It was the 1987/8 season. We were coming off the back of a 9th placed finish and a FA Cup semi-final. Excellent foundations to build on. However, there was trouble at the mill. Elton John’s Taylor Made Army was about to come to a close as GT left for Villa Park, and Elton seemed to be losing interest in the club.
Appointing the right manager to take the club forward whilst keeping the family culture that was so vital was key. To say it went spectacularly wrong is an understatement. In appointing Dave Bassett, it was as though they’d looked at the newspapers and believed we were long-ball hoofers (how many recent managers have lost their job because the newspapers wrote rubbish?).
Anyone who watched the golden boys back then knows we had a lot of quality in midfield who could pass the ball with the best of them. Yes, we got the ball in the box quickly. That’s how you score goals (the current crop could do with remembering that). It was a far cry from just hoofing it forward, though.
Bassett, before they fired him in January, ripped the soul out of the team. There was always going to be a transition after selling John Barnes to Liverpool for £900,000 (how much would we get today?), but concern set in when David Bardsley (below) was sold in September. It felt like a bolt out of the blue letting go of one of our unsung heroes, especially to the only team who’d finish below us that season.
I remember the first game of the season, bizarrely against Wimbledon. A Luther goal on the stroke of half-time won the game but, like now, it was a hard watch. We’d got used to the players enjoying their football, and this wasn’t it.
Things turned ugly after a reasonable September with only 2 more wins before January. One was against Arsenal, so it should probably count double. Bassett was sacked. There wasn’t really a choice as The Vic had turned toxic. Steve Harrison came in to no avail. The players seemed a little happier and there was certainly a sense of relief amongst the fans that Bassett had gone. Sadly, the damage was done. The only highlight being another win against Arsenal. There was suddenly a huge disconnect between the fans, players, and the club. For the first time in my life, everything felt wrong.
Does it sound familiar? It should. History is repeating itself. A decent season and a FA Cup Final once again seems to have been the trigger. The club became complacent. The silence from the owners has gone from an annoying itch to a full-blown “turn it up to 11” Spinal Tap concert. Even I’ve lost count of the number of managers and staff we’ve been through. I think Ted Lasso had a week in charge at some point.
The constant lack of communication and churn has led us back to the days of Bassett and our identity disappearing. We used to be a family club. What are we now? I’m not sure anyone knows the answer.
Changing ownership certainly isn’t the solution. Elton losing his love of the club after GT left led us into the Petchey era and over 20 years of near obscurity, with too many close to the wind moments where we nearly lost our club. So be careful what you wish for.
Watford FC used to be at the heart of our community. Now it feels a million miles away and not just because I live in a foreign land. We used to pride ourselves on bringing young players through and making money when we sold them. There’s a lot of young talent at the club. Are we going to let them slip through our fingers like Jadon Sancho and others? Play them and make them better. After all, it’s been proven you can win things with kids.
It’s why I’d also move mountains to keep Chris Wilder. he’s rebuilt a club before. My Dad comes from Sheffield so can vouch for that. Wilder’s recent words were bang-on. I’d love a dream team of Luther coming back as forwards coach to show them how to have a shot on goal. Couple that with a legend like Troy Deeney coming in as assistant manager to gain experience with a view to becoming manager down the line and the fans have something to get excited about.
Communication and continuity will have fans praising Gino again very quickly. My concern is he doesn’t understand. Maybe a phone call to Pinner’s favourite son is required.
It’s time to regain the soul of the club. Only the senior management know if they’re up to the challenge.
Maximilian Sam grew up above his mother’s clothes shop on St. Albans Road. He’s old enough to remember Luther Blissett playing for England Under 21s at Vicarage Road. He’s lived all over the World and always found another Watford fan to share the roller-coaster of a ride being a Hornet brings wherever he’s been. He is also an award-winning author of children’s books about the stray dogs he now looks after. You can find out more at www.maximiliansam.com.