Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The latest football news from 90 Minutes Online

Watford FC and Elton John Still Standing

I'm Still Standing Record (via Wikipedia)With Watford's struggles mounting up in what has been a very difficult season so far, it seems one of their celebrity fans' star is once more in the ascendancy. Following his recent chat with Graham Norton & the release of his book ‘Me’, not to mention the success of the Rocketman film biopic, what better time to swap the piano for the pitch & look at another great love of his in the form of the Hornets…



Having grown up in the local area, the man who would become Elton John became a Watford fan as a boy, recounting in his on-pitch speech at the naming of his own stand at Vicarage Road how he had first stood on the terraces as a six year old. A cousin, Roy Dwight, had earlier played & scored for Nottingham Forest in the 1959 FA Cup final against Luton before suffering a leg break in the same game. And John would later tread a similar path to the final as chairman of his homegrown heroes in 1984. He famously broke down in tears during the traditional airing of Abide With Me, before Everton went breaking his heart, attributing his pre-match blubbing to memories of childhood stirred by the famous old hymn.


That was probably the high point of his early boardroom involvement after taking over in 1976 & pumping a sizeable amount of his own money into the club. He appointed the late Graham Taylor as manager to oversee a rise into the First Division, before selling up to Jack Petchey by 1987- though he remained as club president.


It was Taylor who delivered a rollicking after Elton turned up for a Boxing Day fixture feeling fragile with a hangover after a cocaine bender, & John would later write of how he & the club helped save his life. Ironically one of his biggest hits had earlier come in celebration of the day before!


“If I hadn’t had the football club, then God knows what would have happened to me. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think Watford might have saved my life. I was chairman throughout the worst period of my life: years of addiction and unhappiness, failed relationships, bad business deals, court cases, unending turmoil.


Through all of that, Watford were a constant source of happiness to me. For obvious reasons, there are chunks of the Eighties I have no recollection of – but every Watford game I saw is permanently etched on my memory.”


Having got his feet under the chairman's table, the former Reg Dwight wasted little time in sacking Mike Keen to make room for Taylor, who got them promoted from the Fourth Division in his first season, the 1978-79 campaign bringing with it a similar elevation from the Third. Securing a ninth place finish the season before promotion to the First, though they finished second behind Luton, meant they came good on John's aim to get them into the big time.


Four wins from five to kick off 1982-83 took them top of the pile to cap off a seven year climb from bottom division to top, that season ending with a second placed finish behind Liverpool, to whom they would later sell John Barnes after Taylor left to take over at Aston Villa towards the end of a decade his former chairman claimed not to remember...


The appointment of Dave Bassett following Taylor's exit preceded relegation back to Division 2, following the beginning of a steady period of decline after Luther Blissett left for AC Milan (although jhe returned after just one season in Italy). Taylor himself would later return as caretaker manager in February of 1996 but could not stop the Hornets losing their sting & dropping back into the third tier.


Former turnip Taylor would stay on as director of football following the fall through the Second Division trap door, managerial duties handled by former Hornets midfielder Kenny Jackett before a mid-table finish found him demoted to assistant to his old director of football, who promptly won the title in the 1997-8 season.


That marked the beginning of another rapid rise under Taylor to the old money First Division, the Premier League welcoming Watford in time for 1999-2000's campaign. Taylor stuck around for another year before retiring, the managerial reins handed to Gianluca Vialli.


Against which backdrop Elton decided he could no longer walk the yellow shirt road & said goodbye in May of 2002. "With the huge changes taking place in football it is obviously necessary for the board to be led by a chairman who will be able to devote more time to the club. I am sure that they will find the right person who will be able to devote time and energy to leading the club through these difficult times."


A marathon touring schedule was behind that decision, though one of his last acts was to hail the appointment of Vialli- "One of the most stunning coups we have ever pulled off, I'm sure he will build a wonderful team and I know the supporters will adore him. I can't wait for the start of next season." He also proved to be hands on in player recruitment, convincing Stephen Glass to swap Newcastle for Vicarage Road.


"When Elton John phones to give you the club's vision you start thinking they're serious.” as the player himself put it! Following John's exit from the boardroom the Pozzo family took over, though he retained a financial interest in the club & indeed retained his life presidency.


During a particularly hard strain on club coffers he played a 2005 concert & donated the proceeds to them, & has continued to play live there on occasion. His fellow Hornets fans returned the favour in their own unique manner during half time of a home match with Southampton in April of this year, with their own unique arrangement of Rocket Man as the trailer for the film of the same name played on the big screens at Vicarage Road!


And in a nice postscript, his two sons led the team out for their most recent FA Cup final appearance against Manchester City, though another bunch of boys in the blue of Manchester City broke his heart that day, too. His eldest, Zachary, seven, now plays for Watford's junior teams- five year old Elijah seemingly inheriting his old man's musical chops instead.


The managerial return of Quique Sánchez Flores in September ended up being a false, and short-lived dawn. But with the architect behind Leicester City becoming top-flight stalwarts, Nigel Pearson, now confirmed as the new Hornets boss, perhaps Gino Pozzo has found the man to install some much needed stability? Fellow supporters will be hoping that Saturday afternoons will become alright for football again soon, as they were under the chairmanship of their most famous fan. 

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