Walsall. Bournemouth. Southend. Swindon. Stockport. Brighton. Huddersfield. Towns and Cities with football clubs. Towns and Cities with football clubs and populations far greater than that of Watford. Further examples including Slough, Telford, York and Luton can’t even muster a Football League team between them.
In the population stakes, Watford (120,960) is sandwiched between Gloucester (123,205) and Rotherham (117,262). Birmingham or Manchester we are not.
Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to list what has happened to Watford FC in the twenty or so years I have been following them. By my calculations, I have experienced the following:
- Four relegations
- Three promotions
- The Division One Championship
- Two successful Play-Off Finals
- Three FA Cup Semi-Finals
- One Carling Cup Semi-Final
Had I been a shade older, you could also count an FA Cup Final and a UEFA Cup campaign. For a town with a population comparable to that of Stockport, our recent history is pretty impressive. Ask fans of the clubs mentioned at the start of this article what they think. I’m sure they will agree.
You should have by now guessed the premise of this piece. Watford is a relatively small town which just so happens to have a football club. A football club that has delivered more excitement, fun and unrefined joy than any fan has a right to expect. Have a look through that list again. Trips to Wembley. Promotions. Europe. Cup Semi Finals. Fans of clubs bigger than ours would kill for just some of the excitement we’ve had.
When you look at the facts, we’ve overachieved. We’ve always had to sell our best players, have existed with small gates and will forever suffer for being near neighbours to the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham. Now, in 2010, nothing has changed, except now we are flat broke. Each month is a financial challenge, meaning holding on to our best players is harder than ever, whilst attracting new high calibre players and staff is almost impossible.
This isn’t news. We’ve known for ages. We’re not in great shape. We’re hanging in there, but it isn’t pretty. We’re not just battling to stay in the Championship, we’re battling to stay afloat.
I’m sure there are things both players and the management wish they had done differently as we have slid down the table from Play-Off outsiders to relegation dog fighters. Hindsight is twenty-twenty after all. Personally though, I’m pretty sure that Malky Mackay is doing the best with what he’s got, and as usual for a Watford Manager, that isn’t much.
Of course fans pay to be entertained and have every right to voice their displeasure when things aren’t going to plan. None of us like losing. It is however worth taking time to remember the bigger picture. We are a club still very much in the depths of a financial crisis. It’s pretty simple – the amount of cash going out far exceeds the amount coming in. How we got there is a different discussion, but like it or not, that is the situation.
If you want to be in a position where the Manager can just go out and buy a replacement for a striker who isn’t scoring or a goalkeeper who is conceding, I suggest you go and support Manchester United or Chelsea. If you want a subs bench awash with experienced game changers and goal poachers, well Arsenal is just up the road. We are a club with a small, inexperienced and young squad and management team. Why? Because we lack ambition? Because we’re content with being “Little old Watford”? Grow up. It’s through necessity. We’re finally cutting our cloth according to our means. Of course it’s painful and the side effects are clear for all to see. No-one wants to be struggling. It’s frustrating, it’s annoying and it’s no fun. But it’s where we are. Deal with it.
It’s almost certain to get worse before it gets better. The summer brings with it contracts that we are unlikely to renew, transfer fees we are unable to turn down and the disappearance of influential loanees. If you think this squad is inexperienced, just wait until next season.
That’s the point though isn’t it. With a bit of luck, at least there will be a next season…
Come on you Horns.