Graham Taylor: the man who enlivened English football

Tributes paid to superb club manager who suffered ignominy as boss of national team

Graham Taylor: took Watford, a venerable but hitherto nondescript club, from the fourth division to the first. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Graham Taylor: took Watford, a venerable but hitherto nondescript club, from the fourth division to the first. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

 

Graham Taylor deserves to be remembered as the football manager who enlivened the English game between 1977 and 1987 by taking Watford, a venerable but hitherto nondescript club, from the fourth division to the first, where they finished runners-up to the mightiest of Liverpool sides, and to the FA Cup final, all the while encouraged by an enthusiastic chairman, the football-loving pop singer Elton John. This was a feat commensurate with those of Brian Clough, who twice won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest, and Claudio Ranieri, who won the Premier League title with Leicester City last year.

Instead Taylor, who has died aged 72, lives in the public memory as one of the many England managers who failed to make the national team live up to its imagined potential, and one of those who was eventually driven to distraction by the job’s demands. After the team had failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup (having reached the semi-finals under Bobby Robson four years earlier), Taylor featured in a TV documentary that recorded his agitated behaviour in the dug-out during a crucial match in the qualifying campaign. His curious expression of anger and frustration, “Do I not like that!”, became a catchphrase as a result of the film An Impossible Job, which held him up to ridicule.

He had been given the job in 1990 not just on the basis of his superb work with Watford but because in his next job, with Aston Villa, he had performed almost equally well in reviving the fortunes of a bunch of recently relegated and poorly motivated players. With England, however, he was unable to apply the clarity and simplicity of his working methods with equal efficiency, probably because the manager of a national team is denied the day-to-day contact with the players and the regular work on the training ground that he so enjoyed.

Passion

Taylor was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, and brought up from the age of three in Scunthorpe, where his father, Tommy Taylor, was the sports editor of the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph. He attended Scunthorpe grammar school, where his footballing prowess led to selection for the England Grammar Schools XI. But he was also gifted academically, and his teachers were disappointed when, rather than going on to the sixth form to do A-levels, he left to become an apprentice with Scunthorpe United and thence to Grimsby Town (1962-1968) as a full professional. A full back, he played 189 games for Grimsby, followed by 150 for Lincoln City (1968-1972), before a hip injury forced his retirement from playing at 27.

By then he had become the youngest person to qualify as an FA coach, and he moved immediately into management with Lincoln, whom he took to the fourth division title in 1975-1976, before accepting Elton John’s invitation to join Watford. They made a good combination, the publicity attracted by the singer’s involvement backed up by the results on the field and, eventually, by the quality of the football played by teams featuring such fine players as John Barnes, Luther Blissett, Kenny Jackett, Steve Sherwood, Nigel Callaghan and Mo Johnston.

Top flight

His reputation seemingly secure, Taylor moved on to Aston Villa, but his success there was soon overshadowed by ignominy with England, and his managerial career never fully recovered from the humiliation. He joined Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1994, but a short stay ended unhappily.

There were better times back at Watford, where Elton John had returned and invited Taylor to help him rescue the club from the third tier. Two promotions took them back into the Premier League in 1999, but two years later he resigned, saying that he had lost his ability to motivate his players.

He went back to Villa in 2002 but left within a year, denied compensation after refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented him from giving public expression to his opinion on the way the club was being run by its autocratic chairman, Doug Ellis.

He spent 14 years as a popular pundit on BBC Radio 5 Live from 2003, and in the same year accepted a vice-presidency of Scunthorpe United. In 2009 he returned to Watford as a director and interim chairman, and was made honorary life president of the club in recognition of his services. A stand at their ground, Vicarage Road, bears his name.

In 1965 he married Rita Cowling. She survives him, with their two daughters, Joanne and Karen. Guardian service

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