The Golden Boys: 2000-2009
The 'noughties' are coming to end in just a few days, so here at VitalWatford we thought we'd bow out of the first decade of this year by taking a look back at some of the high and lowlights of the last ten years in and around Vicarage Road. So, take a seat, a mince pie, probably a nice drop of red and enjoy our look back at a hectic ten years in WD18!
Millenium Promotion: The Hornet's kicked off the Millenium in perfect style having ended the previous one with promotion back to the First Divison, or the 'F.A Premier League' as it had been re-branded back in 1992. Though Graham Taylor's Hornet's were sent packing straight back to the new First Division [sponsored by Nationwide], and with a record-low points tally at the time, there were several highlights. Most memorable of course was the 1-0 win at Anfield courtesy of a certain Sir Tommy Mooney's stupdendously-poached winner, and admirable mention to deputy 'keeper Chris Day for his part in that victory. Equally impressive was a 1-0 victory over Chelsea at the Vic'; hardly the power they are today but still a scalp for GT's Golden Boys. Super Scot Allan Smart the man on target in that memorable victory. The Hornet's enjoyed one of many 'nearly days' that campaign at home to Manchester United, the champions fielded a weakened team but their stiffs only escaped the Vic' with three points thanks to a 3-2 victory. During the campaign the Golden Boys bought a modern day legend to the club for the first time in the shape of then unknown Icelander, Heidar Helguson. The forward netted on debut against Liverpool and it wasn't long before his £1.7m price tag seemed a snip...
Position: 20th, Points: 24, In a word: RELEGATED.
Loony Luca takes control: In GT's final season the Hornet's were unable to win promotion after failing to build on a blistering start to the campaign, eventually slumping down the league. The legendary Taylor retired only to eventually re-assume control at Aston Villa, but for the first time in their history, the Hornet's went continental. Former Chelsea, Italy and Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialla was appointed manager and with him the bald maverick manager brought a number of overpaid, overage has-beens. The lines of Patick Blondeu, Ramon Vega and Fillipo Galli soon found themselves in Hertfordshire on fat, fat contracts. To be fair, Galli was impressive, imperious and probably the best of Vialli's captures, however the same could not be said for the likes of Paul Okon, Pierre Issa [the main of course whose main contribution was to be tipped off a stretcher] and Stephen Hughes. In a season of up and down results, Vialli left with the Hornet's ending the campaign in midtable.
Position: 14th, Points: 59, In a word: Precarious
The Lewington Era: Three years of stable, sensible mediorcrity followed for the Hornet's as Ray Lewington was promoted from within where he has been Reserve Team Manager under Vialli. The former Chelsea and Fulham man enjoyed three seasons in mid-table as head honcho at the Vic' and was responsible for masterminding two impressive cup runs. His first season [02/03] saw the Orn's finish a respectable 13th considering the financial restrictions of the ITV Digital collapse and their own calous spend thrift. An impressive F.A Cup run helped the cause and boosted the coffers, Premier League outfit Southampton eventually ousting the Hornet's in the Semi's at Villa Park, player of the season Marcus Gayle grabbing a consolation in a 2-1 defeat. At the end of the campaign wingers Stephen Glass [he of that free kick versus Burnley] and Danish international Allan Nielsen were allowed to leave on frees as the club could not maintain their wage packets. Legendary right back Nigel Gibbs lifted the reserve title with former kid, Sam Swonnell as the Hornet's grabbed silverware! The 03/04 season started with tragedy as young Manchester United loanee Jimmy Davis was killed on the eve of the season. The Coventry clash was postponed and the Hornet's suffered in form terms from the winger's death. Watford also brought back former teenage talent Bruce Dyer as well as two-time former loanee Danny Webber who suffered with knee and shoulder problems for much of the season. However the signing of Paul Devlin from Birmingham, via a 'mystery benefactor' - cheers Elton, galvanised a Hornet's side that eventually climbed to 16th. A number of youngsters were blood that season, most notably a certain Ashley Young who notched on debut versus Millwall before scoring on the final day in a 1-0 against Reading to knock the Royals out the Play Offs. Top scorer was former Northwood forward, Scott Fitzgerald, whose ample poaching knack helped him to 11 goals, only one of which came outside the 6 yard box - goal of the season at West Brom; a 20 yard curler in a 3-1 defeat. 2004/2005 was to be Lewington's final season at the Vic' as he was sacked following an abject 2-0 defeat at home to Preston North End. The man who replaced the soon-Fulham bound boss was Adrian 'Who?'. 'Who' soon became Aidy Boothroyd as he guided Watford to a close, close finish but one that saw them remain in the Coca Cola Championship.
Yo-yo-ing: The Boothroyd years we full of yo-yo-ing to say the least. With much of the squad cleared out or sold in the Summer of '05, Boothroyd had plenty to do as he rebuilt his squad. And, the rookie gaffer, aided by Keith Burkinshaw got it just right. Clarke Carlisle arrived for 100k, Malky Mackay on a free, Matt Spring for 150k, Darius Henderson from Gillingham for 450k and Marlon King on loan with his move eventually made permanent for 500k. The final peice of the jigsaw was loanee stopper Ben Foster who had far from an assured start between the posts. Watford lost the opener 2-1 at home to Preston, Hendo grabbing on debut. However this was soon forgotten and Boothroyd's babes clinched a Play Off place with ease. Away to Palace in the first league goals from Young, King and Spring sealed a comfy win, coupled with a 0-0 draw in the return league, the 'Orns were on their way to the Millenium Stadium for a date with destiny. Just 90 minutes and Leeds United seperated Watford from the Premiership and the 'Orns were imperious in a 3-0 win, Jay DeMerit, James Chambers and Darius Henderson the goalscorers. The Premier League was cruel to the Hornets who suffered another first-time relegation finishing bottom after a tough season. Though taking just a few beatings, the Hornet's were let down by late goals, if their games lasted 80minutes, Watford would've finished 10th! Ashley Young left in January for a club record £9.75m and Ben Foster returned to Manchester United after a second season's loan spell leaving the position of number one vacant. That position was filled in 2007 by former Arsenal 'keeper, Mart Poom, signed alongside the veteran were £1.5m man Jobi McAnuff, former Brazillian loanee Douglas Rinaldi and freebie Matt Jackson. However the signing that really kicked the Hornet's on was loanee Adam Johnson; 'Magic' Johnson grabbed five goals in his two and a half months on loan in WD18 before being recalled by 'Boro. Nine points clear in October the Hornet's imploded with Gavin Mahon, Keith Burkinshaw and Marlon King all joining Johnson in leaving. Without an assistant, Boothroyd's beleagured side battled through to the Play Off where they were knocked out 6-1 by Hull on aggregate, not with a struggle though as Tommy Smith's goal on final day Blackpool kept the 'Orns in the top 6 ahead of Wolves - on goal difference.
Financial Oblivion: So, the pretext to the present was started under Aidy Boothroyd. Stupid wages spent on the likes of Jackson, Ellington, Poom, Hoskins, Sadler and co. saw Watford plumetted into dire financial straites ahead of the 08/09 season. In classic Watford style, the Wobby Observer reported it before anyway else, earning themselves a court date with the club for the priviledge - in the long run they were right on the money - unlike Graham Simpson who resigned his position after sacking Aidy Boothroyd and appointing Brendan Rodgers. The former property magnate forced to resign after Jimmy and Vince Russo called an EGM. The crown jewels had already been sold off, Shittu and Henderson amongst them but Watford were not out of the red. Under the Russo's reign, more AGM madness as the fat Italian mobsters resigned a year after Simpson having seen the Hornet's edge ever closer to admin, however despite loaning the club around £5m to avoid the 'A' word three times, they then threatened to do exactly that when their dosh wasn't repaid 30 seconds after resigning! However, a shareholder brought on board under Graham Simpson proved the Hornet's saviour, Lord Michael Ashcroft stumping up the dosh to stave off the Russo's and administration.
So there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of the last decade through Yellow-tinted specs. Large chunks missed out, eg. the whole Brendan Rodger's affair, but they've been given enough column inches already so I hope you'll excuse the admission. Here's to another entertaining, hopefully less perilous ten years!