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Fans Forum, 24/11/99
By Ian Grant

There are some who refer to Graham Taylor simply as "God". They're wrong.

He's way too human for deification. Listening to him speak - and it was worth the journey from Brighton just to hear him - brings so many things into focus. In a world of hype and rhetoric, there's no front, no spin and no soundbites. Graham Taylor is Graham Taylor, warts and bad jokes and ramblings and all, and he doesn't need reverence.

He hasn't changed. Older and wiser, but the enthusiasm and mischievous good humour are unmistakable. His speech on Wednesday night, taking in most members of his family, Alan Shearer, various Watford players and numerous others, had his audience hushed and attentive from the start. He doesn't disappoint, and you can't help but think that England fans would've been rather more charitable if they'd come into contact with him in a situation like this. Such a warm, genuine, charming person.

More importantly in this context, he had much to say in between the quips and anecdotes. And all of it was good. I haven't agreed with every opinion that he's voiced in recent months - like I say, he doesn't need reverence - but this was absolutely spot on. Stressing the importance of dynamic leadership and long-term stability for the smaller clubs - we may not be able to compete with the elite on their terms, but we can certainly try to compete on our terms - there was a convincing sense of realism with regard to the wider changes in the game.

Above all else, it seems to me to be absolutely crucial that our plans for the future are not dependent on Premiership status. The Champions League is already making all domestic competitions a secondary priority and the calls for a reduction in the size of the top division are not going to fade away either. Further changes are inevitable, and it'd be coincidental, miraculous and unprecedented if they benefited clubs like Watford. Taylor's belief, hinted at once again, that the club is currently above its natural level is reassuring, in that it acknowledges the need to work within our own limits. Though it may be a very distant dream, self-sufficiency is surely the ultimate aim for Watford - generating enough income from the club's own assets on a day-to-day basis that we are not reliant on funding from elsewhere, whether it's television deals or Premiership payouts. Like I say, it's a very distant dream...but no more distant and far less foolhardy than attempting to challenge and emulate the richest clubs by continually breaking wage structures and transfer records, something that Taylor clearly has no interest in doing.

As ever, then, a man with his finger on the pulse and the very best interests of Watford Football Club at heart. A man we can trust without reservation.

The rest of them? Well, that was the real point of the exercise.

Actions speak louder than words, of course. That said, it's nice to have some words for a change. There's been a major breakdown of trust at the club since the ticket price rises at the end of the 97/98 season. The directors have been out of contact for far too long, leaving Howard Wells to explain the occasionally inexplicable and the rest of us to live with some extraordinarily short-termist decisions. Even now, you sense that they're not fully aware of the level of bitterness that exists in some (not all) sections of the club's core support.

So the emphasis placed on communication by several board members is more than welcome. If there are going to be arguments - and there surely will be, since that is the nature of something as cherished as football club - then let them be between friends with a common cause. It's so much easier that way.

Ultimately, there was little hard information. The payment of the Petchey debt, the building of a training ground, the use of Vicarage Road for educational purposes...none of us will object to any of those things, the first being long overdue and the last two being thoroughly laudable. If I pass over them briefly, then that's not because they're insignificant but merely that they're not contentious.

The other issues will remain unresolved for now. Some may find that frustrating but I see it as enormously positive - the main impression that remains from Wednesday night is of a board of directors that is willing to investigate every possibility when forging long-term plans. When so much of football is controlled by crass knee-jerk reactions and egotistical dogma, that's extremely refreshing.

If that is an indication of the way that the club is willing to go - management that takes tough decisions, but only after full investigation, consultation and debate - then this will indeed be an exciting time for Watford Football Club. The opportunities offered by a permanent and well-handled partnership with Saracens are numerous and, bearing in mind that my emotional attachment to Vicarage Road now amounts to little more than a passionate love of the doomed East Stand, the arguments about relocation are sure to be fascinating.

That positive outlook is entirely a consequence of openness. When the board is inaccessible, the fans' concerns become accusations and protestations; when the board is accessible, those same concerns become input into a debate. There's a world of difference.

There will be one immediate test for the directors to face. Sitting at the back, I was praying for someone to raise the issue of ticket prices and was immensely relieved when Pete Fincham did just that.

From a personal point of view, the current situation cannot continue - no matter how high the quality of the football I'm paying to see, I can barely afford to watch Watford. Prices have rocketed, my wages have stayed the same. I bitterly resent that. There are many who have already fallen by the wayside, not through lack of loyalty but simply through lack of cash. It is worth pointing out that, although emphasis has rightly been put on making it affordable to bring families into the ground, the families of the future will predominantly come from the current support - lose me now, in other words, and you've also lost any family that I form in years to come. It is an issue that must be tackled immediately, before any more damage is done. So we must keep the pressure on. We must do it politely, but we must keep the pressure on.

There is nothing wrong with vigilance, after all. The idea that a strong, successful businessman like Nigel Wray will flee and take his money with him at the first sign of intelligent questioning is laughable. We have every right to be cautious, to be watchful; we have every right to know what's going on at our football club. Encouragingly, Hazel O'Callaghan's brave and necessary interrogation of Wray appeared to be taken without offence - it was an opportunity to put a side of the story that has not previously been heard and it was an opportunity taken. No harm done, more trust established, everyone happy. No lynchmob, just as it should be.

So that's my conclusion. We should be watchful, but no more or less than we should be at any other time. We should voice our concerns, and hope that the club is now going to start listening. We should applaud this first step in the right direction, but make everyone aware that it is only a first step.

Introductions and formalities over, favourable impressions made. Now it's time to build a real partnership.

See also: Unofficial minutes