What I want from my football club - Part 3: The Watford way
The Seventy Two has canvassed the opinion of several Football League writers from a variety of different clubs to ask one simple question: what do you want from your football club? Given around 300 words to play with, there were numerous responses so we will be looking at a cross-section every day this week, continuing with the thoughts of two Watford supporters. Are the Vicarage Road club one of the most enviable clubs in the country for their faith in youth?
Part 1 by Tom Bodell
With the independent EPPP assessments being made in the very near future, it seems a particularly apt time to write about the importance of Watford’s continued excellence in youth development.
The Hornets are well-known for their achievements in this field and despite not possessing the kind of resources that many bigger clubs have at their disposal, continue to churn out talented youngsters at an alarming rate. Only last month, attacker Britt Assombalonga became the 50th Hornets graduate to play for the club since the academy system was put in place in 1997.
Youth development has been a huge bone of contention this season with the aforementioned EPPP set to rear its ugly head once more in the coming weeks and months ahead of next season. One thing is for certain at Watford’s state-of-the-art and oft-admired Harefield Academy — the young players will continue to be developed.
Whilst the 2011/12 season has not been a classic (sadly) for Watford’s conveyor belt of home grown talent thanks to the personal preferences of manager Sean Dyche, the highly-coveted Sean Murray has also made his first-team break through at Vicarage Road.
Sought-after by the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City as an academy scholar, Murray rebuffed the interest of both clubs before signing his first professional contract at the rather sound advice of his parents — nice if nothing else to see kids still listen to mum and dad over agents.
There is a clear plan for youngsters who join Watford from the day they enrol at the pioneering Harefied Academy to the day they make their debut like messrs Assombalonga and Murray. Fans love nothing more than a local lad so long as that pathway is maintained I for one will be happy going forward.
Part 2 by Mike Parkin
My Dad always told the young, stroppy, football sticker hungry me that: ‘I want, I want doesn’t get’. well, he;ll be pleased and perhaps surprised to learn that this seems to be one of the rare occasions when his wisdom struck a chord and has sunk in, as I like to think I’m a fairly undemanding character. At least I am when it comes to football (I still crave sweets and stickers).
As a Watford supporter, I’m fairly happy with our position in the great footballing scheme of things. Whilst a generation of football fans could be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much to be celebrated outside qualification for the Champions League, I can think of nothing better than taking my seat in our three sided ground to see us do battle with the likes of Burnley, Palace and Millwall in the Championship. The extent of my wish-list from a footballing point of view is that we A) Don’t get relegated and B) Score the occasional decent goal. That’s pretty much it. Reasonable, right?
Off the pitch however, I need a bit more from my club.
The good news? They are delivering. Against Coventry City last month, teeenage striker Britt Assombalonga made his full debut for the Hornets. Apart from his fantastic name, nothing too remarkable about that perhaps, until you realise that his was the 50th debut to be made by a graduate from the Watford Academy scheme. Set up in its current guise 12 years ago, Watford have handed first team debuts to players from the scheme at a rate of just over four a season. If there is a better hit rate than that, I would (genuinely) like to hear about it.
The best thing about this success (apart from the obvious benefits on the pitch) is that it bucks the prevailing trend in football to be short termist. The much heralded set up didn’t happen overnight, it took a lot of work, planning and finance – work, planning and finance that could have been used on more immediate projects, especially at a club with a paucity of ready cash. However, the club decided it was the way forward and we’ve been reaping the Ashley Young and Marvin Sordell shaped rewards ever since. I am of course proud of the results, and I’m proud that the club had the foresight to put these wheels in motion in the first place – however, this needs to continue. Having come so far, it is essential that the club continues to invest in the set up. 50 graduates is great, but we need another 50 if we are to continue to prosper.
Investment then. And there I was saying I’m not demanding. The bad news? I haven’t finished yet. I want more from my club. I say the club, I mean fans. I mean us.
The man now holding the purse strings at WD18 is Laurence Bassini, who purchased the club last year. Initial stories about the new owner weren’t encouraging, he had previously been made bankrupt and it was hard to find any evidence of any business success, let alone any history of being involved with football. Some time into his tenure Mr Bassini has continually and contraversially evaded the spotlight – twice citing illness as a reason for missing fans forums – and Watford fans are no wiser as to who this man is or why he is involved. My hope is that he is dedicated to the Hornets cause and that he is here to continue the good work that is going on at Vicarage Road. ‘Always assume positive intent’ was another piece of advice my Dad was keen on sharing and there is no reason to doubt Mr Bassini has anything other than the clubs interests at heart. However, with clubs bigger than ours being left close to extinction by unscrupulous owners and opportunists, as fans we have to take responsibility for at least trying to hold those in power to account. Question the owner, question the club. Write, email, phone. Ask stuff. Anything but apathy. Otherwise it could be too late.
So there you have it. In a nutshell Watford must not get relegated. Score goals. Continue to invest and develop our youth structure. And we as fans need to take responsibility for finding out what is going on at our club. Do all that and I’ll be a happy camper. It’s not too much to ask. Is it?
Mike is co-host of the Watford podcast From The Rookery End.