Swedish Watford fan Martin Klinteberg discusses the possibility of promotion, and talks about how far Watford have come since their last Premier League game
It is seven years since the last time. It is May 13, 2007, and the 19,830 fans who made their way to Vicarage Road that day are tearful and resigned to their fate as they look at the scoreboard. Their beloved Watford have just drawn 1-1 against Newcastle, a result that confirmed a 20th place finish in the top division. That the club would be relegated has been known for some time, but when the referee blows his whistle it becomes real. The question that supporters ask themselves in this moment is this: Will we ever get to see Premier League football at Vicarage Road again?
At that point, the question was more relevant than ever. The club had for a number of years managed to avoid bankruptcy – by selling everything from the top players to the stadium that those players played in. The economy was taking a turn for the worse, and some fans speculated that such a relegation could be the nail in the coffin for a club who had been in the English league system since 1896.
In January of that year, the club could not resist Aston Villa’s financial charms in the battle to retain Ashley Young. The transfer money went straight into the empty coffers and the bailiffs were kept at bay for another season.
There has been a new wind blowing at the Vic for two years now. When the Pozzo family took over the club we found ourselves no longer needing to sell to survive. We no longer sit in the Rous and look over a deserted and derelict Main Stand.
The stadium is in the process of being upgraded for millions of pounds and the Italian owners have filled the squad with players who, ordinarily, would never set foot on this patch of ground just north of London. Internationals, top scorers, World Cup players – all of them have chosen to come to Watford to help the club return to football’s pinnacle, where the millions on offer can guarantee financial security for a long time.
In the 2012/13 season the team flew like wildfire in the Championship. Watford’s new owners took advantage of a loophole in the regulations, which meant that you could borrow as many players as you liked just as long as they came from abroad.
Half of the squad consisted of so-called ‘Udinese mercenaries’, and supporters of other clubs spewed bile at how Watford plagued the English game and cheated their way to a Play Off place.
In my eyes, the club has never played a more beautiful style of football that the one played during Gianfranco Zola’s first season at the club. We that follow Watford closely know the truth behind the loans, and why this was the only way for the Pozzos to put a competitive team on the pitch that season.
We reached the Play Off Final at Wembley, where Crystal Palace, unfortunately, drew the longest straw. It cut us deep to be so close yet so far away. But Zola and the gang had given us a wonderful season, with Troy Deeney’s classic goal the highlight. Zola reassured supporters that ‘this was just the start of something big’ and ‘just wait until next season’.
And so we waited?
The rules regarding loan players were changed and so it was suddenly not possible to borrow the amount of players that we did the year before. But this tactic was merely a way for the Pozzos to get the players that they wanted in place in as short a time as possible. These were players who had already been in the Pozzo stable, but did not get playing time at Udinese.
Of the 15 players that were loaned to Watford during the 2012/13 season, eight penned a permanent contract before the end of last summer. Suddenly we had a team with players like Joel Ekstrand, Cristian Battocchio, Essaïd Belkalem, Manuel Almunia?
On paper, a team that was ready to get to the top division, but also a team that lacked the experience that players like John Eustace and Jonathan Hogg had, following their departure from Watford that summer for new and different challenges.
After last season’s eventual disappointing 13th position finish, the club’s management has analysed and realised what the team needs. You need players with experience of English football. Experience of rough play and rainy pitches. Of games in cold, windy December stadiums in places like Yeovil, Doncaster and Sheffield, not Stadio Delle Alpi or Stadio Olimpico.
With the recent acquisitions of Lloyd Dyer, Craig Cathcart and Keith Andrews we now have exactly the type of player that Watford lacked in recent seasons. Together, these three have played over 900 matches in English football. Spice this up with names like Heurelho Gomes, Gabriel Tamas and Matej Vydra and there are even more players with experience of the English game.
The fact that Daniel Tözsér has returned from Italy, or that Odion Ighalo wants to try out English football only makes things better. In addition, the Ecuadorian World Cup defender Juan Carlos Paredes has joined the team. Paredes played all of Ecuador’s matches in the World Cup and has been chased by several clubs across Europe.
Although I have seen my beloved Watford a few times through the years, I was not there on May 13, 2007. But I know people that were there among the 19,830 walking home through the Watford streets, tired and worn out, anxiety nibbling away in their minds. Would this be the end of our club? Would the club even survive the summer? Will we ever get to see Premier League football at Vicarage Road again?
The answer to the first two questions, we know already. Yes, the club survived the summer and is in better health now than it has been for many years. The answer to that last question is still awaited. But hopefully I, and my English fellow fans, will see the answer when we squint up at the scoreboard at around five o’clock on April 25 next year.
The above piece was originally written in Swedish by Martin Klinteberg, and can be found here. Martin has translated the article into English for reproduction on Vital Watford.
Martin Klinteberg is a Swedish Watford supporter, who first started following the Hornets in the early 80s.
He has run the Watford Svenska Fans website since 2011, writing all of the articles and developing the site himself.
In 2013, Martin started the Swedish Watford Facebook Page where he also publishes articles and news about the team in Swedish.
(Edited by Kieran Callanan.)