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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Editorials:
Time to listen
By Peter Wilson
 
Firstly, let me clarify, I am writing in a personal capacity and am not representing views other than my own.

I am disappointed and concerned about the events at Vicarage Road.

The last week at Watford has been a circus, a week which started with a tame loss to a confident Preston team, led to Ray Lewington being sacked, irate player(s)* leaving and others publicly expressing outrage at events at Vicarage Road. If you are looking for a football soap-opera, look no further than Vicarage Road.

With both the League and financial positions of the club precarious, it is remarkable that a decision to sack a manager, who let's not forget had taken the Hornets to a cup semi-final a few weeks before, was made before the end of the season.

Irrespective of whether fans were pro- or anti-Lewington, surely he should have been given a chance to turn the situation around. He managed to do so last season and who is to say that a lucky deflection or a piece of luck in any of our forthcoming away games might have led to the team getting a much needed boost. For those with short memories, a goal by Lee Cook at Millwall last season helped lift the team and assisted retaining Second Division status. How long ago that seems now.

Time will tell whether the decision taken by the Watford Board was the correct one. Those on the Board have put substantial sums into the club and as owners are entitled to call the shots, however, irrespective of protestations otherwise, sacking Lewington does seem a knee-jerk response to our current predicament.

As those who know me, I am very much in favour of an elected fan director joining the club board. It can only be a good thing for both the club and its supporters to have an effective working relationship. Working together, the club, team and community will be much the stronger. However, it is sad to say, an elected fan director is very unlikely at Watford - irrespective of declarations of arbitrary financial and membership targets set by the current board being met.

With hindsight, having a fan director at the current time would have been a good thing for both the club and fans. Indeed, when the decision was made to remove Ray Lewington, had there been a fan director present, it is likely that he or she would have emphasised that sacking a manager with seven games to go was poor timing. Moreover, why remove the current incumbent if there was no successor in the pipeline and what about the financial cost of compensation package for the outgoing and incoming manager?

Having spoken to fan directors at clubs like Brentford, York, Lincoln, Chesterfield, Exeter and AFC Wimbledon, they have made a real difference to the well being of their clubs. Moreover, their love and enthusiasm for the club has focused on not just ensuring their club's survival but on its future growth and development. A fan director has in most instances created at least a known contact at the club and helped to build bridges between the club, supporters and the local community.

Fan directors are not just found at clubs in crisis, but also at clubs which are rather more successful and perhaps in my view, value their supporters as fans rather than customers. For example, Charlton have had an elected fan director since 1992 and, rather than just talking the talk, have made concrete progress in linking club, community and fans in support of the Addicks. Surely, the Charlton model is one which could and should be emulated by Watford FC?

Whilst we all have our own views on the Lewington sacking, there is a need for more openness at the club. There hasn't been a proper fans' forum for over two seasons now. Questions which are currently unanswerable could have been resolved if the club had initiated regular fan meetings and questions could have been answered there and then.

Graham Taylor, Tim Shaw, even the greatly maligned Haig Ounjian made themselves available to answer fans' questions in the past. If they could do it, why can't their successors?

It has been put to me often, that there is a chasm between the club board and its fans. Whilst the club rarely holds fans fora you rarely get to see any of the Directors at the plc AGM. To his credit, Graham Simpson attends AGMs but where are the other Directors and how aware are they of issues of concern to shareholders and supporters?

Watford are not good at handling bad news, like the projected 10 million loss announced a couple of years ago or the current events. It always seems to arrive like the proverbial bolt from the blue, with fans being the last to know about the situation until the press splash it all over the back-pages.

When the Soviet Union went through rapid change at the end of the eighties, (I am not suggesting for one moment Watford FC are of similar ilk), there was a genuine need for "glasnost" - a blast of which is required at Vicarage Road.

There have been too far too many soundbites on radio and the local press emanating from the club and not enough substance. Things which sound great but in real terms as likely as holding hot water as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

There is a real need for the club to exercise some transparency, be it a fans forum or other open event to supporters; get said what needs to be said and then move on. If things can't be turned around quickly in our forthcoming away games at Burnley and Plymouth, Vicarage Road could be a very uncomfortable place next month when we host Leeds United.

In the meantime, thanks Ray for your tremendous efforts at Watford FC, whilst the task was an almost impossible vocation, you made a great fist of it. Your integrity and enthusiasm were like a breath of fresh air after the Vialli debacle and Watford's loss will no doubt be someone else's gain.

(25/03/05)