Sometime You Have To Break an Egg
Colin Payne on why he does like his eggs to be happy
They were tawdry times. How could they be anything else, with Laurence ‘Get skint – or die trying’ Bassini in charge? As the Pozzos grew ever closer to ‘liberating’ Vicarage Road, Baz took to his bunker, determined to fight on to the last, destroying what little was left of his dignity by generally acting akin to an insane despot. As his aspirations of coming out of it all with anything other than a lifetime ban from football wilted, those around him gritted their teeth and prayed it would all be over soon. It was in those embers of the Bassini reign, when very few would want to pin their colours to our splintered mast, that one of the more bizarre happenings within WD18 occurred.
I like to think a tractor pulled up outside the ground, and a ruddy-faced gentleman, clad in a tartan flannelette shirt, grubby waxed jacket and dark green cords held up with baling twine, plonked a gingham-lined straw basket, stuffed with crumpled fivers and a dozen still-warm eggs, upon Baz’s cluttered desk. “There you go m’flower, that should do it. Now what about a cup o’ tea?”
The Happy Egg Co. now had their name on our shirts. Of course, it wasn’t like that, although wouldn’t it have been better if it were? But, just days before the Pozzo revolution was to begin, Watford Football Club unveiled a new sponsor. The Happy Egg Co. were a local business (although, let’s be honest, they were a large-scale food producing behemoth of a firm) which prided itself on keeping its hens in a life of luxury akin to Center Parcs for birds, where every layer had a decked patio, complete with hot tub, buffet-style corn troughs and an existence their battery-housed neighbours could only have chicken-brained dreams of. I was sold. I genuinely was. A quick search of the internet confirmed the bold claims, there were pictures aplenty of the feathered darlings living it up. One picture even showed a happy chicken getting a ‘backy’ on the back of a quadbike! Who couldn’t love that! They should have called themselves The Happy Hen House, as their birds were practically grinning wattle to wattle. What a nice change from a stream of diminishingly poor names and logos upon the yellow. These folks stood for something.
The internet melted.
Apparently, my view of what constitutes ethical branding was different from that of my yellow brethren, and as the deal was announced the howl of disapproval was clearly audible across the chicken coops all over Hertfordshire. We were a joke (or yolk as some wags punned… again and again). We needed a more ‘manly sponsor’ (yes, an actual quote), people wanted brewers, car manufacturers or axe-sharpeners. No one wanted chickens (or eggs). Watford were teetering on the verge of ruin, uncertainty reigned, if the deal with ‘those Italians’ fell through, it was good night. Yet, the idea of egg all over our shirts was too much for some. Some fans spoke of boycotting the kit (again a genuine comment), others of how opposition fans would dine out on ridiculing us mercilessly, whilst the vast majority just punned and punned.
And then it all changed. The Pozzos came in, and before you knew it Hornets Shop staff were vigorously peeling Happy Egg Co. logos off shirts (OK, it’s a metaphor), to be replaced with a far more palatable (and profitable) Football Manager design. The vanquished short-lived Club Sponsor became a business partner in the extremely uninspiring guise of Official Egg Supplier to Watford Football Club. It all smelled just a little bit rotten, yet at the time it made sense. Football Manager was manly-ish, it had an air of credibility. No one was laughing anymore, including the now not-sohappy chickens.
In close to forty years of company names appearing on Watford’s shirt, none have enticed me to change my spending habits, well almost none. Nine years on I still buy Happy Egg Co. eggs, a direct result of that aborted sponsorship deal. Following Football Manager taking their shirt-front sponsorship to AFC Wimbledon, we have seen a line of Chinese gambling houses, a made-upmoney producer and an FX trader come and go, none of which have elicited the negative response received by the freerange farmers.