I feel the need to write to my fellow Watford fans, given the overwhelming feeling of negativity and scepticism that I fear could drag our club back down to our historical lower league oblivion. I'm especially concerned about the current situation because I think that if we return to our traditional lower league level, we won't be able to recover. It's a long, long way back from down there, in terms of finances, loss of support, attracting players as well as the dog fight of trying to get back up and avoiding going further down. At the moment, we can legitimately claim to be a Second Division club, given our status over the last twenty-five years. A few years in the lower leagues and, believe me, that will all become a distant memory. For the previous eighty years, we were very much a lower league side, clogging around in the mud and spending wet Tuesday evenings in Darlington; this is our true heritage as a football club and that history will happily take us back if we let it.
Last time, it was only the miraculous return of Graham Taylor that saved us from cementing our slide down the leagues. This time, there won't be anyone to step in to undo the damage. Already fickle supporters will desert the club in droves and attendances will plummit below ten thousand and keep falling, making it much more difficult for us to return to the level we are at now. Don't forget that even the year we won the playoffs, our average home gate was way lower than we currently get. In terms of support, we're still riding the wave that was created by promotion to the Premiership. I'm very worried that that cycle is about to end with severe consequences.
I'm astounded that despite the critical nature of the approaching season, some supporters seem to be doing their best to relegate the club before a ball has been kicked. If we go into this season dis-united, we will massively increase our chances of being relegated. It seems to me that a lot of the ill-feeling towards the club from certain fans at the moment comes from a comparison with the success and 'morality' of the Elton John/Graham Taylor era, especially in terms of the type of club Watford was at that time. People have to accept that era was a one-off, a freak occurence in our history when a mega-rich musician unearthed a great manager who in turn unearthed one of the best league players of all time as well as a lethal striker. That won't be repeated and we have to look to the future. I personally never supported the overly moralistic attitude of the time, especially when they refused Paul Raymond's advances which offered the club a secure and prosperous future. This seems to be repeating itself in a different way in terms of some people's attitude towards Marlon King - this guy is our best hope of getting the goals we need to avoid relegation and some people are more concerned that he's got a criminal record. This is a football club, not a WI meeting. Don't cut off your nose to spite your face.
There's been a lot of talk about sentiment recently; I agree it is sad that Nigel Gibbs has been forced out of the club, just as it was sad what happened to Luther. But football is a ruthless business and our loyalty and sentiment should primarily be to the club. Do you think Nigel would have turned down a triple-your-money offer to work with a big Premiership club? You wouldn't have seen him for dust! Equally, if Nigel had been manager and the team was playing badly (a very likely scenario, in my opinion), the same people who are currently lamenting his departure would have ended up calling for him to be sacked. Sentiment for individuals in football is almost always relative and transient. I first saw Watford through the corrugated iron at the Vic Road End in 1978; I fell in love straight away, despite having already seen other teams at their stadiums (Bolton, Arsenal and one team I'd rather not mention). Twenty-seven years later, the continuity isn't in the playing staff or the management staff; it's in the club itself, that's what we love. WFC, our club - our club's fortunes go up and down, good and bad things happen, but we still go and watch, we are still in love, it is still the same club. Our club! We need it and it needs us.
I don't know whether Adrian Boothroyd is going to save the club or get us relegated, no one does. But I do know that we played some good football under him last season and I like his emphasis on pace, movement and passing. I'm scared about this season, but no more scared than I was last season as Lewington took the League Cup Semi-Finalists to the brink of relegation. I'm scared, but I'm also excited. I'm excited that the manager is happy to take us on a white knuckle ride. Getting rid of the experience that Ray (understandably) thought was vital to keep us in the division and replacing it with exciting, young, home-grown talent. Surely if WFC is about anything, it should be about developing young talent in the Academy and giving it the chance to play in the first team. That's a real connection between club and community. One of my biggest hopes for Boothroyd comes from the way Al Bangura performed at Stoke. Firstly, the manager had the guts to put on an untried seventeen year old in a pivotal role in what turned out to be our crunch game of the season; secondly, he had obviously given Al what he needed to play to his full ability, despite the pressure and his lack of experience. He played without fear, always seemed to have the assurance to take a little extra time on the ball even in tricky situations, and more often than not picked the right pass with confidence and style. He has awesome potential; maybe Boothroyd's the man to realise it. When he let Gunnarsson go, he said he will always put talent above experience - the opposite of Lewington. I find this brave, dynamic and exciting. I liked Ray but his limitations were striking, he would have eventually taken us down if he'd been given the chance. We don't know what Betty's limitations are - we could have got a dud but there's also a chance that we've struck gold. He deserves the right to be given the support he needs to have the best chance of success. It's in his interests, our club's interests, and our interests as well.
This season is critical and we, the fans, have to unite behind the team and the players and give them our total support. It is the only viable option. All other alternatives take us closer to relegation - is that what we want?
Everybody at the club wants it to be successful, so let's fight for it together. Any other approach would suicidal in terms of our survival chances. I'm looking forward to seeing our young guns ripping into journeyman defenders. I remember Roeder, Lee, Perryman, Harrison and Jackett, managerial monkeys to a man. Boothroyd would have to be pretty bad to live down to those muppets.
If we get relegated this season, I'll blame the board and I'll blame Boothroyd, but most of all, I'll blame the fans who made us start the season with one foot in the Third Division. The people complaining on this website about the club not representing their personal ideal of how a football club should be run. Watford Football Club is still very much alive - this is not a Wimbledon or Manchester United scenario. So please, all the supporters who want to turn their back on our club and drag it back down to the Third Division, don't kill the football club I've loved since I was seven years old. I'll never forgive you.