Thursday, 12 January 2017

Graham Taylor, a good football manager and a special man

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I played rugby for Old Merchant Taylors whose ground and clubhouse was at Durrants, Croxley Green, near Watford and on Thursday nights after training I’d occasionally see a man sitting quietly at the club bar drinking a half pint of beer in the company of one acquaintance or another. It was Graham Taylor, the manager of Watford Football Club. At the time I imagined that Durrants was a place where he could escape the glare of the football world.

Taylor's first reign as manager of Watford FC was glorious. In what seemed next to no time the club climbed from the fourth division of English football up to the first division (now the premier league), finished runners up in the latter, reached the FA cup final and qualified to play in Europe. During the time Graham Taylor was manager of Watford, I watched one of the finest football matches I’ve ever seen. It was an FA cup tie in that famous run to the cup final; a midweek replay in January at Vicarage Road played against Watford’s great rivals at the time, Luton Town, was then managed by the future Spurs manager and now radio pundit, David Pleat. The result was 4-3 in Watford’s favour. Paul Walsh, Luton’s great striker scored that night, but John Barnes, who was soon to move to Liverpool, scored a magnificent winner with a powerful, low, 20 yards shot.

Graham Taylor had attributes other than his football expertise - indeed though it proved so successful, he was often criticised for his long ball style of football -  and these spoke of him not just as a man of football, but also of his stature as a man. I would mention but two of these special characteristics here. Firstly, family was important to him and I think this quality was evident in the way he turned Watford Football Club into a community resource, a football club where families could feel comfortable. Secondly, he had dignity and courage. He showed this in the face of despicable press coverage during and at the end of his period of managing England. It was all you could expect of a good man. Good men are rare. 

On reading what I've written here, I realise that as much as I am acknowledging the loss of a good man in Graham Taylor, I am also grieving for that time in my life, for how things were as I recall times of happiness with family and friends and times of regret. For better or for worse the past cannot be changed and the best we can hope for is acceptance and understanding.

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