16 November ~ Shortly before Laurence Bassini acquired Watford FC in March it was revealed he had been declared bankrupt in 2007 and had been closely involved in several failed businesses. Unfortunately for Watford fans, a list of his positive achievements proved much harder to find. These revelations begged the obvious question: Why did this man buy Watford, and how was he going to invest in the club’s future? Bassini was expected to shed some long-awaited light on his plans at the annual fans’ forum last week but, shortly before it was due to start, fans were informed he had withdrawn due to ill health.
Many of those who did attend were bitterly disappointed, none more so than Watford’s chairman, Graham Taylor. Responding to an early question on Bassini’s absence, Taylor expressed his own frustration and chose to address the owner directly, saying: "This was a great opportunity for you, Laurence, to sit and answer questions which Watford supporters are very keen to have the answers to."
His outburst sparked a boardroom crisis at Watford, with Taylor now unlikely to continue as chair. Even more worrying, Bassini threatened to withhold £1 million in funds required to ensure Watford can pay its bills unless Taylor apologised. He has since withdrawn that threat but such a spiteful action has hardly endeared him to fans already concerned at his motives for buying the club.
From a PR perspective, Taylor is the one person Bassini should want to keep onside. That is not to say Taylor is infallible; it was unwise to imply Bassini might have been feigning illness. But, given his history and long-term commitment to the club, Watford fans will rightly take his concerns very seriously, and the boardroom row should not distract from the bigger issue.
On the rare occasions fans have heard from Bassini he has talked a good game. He plans to reopen the Red Lion pub outside the ground, re-lay the awful pitch at Vicarage Road, complete the south-west corner of the ground (currently a half-finished office block) and build a new East Stand. It all sounds great, but Watford is a football club that often operates at a loss (excluding revenue from player sales) so how will he finance these plans, as well as investment in the playing squad?
The Watford fansite From the Rookery End is pursuing a campaign to get some answers and has set five questions for Bassini. They are not asking for minute detail but for a basic explanation of Bassini’s motives and his vision for the club – the kind of long-term plan any person buying a business should be able to articulate, providing they have one. Michael Moruzzi @regista_blog