The Boss Files: Ray Lewington

By: Watford FC Staff

To help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Watford’s move to Vicarage Road, Daily Mirror sports writer Mike Walters recalls his encounters with those who have occupied the Hornets’ hotseat.

Down on the pitch, a small knot of Watford supporters in their dress-code yellow shirts were looking up towards the upper tier of what is now the Graham Taylor Stand.

Serenading a spectator in the front row, bang on the halfway line, it soon became clear they were trying to catch the attention of a former Watford manager who led the Hornets to two major semi-finals in three seasons while overseeing a 75 per cent reduction of the wage bill.

Ray Lewington, like 23,000 others on a sunlit midsummer evening in 2005, was attending Sir Elton John’s concert at The Vic, which raised £1.3 million for his successor Aidy Boothroyd to invest in new players.

How did Lewington get the best seats in the house for a sell-out show when he had been sacked three months earlier? The bloke playing the piano on stage might have had something to do with it.

And with the greatest respect, Lewington could only have dreamed of £1.3m to spend on a wholesale facelift of his squad during his three-year reign as manager, when austerity was the keynote.

Looking down from his lofty perch, Lewington waved cheerfully at his subjects and indulged fans who scrambled along the upper tier balcony to shake his hand and thank him for a job well done in trying circumstances.

The fall-out from ambitious expenditure on transfer fees and wages under Gianluca Vialli, exacerbated by the collapse of ITV Digital and a shortfall of £190 million TV income owed to the 72 Football League clubs, had left Watford in a precarious state financially.

It remains one of the club’s finest achievements on the pitch that Lewington presided over two lucrative cup runs on such limited resources. It was like making the podium at two Formula One Grand Prix in a Nissan Micra.

Nobody in this parish begrudged his success as Roy Hodgson’s assistant when Fulham reached the Europa League final in 2010 – when they were pipped by Atlético Madrid, whose coach Quique Sánchez Flores later became a familiar face in the WD18 postcode.

On reflection, it was probably a mistake to leave Tommy Smith, the home-grown hero against Sunderland and Burnley in earlier rounds, out of the 2003 FA Cup semi-final defeat by Southampton.

But on-loan Michael Chopra had bagged four goals in the incredible 7-4 league win at Turf Moor the previous week, and Lewington acknowledged: “It was a real Catch 22 – how do you drop a striker who’s just scored four?”

Barely 18 months later, Saints were on a greasy pole heading for relegation when Lewington’s side put them to the sword 5-2 in the first leg of a south coast double for the Hornets in the League Cup.

They would later go on to stun Portsmouth 3-0 in the quarter-finals, from back to front arguably the most complete performance of his spell in charge.

Yep, Lewington deserved the adulation which came his way at Elton’s gig. In trying circumstances, he did a fabulous job.

And Boothroyd, who was also at the Rocket Man’s concert, spent his £1.3m wisely on Marlon King, Darius Henderson, Matthew Spring, Malky Mackay, Clarke Carlisle, Jordan Stewart and an on-loan keeper called Ben Foster.

Just 11 months later, they were celebrating promotion to the Premier League.

Share this article

Other News