Notes and reaction
By Matt Rowson
Not having been to one of these things before, it was difficult to know what to expect. Accounts of previous such evenings led me to brace myself for a degree of aggression, and the odd axe being ground; fortunately there was no more than a moderate amount of either.
For some reason, one dominating feature that I had failed to anticipate was the size of the turnout (comfortably 150) and the reappearance of familiar faces, albeit after barely two months absence, contributed in no small part to my ability to enjoy the evening. Discussions of the key questions began in advance of the official kick-off time at the Estcourt Tavern, continued as we strained our eyes through the tinted glass for a glimpse of Harry's Bar behind the Rookery Stand, and were raging by the time the evening's main event actually got underway.
Stadium manager Paddy Flavin conducted proceedings; the panel in front of the firing squad were acting Chairman Haig Oundjian, Chief Executive Tim Shaw and Director of Marketing Ed Coan. Pre-empting a question Tim Shaw's opening comments, which included a reading of the statement he had issued on Monday, covered the assertion that, no, the rest of the board weren't hiding behind the familiar faces in front of us. As the people with the most information to share, it was simply most appropriate that these three were there to answer questions.
I didn't take notes, and as such what follows below is a list of points that I was able to recollect at 10.30 at home, with the competing consideration of a lack of food and in particular the absence of the anticipated can of Baked Beans from my kitchen cupboard. The list covers most of the points that were imparted during the evening (and includes information that was formally stated or inferrable from Tim Shaw's earlier statement).
I've tried to report the list as near verbatim as possible given the absence of a notebook, and without comment. If anyone spots a glaring omission or, more seriously, a misrepresentation then please contact me and I will rectify.
The Financial Situation
- The panel, and Tim Shaw in particular, repeatedly accepted criticism with the promise that they would personally be underwriting the costs borne by their mistakes.
- Luca Vialli's transfer policy was constrained by a budget which was not exceeded, but Tim Shaw conceded that a key error was not to put a cap on any individual salary. The board did not feel it was their place to interfere with the decisions of the manager regarding transfers, given that the budget was adhered to.
- It is not the intention of the board to put the club into administration.
- The East Stand development, whilst necessarily not the first priority, is still a central part of the plan. Tim Shaw stated that if the development had not taken place within five years, he would take the implied lack of progress as evidence that a new board was required.
Chairmen, Managers and Coaching Staff
- The list of candidates for the position of Chairman is not a long one. An announcement is imminent.
- The sackings were purely a cost-saving measure. Tim Shaw would have loved Luca to stay on, but the cost of our coaching staff was five or six times the divisional average.
- Luca Vialli's conduct was never less than exemplary, and he worked extremely hard during his time at Vicarage Road. He was willing to work within whatever financial constraints the board imposed, and despite being unhappy, was prepared to continue without the support of Ray Wilkins.
- There was one member of the coaching staff (not named) about whose contribution the board had particular reservations.
- There has been a far greater number of applications for the managerial vacancy than there was a year ago ("even allowing for the speed of Luca's appointment" - Tim Shaw).
- One of the requirements of the new man will be a willingness to work with valued existing members of staff (Chief Scout Nigel Gibbs had been cited in the question). Tim Shaw emphasised that this was one area where the board had learned from previous mistakes.
- Graham Taylor has been informally consulted regarding the new managerial appointment.
- Another requirement of the new manager is an experience of managing at this level. The appointment could be external or internal.
- The new manager will certainly be appointed before the start of the season, and hopefully not too long into the "critical" pre-season.
- Nine members of the playing staff have had a proportion of their salary voluntarily suspended. Tim Shaw was quick to praise the conduct of the players in this respect.
- Six players were approached with respect to the settlement of their contracts. It was suggested that three players would depart on this basis, but unclear as to whether the already ex-Hornet Ramon Vega was one of these three. In any case, Pierre Issa was unsurprisingly one of the number, as today's announcement confirmed.
- The possibility of new signings was not dismissed, although the popular Wayne Brown deal now seems dead in the water (as an aside, he has today been offered a new contract at Ipswich). Haig envisages an increasing number of "player swaps", but the transfer market below the Premiership is dead at the moment.
- The Board refused to accept that they should personally foot costs resultant from dubious practices, ("immoral and probably illegal" - Haig) on the part of Carlton and Granada.
- The Panel repeatedly rebuffed accusations of having hidden behind the ITV Digital situation with the promise (already described) that they would fund their own mistakes. Attempts to compare the loss in television money with the salaries being saved were dismissed with the explanation that dismissals necessarily did not result in a 100% saving of salary costs that would have been incurred.
- The Football League are co-ordinating "Days of Action" against Carlton and Granada, involving pickets outside their London bases. Watford's nominated day, along with alphabetically adjacent clubs such as Swindon, Torquay and Walsall, is Thursday July 25th. More details are anticipated in the Watford Observer, but the strong implication was of encouragement to attend.
The meeting drew to a close with pleas from the floor for Balti Pies to be considered amongst the new catering options, with an explanation from the panel that the disappointing cancellation of the Dutch tour was a financial necessity, and with shows of hands on the (now irreversible) decision to switch to black shorts, and on the future of the "Z-Cars" theme (both evenly split). Ed Coan briefly emphasised the recent commercial successes of the club, implying that there was plenty to be positive about above and beyond the obvious problems the club is currently experiencing.
Whilst others came out of the meeting feeling that they had learned little of substance, I was in no small part encouraged. This is probably largely down to my lack of experience of these evenings, but I was struck by the honesty, urgency and enthusiasm of the three men on the panel. At worst, they have made bad mistakes and are desperate to rectify them. We have been in much more grievous positions in the past.