashcroft continues to prop the whole thing up until someone comes along to buy us; the appointment of an independent board does at least end the unseemly mid-season squabbling and provide some long-term, hearts-in-the-right-place planning. The Russos continue to pop up every now and again, their motives mysterious and their finances somewhat thin. The new football business model is to buy it up and sell it on, much in the style of “Homes Under the Hammer”, only with Craig Bellamy instead of a new fitted kitchen. It all worked out brilliantly for Portsmouth, clearly.

Who? Why? What? Frankly, I have no idea whatsoever where we’ll be in five years’ time…except that I’m not all that eager to find out. You know, these might still turn out to be the good ol’ days…


1. JohnF - 14/06/2010

Thoughtful and balanced piece Ian, you must be getting old. I think you’ve really highlighted the main issues and unfortunately the finances and ownership are the big ones that could really have a shattering impact. I suspect the asking price will be an important consideration.

Football-wise we had some fantastic highs. To have Sky sports commenting on a Watford performance (Sheff Wed) with “that is the way football should be played” (my wife watches Sky Sports News during games as she can’t come) is nothing short of miraculous and how nice to be proud of the team and the management. There were lows and worries as well but all’s well that ends well, except that it hasn’t ended. I’m looking forward to some more of your very pertinent analysis.

2. Graham - 14/06/2010

I think Malky Mackay has a chance of being a really good manager. We know managers get better with time and experience (normally). Hopefully there has been a lot learned from both the positive and negative, this season can only be a good foundation for him. We dont know what will happen – it might be that the further cuts are too much and he wont last, but not from the last of trying and probably will not dent his reputaton he has shown he can work within our structure and get us through.

There were calls for the more experienced assistant, well Malky is his own man and made his choices. I would not want to force something on him he does not want – or cannot find. We can hope that Sean Dyche also learns a bit but I think that there is a dynamic that Malky feels comfortable with, an experienced head might not have the drive and passion of SD (and sometimes passion makes a big difference – Malky is fairly level headed and softly spoken in comparison). The same way Malky stuck with players I would not expect anything else with all his staff, and there is a very experienced man very close if Malky ever want advice – a man who respects him enough not to offer when not asked and not to enforce his own ideas which might be perfect.

One final thought – this is the first time in a long time when we had one of the best disciplinary records, a reflection on the manager trying to play honest football in the right spirit?

3. Pete Bradshaw - 14/06/2010

Oddly we came 4th in the fairplay league this year compared to 3rd last year (behind Derby and Cardiff, even more surprisingly) http://soccernet.espn.go.com/stats/fairplay?league=eng.2&year=2009&cc=5739

4. Luke Fairweather - 14/06/2010

Great stuff IG… “a skiffle band striking up a symphony”. Wonderful metaphor to sum up a season.
I still get a thill that this thrown together bunch of local yokels, a few hired desperadoes and a couple of wannabe not not’s should have played so well at times that even my Manc supporting mates grudingly gave us respect for the way we played.
Yes, these are the good old days, but you know IG, the future might not be so catastrophic.


5. Apperley 'Orn - 14/06/2010

The future may not be so catastrophic, I quite agree Luke.

Sooner or later (I would wager sooner) the rest of the Championship is going to have to get real with their finances and it reassures me hugely that we are slightly ahead of the game on that front.

I know we are not out of the woods by a very long shot, but it seems to me that we are more than heading in the right direction.

6. Johnny Boy - 15/06/2010

Is it not down to the fact that Watford own their ground that they have reletive financial security – if we didn’t own Vicarage Road we would well and truely in the doodoo.

7. JohnM - 15/06/2010

Thank you for the thoughtfull comments—many reflecting my own feelings.
I am increasingly shocked at my realisation that I am now a ‘veteran’ supporter, with memories beyond many reading this and other sites. In many ways ‘I have seen it all before’. I have seen worse teams, and poorer managers—but, with the exception of the Vialli days, probably not worse financial times. But many, many clubs are in far more perilous situations. These days, 10 million pounds is chicken feed — but can still lead to administration. Ashcroft, I think, will be patient until the end of the coming season—. Oh, for the days of the local builder running the club, the concrete terrace, the players supping a pint in the Red Lion, just before the match, before wandering down to the changing rooms smoking their last ciggie—-simple days!
On the playing side, I have never been a Malkie fan—but I have to give him his due, he did a good job. I hope he continues to proove me wrong.
Thanking you for permitting my pre-senile ramble—

8. AdrianP - 17/06/2010

How nice to have positive supporters saying what they really think rather than the back-biting that goes on on the WO website.

I love going to a match not expecting to win and therefore never being dissapointed – who knows what the future will bring but for sure, being WFC supporters it will be an interesting ride and completely unpredictable!

Come on you Golden Boys

9. Lanterne Rouge - 22/06/2010

As a Reading fan, I was made to stop and think by a colleague who once pointed out in the midst of a humdrum second tier season that it was nonetheless the third best (at that point in the mid nineties) ever season. So yes, the Watford balance sheet for 09-10 is defiantly in credit and is a story of over achivement in the main.

10. rookerythoughts - 24/06/2010

There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said so eloquently by Matt and Ig but…

1) I’m glad we stayed up. As far as I’m concerned that is a successful season.

2) I’m astonished by the murmurings elsewhere about expecting players to be brought in. When will the full state of our financial peril sink in fomr some people? Amazing.

3) I’m really excited about seeing our you ger players next year. I think we should be proud of the number of Acadamey graduates that have come through already and I can see Michael Bryan and “Marvellous” Marvin Sordell joining Lee Hodson in the ranks of young ones made good.

PS Matt, have you listened to the podcast yet?

Matt Rowson - 25/06/2010

Yes, I have. Really good stuff, if anyone reading hasn’t tried it yet.

rookerythoughts – you have email.

11. Ian Lay - 29/06/2010

A quick post to say a big thanks as always to Matt and Ig for their thoughtful insights over the season and the end of term reports (which are always a great read).

Though I’ve not seen either of them for a few years we played football together during my WIFC years and followed Watford up and down the country in the process. Let me clarify that….I played a lot of football with Ig, and one game with Matt. A game against Leeds wasn’t it Matt! :-).

Hey at least you did better than Rupe, who spent 10 minutes on the pitch at one game before throwing up from too much alcohol the night before and had to go off.

Ah the days…. a ball over the top from Pete, a dash down the wing from me… cross… and there was Jon Parry to head in.

If only I was young again.

Matt Rowson - 01/07/2010

Yes, prior to the 1-1 draw at York in 1997/98. I had responded to a desperate plea for players, got up at stupid’o’clock to get there only to find myself sub. I came on at half time and was subbed again twenty minutes later. Thus, a fledgling football career was cruelly brought to an end…

12. Ian Lay - 05/07/2010

I always felt guilty for dragging you off. I didn’t actually want to but I got persuaded to by Pete…so you can blame him! 🙂

Matt Rowson - 07/07/2010

No, I remember. I’ve never forgiven him…

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