How Dare We? Palace 1 – Watford 0: SuperKev and Justice at Wembley

John McCormick:
John McCormick: looking for justice

When Sir Kevin put that penalty away to give Palace a foothold in the promised land I found myself wondering if justice was being done. I know Sixer isn’t impressed by Palace, according to his post earlier this month, and I can see where he’s coming from but I don’t think Watford, sited inside the M25 and on the Tube’s Metropolitan Line, is much different from Fulham/QPR/Palace.

If I want to visit my brother, who lives in north London (handy for Wembley and I live in hope), I get off the train at Watford Junction and ring him and then go to the pub. I have just enough time for a pint before he collects me.

But I digress. My argument is based on the proposition that Palace have acted sensibly since new owners took the club out of administration. The appointment of Ian Holloway (where they behaved honourably in seeking permission, etc.) was part of a well thought out strategy. Operating losses were managed while quality was signed to mount a promotion challenge and also provide a safety net, via players who could be resold, if they didn’t make it. Their current incarnation provides an example some other clubs could follow, methinks.

Watford, on the other hand, don’t quite cut the mustard in that respect. There have been one or two issues in recent years, leading to grumbles from fans and other clubs.

I’ll start with their signings from Udinese, an Italian club owned by the Pozzo family, who also have a controlling interest in the Spanish club Granada. (for more depth visit Craig Clark at Football League rules allow only two players to be signed on loan from any one club and only five loan players to be named in a matchday squad. However, loan deals with foreign clubs are classified as transfers, meaning there is no limit to the number of loanees from overseas. Watford FC exploited this loophole to sign ten or eleven Udinese players on loan. This wasn’t difficult – guess who owns the club.

In February, when five Udinese loanees plus one from Granada and one from a UK club were named in the squad to face Palace, BBC Sport quoted Ian Holloway’s response:

“”They’ve got some world-class players that they’ve borrowed from almost one club, It seems pretty ludicrous to me… …That gives a licence to people to buy English clubs, chuck all their players over here and have a reserve team… …What if Barcelona wanted to buy us and play their ‘B’ team for us? We’ve got to sort this out…”

It does seem pretty ludicrous doesn’t it?

Then there’s the matter of a ban and embargo. The Pozzos bought Watford in June 2012 from a businessman called Laurence Bassini, who himself bought the club in 2011. Mr. Bassini entered into some financial agreement which transgressed Football League rules (Danny Graham’s transfer to Swansea was caught up in it) and received a three year ban. Watford themselves were placed under a transfer embargo but allowed to sign players with League permission.

You might think this is enough but there’s also a court case going on. You can read about it courtesy of the Watford Observer, whose website informed me Mr. Bassini was ordered to repay almost £1million given to him by two former Watford directors, Jimmy and Vince Busso in March. They claimed it was a loan, he claimed it was part of a secret scheme designed to give him and the Bussos joint control of the club. There’s still about £3.5 million to be decided on, with the key issue being whether the loans were made to an individual or to the club. It’s possible the court will decide Watford has to repay loans taken out before the club was sold to the Pozzos.

I’m not decrying any of these businessmen as being corrupt, or criminals, or anything like that. Nor am I saying that they are any better or worse than club directors up and down the country. What I am doing is illustrating the need for the FA to ensure transparency. There’s need of a rule which, while allowing for commercial confidentiality, requires all dealings concerning any club to be open and transparent. An FA committee, for example, could consider and sanction loans without compromising confidentiality. Rules should also provide for penalties if clubs transgress. Under such circumstances Watford could have been prevented from contesting the playoffs or even denied promotion. I invite anyone saying this wouldn’t work to consider how and when we gained promotion in 1990.

Those claiming the Pozzos have been caught up in an affair that’s not of their making might have a point but I have to assume the loan situation was known to them and they were happy to go along with it. Isn’t that what due diligence is all about? Why else do clubs and businessmen employ accountants and lawyers? Let’s face it, if such a person finds or exploits a loophole, the owners won’t complain.

As always, it’s the fans who are left outside and they have my best wishes. Even so, I do wonder how much sympathy they deserve. Watford fans had a good ride to the playoffs and came close. Fans all over the country have ended the season with less after, as they see it, their clubs behaved impeccably. Few of them will be shedding tears for Watford’s failure to make it.

31 thoughts on “How Dare We? Palace 1 – Watford 0: SuperKev and Justice at Wembley”

  1. Stirred up a bit of a hornets nest there, John. Between us, I’m sure we could come up with a piece that would upset poor, beleaguered Coventry City.

  2. You want to why we’re tetchy about this? It’s not just because so many have written articles about this based on shoddy research but it’s also the tone that’s been used.

    Take your “Watford FC exploited this loophole”.

    How about re-writing it as “Watford FC followed the transfer rules”?

    • They did, and in a way which is consistent with the Udinese (and by implication the Pozzos’) business model. So I have to accept that you’re making a fair comment. In which case I might have to accept Mr. Holloway’s response went a little over the top.

      My apologies.

  3. Repititive drivel.

    I do hope you’re not planning on becoming a journalist, as the quality of this ‘article’ makes me sad. Yet another wannabe journalist who has not taken the time to properly research his story. All he’s doing is looking at it from one point of view, thus jumping on the bandwagon.

    Are we worse then than the likes of Cardiff or Leicester? Have you been writing articles about them also? Funny that.

    • I’m not planning on becoming a journalist.

      You’re not worse than Cardiff or Leicester, or indeed any other club. I thought I made that point:

      “Their current incarnation provides an example some other clubs could follow, methinks”.

      “I’m not decrying any of these businessmen as being corrupt, or criminals, or anything like that. Nor am I saying that they are any better or worse than club directors up and down the country”

      • The first quote was about Crystal Palace, you followed it with:

        “Watford, on the other hand, don’t quite cut the mustard in that respect.”

        The section on the previous owner, the transfer embargo and the financial irregularities, struggles to separate , or perhaps deliberately mixes, Bassini and Pozzo.


        In the comments you said you were “discussing a current situation not a historic one.” But Bassini is history, it was a year ago and has no bearing on our current ownership.

      • The court case is current and it has a bearing on Watford FC. As it may result Watford having to repay a loan the Pozzos must surely have some knowledge of the situation. I have no idea of the complexities but didn’t mean to deliberately mix the owners. If you are implying that the Pozzos and Mr. Bassini are completely seperate I’m grateful you’re taking the time to clarify – but I’m making no claim about anyone.

        By the way, I’d find it difficult to disagree with anyone who said Palace or any other promoted team should use their new found wealth to repay historic debts.

      • Yes, we’re still dealing with the fall out, but failing was by Bassini, who according to the tribunal deliberately hid his actions from the board and rest of the club.

        The cost of the fall out is minor, extra transfer hoops to jump through, and a potential compensation payment. Small beans for the Pozzos empire, perhaps their due diligence unearthed this, just because they still brought the club doesn’t mean they didn’t know about it.

        I’m saying the Pozzos shouldn’t be tarnished by the actions of Bassini.

        Football finance in a mess in many ways, the ease with which clubs write off debts is one of those problems.

  4. The issue for Watford fans is that this is such well trodden ground, and whatever we say to anyone, it always comes back round. It is new to Sunderland fans perhaps, but the fact is it gets flagged up all over the place and, hungry for Watford news, we follow the links just to find the (to us) same old very hackneyed story that is mostly informed by poor reporting from journalists who seem to have it in for Watford.

    The article is actually pretty good, in fact very fair compared to most, but it still contains some of the basic misconceptions deliberately fostered by the press and some rival managers, and seems to major on what it describes as a negative point that we honestly believe to be one of the greatest things about our new owners: sustainability.

    Take the transfer ’embargo’: There are no restrictions on signings, fees or sales. The only restriction is that we have to run it past the FA to ensure it is being done above board. It is only an embargo on wheeler dealing. But that isn’t very sexy for fleet street. It is far more interesting for them to say that we will have no team next season. But read the articles rather than the headlines, and that becomes very apparent. Most of them run something along the lines of ‘Watford have no players for next season’, then go on to say that we are under a transfer embargo and won’t have any players next season, unless we sign new ones. It’s nonsensical, but of course it’s the headline that gets remembered.

    The main point you seem to be making here is that Crystal Palace are using upstanding methods to become a sustainably competitive team, and that Watford are being underhand and somehow acting irresponsibly. Well, believe me, your two new signings on the management team have been brought in to make Sunderland more like Udinese, their former employer, or I’m a dutch uncle.

    The Pozzo’s club model is an entirely sustainable one, and has worked wonders for what was basically a small unfashionable provincial side when they took it over back in the eighties. I’d say they’ve done a pretty good job there.

    So now they want to do the same thing with Watford, and suddenly they’re the devil incarnate.

    Last closed season was not an ideal start to their ownership of the club, and it has not been widely publicised by the press that at the time of their takeover we really were under a full-on embargo during investigation into our previous owners indiscretions. That meant that the only option we had for putting a side together in the closed season was to ‘loan’ players from other sides. This resulted in the Pozzos signing one player to Udinese in the full knowledge that he would be going directly to Watford without passing go. The preference would have been to sign directly, but we were not able to do that.

    I will admit that that is using a loophole, in this individual case, but it was used in desperation rather than in a fit of power hungry madness from a volcano base somewhere in Northern Italy. The idea of the ‘foreign’ loans, originally devised to allow exactly the type of use we made of it, is also something of a misconception. The reason any team could sign as many as they liked from anywhere, is because for the duration of their loan period, the ‘borrowing’ team held their license: officially they were full signings. It may have been better described as temporary signings rather than loans perhaps. But that’s not very sexy for the press, or for Ian Holloway. It is constantly described as a loophole, but rather than that, it was an option that all teams had, but none had come up with a way to make the most of until Watford last season in a rather desperate bid to put a team together for opening day. The football league have now restricted it, but I think you will soon find that Sunderland start looking along the same avenues in the near future, as the Premiership has left it open.

    Please remember this article if my prophesy comes true, and please remember when frustrated Watford fans reply to this that we really have heard it all a hundred times before!

    Good luck next season. Vive le Bob Stokoe.

    • Superb response to an article that has flaws but is well intended. The ultimate irony, of course, regarding Ian Holloway’s rant about Watford is that their goal in the play off final came as a result of a foul on a loan player (Zaha), and the subsequent penalty scored by former Watford (and Sunderland ;)) legend Kevin Phillips… Who was, erm on loan.

      The dismissive responses from some Watford fans are more based on frustration at what seems like a Grounhog Day article, rather than any bile against your site or authors personally.

      Up the Mackems. Top fans on the whole. Just like ours. Enjoy the season. And batter Palace!

    • Thanks, I was trying to accurately reflect the situation. Football is always full of ironies. Kevin Phillips is the ultimate one. Watford gave him the chance, twenty years later he did them in.

  5. Hi,

    As you Rookerites should know, you sign up to a football team for life. Owners come and go, and as you may have noticed, some have honourable intentions and shallow pockets; some have shady intentions and deep pockets.

    We supporters have no control and just hope that’ fit for purpose’ is exactly that. The problem, as you know, is that to compete in your league requires deep pockets. As I understand it, that’s what happens in the premiership and Sunderland very rarely threatens the big 4 and you do not pre plan your Champions league visits.

    Your article is poorly researched and unclear, apart from another poor history story of our club and what’s happened over the last few years.

    Take a look at the clubs in the championship, most are broke and chasing the premiership dream. Last year your team stayed up, more by luck than good management, and next year I predict the same story for you. Your Mr O’Neill wanted more funds to challenge further up the league and was denied this. This has been our story for years. Welcome to the real world.

    Should you have the misfortune to drop down and do a Leeds, (another club with a proud history and ‘big club’ attitude, slumming it with visits and defeats at Watford) then what price will you pay to be up at the top table again after a few years of reality, because ‘your fans deserve it’?

    History will I think prove that the Pozzo’s have honourable intentions and are right for our club at this point. Watford fans know the score and also reality.

    If you had read all the Watford Observer points, you will know that the ownership change occurred too late to allow an effective transfer of player’s, hence so may came on loan, coupled with a transfer embargo due to mismanagement by the previous owners.

    If we had been relegated then you would be none the wiser, and Holloway would not be bothered because the natural order would be maintained.

    *Stop press*

    Mignolet sold to ‘big club’. Bet you would like to keep him, but lure of possible champions league proved too great, as probably a big increase in salary, overcome doubts of loyalty.

    What have you say on this matter? Probably to agree to a derisory offer for our loanee Vydra. Not bad is he. But he wants to play for a big team


    Leavesden ‘orn and happy

    • “As you Rookerites should know, you sign up to a football team for life”
      Very true, and Watford have always been a family club with local roots. They have a lot to commend them.

      “Welcome to the real world”: 50 years supporting SAFC, with only three Wembley finals and one win to show for it. Up and down as much as any team, surviving sometimes by the skin of our teeth. That’s been my real world. I’m enjoying our moment while it lasts.

      “Pozzo’s honourable intentions” – hopefully true and it’s time the fans got people like that. Sounds a bit like Ellis Short. Every club should have one

      “Broke championship teams”. Can’t disagree but I think their fans won’t focus on that when they compare their season to yours.

      “Ming going” We always struggle to keep class, possibly because of geography, possibly press bias. We have to live with that. In Ming’s case we have to lose one of our two top-class keepers. They both need first team games and won’t stay if they don’t get them. If we make money from Ming we can use it. No idea about loan offers or others – we have been linked with 45 players since the end of the season. Anything is idle speculation until deals are done and I pay it no heed.

  6. What a heap of bile in response to a carefully weighted article with which you are entitled to agree or disagree. Wat_Tyler’s clever dick comment rather sums it up: no hint of a reasoned argument. Matt R accuses the author of laziness but manages only two words; Arjun starts as if he intends to produce serious rebuttal but gives up with childish abuse. Oh dear. Some of us, leavng aside the SuperKev factor, wanted Watford to win the playoff final. We could even have invoked SuperKev for hailing such an outcome. At least we can hope there’s still that decent fish and chip shop on the way to Vicarage Road.

  7. What an oddly timed article, you’re almost a year late on this “story”.

    Of course that timing would have nothing to do with the Pozzos telling Sunderland where to stick their loan offer for one of our “ludicrous” signings, would it?

    • Nascot,
      Why should I know in detail what is going on at Watford? From what I’ve read many Watford fans don’t. If I’ve made any errors of fact I’m happy to be corrected.

      Matt R,
      “twaddle” suggests I’ve got facts wrong. Again, if there are any corrections that need to be made please let me have them. “Lazy”? Not really, I just dug as deep as I wanted to give me some facts on which to mount an argument. I’m happy to have a rebuttal if there is one.

      Matt W,
      The “story” might have its roots in events of a year or even more ago but the BBC quote was in February, the first court decision was in March and the Pete Sixsmith post which got me thinking was three weeks ago. I pay little heed to transfers until deals are done and don’t know what the Pozzos have or haven’t said, nor do I care.

      • If the replies have been curt, it’s because Watford fans are bored with the endless finger in the air, scatter-gun criticism written about their club this season.

        The Udinese loans is accurate, bar ‘two players from any one club’ is wrong. The figure, depending on age and type of loan, can be up to five (FL Reg 52.3.2). Also, last season other Championship clubs had more than 5 loan players including foreign loans in their matchday squad.

        The loan criticism lacks any reasonable comparison with other clubs spending or actions.

        The second and third points are quite pathetic, when compared to the brief mention of Crystal Palace’s administration, their second in 15 years. Yes, our previous owner was bad, and we got a titchy penalty for it. Palace apparently owed £30million and had 10 points deducted. I’m not picking on Palace here, just pointing out the bias.

      • thanks for the clarification on loans. It does seem to be a ludicrous situation. What do you think?

        I agree walking away from debt is unfair but am discussing a current situation not a historic one.
        Nor am I suggesting other clubs are squeaky clean, hence “in their eyes” when referring to their fans.

      • Ludicrous is an emotive catch-all, you’ll have to explain what aspect you find ludicrous.

        That foreign signings are counted differently (or not at all) when compared to domestic ones is wrong, and is rightly being changed.

        That are club is a ‘Udinese B’ side, not at all. Almen Abdi aside, the other loanees had collectively played a half season for Undinese, 4-5 of them never kicked a ball for the Italians.

        The use of loans is an administrative detail, the easiest way to get players into the team. You don’t need to use the loan market to transfer a player between two clubs owned by the same person. The big question is the rights and wrongs of multi-club ownership, a practice widespread in Europe, and there is a cautious concern in Watford ranks over this.

        Something that is definitely ludicrous in football is the EPPP. A mechanism imposed on Football League clubs (by the simple tactic of bribery), which means the best young players are taken, as cheaply and easily as possible, from the Football League academies that paid to nurtured them and into the money grabbers of the Premier League. A system which by design makes Watford’s previous business model (surviving on the proceeds from selling academy players) invalid.

        Our academy is something Watford fans are rightly proud of. I hope we’re signing our youngsters on Udinese contracts, keeping them out of the reach of the ‘big clubs’. Maybe this will be the next loophole we’re ludicrously exploiting.

      • The league has rules prohibiting one person from having a controlling interest in more than one club. I believe it’s designed at least in part to stop players being moved from one club to another to bolster up teams. The Pozzos have apparently managed to get round this rule. Is this because different members of the family have control of different clubs? Is it because it’s one league’s rules and not a FIFA requirement? I don’t know and I don’t particularly care. What I find ludicrous these movements do go on between the family’s clubs in a way which has bolstered up one club. Other posters have said Watford aren’t breaking any rules. They aren’t, but they can’t expect other clubs to have sympathy when they fail to succeed.

      • It is a PL/FL rule (ie English leagues only).

        The European equivalent states two clubs owned by the same people (inc relations) can’t compete in the same competition or division. So Granda and Udinese can’t be in Europa league at same time.

        “in a way which has bolstered up one club”

        So you disapprove of a rich person bolstering a club? That’s half the football clubs in the country. Or you think it’s OK to use oil money to bolster a club, just not football money earned in football?

        p.s. we haven’t failed. we’ve just started. 😉

      • This poses a fascinating dilemma for the Pozzos: what would happen if two (or even three!) of their clubs simultaneously qualified for the same European competition?

        This may also apply to other clubs in the not too distant future. Hmmmm.

  8. So spectacularly ignorant I can’t even be bothered to reply. Just go read all the replies on the hundreds of similar articles posted about Watford this year – they all apply to yours too.

  9. Yes, clubs like Leicester have behaved impeccably by spending millions of pounds in an attempt to get promoted. Watford have levelled the playing field by finding another way to compete.

    Of course the loan situation was known to them. Just how much do you know about the set up at Watford? Bugger all judging by your story.

    It’s great a small club like Watford gets under your skin. It will happen again next season when the club sign the loans on free transfers. Boo hoo, it’s so unfair!

    • Exactly, what Watford did was not immoral or cheating, and it was not a loophole. Pozzo’s didn’t buy Watford as a feeder club. It’s ok to spend millions like Man city, but loaning isn’t ok? Get a grip you complete ignorant idiots.

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