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“Some dancing about architecture” or “A crayon drawing of Laurence Bassini” 16/11/2011

Posted by Ian Grant in Thoughts about things.

There’s that famous quote, attributed variously to Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and sundry others: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Which is a great line…but it’s also drearily unimaginative, because trying to capture the beauty, the awfulness or even just the dismal mediocrity of something, whether it’s music or dancing or architecture, is never a waste of time. Sometimes, it’s more fun than the thing itself.

But other times, you’re faced with writing about stuff that really doesn’t merit the effort, the words, the thought. I mean, I can’t be the only person who’s stared aghast at the acres of media coverage devoted to The Carlos Tevez Saga, one man’s pathetic moment of alleged insolence picked over in the kind of forensic detail that was once reserved only for royal weddings and presidential assassinations. It’s like an episode of Inspector Morse in which yer man spends an hour earnestly investigating a large dog turd on the high street. Discussing it all in print is a nonsense, the modern equivalent of dancing about architecture; a more appropriate response would be a tatty page of crayon scribble.

But, yes, here I am, with words of wisdom about last week’s nonsense. With more words than it deserves, already; we’ll see about the wisdom….

Above all, you wonder how something like football can house so many childish, foot-stomping, IT’S-NOT-FAIR egos under its roof. It’s big business these days, apparently…but it’s big business as written by people who’ve been locked into a room with The Apprentice on repeat for the last ten years. It’s a parody of business, a theatre for self-importance, paranoia and pomp. It’s guff, no matter how many millions are involved and how expensive the suits might be.

The most extraordinary thing about the fall-out from Laurence Bassini’s no-show at last week’s fans’ forum is the apparent absence of awareness and analysis from the owner. Because we all know that Graham Taylor’s rather pointed comments merely gave voice to what we were all thinking. We were all thinking that, and more besides. That may indeed have been uncharitable, just as GT’s inferences may have been unfair and arguably ill-judged…but it was all out there, and someone with an ounce of common sense would’ve been wondering why rather than crying foul.

And they wouldn’t have had to wonder for very long. Bassini’s vague, wafty absence from proceedings, choosing to communicate in the ways that suit him rather than reaching out to supporters with any kind of vision, has been increasingly frustrating over the last few months. Frustrating, mainly because it’s so bloody stupid. The point of public relations is to fill the space that’s otherwise occupied by rumour, innuendo and whispered suggestions that the ground’s about to be bulldozed to make way for a safari park; at its best, it’s the art of understanding how things look from your audience’s point of view, of putting yourself in their shoes.

And how do things look from our point of view? Like Laurence Bassini doesn’t want to talk to us. That impression might be wrong, but that’s his own flippin’ fault. As when you’re closing down the keeper, just looking keen and enthusiastic counts for something. It’s taken wasted months to reach the point where an appearance at a fans’ forum – and that only reluctantly, added to the panel after the initial announcement – is built up out of all proportion, the first opportunity to look the new owner in the eye and ask him some demanding questions. If you make an effort, no eyebrows will be raised when you’re ill and unable to attend an event. If you don’t make an effort, if you treat public relations as a luxury, you forfeit the right to get all grumpy-wumpy when people you haven’t bothered to meet jump to their own conclusions about what you’re like. Especially if your CV doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

While I can understand the desire to chivalrously defend Graham Taylor’s honour, and I’ll happily join in with any show of affection for the great man, I can’t help feeling that’s something of a diversion. Partly because GT is surely a big enough boy to look after himself; partly because if he’s managed to get through the last thirty years without noticing that he’s held in high regard by Watford fans, the penny isn’t going to suddenly drop now. Whether GT stays or goes – and he’ll surely make up his own mind about that – Laurence Bassini owns Watford Football Club and Laurence Bassini should be the focus of attention.

If he felt uncomfortable in the spotlight before last week, the attention is likely to be even more fierce now. For all that fans’ forums can get a bit heated, there’s usually a basic level of civility involved when people are in the same room; it’s an opportunity to talk to an audience that, generally, is willing to listen, even if it wants to criticise and interrogate. One wonders whether the scheduled phone-in on Three Counties Radio (on the evening of 22nd November) will be quite such a sedate and measured affair. Which is a concern, because it’s hard to see much purpose – beyond catharsis – in slating Bassini to the point where he’s alienated altogether. This is not yet an irreparable situation, and there’s little to gain by making it so…unless you’re after a game of brinkmanship in which Lord Ashcroft is brought back to the table.

It’s not a matter of embracing him. Thus far, Laurence Bassini has shown extremely questionable judgement, not least in a failure to grasp the fundamental nature of the business he’s bought; the disregard for communication, as much as any conspiracy theory, makes me question his ability to run a football club effectively. Far from a sinister schemer, he has left an impression of impulsive incompetence…and that, of course, can be just as damaging. I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing…and neither do you, unless you’re him. And even then, I wonder. What choice, though, except to try and find out? What way of doing that, except to give him the opportunities? Nothing is gained by shouting him down, by justifying his reticence.

Since the dust settled, there have been some positive signs: I’m pleased to read, for example, that the Supporters’ Trust has been invited to some meetings of the club’s new executive committee. How on earth such a committee – sans owner – will work is another matter, but there is at least some structure to get our teeth into, something vaguely substantial to grasp at. If last week can be of any use at all, it’s in being so utterly embarrassing that it’s best left behind, clean slates and all that. Whatever happened when we went drinking last night, it’s time to wipe the lipstick off, get rid of the traffic cone in the front garden, and go back to being responsible adults again.

Over to you, Laurence. Time to start talking. And listening.


1. Roger Smith - 16/11/2011

Like it or not, the future of WFC is in Mr Bassini’s hands. I suggest that it has been, is and will continue to be counter-productive to pick a fight with him.

Whatever the ostensible reason for his no-show, it may simply be that that he had an attack of PTSD – that’s pre-, not post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a very real illness, not cowardice.

In fact, we did learn a lot at the Forum: why work to replace the pitch could not start in time; the status of the SW corner, and how that had to precede the new stand; plans for the Red Lion; factors governing team recruitment and selection etc etc.

The only thing that surprised me was that GT did not support the Bassini bid; one can only conclude that they are not on speaking terms, or GT would not have been left in the dark. I’d wrongly assumed that he would not have agreed to stay on the board if that was the case, but I understand that it was a contractual condition.

So whatever we may think or fear, the only constructive approach for us fans is to continue to support the club, and to wait patiently for all the goodies to be delivered as promised. Pick a fight, start a war, and we become yet one more problem, when we ought to be part of the solution.

Mr G. Real - 16/11/2011

100% correct Roger

Ian Grant - 17/11/2011

The impression left by the forum was that there was a working relationship between Bassini and GT/Stuart Timperley, with the latter two attempting to steer the owner based on their experience of the business and the wider football world. Whether that relationship still exists in any form is doubtful…and if so, that’s definitely regrettable. One hopes that a relationship with Timperley has survived, at least.

If GT is to remain around the club in any capacity, Bassini would be very wise to stay on speaking terms with him. As he’ll have discovered last Tuesday, GT will have his say if he’s asked a question, and he’ll speak more honestly and robustly than you’d like him to….

2. Harefield Hornet - 17/11/2011

This subject does rather seem to have gained a life of it’s own. It’s probably far more important to beat Pompey on Saturday, although perhaps some would dismiss that thought as short-termism! I’ve got a feeling GT is setting himself up for a quick exit while still keeping the fans onside in the process? – I wouldn’t blame him at all.

3. GoldenBoy - 17/11/2011

I agree with Harefield Hornet about GT. Does he really need this aggravation now? I have to question that especially given his other commitments. I’m VERY concerned about the committee which has no previous experience of running a professional Football Club in any shape or form less ST, and even worse have very little Football experience.

Can this current predicament get any worse or hany twists?

Playing crap teams into form. - 17/11/2011

Believe me, this has ages to run and run and could (and probably will) get much, much worse!

4. JohnM - 19/11/2011

Are not really fully connected with this matter as I am still relaxing in New Zealand. However, the titbits I have read certainly do not reflect too well on Mr Bassini or his business and P.R. acumen. G.T.’s reported off the cuff reaction at the meeting seems to certainly indicate (to me, anyway) that his relationship and/or personal opinion with/of Bassini prior to the meeting was not of the best. I suspect a tart remark about Bassini was bubbling for a while below the surface, and was only awaiting an excuse for release. Having followed G.T for 35 years i can probably count on one hand the number of times he has reacted in any way approaching this fashion. I await further developments, and my doctors permission to resume match attendance.
Best wishes to all, and my condolences on the recent death.

5. Roger68 - 19/11/2011

GT enjoys the trust of the Watford fans (“the customers”) and embodies Watford’s values (“the brand”). It would be a foolish business man who alienated his customers and devalued his brand by falling out with him. Yet Bassini, by his secretive and impulsive behaviour, and his poor judgements has done just that. Just as he has ( it seems) fallen out with practically every other partner he has had in business , and proven himself unable to work with other senior managers at Watford.

So–is Bassini a well intentioned individual, and a competent business man, whose only fault is being bad at p.r? Or is he something else? Is the club safe in his hands?

6. JohnF - 20/11/2011

The committee has mostly the experienced senior people of the club management who have much collective experience in running a football club. They will not be picking the team, but running a football club is much more than that. We continue to lose money and it has been clear for a while that having managed out the Chief Exec and his deputy LB was not taking on the role and would not appoint/promote anybody else. In the interests of the club not staggering into complete chaos this was at least sensible. There is an opportunity for fans to get their voice heard through the Supporters’ Trust. We need as large a membership of the Supporters’ Trust as possible and LB is well aware of the Trust’s involvement. The objective is to move forward and to do whatever we can to ensure our club survives. Remeber that when the club was for sale we didn’t exactly see a rush of knights in shining armour riding to the rescue.

7. Fred - 22/11/2011

Nice post, Ig. Love the purple prose :o)

I know little about the new owner(s) as I’m at arms length from Woffud these days, but it sounds like the same old story and the same old conflict. To an owner, s/he owns a business and is accountable only to shareholders; to fans, s/he’s only the latest caretaker of a historical community asset and should be accountable to the community. There’s no meeting of minds between such two different conceptions, and community-owner conflict is as inevitable as class conflict in capitalism (bit of politics, bit of politics, move along now…).

To fans, all owners wlll have some degree of dodginess and trust will always be grudging and conditional. And rightly so. The only solution, which I hope will eventually come to pass for WFC, is for fans to own and control their own club. And not to do a Notts County and give it away again to con men…

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