Watford owner Laurence Bassini praised ahead of Yellow and Red Lion opening
One of the men behind the regeneration of the Red Lion in Vicarage Road has praised Watford owner Laurence Bassini for “putting his money where his mouth is” and is calling on Hornets followers to help make the pub a success.
The Red Lion has been closed since the club bought the premises in 2006 and it has remained derelict, after a previous regime’s plans to build flats and office blocks were scrapped.
The building has been costing Watford a five-figure sum each year, despite being empty, and last year the club decided to re-open the Red Lion.
The Hornets have decided to rename the pub ‘The Yellow and Red Lion’ and it will re-open on Friday, April 6 at 11am.
Watford have been working towards the April 6 deadline as that is the bank holiday weekend when the Hornets play Blackpool and then two days later Saracens have their big Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Clermont Auvergne, when a large crowd is expected.
Former Hornets defender Neil Price, who set up the Watford Former Players’ Association and is an employee of the club, has helped organise the regeneration project.
Price said he has “not been party to the amount it has cost but it is a significant sum” and was keen to praise owner Bassini, who took over the club last March.
“To be honest Laurence has put his money where his mouth is and has backed it,” Price said. “In January 2010, I started asking the previous regime about the Red Lion and said it was silly it sitting there doing nothing.
“Finally when Laurence came in and he saw the vision for it. He felt they haven’t had too much given to them in the last few years and he wanted to give something to them.
“He has backed it financially himself and myself, along with the likes of Glyn Evans (operations director), Raj Athwal (commercial director) and Angelo Barrea (Bassini’s business associate), really got to grips with it and it is nice to see it coming together.
“Laurence wanted to open it so he could give something back to the football club’s supporters and give them a venue where they can gather and somewhere which can become a focal point for Watford fans.”
The April 6 opening has been described as a “soft launch” as the pub will only be open on Watford and Saracens match days initially. The club are also considering opening it for other events such as ‘play on the pitch week’ and St George’s Day ahead of a full launch later in the summer.
Home supporters will only be allowed in for Watford games but the rule will be relaxed for Saracens matches.
Price said the regeneration project did not have a budget as such but stressed the club have not overspent.
He said: “It was run down and derelict and we had a lot of work to do. Because it had been left empty for so long, we didn’t even have a gas connection there anymore. We have had to rewire the pub, fix the roof and the cellar – we had to do a lot of work there to protect the building.
“It wasn’t an open budget but we were doing what needed to be done as we went along, for reasonable prices. We haven’t thrown the baby out of the bath water but at the same time we haven’t done it on the cheap. It has been a sensible conversion.”
The ‘Yellow and Red Lion’ will have a full licence and will be run on a temporary basis by Price’s brother Josh, who spent time at Watford as a youngster. He has run several bars in the past and has provided advice to the club from when the work began.
The full list of opening times has not been confirmed but the pub will open at 11am on match days when there is a 3pm kick-off.
Price, who confirmed money raised will go to the club, said: “The bar has a contemporary feel. There will be glass cabinets with memorabilia, there will be references to Watford throughout the pub but it won’t be over-kill.
“There will be five TVs with Sky Sports packages, there will be a nice offering of beers and lagers. It is not going to be a down-market pub, it will be quite nice in there and it will be reasonable prices.
“On match days we will doing fast food, things you can stand up and eat, to start with. We want to get it open on match days and have a look and see where we go with it. We will do a soft launch and then launch it in the summer ready for the European Championships, when we expect it to be open every day.
“We have an extensive menu being drawn up, we will have a state-of-the-art coffee machine in there and we will do things like paninis and try to get the lunch crowd in.
“We will have nice ales, lagers and wines so as well as being very much a football pub on match days, on non-match days, when it opens fully in the summer, we want it to be a nice little venue where you could bring your wife or your girlfriend.”
Price said the former players’ association will be heavily involved with the pub and said visitors may even see one of their old heroes pulling the odd pint.
The downstairs of the pub and the outdoor area will only be open initially but the club are considering covering the outdoor space between the main building and the stables in the future. Watford are looking into converting the upstairs area into three flats.
Price said: “When the season is over, we will sit down and have a look at it, see how it has gone and how much money has been made, what we have done right and wrong and what feedback we have received from fans, and then we will act accordingly.
“We have put money into this pub when money is tight and we need it to work. We realise it is going to take support from fans and lots of hard work from people involved to make it a success. We don’t want to jump into it massively, we want to give it time to develop.
“But it is exciting. This is the first stage of regenerating the Red Lion. I think it looks fantastic, we have all worked really hard on it and it has been a big project and it is something we can all be proud of because it is a legacy for us to have here.
“We have managed to create something and give the supporters something they have not had for a long time – somewhere to call home and somewhere to call their own. Hopefully fans will support us,” Price added.