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MOVING OUT? Are Watford FC being forced out of town?

 Published on: 19th March 2020   |   By: Nik Allen   |   Category: Watford FC

For all Watford’s redevelopment of Vicarage Road into a compact, smart and stylish ground reflective of a Premier League brand that boasts the same credentials, it remains unfit for purpose.

The world’s top domestic league requires the matchday experience to showcase so much more than just what happens on the pitch, with Manchester City, Arsenal and, most recently, Tottenham Hotspur, showing just what can be achieved with ‘the stadium experience’.

Indeed, Spurs provide perhaps the most pertinent example of how ground expansion can be done without the need to move out of town, or away from a club’s spiritual home.

The White Hart Lane club are one of the few to have built a new stadium that bears the same name as the old, notably through clever development of industrial land at the back of their former home. 

That Watford had the same opportunity is something of a frustration to those who wanted to keep football in WD18.

The sale of the allotments to developers Origin Housing by Watford Borough Council reflects the fact our authority is perhaps more of a property development company than anything else, and in many ways that’s perhaps only right.

After all, the council need to protect their own interests before what is essentially a private entity overseen by Italian ownership.

On that subject, I have been a huge admirer of the current stakeholders at Vicarage Road.

Since Gino Pozzo came in, he has intrusted CEO and Chairman Scott Duxbury to run the organisation, and spectacular results have followed.

The club have gone from a struggling Championship side, playing in front of three stands, to an established Premier League outfit, even if this season has proven an unexpected struggle.

The club has some incredible talent on the books, and there is no corner of the stadium that doesn’t look polished and primed on a matchday.

Perhaps it is the fact we now have a ‘finished product’ that adds to the widespread hysteria associated with the prospect of having to leave a patch of grass that every fan thinks of as home.

However, it’s surely time to look at this from a different angle as this inevitable crossroad comes closer.

Watford earn the same broadcasting revenue as a club such as Southampton, yet the Saints play in stadium with 10,000 more seats, therefore significantly increasing commercial revenue per annum.

In fact, in recent KPMG findings, Watford have the third lowest commercial revenue in the top tier of English football, with only with AFC Bournemouth and Burnley below them.

Therefore, at the commencement of every Premier League season, Watford, by logic, should be one of the three favourites to go down, simply due to the economic restrictions that the stadium presents.

Southampton are able to buy at least one player more than the Hornets each season, and with Football Fair Play being enforced much more rigidly now, surely Watford can’t continue to punch above their weight. 

The club had announced plans to expand Vicarage Road, working with stadium architects Populous; and yet, realistically, with the landlocked nature of the plot, and the soon to be created Health Campus, are Watford Borough Council going to give the club the opportunity to grow to the required capacity of 30,000?

The club’s wranglings with the council date back to Sir Elton John’s early days, over the construction of the then named Rous Stand (now the Graham Taylor Stand).

I can see that the current ownership will have the same kind of strife with the council if the club’s ambitions are to be met. 

Regarding the new stadium, I have learned that over the last five years the club have been offered ‘out of town’ opportunities (some as far away as north London) but they are keen to stay within the town in order to reinforce the community nature of an entity that boasts a strong and proud heritage.

The new mooted site – and I understand this is one of a number being explored – may be across the invisible boarder, but it will keep all of the business still in Watford.

Surely this is a massive benefit to the town and the borough council, rather than losing the football club altogether for it to occupy some green piece of land many miles away.

I am led to believe that local residents around the new site will be up in arms with the prospect of having a football stadium on their doorstep, but this is an inevitability to any development, and always remember there are only 19 Premier League games each year, so impact will be minimum.

Furthermore, the Duxbury administration have always shown that they are an innovative and forward-thinking group, and I am strongly convinced that the disruption to local residents will be kept to an absolute minimum. 

In many ways we should be glad.

The current ownership supports the club at every turn.

Rather than cashing in as they might with the club occupying a much loftier perch than they did when first arriving, thoughts of the new stadium offers further proof that our custodians are here for the long haul. They are thinking about the next 100 years, not the next 100 days, as some owners and chairman do. 

I, for one, believe the new stadium would make Watford a sustainable Premier League team on the pitch for the considerable future, and if the rumours are true that the brief for the new stadium would be Carbon Neutral, then it would be sustainable off the pitch too; both factors that Vicarage Road can’t offer. 

In summary, let’s not let our hearts rule our heads.

I care about Watford and write this not with emotion, but with common sense.

To flourish, they’ve got to move.

After all, change is good, but progress is essential; and a potential new home for the Hornets could be the start of an era of success on the pitch, as well off it, that none of us have before experienced… and who wouldn’t relish that?

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