Graham Taylor’s death at the age of 72 has created a outpouring of tributes to a man who was almost universally well-liked, and phenomenally successful in league management.
After a ten year playing career, he went on to achieve fame as a manager at four different clubs, most successfully at Watford and Aston Villa, who both tweeted their respects to the man.
But, for many, Taylor will always be defined by his unsuccessful stint as England manager from 1990 to 1993, with the latter period of his reign forever immortalised in the documentary An Impossible Job.
This was the era before Sky Sports and the minute-by-minute coverage of players and managers’ lives, ‘event’ press conferences every week, and Twitter transfer announcements, and the documentary laid bare, in excruciating detail, the difficulties of life managing England; trying circumstances under which Taylor eventually buckled as he uttered his infamous, catchphrase, ‘do I not like that’ and calmly eviscerated a linesman in Holland for costing him his job as England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.
He was labelled a ‘turnip’ by the press, and widely ridiculed in the aftermath of its broadcast, but arguably the most telling moment of the whole program was Taylor’s willingness to jump to the defence of his player John Barnes, as he was booed by a Wembley crowd eager for a scapegoat during a disappointing display against San Marino in 1993.
Turning to an unseen aggressor who shouts a racist comment at Barnes, Taylor says firmly, “Hey, you’re talking about another human being, so just watch your language”, before lamenting the articles that the newspapers had written about Barnes – who suffered racial abuse throughout his career - in the run-up to the game. In the face of a whole stadium’s anger, Taylor stood up for his player, as you can see in the video below.
The incident sums up what many thought of Taylor: a good, decent man – who could also be very funny - who believed in fairness and was never afraid to step in and help his players, as many more have testified.
His former striker at Aston Villa Dion Dublin stated, “He was a very, very, funny man. When I played under him at Aston Villa he taught me so much. He was very understanding of people's situation. He had my utmost respect and was a pal as well as a manager. It is quite devastating news. He had two sides. He could lose his temper when he wanted but also put an arm around you and say 'you're doing OK'. He was a very clever man manager. You don't last as long as he did if you don't know your job. He ticked most boxes when comes to being a manager. My thoughts are with his family. Graham, you will be missed.”
Barnes, of course, was originally discovered by Taylor, who took him to Watford from Middlesex League club Sudbury Court in 1981. He told the story of how he was transferred for the price of a kit last year:
His partner-in-crime at Watford, Elton John, posted on Instagram his memories of Taylor.
Rest in peace, Graham.