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Backwards and forwards
By John Fawell
This is a funny time of year, after the emotion and the tension from last season has more or less dissipated and the anticipation and excitement about the season to come has not yet built to any degree. Probably a good period for reflection, sitting in the garden or on the beach, a time to look back and a time to look forward. It has been an exciting season in a number of ways with a great start in the league, a fantastic run in the league cup, a relegation battle (yet again) and the departure of a well-respected manager, replaced by a new and enthusiastic youngster. A rollercoaster ride of emotions with some fantastic highs and some pretty deep lows.

After the initial flurry in the league, when talk of the play-offs was being bandied about, who would have thought that league form would deteriorate so badly and the inability to hang on to a lead would turn into too many draws then too many defeats. The cup run was brilliant but the team playing in those great wins against Southampton and Portsmouth did not look like the team we were seeing in the league, and by the end of the Christmas period, the performances were pretty poor. Those of us who made the trips to Reading and Brighton can certainly vouch for that.

The semi-final against Liverpool was an experience. We should have won at Anfield but the lack of more than one goalscorer at the time cost us dearly. The loss of Dyche to injury was to be a major handicap later in the season when we needed leadership on the field and a number of senior professionals did not stand up to be counted. I would particularly single out Ardley in this respect, after he was seduced by Cardiff's brazen approach (legal or illegal?) following Terry Burton's move there. Ardley's form suffered catastrophically after he was heading for "Player of the Season" contention. When Lewington was sacked, Ardley claimed that the senior professionals would run through walls for him, although the only thing that Mr Ardley seemed intent on running through was the door.

So the season wore on and the position became more and more desperate, with what appeared to be some mildly odd team selections and playing players who had lost all semblance of form, such as Jermaine Darlington. How can a player perform as he did against Liverpool on Tuesday and on Saturday look like a fugitive from a pub team? Eventually there seemed to be no hope of avoiding relegation. Then the bombshell. Ray Lewington was sacked. I still have problems with this, possibly because I wasn't in possession of all the facts. However, a man who seemed thoroughly decent and who had done much to help get the club on a more even keel after the Vialli debacle went in a manner that was a shock to many of the fans. Perhaps the way we had been playing should have been warning enough; maybe we were na´ve, but it certainly seemed like a bombshell at the time. Maybe Lewington could have turned it round, maybe not, although I know that whereas last season I was sure we could stay up, this season I was sure we would go down. I have questions about some of the team selections, not least what happened to Paul Mayo, a left-footed left back who looked good on the very few occasions he played for the first team. In the end, though, the team didn't look like staying up and, had I invested as much money as the board, I might have done the same.

A new manager arrived who no-one amongst the fans (either Watford or Leeds) had heard of, but who came with recommendations from a string of senior managers. He did get the team playing with more confidence and less fear; he turned to youth (remember Wigan away under Lewington?) and they just about made it. Danny Cullip played an important role in leading the defence and he may have done the same under Lewington, injury permitting.

Now we look forward to a new season with Adrian Boothroyd at the helm and some big changes in personnel. The biggest concern is that Heider has gone, not a surprise because I think he would have gone anyway, but a concern; several senior players released or up for transfer and a number of fringe players also released. Just as big a blow to the fans is the departure (resignation, sacking?) of Nigel Gibbs, who has been an important provider of continuity since Graham Taylor and who recognises Watford's ethos. This means, of course, that there will be no honeymoon period for the new manager as far as a significant proportion of the fans are concerned. He had better get it right and it had better be quick.

Having said that, Adrian Boothroyd seems a man of some energy and determination. In spite of disappointments, he has brought in a notable left back as well as an unknown lower division winger. However, lower division players have delivered brilliantly in the past and doubtless other signings are on the way. There will be opportunities for existing players to show what they can really do and who knows, a number of promising youngsters might well fulfil that promise and take responsibility for what happens on the field. We do have some very talented young players as well as some wise heads among the senior players. There is still much to be optimistic about, not least the securing of the Vic and of more stable, if not strong, finances. In spite of the disappointments at the way the club has behaved, we have to be optimistic because in the end it is our club and we are in for the long haul.

I will have some pointed questions for the board at the AGM and I will expect proper and truthful answers. The fan shareholders may love the club unconditionally, but they are not fools and want assurances that our club will behave in an honourable way and show some balance and common sense. Until then, I'll be there with the same nervous excitement as any new season and the same passion. Maybe I do feel the pull of the new season...when's the first friendly, where's my shirt?

Come on you 'Orns!