By Peter Wilson
When I received my ticket in the morning with the message "You are invited to a Watford Fans' Forum Wednesday 24 November at Vicarage Road 7.00pm", I was delighted that I was finally going to hear news about my club straight from the horse's mouth. At the end of the night a number of issues had been clarified, in particular Nigel Wray's involvement with Watford.
Like other Watford fans, I have been concerned about what has been happening at the club. The Board have not inspired confidence, with titbits of information leaking out about plans for a new "multi-sports" stadium, a private rights issue in order to repay the £2.5 million Petchey debt and the surprise departure of the Chief Executive, Howard Wells. In fact so concerned that for the first time in about fifteen years I wrote to the Watford Observer asking the Board to answer a number of questions. The Observer published my letter and the following are extracts:-
"Unfortunately, at a time when the club and fans should be enjoying our success at rejoining the top division, the Boardroom malaise hangs over the club like a dark-shadow...
The lack of information from Mr Wray has not enhanced his standing amongst fans, wary of his involvement with our club since his disposal of his Forest shareholding. Perhaps, through your pages Mr Wray can spell out what his plans are for Watford. It is about time he told us. "
After the initial joy of getting a ticket - I missed the Arsenal game because I applied too late - I must admit I was suspicious of what I was going to hear later that evening. Would the evening be worthwhile and the Board would relay some genuine news to us or would the club put a positive spin on recent events? A whole series of questions were running through my mind:
- Would Nigel Wray be there?
- Would Graham Taylor be rolled out by the Board to put a positive "spin" on the Boardroom malaise that has existed since our promotion triumph in May?
- Would we get some detail about the proposed new ground?
- Would the club admit that they have got it badly wrong with ticket pricing this season?
Well, in short, it is a welcome change to write something positive about Watford Football Club's Board of Directors. The new Board were introduced and each gave a brief overview of who they are. I was delighted to hear that two of the new directors openly declared that they were long-term Hornets fans. Hopefully, should any potential conflict of interest arise between Watford FC and Saracens RFC there would at least be two Directors standing up for Watford. Credit to Nigel Wray, when asked from the floor, he admitted that he would abstain from voting in such an instance.
Graham Taylor is a tremendous character, indeed I would say he is truly inspirational. Having never heard Graham speak at length previously, his "fire-side manner" was a real experience. I have heard many good speakers before - at University, in local and national politics, at business and social events - and thought that they were good afterwards, but Graham truly inspires. If I was a player I would want to really want to do the business on the park for a man who falls into the category of a genuinely good man-manager. Mind you after watching the TV programme, I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end if it went pear-shaped!
For those who got the opportunity from the floor, many asked some pertinent questions of the Board. From their responses it became patently obvious that there is a genuine affinity for the club from the new Board. Whether this if for the long-term and whether they can achieve what one director called their "dream" remains to be seen. There will be differences of opinion between fans and the Board in the future, but what was said that evening makes me more confident that the Board have their hearts in the right place.
After the meeting, I spoke at some length with one of the new Directors, Graham Simpson and his wife, who are both Watford supporters through and through. Graham explained that he went to the public meeting held at Westfield School to gauge public opinion about what was going on at the club. During his address from the top table he made the point that communication between the club and the fans needs to improve, which many of us would welcome, as communication from the Boardroom in the last few months has been lamentable.
Graham explained that he was a fan and a businessman - he had sold a successful travel agency business earlier in the year which financed his Watford share purchase. Any future Board decisions would be done properly with the long-term benefit of the club at heart. My first impression is that his heart is in the right place, as a fan I am sure he appreciates the trust we place in him to stand Watford's corner. After speaking with him, I wish him all the best as a Watford supporting new director.
To sum up, at the end of the evening perhaps we didn't get all the answers to all the questions but I am prepared to give the new Board the benefit of the doubt. The Forum was a good evening to be a Watford fan, as it is hard to imagine any other club in the country doing anything similar. Personally to hear GT speak at first hand...well, it is not Moses with his Tablets of Stone, but is probably the next best thing! Whilst Watford have been good to Graham, however much he is paid can never be enough for what he has done for our club. If and when Graham retires the club should name a stand or make a public commitment to mark his achievements at Vicarage Road.
Wednesday night's forum must not be a one-off exercise. The forum was successful because the fans got the opportunity to hear directly from and were able to speak with the clubs Directors about the team we support and love too death. If the club are serious about improving communication with the fans, then the forum on Wednesday must be the first of many.