Football lost one of its pioneering spirits and successful managers this past month in Graham Taylor. The former Watford and England manager passed away at the age of 72 in January from a suspected heart attack.
A playing career cut short by injury brought about the rise of a talented young manager, and Taylor’s knowledge and enthusiasm brought him to incredible heights within the game.
In 1972 at the age of only 28, Taylor became manager of Lincoln City in the Football League Fourth Division (now known as League Two). In 1976, he led the Imps to a record-setting season en route to a league title.
After such an incredible campaign with Lincoln City, Graham Taylor would take on the managerial position that would ultimately define his amazing abilities and showcase his greatest strengths. Watford owner Sir Elton John brought Taylor on to lead the Hornets, even with many other clubs keen to hire him.
In a remarkable five-year period, Taylor guided Watford from the Fourth Division to Division One. His insight and player management skills were crucial components to this tremendous success, while his contributions to the club will forever be remembered.
Perhaps most impressive, Taylor and Watford’s first season in Division One together brought excellent results early on and plenty of excitement. After a spell in charge of Aston Villa following his time at Watford, Taylor would take on one of the most difficult positions in all of the world football.
The Three Lions
Appointed as England national team manager in 1990, Graham Taylor was not necessarily a popular choice amongst supporters and pundits. But the new boss saw positive results early on, until a deflating group-stage exit at Euro 92 in Sweden.
Difficulties with players like Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker did not help his reputation at the time.
His fate was sealed when the Three Lions failed to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, along with an embarrassing loss to the United States during the US Cup in 1993. Returns to both Watford and Aston Villa in various roles followed, but Taylor was unable to see the same results that he had in previous decades.
A lasting legacy
Graham Taylor’s impact on English football will always be influential, as he accomplished the type of success that was unprecedented during his time at Lincoln City and especially Watford.
Sir Elton John, who enjoyed so much of the ride with Taylor, spoke glowingly of his former manager and friend. “He was like a brother to me. We went on an incredible journey together. He took my beloved Watford from the depths of the lower leagues to uncharted territory and into Europe.”
Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson recognised Taylor’s unique managerial qualities and even greater personal traits. “Graham was one of the old-school managers. He started as a very young man of 28, having suffered a career-ending injury as a player. He applied himself to every facet of football management. I have very fond memories of Graham. He was approachable, open and honest. If he could help you in any way, he always would.”
From all levels of the Football League to the English national side, Graham Taylor will always be remembered as a manager who could make the impossible happen and a real gentleman.