"What would you do?"
That, surely, is the question.
Not "what would you have done?", a question that's been answered ad nauseum over the last few months in reference to the pivotal events of the summer. Not "how do you wish things were different?", a question that only relates to the present in terms of the past. Not even "how would you like to do things in the future?", a question that assumes survival of the current crisis.
No, it's "what would you do?" that really matters. And the answer is silence.
Well, not quite. The only answers, it seems to me, are coming from the board. That those answers are in the form of decisive (and not always especially palatable) action rather than hypothetical waffle makes the difference between club and supporters all the more marked.
On this site and elsewhere, stinging criticism of the board - mainly targeted at Tim Shaw, its most visible member - is as fashionable, and therefore as safe from threatening dissent, as sneering at boy bands. Just point out the mistakes of last summer - the over-eagerness to appoint Luca Vialli, the disloyalty to certain long-term servants, the lack of financial restraint on an ambitious manager, the adoption of a "Premiership or bust" philosophy, and so on - then sit back and enjoy the approval of the majority. Popularity never came easier.
Sod it, though. What's important here? Winning an argument that began last May? An argument about mistakes that cannot possibly be altered, that have been frankly admitted, that are urgently being rectified? Is it more important to re-write history, to be seen to have been right all along, than to claim the present?
Apparently so. For the response to each fresh announcement is to refer to the past, to score points by hitting stationary targets. Oh, the battle is indeed being won...by the start of the new season, supporters will have established a single, undeniable version of events, a definitive account of May to August 2001.
It will tell us that the board was far too excited at the opportunity to appoint Luca Vialli, that it expected great things from him. (Which seems rather less than disgraceful to me…I must admit that I'd be more worried about a board that had no hopes for a new manager.) It will tell us that too much money was made available. (Naturally, it will conveniently forget that any owners seen to be stockpiling cash will be - and have been - accused of lacking ambition, even of asset-stripping, by the less level-headed sections of the club's support. Or will we no longer hear cries of "GET YER CHEQUEBOOK AHHHT!" from the Rookery when things aren't going well?)
It will stress that the need for re-building was minimal. (Which is rather forgetful, at best - Luca Vialli inherited a side that had been feeling sorry for itself for nigh on six months and the need for reconstruction was something that, if he had stayed on, Graham Taylor could not have ignored.) It will roundly condemn the board's adoption of a "Premiership or bust" policy. (Which would be quite right, if it had adopted such a policy...but the truth is that we would be perfectly fine, if considerably poorer, were it not for the collapse of ITV Digital.)
And so on, and so on. Thing is, although I'm raising a few counter-arguments to illustrate the folly of a one-sided, simplistic history, many of the points being made are entirely valid. Indeed, many have been fully accepted by the board itself, and several have been beyond contention for months.
In which case, why are we still arguing those points? Why are there so many people who cannot look to the future, or even deal with the present, without first settling scores from the past? It seems to me that it is only the much-criticised board that is moving on, accepting that it has made mistakes and taking responsibility for repairing the damage. Some credit can also be given to the players who, if reports are to be believed, have been understanding of the need to make changes to wage levels and structures, at least in the short-term.
But the supporters? Well, the supporters can, apparently, come up with nothing more constructive than "we told you so" and "you got us into this, you get us out of it". Both may be true, neither does anything to help Watford Football Club. There is nothing wrong with a bit of criticism, of course...but where are the alternative ideas for the here and now? Where are the proposals and the suggestions to go with the complaints and the moans?
Heaven forbid that anyone should acknowledge that the board is slowly getting us out of it. Lord, let us not give them any encouragement in their efforts. It is, apparently, easy to forget that it is in all of our interests for the club to steer a steady and true course through these exceedingly rough waters. If there are no alternative schemes, there is nothing whatsoever to be gained by the failure of the board's current plans for survival. On the contrary, there is a great deal of potential benefit in reaching calmer waters with the experience behind us and lessons painfully learnt.
Trust must be re-built, obviously. But it has happened before - one only has to go back three years to find strained, mutually suspicious relations between supporters and club. It is interesting to note that, commenting on a fans' forum back in November 1999, I wrote:
...the emphasis placed on communication by several board members is more than welcome. If there are going to be arguments - and there surely will be, since that is the nature of something as cherished as football club - then let them be between friends with a common cause. It's so much easier that way.
And that holds true now. Tim Shaw's commitment to honest, forthright communication has been admirable throughout, a considerable asset to the club rather than merely to the board. In circumstances that would have frightened others into silence, Shaw has been thoroughly uneconomical with the truth.
In that respect, the board has not failed us. Whatever mistakes have been made, and we all know that there have been plenty, they have been neither malicious nor disguised. The broad intentions have, I believe, been more or less consistent with the desires of the supporters. There has been nothing sinister or underhand about all this. (Oh, I'm sure that some of the directors feel that they would benefit - perhaps financially (if only from a reduced demand for personal input), perhaps in terms of enhanced status - from Watford reaching the Premiership. But that can hardly be considered to be a conflict of interest, can it?)
It is in the search for fulfilment of those broad intentions that things have gone awry. Personally, I do not find that as unforgivable as others appear to. Were the mistakes motivated by rampant arrogance, selfishness, greed or cruelty, I would have little hesitation in joining the chorus of condemnation. But you don't have to look very far to find a tyrannical chairman or a savage club-wrecker in English football...and you don't have to look very closely to see the differences between them and our bunch. We could do a lot worse, you know.
This isn't about blind trust. It's not about accepting every decision, making no objections. It's not even about forgetting what's happened. The relationship between those who own a football club and those who follow it will never be free of argument and disagreement, even in times of success and achievement. Nor should it be. But it does, for the sake of that football club, need to be constructive and communicative. Both ways.
It's about moving on. It's about time.