Watford are working on revised plans to add a second tier to the Sir Elton John Stand and are at a more advanced stage of building a new state of the art facility at their training ground in London Colney.
Chief executive Scott Duxbury wants to increase the capacity of the club’s Vicarage Road ground to 30,000 by, first of all, taking the number of seats in the stand to around the 8,000 mark. Plans had been submitted to Watford Borough Council last season but the club have since changed architects and plans are being redrawn. Once approved, work will begin on creating the 4,000-plus seat tier in the summer of 2018.
“I’d like to take the capacity to 30,000,” Duxbury told WD Sport in April. “That’s a natural size for our fan base and allows us to grow. We are still in the consultation phase with the council and the local residents. Logistically, it might be better to take a breath. Subject to us getting planning permission, we’d start that in the summer of 2018.”
Since the Pozzos bought the club and placed Duxbury in charge of the day-to-day running, the East stand was demolished and replaced with a new 3,000 seat structure at the cost of £4.4m while the club was in the Championship. The stand was developed again in the summer of 2015, with the addition of 700 seats, bringing the total cost to around £5.5m. Significant work also took place to fill in the corners last summer, adding an extra 1,500 to the capacity.
Watford have received widespread acclaim this season from media visitors, both broadcasters and the written press, for the transformation of the ground.
“The stadium is significantly improved from where it was in the Championship,” said Duxbury. “It’s not where I want it to be. The works we did within a very short space of time was to get it up to standard so we could compete in the Premier League, but adequacy is never enough. I want move it to another level and that’s what we’ll be doing over two to three years.”
Watford have also invested heavily in the training ground. There are three Premier League-sized pitches on the manicured fields; there is an anti-gravity treadmill that Steven Finn used late last year in his rehabilitation from injury; a new media room in the grounds of the car park; and a permanent cryotherapy chamber. That, however, seems to be the tip of the iceberg.
“We’ve put in planning permission for a new facility at the training ground as well,” said Duxbury. “That won’t start until 2017. It’s a great facility – the pitches are superb, but we would like to build a more multi-purpose complex with a swimming pool, a restaurant and gym: a facility containing all that is necessary for a Premier League squad. That would entail a new building. Planning permission has been put in, so it depends on my discussions with UCL.”
The facility in Bell Lane is owned by University College London and leased on a long-term basis by the club. There is talk of a new 50-year lease. Pozzo, in particular, and Duxbury are largely based at the training ground and that’s where most of the key decisions are made.
“If we are going to invest that kind of money in a new building, we either need a long-term lease or permanent occupancy,” Duxbury said. “Those discussions are ongoing and we’ll see where we get to. If we weren’t successful in extending our tenure here [at London Colney] we’d look for an alternative site. But hopefully we can stay here and build a new state-of-the-art facility.”
Watford are able to invest significantly in their infrastructure thanks to the guaranteed income of £110m they well receive for spending a second season in the Premier League.
“A sustained period of being a Premier League club allows us to do that,” said Duxbury. “Without being too dramatic, it transforms the club permanently. I’m not saying we won’t have difficult times, and times when everybody is challenged, but the DNA of the football club will change permanently.”