Highly prized, and associated with luxury and elegance.

That is a description I found of silk which, apparently, is the symbol and/or traditional gift for a 12th anniversary – and that is what Gino Pozzo celebrated at the weekend, a dozen years since buying Watford.

Nearly 4,400 days after arriving at Vicarage Road, are the Hornets highly prized? Would you associate them with luxury and elegance?

To be balanced, the club needs to be assessed across the entire piece – and that’s because currently, they are mid-table Championship and seemingly not highly prized, luxurious or elegant enough for any one individual or group to either want to buy them, or purchase a significant stake.

But they were, in recent memory, quite possibly footballing silk.

Looking back to two years ago, when I returned to the Watford Observer and took up the mantle of writing about my club, I remember going to London Colney and being stunned by the improvements to the training ground and facilities.

Like other fans, I had witnessed six seasons of Premier League football, I had salivated over performances from Capoue, Deulofeu, Deeney and others, and I’d sat in a stadium that finally felt finished, pristine and impressive.

I’d also been to Wembley for an FA Cup Final, something I doubted would ever be repeated after that first time in 1984.

That, though, was 2019, and with every passing season it feels more distant, more remote, further detached from the reality of 2024 and something – like being a team that can hold its own in the Premier League – which appears unlikely to be on the agenda again any time soon.

Those first seven years under the ownership of Pozzo were, quite frankly, superb.

It doesn’t match the achievements of Graham Taylor and Elton John, who took the club and the town from being a backwater to second in the country, Wembley, Europe and grew an ethos and character that was respected the world over.

That was a once-in-a-lifetime series of events that may never be bettered: Wimbledon came close and Wrexham might have aspirations, but for me, the GT/EJ years are not just the best that Watford have and possibly ever will know, they are unrivalled.

Nonetheless, what Watford did under the Pozzo stewardship would have been the best, but for the aforementioned 1977 to 1987 decade of dreams do come true.

Since 2012, the club has been transformed, both on and off the pitch. We owe Pozzo a lot as, when he took over, Watford was in a mess and just existing was far from guaranteed.

Whether you like him or not, whether you trust him or not, whether you want him to hang around or not, you have to pay due reverence to what Pozzo did.

But the key thing in that last sentence is that it’s written in the past sense: what Pozzo did.

An all-too-familiar at Wembley in the 2019 FA Cup Final...An all-too-familiar at Wembley in the 2019 FA Cup Final... (Image: Action Images)

Since that 2019 day at Wembley – which was pretty humiliating once you cut through the colour and excitement generated by our fans – it’s been a painful spiral in a generally sharply downwards direction.

What Pozzo did was excellent. What he’s doing isn’t so great.

It feels like around the time of that unforgettable semi-final win over Wolves there was a moment or perhaps a longer period of time where Pozzo had a choice: realise that Watford were reaching the ceiling of any achievements that can reasonably be expected of them and ensure they can stay at or around that level – or try to push on even further and become a club that starts looking at the European places and wants to operate in and around the fringes of the ‘big boys gang’.

That’s not to say that, in 2019, the club should have given up and decided finishing mid-table and getting to a cup final was the best it could ever achieve.

Ambition, aspirations and striving to be better should always be on the agenda. However, a club the size of Watford has to do it incrementally.

Graham Taylor had a 10-year plan to deliver First Division football. That he delivered it in five is down to his own genius.

Had he arrived in 1977 with a five-year plan, he may well have fallen short.

When Watford reached the cup final in 2019 and were safely ensconced in mid-table of the Premier League, it seemed from the outside that the club decided it could go further. But it also appeared they wanted to do it immediately.

It lost some of its identity in the desire to chase an even bigger dream, and as a consequence not only did it fail to achieve those desires it tumbled in the opposite direction and is still paying the bill.

I spent three years working at Charlton Athletic, during which time they finished seventh in the Premier League and just missed out on European football.

In an attempt to kick on while dealing with the departure a couple of seasons later of talismanic manager Alan Curbishley, the Addicks made a number of poor decisions and consequently plummeted from the Premier League in 2006/07 to League One a decade later.

And, bar one season in the Championship, that is where they remain. Their 17th place in the third tier last term was the club’s lowest league placing in many, many years.

Thankfully, Watford haven’t fallen that far, though there were times during the second half of last season when the trap door marked ‘League One’ was certainly within sight, even if it never truly opened up in the Hornets direction.

So, it is right that we applaud the six seasons of top-level football, the infrastructure and stadium improvements, the great players that have worn our shirt and the run to the cup final that have occurred under the Pozzo ownership in the last 12 years.

But we must also live in the here and now and look at the abysmal relegation season of 21/22, two abject seasons in the Championship, the embarrassing managerial conveyor belt and one home win this calendar year.

A phrase regularly trotted out in football is you’re only as good as your last game. That applies to clubs on a wider scale: our last season was dreadful, the one before that was just as bad . . . in fact, it’s fair to say that while the first seven of Pozzo’s 12 years at Vicarage Road were very positive, the last five have been bad enough that significant withdrawals have been made from the bank of supporter goodwill.

However, summer is a time of reflection in the football world and, while the memories of a second sobering season of not ever looking like anything more than mid-table mediocrity are still strong, there are at least some signs of the club charting a better and more likeable course.

The new kit, predominantly yellow with a much-desired return to red shorts, is a clear and obvious nod to the past which was accentuated in the excellent videos and imagery used to launch it.

Yaser Asprilla in the new Watford kit - hopefully both will be here for the 24/25 seasonYaser Asprilla in the new Watford kit - hopefully both will be here for the 24/25 season (Image: Watford FC)

The fan and community involvement in that launch was both noticeable and welcome, as is the decision to again enable supporters to purchase the shirt without the sponsors logo.

The debate over whether gambling companies are good bedfellows with football clubs that have a family fanbase is one that will rage on.

Watford have to secure a deal that works financially though and offering shirts without a logo that some may find unpalatable (something I’ve not seen other clubs do, though perhaps there are some) shows a good degree of understanding on their part, as well as that on the part of Mr Q, who are paying for prominence but allowing fans to dilute their return by discarding their logo.

The appointments of coaching staff this summer have returned the training ground to feeling very ‘Watfordy’ rather than being a place where random individuals gather to work for an often-brief period of time without ever really having any attachment to the club.

And they are not token appointments either.

Lloyd Doyley is a club legend who cut his coaching teeth at Boreham Wood and will bring a deep understanding of Watford and developing players to work with the Under-18s alongside Matt Bevans, who himself was a Hornets Academy player and has developed into an excellent coach and role model that I got to know well last season during his time with Watford Women.

The return to the club of Dan Gosling, to work with his old Bournemouth teammate Charlie Daniels and the Under-21s, brings with it a wealth of knowledge and experience both of top-level football and also Watford.

His honest and admirable interview two years ago, which told the behind-the-scenes tale of the truly egregious 21/22 relegation season, showed he was someone whose approach, ethics and attitude were more aligned to the Watford we know and love than those he had worked for and alongside.

In Doyley, Bevans and Gosling, the club has three excellent characters who embody all that is good about the Hornets and who will have a very positive influence over the Watford players of the future.

Then there is Tom Cleverley himself, the first head coach appointment made during the Pozzo tenure who has come from within the club.

He knows Watford, he clearly loves Watford and he brings a fresh, energetic and wholly positive mood and way of working.

In the past, the club have chosen to dip into the worldwide bag of mystery when it comes to replacing outgoing head coaches, and have done so with vastly differing degrees of success.

Cleverley is young and played as recently as last year. He knows the modern game, he has a deep knowledge of English football and he has lived through good and bad times at Vicarage Road – he’s seen where we can rise to, and also where we can fall to.

Appointing him was another step in a better direction. Of course, supporting him, letting him get on with the job and not rushing to judge him are areas where we need further evidence as to a different way of working.

Then there is freezing of season ticket prices, another positive which must not be overlooked.

Ok, after what was served up last season it would take an almost impossible logic to decide putting them up was a good idea – but that still hasn’t stopped other clubs from doing so, clubs who also charge their fans interest to spread the cost of their purchase whereas Watford don’t.

So in the words of the 1979 hit by Ian Dury and The Blockheads, there are reasons to be cheerful.

There are also a few ‘buts’ though.

Despite all of the promising acts listed above, we still have to take a balanced view and look at other elements of the club right now that are less encouraging.

The departure of Ismael Kone to Marseille is, in cash terms, a good piece of business. Signed for £6m, sold for up to £15m (about 75% of which is paid up front) 18 months later.

However, it’s another young and talented player that has departed the club who, given better circumstances, would surely have been in the team this coming season.

To be fair, Watford have always been a ‘selling club’, a fact recognised 40 years ago by Graham Taylor and something which is not unique to the Hornets. In fact, there is barely a handful of clubs in British football for whom player trading is not a way of life, or indeed a means to exist.

But the worrying trend is that good business at Watford has become a one-way street. The hinges of the exit door are greased with cash, but the entry door is getting rusty around the edges as very little has been spent on incomings.

If, as would seem likely, other players follow Kone out of the door then that may well plug the gap between income and expenditure for another summer.

But at what cost to the team? How much will Cleverley be allowed to invest in a squad that looked like rice paper last season? And how many more gems can the club keep unearthing that are bought for little and sold for lots?

The latter point is even more pertinent given that Sporting Director Gianluca Nani is now dividing his time between Watford and Udinese.

Of course, there is Asprilla, Ryan Andrews and Giorgi Chakvetadze, whose impressive displays at the Euros in Germany make the decision to sign him permanently in January appear more understandable, a trio of on-field assets who would undoubtedly attract both interest and a good price should the Hornets have cause or desire to sell them.

Giorgi Chakvetadze in action for Georgia against Spain at the Euro 24 finals.Giorgi Chakvetadze in action for Georgia against Spain at the Euro 24 finals. (Image: Action Images)

Yet is the knowledge the club has potential within the squad to generate money really that comforting?

How many more times can the club do that, and where is the money going?

It feels a little like trotting off down to ‘Cash for Gold’ with some of that bling in the jewellery box, and emerging with a wad of notes.

It’ll tide you over, it’ll pay some bills and you might have a bit left over for a nice pub lunch.

But if you’re also trying to clear debts, repay loans and there are no more of Granny’s trinkets to trade in, what then?

Of course, this summer has also seen the launch of the club’s digital equity scheme, which seemingly has been implemented due to the failure to find an individual or group willing/able to hand over a large chunk of money for a small stake in the club.

That may well be due to the unrealistic asking price and/or what was being offered in return by the owner to prospective investors.

As I wrote when that equity scheme was announced, anyone willing to hand over tens of millions is going to want some sort of say in how their money is used, as well as a seat at the table for board meetings.

Instead we have the online share issue which, while probably not aimed at fans, means there is a chance to spend upwards of £50 to support the club.

Let’s not be silly: you’re not ‘owning’ any part of the club even if you choose to spend £50, £5,000 or £500,000.

There are some perks and shiny things on offer if you part with larger sums, and it feels like an idea to tap into the American market in lieu of a Ryan Reynolds or Tom Brady rocking up at London Colney with bulging pockets.

Again though, as with player trading, the well of share issues is not one you can go to continually. At some point, the club has to be able to operate in a way that it can be totally, or largely, self-sufficient.

That is difficult enough in itself, as most of the 91 other clubs will testify. But trying to do so while repaying the costs of the aforementioned follies of chasing the dream in the Premier League really ratchet up the effort required.

And amid all the many reasons to temper the positives experienced this summer with the concerns and fears of reality, we still have the issue of club communication with fans.

A year ago there was the forum with Pozzo. It felt like a breakthrough, particularly as it was largely driven and delivered by fans themselves.

However, 12 months on and we’ve not heard a peep from the owner since. It seems an interview with the founder of the Hornets, Henry Grover, is about as likely as one with Pozzo given his comment about not liking talking to the media in his preamble at that London Colney event last summer.

And of course, while he faced questions and gave answers in the forum, it felt to me (as a journalist) that he got off quite lightly.

Too often he gave a ‘politician’s response’ whereby he skirted the issue or answered the question he wanted to answer rather than the one he was asked.

Then there were questions that had multiple parts, which allowed the owner to deal with the bits he wanted to, and not supply information on those he’d rather avoid.

As a journalist, you are trained to ensure your interviewee gives you an answer and/or report if they refuse. You don’t always accept the answer at face value and you interrogate further, or you take part of what is said to dig deeper and forensically get to the core of the issue.

That may well be why Pozzo doesn’t like talking to the media – though my response to claims that journalists are harsh is that if you truly believe in what you’re saying and have nothing to hide then even Hercule Poirot would be unable to point a finger at you, never mind a local newspaper writer.

To the club’s credit, they hosted four supporter events last season, and they could if they wished point at a degree of apathy among fans given that many of the same faces turned up at all of them.

Similarly, fans have the right to vote with their feet and their wallets. Even with prices frozen, a season ticket is a rapidly unappealing purchase given the detritus served up at Vicarage Road over the last three seasons.

A paltry 19 league wins from 65 home games, which very roughly works out at about £65 per victory for an adult season ticket holder in the Rookery End.

Yet despite all that, and the very public cries of ‘enough’s enough’ from many supporters during the second half of last season, more than 90% of season ticket holders have renewed.

Therefore, the owner could legitimately and understandably point to that renewal figure and claim the natives are far from restless.

The new season’s start is a little over a month away, and the next few weeks will tell us much about what, where and how the club chooses to back Cleverley in terms of recruiting new players – or selling those currently at the club.

We will see how significantly the actual amount invested via the digital equity scheme increases, and rest assured if the owner decides to field a few questions – from fans or The Watford Observer – you’ll read about it here.

For fans, backing Cleverley, his coaching staff and the players is surely a given, as to do otherwise would nullify the point of being a supporter.

Similarly of course, Tom will also understand that judgment comes to pass once we get to 12.30pm on Saturday August 10, and will continue thereon in. Supporters will support, but they cannot be expected to blindly clap regardless of what they see.

And in that spirit, let’s not allow the excellent new kit to be the Emperor’s new clothes in yellow and red.

There are indeed, as Mr Dury and his Blockheads sang some 45 years ago, reasons to be cheerful. But they also penned a hit called ‘What a Waste’ – and that tune will also be buzzing around my head as I balance events of the last five years alongside the seven that went before.