David Harrison savours Elton John's support for Watford when many clubs don't have the luxury of celebrity backers to help ensure their survival
It happens wherever you go, without fail. Has done for the best part of 30 years. Most recently this summer at a bus stop in California. As soon as the international language of the tormented traveller has been exhausted, there’s an absolute inevitability in the exchange that follows. “So, you guys are English. Where you from? Sure I’ve heard of it – that’s Elton John’s ball-club!”
Well yes. And then no. Then very much yes again. Then definitely no and now, well, we’re not sure. But in the eyes of the world, the link between man and club remains undiminished – and has done since the then chubby chap with pink hair and Dame Edna’s glasses was refused admission to Chesterfield’s boardroom all those years ago.
Whatever other accusations can be levelled at Sir Elton – and he’s amassed a pretty comprehensive collection over the years – a fickle flirtation with his local football club would not be one of them. He may have fallen out of love with the Hornets once or twice, but only because he so obviously cared. Regardless of whether he chooses to admit it, the football club has got under his skin and, as we all know, once that happens you’ve had it.
From day one it had been a proper two-way relationship, if somewhat unconventional in terms of contribution. He delivered not just money, but unquantifiable commitment and transparent passion. The chairman was a fan. The football club, for its part, allowed him to retain some sort of tenuous grip on reality. In tandem with Taylor, it worked wonderfully. When Graham bailed out, the whole thing fell apart.
Elton sold out to the odious Jack Petchey and, while retaining a nominal involvement, clearly felt no empathy with those in the boardroom at that time. He wasn’t alone in that. There also appeared to be embarrassment, probably provoked by his own finan- cial representatives, at the extent of the loss he had endured at Petchey’s grubby hands. As a result, and quite understandably, for the first half of the Nineties he was nowhere to be seen.
When Taylor returned to Vicarage Road, for his highly eventful post-turnip rehabilitation period, Elton teamed up again with his old mate (albeit in a more detached role) and all was well. In fact all was better than well, all was bloody marvellous. Until, that is, the fateful telephone call that Elton was alleged to have been persuaded to make in a bid to lure, as Graham’s final replacement, the clueless Gianluca Vialli.
Replacing Taylor was always going to be difficult. But for the board to get it even more wrong than they had first time around – Dave Bassett, in case you’d forgotten – took some doing. But they did it and Elton got dragged into the whole filthy business. Unsurprisingly, he disappeared again shortly afterwards. This time possibly for good.
Does he feel guilty? Certainly no need to – there were others in the boardroom who should have known far better than he, but they were blinded by the perceived reflected glamour of their appointment. Sir Elton, still the club’s honorary life president today, was used as a figurehead.
Will he ever return? Well, there have been hopeful signs – olive branches, perhaps, given the Interflora habit. First, he donated his six-figure fee from Sky’s Are You Ready? Premiership promotion to a club now battling desperately to stay out of Vialli-fuelled administration. And then “an anonymous benefactor” funded the transfer and wages of recent signing Paul Devlin. As anonymous benefactors are somewhat thin on the ground in south-west Hertfordshire, you have to assume that it was our man.
So as the club – now hopelessly skint, but once again on resoundingly good terms with the fan base – battles to stay afloat, we who can only sit and wait, sit and wait. Here’s hoping.
From WSC 202 December 2003. What was happening this month