After watching Stoke play both Sunderland and Hull City it is reassuring to know that, unless both of these teams improve considerably, the remainder of the teams at the bottom of the table are now fighting to avoid one relegation place. So the news that Watford may be in trouble over a forged bank letter could be seen as confirming the three teams to be relegated before the kids have gone out trick and treating.
When Gino Pozzo became owner of the London club in 2014 part of the due diligence required by the Football League was proof that the company taking over, in this case Hornets Investment Limited, had sufficient funds to bankroll the running of the club. This guarantee was provided in the form of a letter from HSBC Premier which it has now come to light was not genuine.
Whilst Watford should be punished for supplying falsified financial information to the football league, and penalties touted have included fines and points deductions, what amazes me is the level of incompetence which seems to be at the cored of the English game. After the Big Sam fiasco, we now have another English national footballing body which seems to have only a passing interest in ensuring they verify what they are being told is in fact the truth and whether it would be good for the game and if you dig deeper into the story the English Football League’s grasps of the basic facts of business become evidently naïve.
Hornets Investment Limited first application of proof of funds was rejected by the Football League because the club submitted an out of date document from a different back, Credit Suisse. Didn’t anyone hear the alarm bells when a two year old banking letter was provided as proof of current funds? Then when Hornets Investment Limited reapplied didn’t anyone bother to wonder why the letter came from a different bank? I understand companies change the bank they deal with but wouldn’t you wonder why the original application was accompanied by a letter from a bank which is not the one you are now saying you bank with? And arm of HSBC which must be noted does not deal with corporate customers!
Finally, even if you had failed to hear the cacophony of alarm bells now resounding, there is a telephone number on the forged letter. How hard could it be to pick up the phone and ask one simple question?
And what of Watford’s punishment? Before fans of Burnley, Hull, Swansea or Sunderland get too excited, even if Watford are proven guilty, I doubt their punishment will have any impact on the final Premier League table. They will no doubt be fined and I would hope that they are docked points, a lot of points, but this is an English Football League investigation and I would be surprised if the Premier League, which is a separate organisation, would accept any points deduction handed out by their counterparts. This would mean that any points deduction would have to be held over until the club returns to the English Football League.
Could Watford survive this suspended sentence if they got relegated? With the parachute payments which are on offer to clubs that get relegated I have no doubt but if the points deduction is sufficiently large it would mean Watford would not be able to bounce back at the first attempt. The final question would then be would the current owners hang around a team that is going nowhere? After being allowed to massage their vanity, as the owner of a Premier League club, they will be able to walk away, if they wish, throwing their toy to the wayside as they depart unpunished.
I hope they wouldn’t but if I was a fan of Watford I would be dreading the day you ever got relegated from the Premier League.