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Club finances
By Nicholas Ralph
I've gone back to the year following relegation and pulled out some numbers:

Year Loss Transfer fees Net Loss Lge Posn
1989 293,386- 496,393- 789,779- 4
1990 919,359- 262,250+ 657,109+ 15
1991 964,723- 1,732,095+ 657,109+ 20
1992 391,330- 221,642+ 169,688- 10
1993 1,183,900- 537,408+ 646,492- 16
1994 1,409,201- 3,556,250+ 2,147,049+ 19
1995 984,287- 4,000- 988,287- 7
Totals 6,146,186- 5,809,252+ 336,934-

At the start of this period, the club had a deficit of 1,884,818 - the deficit at the end of the 1995 financial year was 2,221,752.

Against this, the club has been through some upheavals on the stadium side of things. Not only has there been major construction, but there have also been big-time grants towards it, and then there was the Wealdstone fiasco from which the club did embarrassingly well financially. Overall, the bottom line on the stadium (and the club's other assets like cars and computers) is a net increase of ... just 156,835.

The net changes over these seven years, then, are not really significant. The club generated a net loss after transfers of 337,000, and increased its net capital assets by 157,000.

The inescapable conclusion has to be that the club's financial position is really no better in practical terms than it was seven years ago - despite the enormous sums which have been raised from transfer dealings.

The club's cash position is tenuous at best. At the end of last season, there was about 270,000 in the bank, and the club was owed about 670,000. Against that, the club owed 4,879,000 - the vast majority of which is payable on demand, with about 3,787,000 due to Jack Petchey or his companies.

This level of debt should worry everybody. Living in Canada, I'm too far from the action to comment on Petchey's attitude or approach, but I have to believe that it must take the patience of Job to watch your money (remember, he has at least 800,000 tied up in shares, too - his total investment is something like 4.6 million) "perform" in something like a football club. I can say that Petchey is investing on a largely altruistic basis and I doubt that, as some claim, he is "sucking money out of the club". Of the amount owed to him, interest is payable only on about 500,000, with about 3.3 million being lent interest free, and the shares receiving no dividend, of course.

More to the point, I can't see anyone rushing to take this over. Ignoring transfer fees, which really should not be seen as a means of survival for any club, especially after the recent excitement of "Mr. Bosman goes to Court", the losses over the last few years are staggering. They work out to about 17,000 a week. Even someone as wealthy as Petchey is reputed to be just has to be pretty nervous about this!

In fact, there may be very little cash left. Roeder has spent quite a bit on transfer dealings, almost certainly on a "pay now basis", while picking up a heavily deferred fee for Lavin (just how much did the club actually GET, promises about appearances for England, appointment as President of the USA, aside ?).

There are a few more points worth making in all this. First, there is an interesting and rather stable relationship between losses (before transfer fees) and league position ... this shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, but I find it almost depressingly stable. Extrapolate the figures to Division 2 status, while still carrying a Division 1 payroll and, as someone else put it, a "premiership stadium". Frightening...

Second, on the assumption that Petchey has put in as much as he's going to (and whatever anyone says, 5 million is still a heck of a lot of money) and that there's no-one else rushing to inject funds, there is the open question as to where money will come from for future inward transfers. I don't know how clubs like Grimsby have been able to bring in expensive players, but from what I believe it's a virtual impossibility at Watford.

Third, you can liken the club to a building society in a lot of ways. The club borrows 'short' and invests 'long'. Meaning - the club has financed all its long-term investment in the stadium (which is to all intents and purposes the club's only major asset) with what amounts to loans repayable on demand. If there is a run on a Building Society, it cannot suddenly call in all its mortgages to pay them off - possibly causing a rather nasty melt-down. Likewise, the club cannot suddenly sell its stadium (who would want it anyway ?) to pay off its loans. Of course, there is a somewhat important difference, too. Building Societies tend to MAKE money. All this is leading to a critical question. You can't tell from the club's superlatively uninformative accounts (they're not alone in this, though) whether there is any insurance on Jack Petchey's life, or if other arrangements have been put in place to pay off debts to him and his companies in the event of his death or incapacity - or if he simply gets fed up and calls for repayment ! Frankly, everyone should be trying to keep Jack's spirits up and blood pressure down because if anything should happen to him, we might have to kiss the club goodbye, too.

Club directors are easy targets - and always have been. Don't get me wrong, I too wondered from Day One how someone who has been a West Ham devotee all his life could suddenly fall in love with another club, let alone one with a huge deficit and an inadequate (at the time) ground. And he, too, obviously recognizes the angst of the supporters as demonstrated by his move out of the immediate spotlight when he resigned as Chairman. He is of course still the primary financier of the club, and almost certainly wields the most power by a mile.

Going back a few years, before Uncle Reg took over the money side in the 70s, Jim Bonser used to take an incredible amount of stick. But he quietly and resolutely did what he saw was right. He twisted the arm of Benskins Brewery into a 150 year lease at a ridiculously low cost, and then made sure that the main stand got built. This was done while keeping the club afloat despite - you guessed it - large and continuing losses. New stadia and new leases are not glamorous, but without a place to play, the club has/is nothing.

History has repeated itself - just the faces and numbers have changed. In a period of mind-boggling losses, the Board have got the club a first class stadium (and remember they really had no choice anyway after the Taylor Report), and stopped the ship from sinking. As usual (again, history repeating itself) it's been financed largely by transfers of our best players and by hard-nosed and clever negotiating on the capital side.

No, I'm not bursting with admiration - these things are the Board's JOB. But I think it's important to face facts: the club is not Manchester United. The catchment base is simply not that huge. Things are always going to have to be done on a relatively modest scale. And while the transfer system lasts, Watford have to work it to the club's advantage; and there is no money (not major money, anyway) for inward transfers. There isn't going to be. The club should be, and I hope is, devising a "cunning plan" to take maximum advantage of a world without transfer fees.

I'm as frustrated as anybody at the results this season, and at the seemingly endless round of transfer speculation and anti-climax. But I really don't believe the club is holding out on its supporters.

By way of a little light relief from all this heaviness, you might be interested to know that in the year England won the World Cup, Watford: occupied a largely wooden stadium that was falling apart (yes, we knew even back then that there would have to be major development) on a lease with two years to run from a landlord who was making disturbing noises about the high cost of land etc. etc.; had total income of 51,503, but spent 100,684, thus making a loss of 49,181; were effectively bankrupt to the extent that they could only have paid about 75p in the pound on their debts - assuming they could sell used floodlights, used laundry equipment, the social club chairs, and the mower; had just one hundred and six pounds to their name; and achieved all this despite generating a transfer fee surplus.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?