Date:Monday July 24 2006
The similarities are obvious. Two unfancied sides, playing with determination, teamwork and spirit, guided by English managers, with no lack of tactical nous, to the grandeur and splendor of the elite league of English football.
What Wembley was to Graham Taylor`s Watford of 1999, Cardiff in 2006 was to Aidy Boothroyd`s current Watford side.
Both symbolised the glorious culmination of a season in which the ultimate victory had been achieved against so many odds, and both were greeted with the equally glorious realisation that small town Watford, almost in defiance of the elitist Premier League, had earned a shot against the big boys.
Yet as history can tell us, the season in the Premiership that followed the inspired play-off victory in May 1999, from a footballing perspective, was an unmitigated disaster.
The team was not humiliated week in week out and tarnished forever, indeed, on many occasions, were rather unlucky. But when the end of the season arrived, Watford were relegated. It certainly wasn`t a close fought affair either; the club were handed the record for the lowest ever Premiership points total.
The post-mortem examination of Taylor and Watford`s season in the top flight perhaps goes some way to explaining why the side failed in the Premiership. As the club trotted contently back to the second tier of football and mediocrity, many were simply happy to saviour some of the memories from the season.
Victory over Liverpool at Anfield, nearly a repeat at Vicarage Road, and the humbling of Chelsea, represented a few of those fleeting moments of happiness. Much like a family returning home from a holiday in the sun, we got back, looked at the photos, and waited patiently until next time.
Which brings the story to the current side. Although Boothroyd bullishly refused to contemplate the 'R` word after promotion was secured, the question in every Watford related discussion still remains. Can Boothroyd achieve in 2007 what Taylor couldn`t in 2000?
Boothroyd`s current squad certainly may be more equipped for Premiership life than their predecessors under Taylor. In Marlon King, Watford have a striker that has all the attributes needed to succeed in the top flight. While one should certainly not be under the illusion that the gap in class between Championship and Premiership is anything other than very large, King is a proven goalscorer who still feels he has much to prove.
While the likes of Allan Smart and Michel Ngonge should not be disregarded, the fact remains that provided King can remain fit and free of personal problems, Boothroyd has a calibre of player that Taylor didn`t have in 1999.
The transfer activity in the summer preceding Taylor`s Premiership campaign, is often cited as a major reason for the subsequent failure. Although we will never know the financial restraints placed upon Taylor, there was a distinct lack of quality signings brought in, with Taylor regularly expressing his intention to reward those who had got Watford promoted.
In this respect, Boothroyd and Taylor seem share a common commitment. Yet equally one suspects that the Watford board and management team of 2006 possess a ruthless streak that those from 1999 did not have. The signings of Chris Powell and Damien Francis, both proven Premiership players, offer great promise. The protracted 'will-he won`t-he` Ben Foster loan move from Manchester United would definitely represent a massive coup for Boothroyd this summer.
And with further signings promised, it will be interesting to see what happens when Boothroyd signs a player who he has never worked with. For if the club are to rise, players from further afield and of a higher quality will need to be signed.
In Boothroyd himself, Watford have a man who is capable of the unexpected. Not since Taylor has one man been revered at Vicarage Road like Boothroyd has in the past few months. While in 1999, Taylor, the former England manager, was a Watford legend for what he had achieved, Boothroyd is prized as we know what he can achieve.
Indeed, it would certainly not be haphazard to suggest that currently Watford may well possess a future England manager. Where Taylor`s unequalled experience and wisdom undoubtedly aided his side in the late nineties, Boothroyd has a unique hunger and vision that breeds confidence to the point of arrogance amongst his charges.
Moreover, it is certainly rather hard to imagine a side under the tutelage of Boothroyd simply rolling over, accepting defeat and relegation, and reflecting on a nice season away. With Boothroyd at the helm with a young and vibrant team, a certain confidence fills the air at Vicarage Road. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the club can defy their relegation favourites tag and do what the side of 1999 could not do.
But one thing is for certain, whether we stay up, or go down, we`ll put up one hell of a fight.
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