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Revenge of the turnip
By Bruce Reed
The re-entry of Watford into the top flight after an eleven year absence should be cause for just celebration in the heart of every true football fan. Football's self-appointed 'Great and Good', however, seem to take a very dim view of Monday's result at Wembley. First Bradford, now Watford. What on Earth is the 'greatest league in the world' coming to? Who's next in line? Grimsby? Tranmere, perhaps? Why are these small clubs upsetting the apple cart in such dreadful fashion? Already we can picture next season's early Match of the Days: the cretinous trio of Messrs Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson bemoaning the re-entry fo the so-called 'long ball game', patronising remarks about 'how difficult it is to survive' for a club 'lacking real quality' with 'no recognised goalscorer'. Doubtless the first goal of the month contender from the Talented Gifton Noel-Williams will be greeted with speculation over which 'big club' will stump up the millions of pounds for his signature. I'm sure Watford fans can envisage all this and more from the 'football establishment'.

Before I continue, I should clarify one thing. I am not a Watford fan. My allegiances are to Wimbledon, another club with long experience of the contempt of the self-proclaimed guardians of our National Sport. At Wimbledon, we have a great respect for Watford. In many ways our paths to glory were similar. After their FA Cup victory, the Dons were proclaimed by Brian Moore as 'the pathfinder for every small club'. Not strictly true, Brian, I'm afraid! Watford hold that star, rising from Fourth to First Division and even finishing second under the inspirational leadership of Graham 'Turnip' Taylor.

Even with the benefit of hindsight I am staggered by the amount of abuse GT receives. He is decried as the 'worst ever England manager' and hassled by the press as a long-ball merchant. Enough ink has been expended on the pages of BSaD to explain the baseless nature of these charges, but because I'm in a bad mood I'm gonna write some more in defence of his reign. Not everything Taylor did was great. I found his loyalty to arch-bastard Geoff Thomas totally inexplicable and the defeat against Norway did rank as one of England's all-time lows (until the much-lauded Hoddle era, anyway). However, let us analyse the record away from home of one Terry Venables (still England's No.1, according to The Sun). One victory over China, a goalless draw in Norway, an abysmal 1-0 defeat of the Hong Kong Golden Select XI, featuring such luminaries as Carlton Fairweather (told by doctors he would never play again after the 1992 season), and an abortive fixture in Ireland which was abandoned with the Irish leading by a goal and looking like they would score more had our 'wonderful' English fans not intervened. Hardly impressive.

Which leads me on to Watford's prospects for next season. I won't delude you. It won't be easy for Watford, but to place you as immediate relegation favourites is, to my mind, wrong. The current euphoria at Watford stands in very stark contrast to the turmoil engulfing Wimbledon at the current time and we look far more like relegation material than you do. An example that might provide some encouragement for Watford fans is that of Leicester City in the 1996-1997 season. Also expected to drop immediately, they bought two moderately priced players, and whilst their start wasn't spectacular, they stayed out of the dropping zone for almost the entire season, eventually finishing twelfth. Taylor's managerial skills are surely at least as good of those of Martin O'Neill and I feel certain he is the man who can put Watford back among the elite on a secure footing.

Finally I would like to wish Watford all the best for next season, both on my own and Wimbledon's behalf. It's nice to know there's hope for football and that decent sides can get to and (hopefully) stay in the Premiership. All the best for 1999/2000!