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The Importance of Community for Football Clubs

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Watford Forever book cover

The past 24 months have seen a huge upsurge in the focus given to Wrexham.

The town was upgraded to “City” status by Royal Charter in May 2022. Followed by a visit from Charles the Third and the Queen Consort.

Wrexham Folklore

However, these two events were put in the shade by the attention the media gave to Wrexham Football Club.

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny have written their names into Wrexham football folklore after the recent home victory.

While reflecting on this tremendous upheaval in the fortunes of Clwb Peldroed Wrecsam Football, I started reading Watford Forever by John Preston. This book is inspirational and in some ways, a disguised warning of consequences if new managers off the field forsake commitment to the community and team coaches lack personal motivation skills.

In the case of Watford, failure to maintain the momentum for success by consistent ownership or misguided management has been detrimental to further progress.

Financial Turmoil

John Preston points to the key factors in Watford’s resurgence in the 1970s and also how the club became one of the old First Division’s great underdogs. In 1976, Watford FC was in financial turmoil. Lying at the bottom of the lowest rung of the Fourth Division of the Football League.

The spearhead for change came from flamboyant pop star and lifelong supporter Elton John. In 1974, he organised a fundraising concert for the club alongside showbiz friends, including Rod Stewart, which raised £35,000. He became vice-chairman of the board. Progress was slow until, in the spring of 1976, events came to a head.

Chairman Jim Bonser was “too fed up to continue”. He offered to give the club to Elton if he agreed to settle the club’s debts of around £200,000. Elton was keen to accept – for him, it was a dream come true.

Elton’s appointment led to a cultural and playing revolution with Graham Taylor, a young manager from Lincoln City. They made an unlikely pair. Elton with his lamé outfits and pink shoes, contrasting with Taylor, who favoured more conservative dark suits, shirts and ties.

Watford Forever by John Preston

Greater Significance

However, in terms of moving the club forward, Elton and Graham focused on the need for change. John Preston points to the influence that Graham had on Elton. Who saw the manager in many ways as the father figure he yearned for. Elton praised Graham for saving his life by reading him the riot act after seeing him drinking whiskey in the afternoon.

This get-your-act-together dressing-down pre-empted Elton’s recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

Both leaders were passionate about the club. Connecting with the people in the town, schools and businesses and also giving them something to be proud of. Graham Taylor was an early advocate of players being active in charity and the community and being more than just “a player on a Saturday afternoon”.

Taylor’s motivational qualities as a decisive coach changed mindsets and will be of relevance to coaches, teachers and also leaders in business.

Lack of Structure

He sorted out the organisation’s lack of structure by appointing Tom Walley from Caernarfon as a youth team coach. The team won the FA Youth Cup in 1982.

Following his appointment, Taylor wrote to all players, asking them to come and see him. As he commented, “You can work out quickly who has a spark in their eyes and fire in their belly and who doesn’t. You are faced with older ones who have lost any sense of direction and youngsters who have a lot to learn. The motivational term ‘Change or Be Changed’ is difficult for some players to accept responsibility for.”

This quote from Elton John epitomises the dream for all Cae Ras supporters and local businesses: “Make no mistake, we are going for broke, the very top. I am not prepared to drift along on the wave of past success. People have said that we will never become another Liverpool. Well, a few years ago, I never thought I’d be an Elton John!!

This is a brilliant book about Watford FC’s rise from the base of the Football League to the top of the First Division. It is a message to all supporters of Wrecsam, Ymlaen ac I Fyny (Onwards and Upwards!).

Finally, for more book reviews, click here.

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