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Fans Forum, 27/07/05
By Mike Smart

This is a bit of a throwback to my days at teacher training college. When on Teaching Practice, I would have the task of writing three lesson evaluations and three lesson plans each evening. And I would sit, staring at sheets on Microsoft Word, trying to organise my thoughts.

My thoughts. There are so many of them, swirling around, giving me mixed messages. I usually enjoy my journeys back up to Birmingham; many of my best thoughts have occurred to me on the M40, listening to music of my choice.

Pity, then, that for reasons I won't bore you with, I came back on the M1 tonight. And my CD player wasn't working.

So this is what I was thinking as I drove back:

They weren't wrong about Betty's enthusiasm. I hope Alec gets a good turnout on Saturday. I wish Ray was still at the club. It's not too late to get Brucie back. It wasn't that crushing a defeat - if Pietersen had held that catch from Clarke, it could have been very different. I need football. Betty seems like a good bloke. GAMBLE! GAMBLE! GAMBLE! This is all wrong. I wish there had been more searching questions. Ashton seemed all right. I want Betty to succeed. I want Ray back. Eighteenth will do nicely. Is Betty trying to turn us into Arsenal? I've got to strip more bloody wallpaper tomorrow. Betty dodged the question about what would constitute failure. Whose idea was it to end with a question about the physio's qualifications? We've seen all this before. The stadium redevelopment does sound, well, exciting. I need to support the team. I can't support what's happened. I need the club. The club needs me. Have I really only got as far as Newport Pagnell?

And so it went on. Until I reached the M45. Great road, that. I'm not telling you where it is, because I'm the only person that ever uses it, but in common with the M40, it's a thinker's road. And here, thoughts started to grind very slowly towards a conclusion. One which I haven't fully reached yet.

I enjoyed the evening. I'd never been to a fans' forum before, and didn't fully know what to expect. Simon Oxley's lardier than I'd imagined; always welcome, being a portly chap myself. I thought at times Oxley moved the forum on a bit faster than it wanted to go; only one question from the floor was taken on the topic of the changes in playing personnel, when he moved us into the Nigel Gibbs debate. Still, overall he seemed to do okay.

I didn't get all the answers I wanted; I don't know what answers I wanted, but I know I didn't get them. For a start, I think Graham Simpson and I are on a different track as to what we want this club to be. Betty also, talking about how eighteenth is not good enough. He talks repeatedly about the 'Promised Land'. Hmm. Here is a chap who loves a cliché; one suspects he thinks 'The Championship' is a splendid name for our division. Yet, to my mind, in the current context, eighteenth certainly is good enough. Not a ceiling (to use a Bettyism) on what can be achieved, but a pretty solid starting point. I want success, I would love success. But not at all costs, or I'd say 'Sod it' and go and watch Arsenal. Betty talks passionately and with gusto about his vision. He talks, and Simpson and Ashton lap up his every word, taking every opportunity to 'big him up'. Yet his vision doesn't tally with the fact that Dom Blizzard appears to be the number one choice to partner Gavin Mahon. The fact that King, Bouazza and Junior are our strikeforce, not one of them having reached double figures last season.

And his vision has no place for Nigel Gibbs.

Mark Ashton's vision, too, is an interesting one. He outlines some of the plans for the stadium. 'He hasn't mentioned the best bit', mutters the chap next to me, obviously in the know. 'If this happens, it will set us up forever.' Ashton then confirms that there are other aspects to the redevelopment that he can't describe at this time. But he reiterates his determination to see this through. 'I will succeed,' he promises.

When the forum ended, I was a little disappointed. I felt they had had a bit of an easy ride, and would have liked to have seen them put on the spot a bit more. But something was bugging me.

I said my goodbyes and headed for the exit, pausing only to spend a penny. As I shook the last few drops (sorry, but details are important!), a thought struck me: I realised that I had the opportunity to go and speak to the Watford manager. So (after washing hands, obviously) I went back to do just that. And I realised what was bugging me: I actually quite like this bloke. That's not to say I necessarily want him running my football club, or that everything's suddenly okay, but it's a big step forward.

So, back to the M45, and back to now, really. We have a bit of a situation. On the one hand, we have this football club, this wonderful football club. It needs every one of us paying our money, shouting our support. And then we have all these decisions and ways things are done, one after another, alienating me and so many others.

I cannot and will not agree with the decisions that have been made. Betty talked at length about the success he will bring. But what if - as seems likely to me - he fails? Then it is my club he is taking down. I'll still be here long after he's sitting in his rocking chair, telling his grandchildren about the time someone asked him to manage a football club. I will be the one sat in the Rookery, watching the jubilant Luton fans swinging corner flags around.

Or will I? Will I be there? Well, it's getting close to decision time, folks. The new season is nine days away. I've thought long and hard about whether I can be involved. I've considered the possibility of taking a year off, or of following one of my local teams for a while (and no, Birmingham City was not one that I toyed with). Both of these ideas would delight my long-suffering wife. But then, I've considered my ten-year-old son, and the fact that it's already a battle with his Manyoo 'supporting' Grandma to keep him interested in Watford. He doesn't get why I'm not excited about the new season. He knows that normally by now I'd have the new shirts, probably with someone's name on the back (I know, I'm so grown up), and that with a bit of pestering, he would be decked out in our new gear too. And I've considered me.

In a way, I can't win. Throw myself into this season and I feel like I'm selling out, that I'm giving all future Graham Simpsons carte blanche to do what they want. Stay at home sulking, and I'm cutting off my nose to spite my face. I already am, really - I love the new shirt (albeit I don't get the purpose of the bubbles on the sleeve), and would normally be proudly strutting around Acocks Green in it.

By the time I reached the roundabout where the wonderful M45 becomes the hellish A45, I think my mind was probably made up. I have to be involved. Whether it's a success or not, I have to be there. That's the covenant I made with the club when I was six, and Daddy took me to see us beat Norwich 3-0. Bassett didn't stop me supporting this club. Vialli couldn't do it. No matter what is going on, no matter who is or isn't involved, I have to be a part of it, and I have to make my children a part of it.

I still don't know what answers I want to hear, and I desperately hope I start hearing them soon. I don't buy what's being said. I sense Betty's enthusiasm, and I don't share it. But I'm working on it. I have to - there's too much at stake.

Now I'm off to persuade Mandy that she doesn't want a romantic weekend at the start of August, after all....