The Watford Way is Smallfry Compared to the Game’s Real Problems

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Image available under Creative Commons (c) JonHall

Last week, Watford were likened to “a young super hero coming to terms with his new-found powers”.

And I’m sick of reading such nonsense.

It’s nothing personal. I like Watford. I’ve enjoyed trips to Vicarage Road a couple of times; their fans are good value; and I’ve always liked the bright shade of yellow they use on their kit. Pushed, I’d also prefer to be a Hornet than a Bee; it just sounds a bit… more substantial…

But coverage of the club reached saturation point weeks, if not months, ago.

Since their change in ownership last summer, the rights and wrongs of the Watford Way have consistently featured in the blogosphere as well as national and local media.

Ok, so at first it was kind of interesting. Curious. Novel, certainly.

And it was understandable, with this season’s Championship otherwise restricted in newsworthiness to a tired set of relegated teams from the Premier League and a similarly nouveaux – but at the time less remarkable – Nottingham Forest.

All manner of questions, therefore, were asked. Did this deal – and its acceptance – leave any reason why big English clubs couldn’t take over a smaller one and set up a similar model? What would the implications be for Watford’s excellent academy? Had the club now lost its soul and sense of direction? Would the Football League now become a finishing school for foreign teams? Most infamously, was the Pozzo takeover really a snapshot into EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH THE MODERN GAME?

In the search of hits we ourselves were guilty of ascending the bandwagon, hosting a bluffer’s guide to the club’s various new arrivals; a short overview of the Pozzo’s involvement with Granada and Michael Moruzzi’s excellent retort to Watford’s detractors.

That said, in the last month or so things – to me at least – seemed to have quietened down considerably following another spike created by Ian Holloway’s rant (that this lean period in coverage had corresponded with one of the Hornets’ worst runs of form this season was no coincidence, some might suggest).

But in the last seven days, a combination of former owner Laurence Bassini’s very public exposure as a fraud and a liar as well as a quiet news week due to the international break has seen Watford make the headlines yet again as we were all treated to another Very Short Introduction to Watford FC (2012-).

The Watford Way does of course pose a number of useful questions related to what our football clubs stand for; how youth teams should best be developed; and what is and isn’t fair.

But there are bigger questions to concern ourselves with, such as declining crowds; models of ownership more generally; EPPP; parachute payments and the drawbridge being raised between the top flight and the rest of us.

Put another way, instead of exhaustively covering the way a single club is responding to these problems, surely we should be more worried about how a landscape has been created where rule-bending is one of the only ways a have not such as Watford can seemingly get on in the modern English game?

But I won’t hold my breath. Anyone who’s caught a glimpse of this Watford team can see that they’re going places, so the stories – and the nauseatingly detailed introductions – are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. So long as Watford are a threat, they’ll need to withstand the criticism and lobbying against international loans from other clubs and supporters.

Meanwhile, the big issues go unscrutinised, are left unresolved and our game continues to evolve into something I really don’t hold much affection for. But at least I have a pretty Watford team to look at when they’re on Sky.

is co-editor of The Two Unfortunates. He’s 29, supports Plymouth Argyle and takes a particular interest in the fortunes of those Football League clubs west of Bristol.

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3 Comments on "The Watford Way is Smallfry Compared to the Game’s Real Problems"

  1. Jj says:

    As a Watford fan its nice to see someone with a bit of common sense construct a good article about how the club is run, but also the implications of that on the wider game.

    In August you’d be hard pushed to find a Watford fan who wasn’t concerned about what might happen to the academy, and what an influx of foreign players would do to the image and culture of the club.

    The facts are, as a travelling fan to Barnsley ten days or so ago I watched a Watford side that included seven British players in the starting eleven. Two of these are Watford academy born and bred. If Tommy Hoban were fit you could definitely argue this number may well be three. And there were at least three more British players, one of which is academy, on the bench. The influx of international players quite simply hasn’t hampered opportunities for young British players to shine at Vicarage Road. In fact Sean Murray & Tommie Hoban have both been rewarded for long term contracts by the club, shortly after the takeover, in an attempt to keep our best academy prospects at the club for as long as possible.

    And the exciting part of it all is that as a club we now have the very real prospect of progressing into the Premier League and maintaining that status, whilst remaining financially stable. I don’t believe there are many football league fans who would give a lot to see there club be truly financially stable, at any tier of English football. From that position who knows what is possible at Watford. Dare I say I may see the day when players like Ashley Young, Adrian Mariappa, David James, Chris Eagles, Marvin Sordell & Hameur Bouazza, who are all academy players who have left to join bigger clubs, are in a position to stay and continue to grow with the club.

    I understand as fans of other clubs it must be difficult to sit and watch what must appear an unjust system continue to occur. But with yet another round of recent press highlighting what many Watford fans already knew about Lawrence Bassini, it is clear that football needs more people like the Pozzos. There are no end of poorly run clubs in the United Kingdom, clubs that were once rich with promise like Rangers or Portsmouth, or dare I even say at points Luton Town, that have been allowed to crumble under poor ownership. I think it is only right that this time, someone with a proven track record taking a club in the right direction is applauded.

    The Pozzos have offered futures to two small clubs that now play in major european leagues, and they’ve done it the right way over (especially at Udinese) a long period of time showing patience. At Watford as well they have not splashed money that does not exist on players, or the ground (that is so desperately in repair), but have decided to be patient. If Zola does not get the side promoted this year do not expect a drastic change of tact, and do not expect a drastic change in playing staff either. It is well documented in Hertfordshire that many of these players are in very forward talks with the club over permanent deals. Almen Abdi has all but said he has signed, and the club clearly is interested in the inking the likes of Marco Cassetti, Daniel Pudil, Joel Ekstrand, and Christian Battochio to long term deals with the club. I would expect all but Majec Vydra to be available to Zola if he so wishes. And if promoted I would expect Vydra to be with him too.

    All in all the Pozzo family are creating something sustainable and forward thinking at Vicarage Road, on and off the pitch. There are more international players playing in most Premier League sides that at Vicarage Road week in week out. The Pozzos are far from ruining the British game. There are starting to give some integrity and future to it.

  2. Ed says:

    This is a good piece. The only issue I have with it is what sticks out of me as odd, it’s the use of ‘Watford Way’.

    Like many other clubs, Watford identify themselves as being a family club, with strong community links and an importance placed on hard work, good behaviour, treating people fairly and promoting from within.

    The term ‘Watford Way’ is used by fans, in a loosely defined sense, around this idea. I don’t know it’s origins, but it’s essence is in our elder statesman Graham Taylor. Not his style of football, but for the hard, honest work he insisted upon, and his conduct..

    The Pozzo ownership has seen a continuation, even strengthening, of the Watford Way – fans forums, a genuine dialogue with fans, a united team who show full support for each other, and open training sessions with the first team during half term for younger fans.

    But the ownership model is new for us. Like all ownerships it is imposed on rather than selected by the fans. The number of loans is the visible part of the iceberg, multi-club ownership the vast hidden mass of the issue. There are few complaints in Hertfordshire about the model, but it is far from being seen as defining a club.

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