LONDON: Former England, Aston Villa and Watford manager Graham Taylor has died at the age of 72.
Taylor was a defender for Grimsby and Lincoln City before becoming a manager when he took over the latter in 1972.
He also had two spells at both Watford and Aston Villa – leading both to the runners-up spots in the old First Division – as well as having a stint at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Taylor was appointed England manager in 1990 and spent just over three years at the helm of the national team, managing the national team at the finals of the 1992 European Championship finals in Sweden. After retiring from management, Taylor was a regular member of the match analysis team for BBC Radio.
A family statement said: “With the greatest sadness, we have to announce that Graham passed away at his home early this morning of a suspected heart attack. The family are devastated by this sudden and totally unexpected loss.”
Tributes to Taylor the manager and even more to Taylor the man poured in on publication of the news of his death.
Former Watford owner Sir Elton John said: “I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear about Graham’s passing. 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.
“We have become a leading English club because of his managerial wisdom and genius. This is a sad and dark day for Watford. The club and the town. We will cherish Graham and drown our sorrows in the many brilliant memories he gave us. I love you Graham. I will miss you very much.”
Sir Alex Ferguson also praised the man he called “approachable, open and honest”.
The former Manchester United manager said: “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.”
Luther Blissett who, alongside John Barnes, was the star of Taylor’s Watford side that finished second in the First Division in 1983 and reached the FA Cup final in 1984, said of his former manager: “All else in my football world fades into insignificance now. RIP great man from one who owes you so much Thankyou GT YOU were the true star.”
Paul McGrath, who played for Taylor at Villa while also in the throes of alcoholism, posted the following message of thanks on Twitter: “Devastated to hear of Graham’s sad passing, what a gentleman. In my darkest days himself and [Taylor’s wife] Rita were always there for me.”
After Sir Bobby Robson stepped down following a successful World Cup in Italy in 1990, Taylor was made England manager, a job that was unfortunately to define his professional career in the eyes of many.
An ignominious exit from Euro 92 – when he controversially substituted Gary Lineker in the crucial last group game against Sweden – led to the infamous “Swedes 2 Turnips 1” headline in The Sun with his face superimposed on an image of the vegetable.
Taylor quit after the failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup was depicted in a a warts-and-all TV documentary, An Impossible Job.
Taylor was succeeded by Terry Venables who had managed QPR while Taylor was at Watford. Venables said news of Taylor’s death had hit him “like a sledge hammer”.
“Graham was a leader”, he said. “He knew what he wanted, whether it was the coaching, or [later] on the radio. Me and Graham, alongside David Pleat at Luton, we were rivals. It was a fantastic time and we were very lucky.”
Taylor remained remarkably forgiving and friendly with the media after retirement considering the treatment he had suffered.
Not only had he been lampooned by The Sun but his Watford long-ball style, echoing the tactics of Wolves in the 1950s and the POMO theories of Major Charles Reep, earned him heavy criticism from several senior Fleet Street columnists during his Watford days.