Chairman’s Pre Season View: 2012-13

Much has happened over the past few weeks since we issued our statement outlining our initial concerns and the subsequent positive response from the club’s new owners. The Supporters Trust remains a critical friend and will not hesitate to question decisions that we feel might be detrimental to the future of the club. The new owners and management team have been both open and positive in our conversations to date. I have had several discussions and am in regular contact with them. My experience has been very different from our immediate past encounters and the philosophy of the new owners seems appropriate for a club of our size and financial position.

Many changes have happened in recent weeks. The financial situation at the club was such that these have been introduced more quickly than had been anticipated initially. However, at least the financial stability of the club has been assured in the short-term and I believe also in the long-term. From the information received by the Trust’s Board it would seem that we have had a lucky escape and we look forward to the prudent and sensible business plan that is being put in place.

The Harefield Academy

There has been dismay expressed by many fans at this week’s decision not to pursue category 1 status for the Harefield Academy under the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). In conversations with Gian Luca Nani and Scott Duxbury this week, I have been assured that this does not signal a change in the importance of the academy to the club. However, it does reflect a reality check regarding the onerous conditions and significant costs of achieving category 1 status, which was not guaranteed in any case. For a club that has lost money consistently for years the management team believed the cost commitments of maintaining category 1 status to be onerous. While the club may lose potential recruits to other academies, the opportunities for early first team involvement remain a very strong selling point for young players. As a result, we expect our U21 players to be pushing for a first team place rather than playing in the U21 league being established under the EPPP. While our Academy teams will not be playing regularly against the top opposition, there will be opportunities to work around this (for example by arranging friendlies). Of course, in future if there are benefits in seeking a higher category registration then this is still open to the club.

Expectations for 2012-13

While a significant number of new recruits have arrived this summer, I have been assured this is based on financial sustainability. While the current squad will almost certainly need to be slimmed down to maintain this sustainability, the Trust’s concern that the club would simply become a feeder club for others has not been realised so far. The new recruits do indeed bring increased skill and experience which we hope will be a help to our home-grown youngsters. Achieving greater financial sustainability will reduce the need to quickly sell players to fund running costs, as happened with Marvin Sordell last year.

While Gianfranco Zola remains unproven in the Championship he is a good coach and clearly has the confidence of the players. He will need time to get the team to where it needs to be (just like any manager) and he will need to adapt as he learns about the Championship. However, at least the club has greater resources available than before and that has to bode well for the future.

We all wish Gianfranco Zola and his squad the best of luck against Crystal Palace and through the season.

Best Regards

John Fawell

Chairman, Watford Supporters Trust.

 

Note on possible / probable takeover

Over the past few months the board have been very active in making contact and holding discussions with a number of people, which has included attending executive meetings, meeting senior employees of the club and members of the board and maintaining close links with the media. We have been active in trying to make sure that all promised payments have been made and that developments (such as the new pitch and the SW corner) are fully funded, whilst at the same time trying to ensure that funds for more peripheral activities (such as possible future revenue streams) are not likely to cause short or long-term financial problems.

In this respect we have been seeking to increase the transparency in the operation of the club and its dealings and in so doing we have also had several discussions with Mr Bassini.
We were not prepared however to fuel any of the rumours, particularly since we have had a reasonably successful season and we are continually trying to maintain stability in the club after considerable instability in many ways.
It is always difficult at a time of rumour and speculation and we have been investigating the rumours for substance, including speaking to Mr Bassini. The culmination of the rumours  you will now have seen as emerging stories in the press regarding the possibility/probability of a change in ownership of the club with the new owner likely to be Signor Pozzo who owns Udinese in Serie A and Granada in the Spanish first division. There is still uncertainty about this and it is not a done deal at the time of writing. This is a fluid and rapidly changing situation after a period of comparative calm on the surface.
Will this be good or bad for the club?
At the moment there has been no sale although it may be imminent. If the club is sold to Sr Pozzo we will have an owner with a general interest in Football. There is a strong possibility that he would want to bring some of Udinese’s younger players on loan to Watford, which is what he has done with Granada. This has implications for Sean Dyche’s control over placer recruitment and the academy development of young players. Two or three talented young Italians who have to fight for their place in the team may have advantages in introducing players who have a high technical proficiency. However, if they have to be played under instructions from the owner, who currently seems to see Udinese as the focus of his operations, then this would be bad and we would simply become a nursery club for Udinese. It should be noted that Granada just missed relegation last season. It is also unknown what he would think about the community involvement of the club and any withdrawal of support from the Community Trust would be a serious undermining of the role and position of the club in the Community, something that Watford FC is rightly admired for.
It is unclear just how much money Mr Bassini has put into the club and there is considerable secrecy over the finances. There are indications that some of the conditions of the purchase of the club by Mr Bassini have not been met in full, e.g. delays in payments and deadlines. While this in itself is not necessarily a cause for concern, it is indicative of having to operate very close to financial limits and it is possible that the operation has been financed through player sales. Again this is not necessarily a cause for concern because it is fundamentally what we were doing before Mr Bassini took over – but previously there was complete transparency, which as sole owner Mr Bassini does not need to embrace. However, such failures could trigger action by the bond holders to take back the club or to take control over key assets against which the sale has been secured, such as the ground. It is also of concern that if there is a cash flow problem that the pitch replacement could not be completed or the club could acquire a debt that it could not pay on time.
The Trust Board have been aware of events unfolding having been in close contact with the club and having spoken with Mr Bassini.  While rumour and speculation should not be a reason to react prematurely we have been monitoring the situation and have been in regular contact with a number of key people. We will be using our influence to try and ensure that any deal will protect the club and its interests. If there is a new owner we would seek a very early meeting with the new owner and/or his representatives and we would want to see members of the current board retained on a future board to ensure continuity and representatives who would champion the Watford Way and what the club stand for.
We need an owner who will buy in to the values of the club and provide an extended period of financial and organisational stability. The Trust will do everything in its power to ensure that this is what happens.

April 2012 Newsletter

Our April 2012 Newsletter has been emailed to members for whom we have an email address.  If you haven’t received yours, please contact us through this website with your email address.

Look out for Supporters Trust page in the program for the Hull City match. This is provided for us as part of our sponsorship of the BEST project.

Ten years and counting! The WST was formed ten years ago. So it’s not just Lloyd Doyley who is up for a testimonial! The first WST public meeting was on 4th October 2002 at Bill Everett Centre with the Trust originally founded in September of the same year. As a reminder, the principle aims and objectives for the WST are:
·         Using our influence to promote sustainable policies and actions within our club.
·         Providing an independent viewpoint within the framework of an effective partnership.
·         Listening to the concerns of supporters and communicating with the club on issues raised.
·         Constantly challenging ourselves, the Supporters and the Club to remain at the Heart of the Community.
·         Adapting to remain as relevant now as in the dark days of 2002.
Do you follow us on Twitter? @WFCSuppTrust

Breakthrough! The Trust meets Laurence Bassini at last

Laurence Bassini, owner of Watford Football Club

On December 13 we finally achieved what we have been striving for since March. Chair of the Trust John Fawell and Vice Chair Graham Sterry were finally granted a meeting with Watford football Club’s owner Laurence Bassini and Richard Walker WFC Head of Media and Communications. A full account of the meeting has been sent to all Trust members but if you missed it you can read the report here.