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 http://www.rokerreport.com/2013/6/6/4396114/the-udinese-model). 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.