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Graham Taylor, tabloid target and England statesman

London (AFP) – Graham Taylor, who died aged 72 on Thursday, was Watford’s greatest manager and overcame a turbulent period as England boss to become one of English football’s most fondly regarded figures.

Over 10 years, Taylor guided Watford from the Fourth Division to a second-place finish in England’s top tier and an FA Cup final appearance.

His failure to steer England to the 1994 World Cup meant his tenure ended amid acrimony and tabloid ridicule, but his punditry work in later life earned him a place in the country’s affections.

“The way he came through from the grassroots at Lincoln all the way to the England job marks him out as a real football man,” said former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who worked on Taylor’s England staff.

“He had his own style, of course, but he really knew and loved the game.”

Taylor was born in September 1944 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire to Dorothy, a postwoman, and Thomas, a sports journalist for regional newspaper the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph.

He played as an inside-forward for Grimsby Town and a full-back for Lincoln City, becoming manager of the latter when he retired in 1972 and leading them to the Fourth Division title in 1976.

British singing superstar Elton John became chairman at Watford the same year and turned to Taylor in 1977 on the recommendation of then England manager Don Revie.

John’s ambition was to take Watford, his boyhood club, into Europe and with the club languishing in the fourth tier, Taylor was initially sceptical.

But it was to be the start of one of the most stunning surges in English football history, culminating in Watford finishing runners-up to Bob Paisley’s Liverpool in 1983 and qualifying for the UEFA Cup.

They reached the UEFA Cup third round the following season and qualified for the club’s first FA Cup final, where they were beaten 2-0 by Everton.

Seeking a new challenge, Taylor left for Aston Villa in 1987 and after guiding them to second place in 1990, he succeeded Bobby Robson as England manager.

– Turnip –

Taylor made an assured start, losing just one of his first 23 matches, but the honeymoon ended at Euro 92 in Sweden, where a 2-1 loss to the hosts condemned England to an embarrassing group-stage exit.

The tabloid reaction was vicious. Taylor was depicted as a turnip on the back page of The Sun, beneath the headline ‘SWEDES 2 TURNIPS 1’, and it would become the defining image of his reign.

An ageing England team hobbled through qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in the United States before a 2-0 loss away to the Netherlands left their qualification hopes dangling by a thread.

There followed the humiliation of conceding a goal after just 8.3 seconds in their final game away to perennial whipping boys San Marino.

England recovered to win 7-1, but it was too late. They failed to qualify and Taylor tendered his resignation.

If the turnip back page provided the image of Taylor’s England reign, a fly-on-the-wall documentary filmed during the ill-fated World Cup qualifying campaign supplied the soundtrack.

Entitled ‘An Impossible Job’, it caught the tracksuit-clad Taylor ranting on the touchline as England’s qualifying hopes unravelled, memorably blurting out “Do I not like that!” during an away game against Poland.

After a brief spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers, he returned to Watford and rolled back the years by leading the club into the Premier League via back-to-back promotions.

But they were relegated in 2001 and after a short stint at Villa, he called time on his managerial career.

Taylor subsequently became a familiar face and voice on British television and radio and also helped Watford through a period of financial difficulty.

He served as chairman from 2009 until 2012 and had a stand at Vicarage Road renamed in his honour in 2014. 

He is survived by his wife, Rita, and two daughters, Joanne and Karen.

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