Last summer I wrote a fairly fulsome tribute to Glenn Roeder's achievements
as manager. My feeling was that the wilderness years were over, and he'd turned
us around. Promotion was no longer a pipe-dream, but something to which we could
seriously aspire, and we were widely thought to be serious play-off candidates.
Six months later I reluctantly joined the by now vast majority of Watford fans
who felt he had to go, the following day the board sacked him. How did this
turnaround happen so quickly?
Looking back Glenn's career mirrors Steve Perryman's fairly accurately - a
first season staving off relegation with an inherited side, a second achieving
a good league position leaving us more to hope for, and a third of bitter
disappointment, except Perryman didn't leave us facing relegation to Division
And yet for a time Glenn really did seem to have a magic touch : not only did
he instill into the players some commitment and a recognisable playing pattern,
but he also made great signings. In Miller we thought we had the best 'keeper
in the division, Foster and Millen were bargain players who'd sorted out our
defence (giving us a record eight consecutive clean sheets at one stage) and
players such as Ramage, Phillips and Mooney had all done well. All we needed was
a big striker to partner Phillips...
The team Roeder built was largely funded by the money left from the sale of
Furlong after ground improvements. Yet without Furlong and Dyer a new striking
partnership was needed. This was to prove Roeder's downfall : in the subsequent
eighteen months he signed Phillips, Mooney, Moralee, Beadle, Lowndes, Dixon,
Penrice and White; he loaned Shipperley, Jemson, Quinn and Wilkinson; and he attempted
to buy Bright, Alan Smith, Masinga, Rushveldt (who we followed for over a
season), Fuchs, Furlong and Tore Flo. Also Nogan, Connolly, Bazeley, Ramage,
and defender Mark Watson were tried up front. And yet all we had to show
for this was Kevin Phillips, who was excellent. The deals that fell through
did so for many reasons, mostly not through any fault of Roeder, but the search
for a striker moved from frustrating to farcical. At first Roeder kept to his
principles - we were after young players, and players with some skill, not any
old donkey. However even this was abandoned in the last few months as old
warhorses Devon White and Kerry Dixon came to the club.
It didn't take long for things to go wrong this season, despite the optimism.
The first problem was with Ramage, who came back from the summer a stone overweight
and missed the first few games. Ramage had been vital to the previous season,
his form a testimonial to Roeder's managerial skills. However this season Ramage
never looked keen, and there was a fairly obvious falling out which did more
than anything to harm our season. Several other of Glenn's "miracle"
signings, such as Miller, Millen, and Foster, also seemed to lose form, and
our defence, which had looked impregnable last season, now looked slow and
disorganised. Moralee looked more and more out of place, although by this stage
he was getting little service, and he too fell out with the manager. Only Phillips
continued to impress, although perhaps he was rather a lucky buy, occasioned by
the fact that one of our ex-players was at the club and put him our way. Results
started badly and got worse, although to be fair Roeder still made some good
signings : Steve Palmer, Steve Hodge, and Gary Penrice are all good players,
although the wisdom of signing injury-prone players while in the midst of an
injury crisis must be called into question. Furthermore nothing was done to
correct a severe lack of pace in the side, especially at the back. All season
we seemed to lack ideas in the final third, or even the middle third, as all
too often the ball was hoofed up to strikers who were no good in the air, simply
because our players didn't know what else to do.
I think that the crunch time was last Christmas. People were bored with the
promise of a target man tomorrow as the funds available to buy him with were
dwindling - one of the effects of transfer inflation is that you have to move
quickly when you do have money or it becomes worthless. There had also been
a slight upturn in form with wins over Millwall and Tranmere. Paul Wilkinson's
arrival on loan had lifted the team, and we were confident of signing him and
that we'd overcome our bad start. Perhaps it was unfortunate that postponements
took away some momentum from our brief recovery, but on the other hand it gave
a chance for players to recover from injury. Anyway our first game after Christmas
was at home to Huddersfield : we'd been promised two strikers by the end of the
week, and hopes were high that these would be Rushveld and Wilko. In the event
both these deals fell through and on Friday came the news that instead we'd
signed Kerry Dixon, to everyone's horror. We lost, pathetically, 1-0, and after
picking up a point at Sheffield the following week due to a lucky goal, went
on to lose three in a row. Feeble performances against Charlton and Palace showed
a lack of any concern among the players, and the signing of Devon White
suggested panic by the manager. After losing 4-0 at Palace we were several
points adrift at the bottom, and a long way from safety. Roeder was sacked,
with relegation all but inevitable.
I still think that if the board had been prepared to sign Wilkinson the season
could have been saved, but that's something we'll all have to live with. Perhaps
they already had one eye on Graham Taylor. As things stand this season we've
won five games, only two since September. The wins we have had haven't really
been convincing either - Sheffield United, Stoke and Millwall were all in the
middle of very poor runs when we beat them and we rode our luck in both wins
over Tranmere. We couldn't even get a win in the cup despite playing Bournemouth
twice. Discipline seemed to have gone - Penrice and Mooney attacked each
other at one game, and Roeder's public criticism of Ramage's eating habits only
seemed to highlight the gulf between the man and his players. What's more,
apart from Phillips, too many promising talented players had failed to play
well under him or had fallen out with him : Ramage, Moralee, Nogan, Lavin,
Drysdale. To be fair in every instance the player was largely at fault, but
then dealing with difficult players is part of the job. Watford supporters
are by and large fairly patient, but he had to go.
And yet I'm glad Roeder has been properly paid off, I hope he does well, and
I think he can do well in the game. At his best he did manage to combine an
understanding of the game, an ability to sign good players, progressive thinking,
and strict discipline to good effect. His transformation of our defence near
the end of his first season was miraculous. At another time, at another club,
he could have done well. He will have to take with him certain lessons though :
the ability to placate the more petulant of his players, a less superior attitude
towards the fans, and the ability to recognise a crisis when it comes and react
accordingly. In hindsight though all he really gave us after two and a half years
was yet another false dawn and almost certainly relegation.
Most likely to say : "I'm confident that we'll have signed a new centre forward by the end of the week."
Least likely to say : "I'll hold my hands up and admit we were crap today."
Even less likely to say : "I'd like to see supporters more involved in the running of the club."
Less likely still to say : Anything amusing or interesting whatsoever.