When in 1974 Elton John (Middlesex, 1947) was offered to acquire a stake and become the vice president of Watford Football Club, a football team hopelessly sunk in the last position of the league table, many considered that the singer he had definitely lost his sanity. Although the truth is that his love affair with that unglamorous and impressive club had already come from afar. It all started in 1953 when his father, a member of the British Royal Air Force named Stanley Dwight, took him to see a game at the Vicarage Road stadium. At the time, just six years old, the author of Rocket Man I had not yet felt the call of the rock & roll. However, as he himself revealed in Me, his memoirs edited in Spanish by edited by Reservoir Books in 2019, watching those players in action was “like taking a drug to which you instantly became addicted.”
“The stadium seemed to say clearly everything that needed to be known about them. There were only two very small, old and unstable covered grandstands. And it was also used as a dog track. If I had had any criteria, I would have taken a look at it earlier and, after considering the state it was in, I would have chosen to defend a team that actually played football. It could have saved me 20 years of almost complete misery. But football doesn’t work like that. Or, at least, it shouldn’t. You carry it in the blood; Watford was my father’s team and therefore mine, ”he wrote at the time.
Actually, that was the only thing the artist and his iron father had in common. Their relationship was perennially strained, as Stanley was the typical man of the fifties who saw in any manifestation of emotion, apart from anger, a fatal test of weakness of character. For example, he never supported Elton leaving his studies as a teenager to dedicate himself body and soul to music. Not even after achieving international star status did she dare to see him live at one of his massive concerts. The situation, predictably, did not improve when in the early sixties he divorced his mother and rebuilt his life. As his son confessed in the book: “He never changed his mind about my career. He never complimented me. However, the fact that he never did, made me want to show him that I had made the right decision. I motivate myself. I thought that the more successful I was, the more obvious it would be that my father had been wrong, whether he admitted it or not. Sometimes, even today, it seems to me that I’m trying to show my father what pasta I’m made of, even though he’s been dead since 1991 ”.
Going back to 1974: that was a year that marked a before and after at Elton. During the recording in the United States of his album Caribou he became addicted to cocaine (it would not be until 1990, when he entered a Chicago detoxification center, that he would take the opportunity to cleanse himself of his addiction to alcohol and food). And, likewise, when a journalist following Watford told him during an interview that, beyond the field of play, the club was also suffering from serious financial problems, the musician did not hesitate to organize a charity concert with his friend Rod Stewart in the field to raise funds. For the occasion, she dressed in a bee costume. This is how, in return, they offered him the position of vice president. Despite the initial refusal of his then manager, John Reid, the rest of the board gave him the best welcome. “If it bothered them that I was the only vice president of the Soccer League who showed up at meetings with dyed green and orange hair, above all thanks to my platforms, they never told me. But my presence is not that it meant anything special at Watford itself: the team still had no solution, and the club was ruined.
Anyway, it wouldn’t be until the spring of 1976, months before he declared his bisexuality in the magazine. Rolling Stone, that the president, a local businessman named Jim Bonser, offered to sell him the Watford outright. “One piece of advice I would give to anyone planning to come out would be this: try to make sure you don’t do it right after you are appointed president of a British football club, unless you want to spend Saturday afternoons listening to thousands of fans of the opposing team singing, to the tune of My Old Man Said Follow the Van, the phrase: ‘You don’t sit when Elton is around, or he’ll stick his cock up your ass.’ I suppose I should include a lecture here deploring the homophobia of soccer fans in the mid-seventies, but I have to be honest, I was amused. It was mortifying, but fun. I didn’t feel threatened or scared by it; without a doubt they did it with a humorous intention, you have to know how to take the blows. They sang, and I just smiled and waved at them, “he said sarcastically in his memoirs.
Despite his tumultuous personal life and long-standing collection of addictions, for Elton this adventure was a humbling experience. “There was no falsehood there. When you reached a certain level of success in the music business, you found that many people around you began to tell you what they thought you wanted to hear, rather than what they really thought. Nobody wanted to bother you, nobody wanted the ship to sink. But at Watford it was not like that. The staff and players were friendly and respectful, but they had no interest in massaging my ego. They told me without problems if my last album had given them the same or if they thought that my coat was ridiculous, “he wrote.
Also in those pages he pointed out that one of the best decisions he made in his early days as president was to hire coach Graham Taylor in April 1977. The coach not only made youth like Luther Blissett and Nigel Callaghan into stars, or signed for a A ridiculous figure for 16-year-old John Barnes, but surprisingly took the team to the top in record time. The data speak: a season after their arrival they were already in the third division; two later, in second; in 1981 they were promoted and the following year they were runners-up in the Premier League, which led to their participation in the UEFA Cup.
In 1984, the year they played the FA Cup final (like the King’s Cup but in the British version) in front of 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. He recalled this: “I was used to things going well for Watford, but before the start of the game I saw clearly how far we had come, going from being a hopelessly small club that nobody was going to see play, and of which they laughed, to end up being what we were. The marching band was kicked off with Abide With Me, the traditional FA Cup anthem, and then it happened: I started crying in front of the BBC cameras. In the end, that was the peak of the day. Everton beat us 2-0. It should have been a tighter result, they should have disallowed a goal, but it is true that they played better. He was pissed off, but we still threw a party for the team. “
Two years after that feat, Graham left to become Aston Villa’s manager. Elton signed Dave Bassett to replace him, although nothing was the same anymore. In 1987, given his musical obligations, he sold the Watford to Jack Petchey, a billionaire who had made his fortune from cars. But a decade later, he returned to recover a lot of shares and became president again because he could not bear that in the hands of Petchey he went down to the Second Division. Yes, the singer had Graham Taylor on the bench again. However, the author of Candle in the Wind resigned as president for good in 2002.
Since then he has served as honorary president. “I owe much more to Watford than the team owes me. I was president during the worst period of my life. When I felt that there was no love in my life, I knew that I would have the love of the club and the fans. It gave me something else to focus on, a passion that could divert my attention from everything that was going wrong. For obvious reasons, there are moments from the eighties that I have no recollection of, but every Watford game I saw is fixed in my memory. If I hadn’t had the soccer club, God knows what would have happened to me. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am convinced that Watford saved my life ”, he expressed in his memoirs.
To all this, what about his father? Despite not supporting your musical career, how did you experience that your son was nothing more and nothing less than the president of your team? After decades without knowing anything about each other, in 1983 they met in Liverpool to coincide with a match. He was already seriously ill.
“Soccer was the only thing we had in common,” wrote the singer. “I took him to eat at the Adelphi hotel. It was good. We just talk cordially about unimportant things. Every now and then the conversation would end and there would be an awkward silence, which emphasized that we did not know each other very well. I was still mad at him for how he had treated me, but I didn’t bring it up. We watched the game from the honor box. Watford lost 3-1, but I still think he had a good time, although you never knew with him. I guess deep down I was hoping he would be impressed by the fact that I was the president of the club he had taken me to as a child, and that the Watford fans would sing ‘Long live Elton John’s Taylor Army’ when we scored a goal. or we advanced through the field. If with my music I had never fallen a: ‘congratulations, son, I am proud of you’, perhaps I would achieve it with my achievements with Watford. But it never came, ”he recalled in a chapter of the book. Since that day they never saw each other again. When Stanley passed away on December 12, 1991, Elton did not attend his funeral.
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“Watford saved my life”: when Elton John became president of a forgotten football club and brought it back to the top | Culture | ICON