Taylor back at Wembley

 

Seeing that Watford manager Graham Taylor believes elitism is killing football, there was no small irony in his choice of venue for his final training session before today's First Division play-off final against Bolton. This was the grounds of Merchant Taylors' school (no relation), where parents of boarding boys pay £12,000 a year and from which Titus Oates was famously expelled.

Clearly fully recovered from the recent throat problem that reduced him to muteness, Taylor is back in the environment that he loves best, encouraging young players into believing that they are only a heartbeat from competing against David Beckham and Dennis Bergkamp on equal terms.

"What I cannot allow to happen for the sake of greed is to bring in players for nine and £10 million, find that they don't do it and that I've destroyed my youth policy," says the former England boss. By spending big, you might get something for a year. But after that you get a big downward spiral."

At Watford, says Taylor, you need people who care for the club. That is why Luther Blissett, Kenny Jackett and Jimmy Gilligan, all players when Watford reached the First Division in 1982, are now working behind the scenes. And why Taylor is back, happy and rehabilitated after the pain and humiliation he suffered when he was sacked by England in 1993.

Chairman Elton John persuaded him to return by telling him that "he felt I needed to get back into a situation where people would love me a little bit."

Taylor led Watford from the old Fourth Division to the First in five seasons between 1977 and 1982, but three of those, he points out, were spent in the Second, where players of the ability of John Barnes, Nigel Callaghan and Jackett hardened themselves for life at the top.

It would be a miracle if the current side could repeat their feat of going up and finishing runners-up to Liverpool in their first season.

A football manager friend has advised Taylor that, if Watford win today, he should walk into the press conference, offer a Liam Gallagher finger salute, announce his retirement and walk out.

It is not his way. He says: "I have to live with the failure to get England to the 1994 World Cup finals and at times that is difficult. You ask yourself, why did I get that wrong, how the hell did I get that wrong? Only I know what that is like."