Coincidentally, 40 years is also the amount of time I’ve been following Watford, and we’ve finished in the top six of various divisions a total of eight times in that period. Partly as a result, the longest period we’ve spent in a single division since 1970 is the eight seasons from 1988/89 to 1995/96 when were in what was initially called Division Two, then League One (and is now the Championship, of course).
The naming system isn’t the only thing that’s changed in English football since the early 90s. I haven’t got the time (or the energy) to go into the financial inequalities that increase with each passing year, but suffice to say that they’ve led me to an uncomfortable conclusion: we need to beat that record.
Promotion to the Premiership is clearly not a good thing for a club like Watford. Twice we’ve gone up, and twice we’ve been driven to the brink of financial ruin as a direct result. A third time might finish us off, at least in our current financial circumstances.
Relegation to League One is equally undesirable. The idea of going down, rediscovering the joy of being one of the big clubs in the division, and coming back stronger, is a nice one, but it’s not always that simple – look how long it’s taken Leeds. And the latest change to parachute payments means the gap between the Championship and League One is only going to get bigger.
So what Watford need is a nice long stay in the Championship: 10 years ought to do it. That would give us time to complete the financial reorganisation that already seems to be fairly well advanced, and then to re-establish the club on a sustainable footing. That will depend largely on the Harefield academy producing a steady stream of young players who can contribute to the first team for a few seasons before being sold on for a fee to a bigger club. The model that Dario Gradi established at Crewe, in other words.
Boring? Perhaps. Unambitious? Well, no, actually. Because I think the football bubble is going to burst in the next few years, and the chances are that some professional clubs are going to go to the wall. I’ll be happy to witness 10 years of mid-table stability (hopefully leavened by the occasional cup run) if it means the club is still there to compete at the end of it. And that is a worthwhile ambition, in my book.