Date:Tuesday September 12 2006
The good news is that the short-term future of The Red Lion is secure. The bad news is that the long-term future of the pub is far from certain.
This follows Friday`s announcement that Watford FC have bought the freehold to the popular pub, which is situated in Vicarage Road directly opposite the North Stand. The club have said that they have no immediate plans to change its present function, but fans already fear the worst.
Chief Executive Mark Ashton has, on a number of occasions, publicly stated his desire for Watford to become an economically viable business, which is used 365 days a year, as opposed to the two dozen or so it is at the moment.
Fans have long awaited the 'big announcement` on the redevelopment of the ground, which is believed to see the club developing three sides of the ground with the Rous Stand being the ground`s focal point.
Part of these plans could eventually see time being called on The Red Lion, and it being used as an extra facility for the club. The pub - whose grounds stretch past the advertising hoardings opposite the old Hornet shop - could possibly be turned into extra office facilities, a food outlet, or more worryingly for loyal fans, corporate hospitality.
This would appear the most likely out of the three mooted options - if the club do not decide to carry on using The Red Lion as a pub/bar - as the boxes in between the Rookery and Rous stands, which look more like Benidorm Holiday Homes, would be removed as part of the stadium redevelopment. And if Watford are to remain in the Premiership for the foreseeable future the Prawn Sandwich Brigade would increase in number.
However, when Ashton was Chief Executive at West Brom, the club bought a local pub and turned it into a car park. Finding a place to park around the stadium is difficult and expensive so the idea of turning the pub into a car park would, in theory, appear a good idea, but there is arguably not enough room for a decent-sized car park on the site.
And as part of making Watford a sustainable business the Rous Stand - and the area surrounding it that backs onto Watford General Hospital - will be developed. Following new legislation on gambling laws, one option was to build a casino on the land backing onto the Rous, this would have fulfilled Ashton`s criterion of making the club self sufficient and a see the stadium used 365 days a year. However, the club argued that having a casino at Vicarage Road would not fit in with the club`s image.
It is believed that the land behind the Rous is the most likely of places where the club may build a new supporters bar, following the decision to close down the popular Harry`s Bar and replace it with a new club shop.
Harry`s bar was extremely popular with supporters before and after home games. Granted, it wasn`t managed particularly well at times - but it was busy before, during, and after home matches. This comes back to what Ashton says about making Watford a sustainable business: it is no good having a bar that only takes money (and indeed lots of it, given the prices they charged for a beer!) once a week.
This is what`s so intriguing about the purchase of The Red Lion as the pub; given its proximity to the High Street, it does not attract a large number of customers on a day when football or rugby is not played at Vicarage Road. Therefore, if the club wants The Red Lion to stay as a pub, or indeed a new supporters club, then they would have to get more use out of it or hire it out during the week. Something that was tried unsuccessfully with the now defunct Harry`s Bar.
One does not welcome the closure of a pub and it being turned into something completely different from its original purpose, such as the trend is nowadays - but that`s a different story altogether.
The Red Lion is a Watford FC institution; it has been part of the club`s culture, heritage and identity since Watford first moved onto the site of a former gravel pit 86 years ago.
The pub is somewhere that is always packed with Watford supporters on matchdays. It is a place where lasting friendships have been forged over football. It is a place that has been frequented by generations of the same Watford-supporting families and represents as much of our past as it does of our future. It is a Watford FC landmark.
But as in the case of other Watford FC landmarks, such as the greyhound track and the scoreboard and Shrodells, nothing lasts forever.
Whether what is now known as The Red Lion has a future remains to be seen but with back in the Premiership, Aidy Boothroyd in charge of the team, a bold board running the club led by Simpson, Ashton and the Russos, and with news expected soon on the redevelopment of the stadium, the future looks bright for Watford Football Club.
Whatever Ashton`s 'big announcement` on the club`s redevelopment is, the club`s supporters will be the losers if The Red Lion does not remain in a similar form as to what it has been for generations.
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