Graham Taylor (1944-2017) is the most successful manager in Watford’s history. Appointed in 1977, in 10 years the Hornets achieved unprecedented success, gaining promotion to the old Second Division following two consecutive promotions in 1977/78 and 1978/79.
Then, in 1982, for the first time in their history, Watford were promoted to the old First Division. The following season, they finished runners-up to Liverpool, qualifying for the UEFA Cup. In 1984, Watford reached the FA Cup Final, but lost to Everton.
Taylor cultivated a great team spirit at Watford, combined with an astute transfer policy – in 1981 he signed John Barnes – and a youth system which produced players such as Luther Blissett. Under Taylor, Watford developed a reputation as a ‘family club’ and Taylor himself ran the London marathon in 1983 to raise funds for a family terrace at Vicarage Road.
Watford’s success was underpinned by the close, if unlikely, partnership between Taylor and Elton John. John was a flamboyant, global pop star, while Taylor was a man grounded in the earthy values of the English provinces – he was from Scunthorpe. Yet John claimed: ‘He was without doubt like a brother – a man I befriended and loved from the day we first met’. Taylor, meanwhile, considered John ‘the younger brother I never had’.
Celebrating with the Division One Play-Off Final trophy after success over Bolton Wanderers at Wembley in May 1999.
Taylor’s managerial career began at Lincoln City in 1972, after an injury ended his playing days. He became the youngest manager in the league, aged 28, and in 1976, they won the old Fourth Division in record-breaking fashion. After Watford, he went to Aston Villa and guided them to second in the old First Division in 1990, before his appointment as England manager.
His time at England was marked by disappointment. He left after the Three Lions failed to reach the 1994 FIFA World Cup; a campaign admittedly that was dogged by bad luck.
Taylor later returned to the comforts of league football, first at Wolverhampton Wanderers, before a homecoming to Watford where he led the Hornets to the Premier League after two successive promotions in 1997/98 and 1998/99. However, the club was relegated the following season and Taylor retired, although he returned to Villa Park for one more season.
Up until his sad, untimely death, Taylor remained a popular figure in the game through his media commitments, and acted as Watford chairman from 2009 to 2012. In 2014, a stand at Vicarage Road was named after him.
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