2013/14: Fans' Review
To review the season, Vital Watford has enlisted the help of four supporters each with differing backgrounds and opinions about where Watford should be. I myself will also add my thoughts here and there, and in the end we'll either have a good overall picture of what the fans think went right and wrong last year, or a confusing mess where we disagree and settle on nothing.
So, without further ado...
MEET THE FANS
I'll introduce myself first. I'm Kieran, I've been a Watford fan all my life, I've sat in the Rous since being moved from the old Main Stand and I, err, write things on Vital. To give you an idea of how old I am, my earliest memories of Watford are of Richard Johnson, Peter Kennedy, even Kevin Phillips at a push. Reviewing the season alongside me I have Sam, Paul, Doug and Conor.
Sam is a season ticket holder who has supported the hornets for 15 years. He wishes he went to more away games but says he will travel the country following the Hornets more often next season and beyond. Sam runs the @WatfordTalk Twitter account, and you can find his Watford related ramblings here.
Paul's first game was a 4-1 win over Crewe Alexandra he saw with his dad in March 1964. Paul started going to matches on his own in 1967, way back when Ken Furphy was Player Manager, and he still keeps up with Watford travelling to games from his home in Surrey, often meeting up with his son Martin who is a lifelong Hornet (he had no choice really).
Doug's first game was some 30 years after Paul's, Gary Porter's testimonial in 1994. Doug was nine at the time. He saw Tommy Mooney hit the bar from almost half way up the pitch against Dimitri Kharine in the Chelsea goal, and he's never recovered from the excitement. After that, he started going to the odd match, with a Season Ticket coming the following season. A season ticket holder all his life until about 10 years ago, when he moved to Leeds for university, Doug gets to as many games as he can but is otherwise glued to the Hornets Player on match days.
And finally, we have my brother, Conor. His earliest memories of Watford are a little later than mine. Conor was born a few months before Glenn Roeder was sacked in the 1995/96 season. He won't have remembered the back to back promotions following relegation to Division Two that season, but he will have fond memories of that Boothroyd season, and he's sat next to me and the rest of the family in the Main Stand or Rous for pretty much all of his life.
Most of us agree that before a ball was kicked this season, we had very high expectations for the year ahead. With painful memories of Wembley fresh in our minds, we had come so close both in the normal season and through the Play Offs that we would surely make another good go of it this time around. What exactly were our expectations though, and how far were we from them?
Paul's assessment is severe. 'Ending up in 13th position was disappointing.' Paul believes we 'destroyed' several teams last season, and to go from that to this was indicative of something wrong beneath the surface. 'Regardless of the countless rumours, any fan can see that there is something not right with the team's approach.'
For Sam, expectation levels were not met. 'I didn't think we'd walk the league as some predicted, but I thought we'd certainly be top six, if not top two. Especially after our good start.'
I personally think our expectation levels were a little too high. The success of the Pozzo family's first season with Watford was something out of this world. Perhaps it shouldn't have happened. Perhaps this was part of the problem, if not the root cause, of our failure to meet our targets this season.
Doug touches on this point, believing 2012/13 to be an anomaly. 'Zola's first season was an aberration. We should have had the season we just had first, if that makes sense.
'Somehow, the first season of the Pozzo era took off in a big way and Watford played the best football I've had the honour of witnessing. We just kept going and the rest of the division didn't work us out quickly enough to stop our push.
'The second season was one of frustration and, at times, a total lack of cohesion was something that very much was on the cards. The 'General Expectation' that we would sweep the division and waltz into the Premier League appeared to be from youngsters and kids that got caught up in the media hype and excitement.'
One of these youngsters was Conor, whose experience of last season was one of disappointment. On reflection though, he realises that his expectations in the summer of 2013 were unreasonable.
'I fully expected we'd get to the Play Offs, but looking back on it that may have been quite unrealistic. I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it actually was.'
And perhaps that's exactly where fans and players went wrong last summer. We were caught up in the hype of a roller coaster of a season, with the one element missing being promotion.
'Nobody walks the Championship nowadays,' Doug reasons, 'and there were a lot of cringe-inducing Facebook statuses and Tweets from our fan base that got punished in the end.
'I'm fairly realistic as a football fan. I saw us doing well this season, meaning we would be comfortably in the Play Off places. The final run of games was a bitter pill to swallow. This off-season will be a real indicator of where we are in the Pozzos' plan.'
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Consensus among us all. Troy Deeney.
For Paul, Deeney is the only choice. 'Can only be Troy Deeney. Not just for the goals but for the fact that he never stopped trying.'
Doug is in total agreement. 'Deeney. Hands down. Not for just his goals either. At times he was the only player that looked like he understood what was expected of him and played with a purpose.
'The passion, drive and commitment from him was excellent. He's earned the move that will surely come this summer.'
He was reliable, and always looked as if he was at least attempting to do what was asked of him. 'He was one of the certainties in the first 11,' Conor says. 'He really was the main man, and did very well to perform as the level he did after a strong goalscoring season in 2012/13.'
There was a spell though where Deeney himself recognises he wasn't performing as well as we have come to expect. Sam sums up the striker's work ethic and unwillingness to give up. 'He had a bit of a poor spell, but has pretty much scored consistently throughout the season. He shows as much effort as any other player too.'
So, Deeney wiped the floor with the official Fans' and Players' Player of the Season awards, and has done the same here. A fantastic season, and one that will surely attract attention from the Premier League. We hope he stays with Watford as something of a 'Main Man' though, rather than leave and become a bit part player at a mid table Premiership side.
Surely there's no glamour when you finish 12th, 13th in the Premiership year after year? That's drab. Every season at Watford there's that chance and hope that we could get promotion, top the league even. Every game is exciting. You don't want to make up the numbers at a Stoke or a West Ham, do you Troy? Exactly.
That'll do for a plea.
In a season packed with more sorrow than elation, this set of fans can't settle on one or two moments of joy, each choosing a different best game and favourite moment of the season.
For Sam, his highlight of the season was the Diego Fabbrini equaliser at Reading, which caused 'absolute scenes' in the away end in the dying seconds of the game. Fabbrini's poacher's effort made the score 3-3, rounding off one of the most action packed and exciting games of the season.
Bournemouth at home though was Sam's favourite match. 'Lovely weather, the start of The 1881, a comfortable win, a Watford hat-trick, and positive feelings about the season ahead.'
Doug points to the return of 2012/13's Player of the Season, Almen Abdi, for his favourite moment. 'He will be crucial if we want to stand a chance of challenging of going up next season. His injury, which I will not attempt to spell, was a nasty one. My reading on it is that it can't be rehabbed in the traditional sense. You just have to wait and see. Hence his ultimately depressing cameo at Forest.
'Seeing the Professor back and pulling strings in midfield was a joy to behold.'
As for Doug's favourite match, the away win at Barnsley ticks all the boxes. 'We swaggered around, scored some excellent goals and utterly bossed the game. Anya's 80 yard sprint and finish in front of the visitors' end will long stick in my memory.'
For Paul, beating Brighton at home was a high point. 'I work for a large company in West Sussex, and so am surrounded by Brighton fans. Beating them two nil kept them quiet for days.'
Another game though, a slightly more left field choice I might add, surrounds Paul's absolute favourite moment of the season. The game is Blackburn away. A lacklustre 1-0 defeat on a Tuesday night in the North West is not the type of occasion that marks any season's high point, surely?
'Myself and my son drove to Blackburn and checked into a nearby spa hotel. En route to the rooms, we bumped into Fernando Forestieri, Cristian Battocchio and a couple of others coming out of the fitness area.
'On the way to the bar, I came face to face with Troy Deeney and Manuel Almunia. I should say, they themselves were not going to the bar! Even at my age I was a bit star struck.'
It's good to hear that at least a couple of fans derived some sort of satisfaction from that particular trip.
For Conor, Watford's finest moments were experienced in absentia. He hasn't had the best of luck with his scheduling this past year, and seemingly missed near enough every good game we played. 'Despite not being there, the first half of the Man City match and the game against Bournemouth at home sounded fantastic.
'As for what I did see, Sannino's first home game in charge was excellent. It was nice to see us perform well offensively, but at the same time do a job at the back. Millwall weren't exactly all that, but it was a moment where it looked like Sannino was the answer. We had shored up the defence without sacrificing anything up top.'
For me, nothing tops Nottingham Forest away. Angella's Goal of the Season which opened up the scoring was wasted on this game, which contained the most jaw dropping capitulation I have seen in years. Even the total indifference on display at home to Huddersfield on the final day can't beat the misery of that cold and wet Thursday night on the Trent.
First of all, I went completely on my own. I had holiday hours I had to use up by the end of that week (bad job, don't ask), and thought I'd make a trip of the Forest game. Optimistic and starry eyed from my most recent trip to the Etihad just days prior to this fixture, I was disappointed and dejected come 10 o'clock that evening.
I had a loose plan for my little Nottingham adventure, involving seeing an old friend and enjoying a relaxing couple of days doing almost nothing. An impromptu holiday, if you will. In the end I found myself frustrated and wet for the majority of the trip, and to top it all off I didn't even meet my friend in the end. A lonely couple of days.
Doug is in agreement for his worst game of the season, but for slightly different reasons. 'I have met many fans of many clubs in my 29 years. I have, for all bar one club, met an even spread of reasonable, sound and entertaining supporters as well as card-carrying morons. Forest is the exception. I've never met a Forest fan that hasn't been convinced that they are, in some way, a 'Big Club'.
'Whilst they have had some success in the past and they are well-supported side (compared to us, loads of empty seats in their ground this season though), a well-supported club is not always a Big Club. For me, a Big Club plays in the Premier League, realistically competes for Cups every season, gets a big home and away following and can expect to be in an European competition. No Forest fan I have ever met has understood this point of view. Losing to them cuts like a thousand knives.'
Forest fans reading this could quite reasonably call sour grapes on that one, Doug.
Conor looks no further than QPR away for his worst moment of the season. 'That game summed up our whole year. We played well and looked very good, but we ended up not getting the result. Story of our season.'
Yet more disappointing memories are brought back up by Sam and Paul for their choices. Sam recalls the third goal conceded at home to Yeovil. 'The 'this is embarrassing' chant. Despair.' Despair indeed.
A trip to Yorkshire takes the Worst Moment crown for Paul. 'There are a number I could choose, but I think Doncaster away [is my worst moment].
'Myself and my son went up by train and booked in for a night at a nearby hotel. All in all a combined cost - including tickets, meals, booze, etc. - of around £500.
'Our muppet of a new striker got himself sent off after just nine minutes! We both just looked at each other and hunkered down for the rest of the game…'
NEXT SEASON AND BEYOND
We all feel as if this season has been an opportunity missed, and changes will have to be made in order to push ourselves further up the table next season. But where the problems lie and what should be done is a matter of differing opinion, with a few common threads shared by each of us.
For Paul, a change in transfer strategy is needed. 'Clearly the large influx of players each close season is not working. I never thought it would. I'm not even sure who is on permanent contracts and who is not.
'I would imagine being the manager is a nightmare - he probably has no idea who will be in his squad and who will not. The approach currently seems to be to bring in 'one season wonders'. Get a bunch of guys together and see if we can surprise the league. Admittedly it nearly worked for Zola, but for a five year plan it is not the way to go.'
I tend to agree, insofar as we need to keep a set of players together if we are to build anything sustainable, but perhaps that's obvious. We've heard Scott Duxbury talk about consistency and retaining the best players year after year being key.
We are approaching a point now when a lot of the players that were brought in late in the first Pozzo-led transfer window can be said to be experienced in the Championship. Battocchio, Forestieri, Pudil, Ekstrand; these are all players that came as an unknown quantity and without games at this level, but we can no longer say that of them now that they've been with us for two seasons.
Doug would be most happy with a more grounded view of where we stand in this league going into next season. 'I'd like to see some realism in how we think about next season. I think we should be happy with top six, given the strength and resources of the teams relegated from the Premier League.
'On the pitch, I think the addition of a goalkeeper to replace Almunia is a priority. [Ed. - Let's hope Doug is happy with Heurelho Gomes!] Re-signing Vydra would be brilliant, but unless somebody sews his agent's mouth shut we may not see that. Tozser would also be a crucial pick up. A full pre-season and a match fit squad would be nice.'
Again, I do think that this season has brought fans and players back down to earth. There shouldn't be any talk of 'walking the league' this summer, and the players themselves will know that the Championship is a lot harder than 2012/13 made it out to be.
Conor and Sam are simple in their assessment of what they'd like to see change in the coming season. Conor's sentiments are straightforward: 'I just want to see us win more.
'I want success. Simple. That's the biggest change I hope for. A bit more consistency will help us.'
Sam's feelings are equally uncomplicated: 'No more late goals.' I think we can all get behind that.
THE NEW KIT AND THE NEW STAND
Much has been made in the past few days of the new away kit. It is clear that most fans are besotted with the black and white stripes, not only because of the clear message of remembrance that comes with it, but because the kit is, quite simply, beautiful.
But what of the home kit? The announcement of it was somewhat overshadowed by the terrible performance against Huddersfield that came shortly afterwards, and most fans spent more time berating the squad for that than broadcasting their views on the new kit. So, what do our fans think?
Conor compliments the home shirt's 'simplicity', as does Sam, who thinks the plain yellow with black trim is 'stylish'.
Paul has already got himself a new home shirt, so we're guessing that he must like it. Doug thinks it harks back to the old days. 'Looks like an old school footie shirt.'
At the time of our conversation, Doug speculated that 'Udinese stripes' on our away kit would 'drive the rest of the Championship mad'. We'll see about that one then.
Perhaps it's the fact that the new home kit is pretty much as expected that has meant there's been little in the way of differing opinion on it. The away kit has a story about it and is a break from the norm, and so has been discussed to death already, but the home kit is simple, clean and was released without fanfare.
I should add that I'm happy with the return of red to the badge, and I am praying for red shorts as well.
As for the renaming of the Rous Stand, it seems that the message regarding why it is the Rous and not the new East Stand bearing Graham Taylor's name has been heard loud and clear by fans.
After the initial reaction, one of puzzlement as to why it wasn't the as-yet unnamed East Stand being named after Taylor, less than favourable stories about Sir Stanley Rous started emerging (or indeed re-emerging), and this became the default justification for many fans.
Doug perhaps puts it a little bit strongly, but the overall feeling is that of a lot of us. 'Well, having found out that Stanley Rous was a massive racist, I'm quite chuffed.'
'Just waiting for the Graham Taylor statue now,' Sam says. Just show me the petition for that and I'll sign it and pass it on.
It was a difficult season, one that was hard to pin down on a number of levels. For many fans, the close season preceding this year was actually one of strengthening and positivity.
Yes, we had lost our top scorer but we had replaced him with a combative forward with an excellent record at his former club. We lost a precocious talent in Nathaniel Chalobah, but replaced him with a vastly experienced and highly rated Brazilian. Both of these replacements did not work out. Why this was the case is difficult to work out.
We've all pointed towards consistency being an important factor if we are going to improve, and though we have heard this echoed by CEO Scott Duxbury and even Head Coach Beppe Sannino, the signs point towards another close season of upheaval, with several players needing to be moved on, and plenty more to be brought in.
The positives from last season for me at least were in the shape of Deeney, Angella and Forestieri. Ikechi Anya showed us something special too. But whether we keep hold of Deeney remains to be seen, and how big a part Forestieri and Anya play next year is not as clearcut as it perhaps needs to be, what with the signing of Dyer and reported interest in Vydra.
We have so far acted on the weaknesses that have been identified by the fans. Namely, the signing of Lloyd Dyer shows a desire to bring in high quality players with a lot of experience of performing well at this level. The signing of Dyer is a statement of intent, and something we would have had great difficulty in doing some years ago.
The language barrier between certain factions of the squad has been brought up as a potential reason for us underachieving in 2013/14. Again, the signing of Gabriel Tamas seems to be a move that was taken in response to that, with the experienced Romanian being able to speak several languages and having a track record for bringing culturally disparate squads together.
As we all know from last summer, predicting how the next season will go is no easy feat, and I'd be foolish to put forward my best guess here in any sort of detail. What I will say though is this: I genuinely do believe that by this time next year, if I ask the same set of fans to tell me about their favourite moments of the season just gone, they will have a harder time narrowing it down to just one.
I would like to thank Sam, Paul, Doug and Conor for contributing to this piece.