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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Editorials:
£40m Premier Bonanza
By Peter Wilson
 
Monday, Bank Holiday weekend. Bolton v Preston at Cardiff, it could have been us. Alas, after an indifferent last two thirds of the season, Watford didn't make it to the play-offs - lucky Bolton, another Hornet roasting would probably have been a cruel moment for them, but a moment of destiny for Hornets fans. After all, it was only two years ago...

Tuesday's newspapers were full of the news that Bolton have finally gone up after flirting for the last couple of seasons with the Premiership. Good luck to them - if Ipswich and Charlton have established themselves this season, perhaps Bolton, along with Fulham and Blackburn, may be as successful. It could have been us.

The benefits of a season in the Premiership have never been as great. The estimate of a 40 million bonanza is a very sweet pill to swallow. The speculation on a new stadium in the nineties and the financial problems that followed will have been forgotten when the Trotters kick off in the Premiership. Lucky old Bolton.

The next season will see Watford receive the last of their Sky parachute money. Financially, Watford have never had such a firm footing as they currently do. The season in the Premiership, under the shrewd managership of Graham Taylor, has had long term benefits, with money ploughed into our own training grounds and the soon to be new East Stand. Two good signings by GT in Allan Neilsen and Espen Baardsen firmed up the team, but not enough to press for promotion at the end of the season.

However, with a new boss in Luca Vialli, Watford's spending plans are likely to be different to the Taylor era. Indeed, there has been a bargain basement sale, with a number of first team players put on the transfer list in preparation of the new season. Out with the old and in with the new - it really is the start of a new era.

There has been speculation in the local and national press that Watford are considering a launch on the Alternative Investment Market, the stock exchange for small / family businesses to raise additional capital. Whether this is a sensible short-term or long-term strategy is open to question.

Clubs like Millwall and QPR have hardly benefited from City involvement. Share price crashes, mergers with other teams and even bankruptcy have either occurred or been threatened. It would be unthinkable that this should happen to Watford, but there are few success stories of football clubs mixing it with the City.

Unlike other businesses, football has a nine month year. Without any summer cash flow, from gate or TV receipts, football struggles for revenue, hence the focus by clubs on merchandising and season ticket sales to generate revenue during the off-season. It is not the same as most other businesses in terms of its product either. Football is marketed under various labels - entertainment, leisure, and so on - but this does not do it justice. Football really is different.

The focus of the City on clubs' investment returns has led to some rather strange situations. Manchester United, the oft-quoted success story, is on the brink of losing Sir Alex a season early due to the fact the Board will not free up enough transfer cash for new and much-needed players. For United to compete with clubs like Real Madrid is hard enough, without being hamstrung by a different financial regime than their competitors.

Whilst Watford are not a United, they too would be affected by the City rules and regulations. Unfortunately, the thing that makes us different - the "community" aspect of the club - does not in its own right generate the revenues and hence returns that a prospective investor will wish to see. If the club was to float on AIM, it is likely that the "community" side of the club will be the first thing jettisoned in order to court the City.

Looking at the AIM floats, most have generated between 5 and 10 million - an not insubstantial sum but, in real terms where average players can cost 2 million plus, this does not buy you a team. However, with the potential 40 from winning promotion to the Premiership, the speculation could be seen as a worthwhile investment.

The directors of the club have a serious decision to make in the near future, whether to float or not. With the recent private placement and recruitment of Watford-supporting directors in the last couple of years, there is a need for some transparency. Some of the directors have disappeared from view, particularly at club-sponsored fan events, and whilst the club is still a private entity this is likely to remain the case.

Most fans would be keen to know what the Board's plans are first hand. Currently there is a lot of speculation but few clear facts about an AIM floatation. It would be good public relations that the club confirm whether or not this is the case...and if so, what their plans are.

The last couple of seasons and the retirement of Graham Taylor and recruitment of Gianluca Vialli have been a rollercoaster ride for Watford fans. An AIM floatation could be either a positive step forward or the start of a descent into mediocrity, in which case the legacy of Graham Taylor will have been squandered. Now that will be more than a shame, it will be a 40 million disaster.

(30/5/01)