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The Gaffer:
Kenny Jackett
July 1996 - May 1997
By Will Holman
As with any football manager in the history of everything, feelings about Kenny Jackett have been mixed. On paper (ie Chris Salter's tables), Jackett has been a successful manager. But, as every tired journalist delights in telling us, football isn't played on paper. And that's where Kenny fell down.

Let's look at the circumstances. Watford were relegated, mainly under Glenn Roeder, and it was widely agreed that we deserved to go down. That means that the team simply was not good enough. Graham Taylor came back and, for a couple of incredible weeks, it looked like we could just do the impossible and escape. But we didn't, and Watford were relegated. Looking at it in this way, the optimism at the start of the 1996/7 season seems almost unwarranted. Kenny adopted virtually the same squad as the one which was deservedly relegated from Division One, minus one key defender (Holdsworth) and effectively our only inspiring midfielder (Ramage), and gaining only a reserve keeper, Alec Chamberlain. So why did we all expect him to do so well?

1) The period under Graham Taylor, in which we won several vital games on the trot (though it has been ignored that these were nearly all against teams who had no reason to be motivated).

2) Elton John 'on the horizon' convinced many fans that the major factor that had been hindering us in the recent past - Jack Petchey - was now gone. He wasn't: he was as bad, as vindictive and as negative as ever.

3) We all thought Division Two was shite. Even those sounding the warning "it's going to be hard" followed this up with "but I think we can do it". The first game of the season, however good the feeling was, did not help one bit regards the attitudes of fans, players and manager alike.

Division Two is shite, but in a way like... like... like when you're next into bat in a cricket match, and this bowler is chucking dollies down at your batsman, and he's missing them every time. You're saying "oh my God, this bloke's awful, I'll spank him all over the ground", but then when you get out there you realise that, crap though this bowler may be, you just can't get him away, and you get out for 5. Well, that was Watford under Kenny Jackett. Luton were good. Crewe were decent. Bury were okay. But just think about everyone else - teams that we lost to and never looked like beating. That's the true story of last season - we didn't deserve to get promoted.

Chris Salter's manager league tables make Jackett out to be one of the best Watford managers of all time in terms of games won, drawn and lost. I don't think anyone would claim that to be the case, but can we expect it to be? Kenny was given one season in which to turn a relegated team into automatic promotion candidates. We cannot possibly make a judgment on his period as manager after just one year. It has been frequently pointed out that Alex (NOT ALEC, BRIAN MOORE!) Ferguson experienced four lean years at Manchester United before leading them to success. Maybe if Watford were to give their managers that long to get things right we might be more stable and successful. It seems the case that Jackett is just in waiting anyway - playing assistant to Taylor (who has kept his Chairman-like General Manager role) until he takes over as team manager in, say, five years' time.

Then there's the conspiracy theory. It goes like this: Jackett was used as a 'duffer', wittingly or otherwise, under whom Watford would not get promoted. Meanwhile, the ownership situation would be sorted out, with Elton and chums paying a lower price for the club as a consequence of not getting promoted. Then Graham Taylor would come in to take us up the next season. Evidence for this comes from the team's capitulation from level-top to 13th in a matter of weeks at the end of the season, and from the fact that not once did Graham Taylor confidently talk about getting immediate promotion. Personally, I don't subscribe to this theory, but it certainly worked kindly for the consortium. From an initial valuation of £12 million, they eventually paid around £4 million. But why did Taylor try to save us from relegation in the first place, knowing that he would be resigning the next year? And would Taylor and Jackett ("men whose hearts bleed yellow, red and black") really sabotage progress up the Football League in favour of a lower fee for the consortium to pay? I think not.

One thing that shines through about Kenny Jackett is that he's a thoroughly nice bloke. It's often said of certain people, mainly by tired journalists, that they are "too nice to be a football manager". This has been disproved by stacks of top managers but, with Kenny, I think there's an element of truth in it. It was like he didn't have the ruthlessness to tell people like Ramage to get their act together like Taylor could and when the team was playing like they didn't care, he just went on like everything was okay. It wasn't. At times (Plymouth home, Chesterfield home etc.), the commitment on the pitch was absolutely pathetic, and Jackett seemed incapable of doing anything about it. He was criticised by many for his reluctance to get up during matches and take action. Certainly, all this has something to do with the 'failure' of Kenny Jackett. But in the future, when somebody asks "what was Kenny Jackett like then?", I hope the answer is along the lines of "not bad, considering the circumstances", rather than the blinkered, negative view some fans have taken.

Best buy: Stuart Slater
Worst buy: Steve Talboys
Best moments: 2-0 at home against Oxford in the Cup, 3-0 and 4-0 against Bristol City and York City in the League
Worst moments: Coma-inducing consecutive 0-0 draws at home against Gillingham and Notts County to ruin the '96 festive season