THERE is a revisionist at work on the Watford Mailing List. He has claimed that, on reflection, Jack Petchey was not such a bad chairman and that his prudence in all things financial compares very favourably with the excesses of the Penguin men, Haig Oundjian and company.

It is certainly a thought, even if an ill-considered one and not based soundly on fact.

Having oft expounded the theory of speculating in order to accumulate, I cannot roundly condemn Oundjian and company. They were told they had some £3.5m coming in for each of two more seasons and they decided to use it to try and lift the Hornets back to the Premiership. They were even prepared to top it up with money of their own, so Vialli had some £6m to spend.

The fact that Vialli spent it stupidly and that the League had been telling porkies about the TV revenue being guaranteed compounded the financial crisis.

My own criticism of the board at the time was that they had gone for glamour and a name to look good on their dinner-party invitation lists, as opposed to one who knew what the First Division was all about.

There was nothing on Vialli's cv to suggest he had any ability working with and improving players on the training field. At Chelsea, if there was a weakness he plugged it with an expensive new recruit.

So I don't blame the board so much for spending the TV revenue on the basis of an assurance. Their stupidity was to allow Vialli to sign players on free transfers and at inflated wages. These wages would have to be maintained over two and three years the length of the expensive contracts - not just one.

Compare that to Jack Petchey's era. Yes, two stands were built during his period at the helm: the Bruce Dyer Stand and the Paul Furlong stand - known as the Vicarage Road and Rookery end respectively.

He sold the assets to pay for the stands and did not reach in his own pocket. He also introduced stringent economic policies which included limiting the training staff room to less than a bottle of milk a day.

He bought Watford for something between £850,000 - £900,000. He left Elton's loans on the books and because he was the owner, they technically fell to him. So for a nominal amount he picked up £3.5m worth of debt to the former owner.

It was never intended the money would be left on the books. It is said Petchey paid a £1 back to EJ and then stuck out for £3,5m when it came his turn to sell. That debt should have been removed but Petchey kept it there and when the Elton-backed consortium came in to buy Petchey out, he insisted on these loan notes being repaid. So, in effect, he was asking Eton and company to pay him money that the former chairman had already leant the club.

Petchey also introduced a restrictive policy on transfers. Glenn Roeder had little room to manoeuvre and eventually, having dallied too long over signing a striker, found that Petchey was less than enthusiastic about having Paul Wilkinson back at the club on loan.

While that was going on, Watford were sinking and with Roeder gone, Graham Taylor took over.

Inside three months he sent a memo to Taylor informing him that the club had to be entirely self-financing and that not a penny of extra money would be made available.

Kenny Jackett laboured under these restrictions for a year.

Then came the take-over and Petchey was on his way, something in the region of £3m richer for the experience.

He is the only known member in the history of Watford's board to have made a profit out of the club, largely because he insisted on being repaid for loans he never made in the first place.

Had he invested that amount of money, Watford would not have been relegated to the Second Division, but during his term the youth scheme and many of the community-minded aspects of the club were run down.

It was great that he was bought out by Oundjian and company, even if the club had to settle those debts over a number of years. Had Petchey stayed we would have conserved ourselves all the way into the Conference.

Any way, when it comes to revisionism: try this for size. Stephen Glass and Marcus Gayle were signed by Luca Vialli, Jamie Hand was given his debut by Vialli and Danny Webber was brought down on loan to Vicarage Road by Vialli.

These four players were the award-winners.

So he must have been a good manager.