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Ray of hope
By Stuart Campbell
When I was young - in the dim, distant days of massive, knobbly football boots, granite-hard balls with lacerating laces, and players who were happy to earn five bob a game and a cup of Co-op tea at half time - my musical tastes were formed by a mate's jazz collection and the discovery of the electrifying, blues-and-gospel-influenced, black music sneaking across the Atlantic to British ears fed on a dismally grey, post-war diet of Donald Peers and the Billy Cotton Band Show. My first single was by Ray Charles. That jailhouse voice, the jazz-fed piano, the church-bred vocal backing of the heart-pumping Margie Hendrix and the Raelets, the soaring sax of Fathead Newman... they've stayed embedded in my musical soul ever since. Then Ray moved on to exercise his talent in other genres which, for the most part, I couldn't embrace. Somehow it wasn't the real thing any more.

Then, with Ray's death, the movie biopic, loads of early footage on TV (if you've been watching 'Soul Deep' the excellent new series on Beeb2, you'll know what I'm on about), the old fiery excitement was rekindled. Like revisiting the Play-Off Final at Wembley. And then a potential worry. A recent birthday brought me the very last Ray Charles album, 'Genius Loves Company'. One of those affairs with a different guest artist on every track. For heaven's sake, Elton was one of them. Could it possibly cut it? After all, RC wasn't just old, he was terminally ill when he recorded it. I just so much wanted to hear evidence of that original bluesy soul and proper R'nB stuff again. Sure, there are a couple of duff tracks, a couple okay-ish, a couple of very good ones. And one absolute stonker. A pure-as-it-gets blues with that other old master, BB King. Two authentic voices, that Gibson guitar, Ray's piano - and Billy Preston on Hammond G3. Yessir, the old magic was there all the time. Because, whatever else had changed over the years, the musical soul hadn't. It's something you can't take away.

Which brings me in a rambling, BSaD-ish sort of way to the current situation at Vicarage Road. By any standards, we've been sorely tested in the last few months. Can we really believe that Watford is still our club? With all these special qualities which that entails? Do we honestly want to shell out over three hundred sterling to renew our allegiance to what at times has felt like a dodgy bunch of chancers with a highly questionable agenda?

Large intake of breath. Yes, deep down, I think we do. And we should. It's not easy to leave aside the feelings of being patronised and taken for granted. Hard to ignore the almost physical hurt of stolen beliefs. Difficult to shake off the resultant apathy, too. But there are reasons for optimism. Some things haven't changed. And won't change.

Part of my renewed faith (still, it must be said, tempered by some healthy cynicism) was awakened by ig's eloquent piece on Sir Alec's website. Quite simply, Alec Chamberlain personifies so much of what we love about our club. Honest, decent, loyal, hard-working. Family man. A guy who will never let you down. And a bloody good keeper into the bargain. You also have the feeling that Alec understands our feelings - and reciprocates them. Trust him? Course we do.

The big point is that Alec is still there. Not simply as a player, but as a member of the back-room coaching staff. Respected for his experience and views. I simply can't believe that a young, ambitious and clearly bright manager won't use that resource. Of course he will. And Alec's not alone. Alongside him on the training pitch is the most Watford figure of all, the redoubtable Nigel Gibbs. So, we know for certain that we have two guys in places that count. The fact that they're there demonstrates that the heart and soul of Watford is somehow still intact. It may need some massaging, a bit of life support. But, frankly, that's pretty much down to us as fans.

Time will tell if Adrian Boothroyd turns into an effective manager - and one we can all warm to. It's far too soon to judge, but some of the early signs are encouraging. Time will also tell if the Chairman really understands what he's done to fan confidence. He should do, he's followed the club for long enough. A little contrition would go a long way. It's not only our politicians we like to say sorry every now and then.

It will be more than interesting to see what the summer brings in new players. But, whoever they are, they'll be wearing yellow. And a couple of good guys will be there to tell them what that means. That's good enough to get me back on the Rookery. Yes, indeed.