As an expat fan I have watched the ongoing saga at Watford with sadness and from a distance. I have been riled to the verge of rhetoric on a few occasions but today, as a new manager is unveiled at Vicarage Road, is the first time I have been moved to write.
I haven't been in the country to watch Watford since their FA Cup Semi-Final loss to Southampton in 2003. But I have followed them from South Africa, Jamaica and Switzerland where work has taken me over the last couple of years. Few non-Premier League games are available on television in Africa, or the Caribbean and surprisingly, the Swiss don't seem too enamoured with the Football League either. Nevertheless, most days I'm taken home for a few minutes. Sometimes it's to Dave Messenger's office in Rickmansworth where I picture him powering down his PC and grabbing his coat before making an epic journey across the country for a midweek football fix. Other days, Matt Rowson's preview will remind me of a long since forgotten game: a thug of a left back's GBH tackle; an atrocious piece of refereeing; a peach of a goal. Monday wouldn't be complete without a match report from Ian Grant or Pete Fincham, or some other generous contributor, to take me on a brief sojourn to Molineux or the Priestfield, or even home, to Vicarage Road.
But I haven't seen most of the current team play more than a few games: players have arrived and departed with the frequency of my planes from various airports around the world. Of the current first team squad I have seen eight in action for Watford in the past. And that includes Bruce Dyer, before he left for Palace. So what right do I have to pass comment? What light can I shine on the darkness?
Hopefully distance allows me a degree of objectivity. I have seen each event as part of a larger puzzle and not examined every piece of breaking news or speculation with the intensity of a fan closer to the action. I have been surprised, amused, bemused and confused by some goings on; pleased, angered and outraged by others. But, and importantly, all of this with thousands of miles to buffer the emotion. So why do I write now? What has driven me to break the silence of my contemplation? One comment I read today:
"...the post will not be filled by former Gillingham boss Andy Hessenthaler [good] or Yeovil manager Gary Johnson, who was the club's first choice for the job but was not willing to leave the League Two leaders until the end of the season."
Wayne Veysey, London Evening Standard, March 29, 2005
With just seven games remaining and less points than games required, Watford have appointed a manager who is reported not to be "the club's first choice for the job". This because they were unwilling to wait seven games. Seven games!
My irritation was intensified by the club's official statement:
"Watford Football Club once before appointed a young manager who went on to achieve at the highest level of the game. Today we believe that this could be the start of a similar chapter in the history of the club."
It is preposterous to talk in these terms. In common with Graham Taylor, Adrian Boothroyd was forced to retire early from the game due to injury. Like Taylor, on paper he has an impressive string of appointments at youth level. But before Taylor was persuaded to become Watford manager, and it took some persuasion, he had managed Lincoln City for four and a half years. In this time, his side won ninety-seven of their 211 games.
Adrian Boothroyd has been First Team coach at Leeds United since 2004. Since then, they have won eleven games and sit twelfth in the table, just eight points above Watford. Gary Johnson, a former Academy Director, a man the fans, club and some players know, has managed Yeovil in 203 games. They have won 110. A record strikingly similar to Taylor's before he joined the Hornets.
"Ah, but what of Keith Burkinshaw?" the club responds, "He has a wealth of experience". Indeed he does. Why then is he not a manager? And, whilst his experience is indeed lengthy, the only time he has managed a club of Watford's size, Gillingham, in the 1988-9 season, he managed an unimpressive seven wins and four draws in thirty-six games.
The club's official statement again:
"After the interview process the board of Watford Football Club were unanimous in recognising Adrian's potential to become a great new young manager within the English game."
Fantastic. Adrian has potential. And a big slap on the back to the board for recognising it. So did Craig Ramage, Wayne Andrews and Clint Easton. We are in a relegation battle, we do not need potential. We need grit, determination, the desire to fight together for a common cause. We need experience, we need motivation and we need confidence. I for one am not struck by an enormous feeling of certainty that all will turn out fine. And nor it seems are the board: if they are unanimous in their appraisal of Boothroyd, why a rolling twelve month contract? Surely he'll be poached with seven games to go next season by some other progressive, forward-thinking board? A board who have the balls to put their money where their mouth is.
And interesting too that the board were unanimous in "recognition" and not in selection of Adrian. One imagines some dissenting voice may well have suggested that with just seven games to go, perhaps Nigel Gibbs could do the job until their first choice became available? Or perhaps, and this is dodgy territory I know, they should have found out whether Johnson would come before they sacked Lewington. Surely someone still has his phone number.
In true editorial style I should now back the new manager for the game against Burnley, remind the fans that Watford will, in all probability, still stay up. I should say that Adrian Boothroyd may well be a fine manager. He has enough chat to convince a board of businessmen that he has potential, I suppose all we can do is wait and see.
Good luck to Boothroyd, one feels he will need it. The fans will take some convincing and, like Lewington before him, he will be managing in difficult circumstances with, it is reported, the third smallest budget in the division. I will be back in the country in time for the start of the 2005-6 season. I hope I will be watching a "Championship" team.