It is incredibly saddening to learn of Graham Taylor’s sudden passing.
There will no doubt be many posts, tweets and conversations from supporters, all sharing their personal memories.
Be it the players he bought, those he moved on, away day recollections or the differing impact he had in two spells at Villa Park.
These conversations, the range of anecdotes and stories recalled, are the measure of the mans true stature.
He was impassioned, held true to his footballing convictions but remained personable to supporters with it. Rare qualities to have and maintain.
It’s easy to slip into stereotypes, particularly with a man who was hounded relentlessly towards the end of his England reign.
On his vilification in the press and the affects upon him personally, Taylor was clear:
“If somebody puts a turnip on your head it gives an impression to people of a certain intellect that they can treat you like anything. And there were a couple of incidents where that’s happened, by people who’ve had too much to drink, want to eff and blind, spit at you or throw beer over you, because the Sun newspaper’s given the impression they can do that to this fella. Don’t tell me that’s just a joke. Then when the sub- editor who had the idea of Turnip Taylor retired, I was invited to present him with a mock-up newspaper at his farewell party. What? I declined.”
The S*ns “Turnip Taylor” was a lasting scar, unfairly prefacing an outstanding career and contribution to football:
- Youngest ever FA staff coach at just 21.
- The youngest coach; aged 27.
- Pro himself before a hip injury ended his career at 28.
- 4th Division title with Lincoln City. Record 111 goals.
- Preferred over Bobby Moore for Watford job.
- Guided Watford from 4th to 1st Division in just 5 years.
- Watford Highs: 2nd in top flight, FA Cup finalists & UEFA Cup.
- Appointed Aston Villa manager in 1987.
- Steered Villa back to top flight at first attempt.
- Villa Highs: Division 1 Runners up to Liverpool in 1990.
- England manager from 1990; qualified for Euro 92.
- Returned to Watford, achieving consecutive promotions.
- Retires from football in 2001.
- Awarded OBE for services to football.
- Came out of retirement to manage Villa again in 2002.
- Stand named in his honour at Vicarage Road in 2014.
- Broad range of charitable/community work undertaken.
The start of my Villa journey coincided with Taylor steering the club back to Division 1. His single minded overhaul provided the impetus for Villa’s immediate response to relegation. Immediate promotion.
It made me want to collect the sticker book, nag my dad for a shirt, shout “Platt” whenever I kicked a ball and know what “going down the Villa” actually was.
Taylor’s rebuild reminded the club, English & European Champions a mere handful of years before, that it had the potential to be something again.
He was rewarded for his efforts at Villa, Watford and Lincoln with the ultimate managerial prize; The England job.
Who knows what might have been had England not beckoned. Taylor was onto something at Villa and came tantalisingly close to winning the title in 1990, pipped only by Liverpool in the closing weeks of the season.
At Villa he will undoubtedly be more fondly remembered for this first managerial spell. Returning Villa back to Division 1 (Now Premier League) was a significant achievement for a club which had seen its Europe conquering side dismantled by Doug Ellis.
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There were also diamonds in the rough along the way as well.
How rare are the journey’s such as Dwight Yorke actually achieved? Fairytale stuff when you actually stop to consider the transition being literally rags to riches.
Yorke was spotted as part of pre-season tour of the West Indies in 1989. He featured in Trinidad & Tobago’s under 16’s team, but caught the eye sufficiently to get a trial at Villa Park. In time he grew from a promising winger into a feared Premier League striker for Villa, which attracted suitors.
Whilst Yorke’s ignominious transfer to Manchester United left a sour taste, it sits to evidence Taylor’s ability to spot a footballer who would go on to win every domestic and European honour.
Another of Taylor’s often overlooked gems [away from Villa Park certainly] was David Platt.
Platt was instrumental in the clubs return to prominence and became a key figure for England.
Signed for just £200,000 from Crewe, Platt would be named in the team of the year during Villa’s promotion season and PFA Player of the Year in 1990.
Thereafter followed a big money move to Serie A (when Serie A was the best league in the world).
Platt would end his career with major English, Italian and European honours, as well as ultimately playing under 3 England managers. In Platt, Taylor had unearthed a genuine world class footballer.
Taylor came out of retirement in 2002 to step into the void left by John Gregory, following his sudden resignation.
Ellis had only appointed Taylor to a backroom role in the close season of 2001, but had conveniently failed to inform Gregory of this. JG infamously found out through newspaper reports whilst holidaying.
Deadly Doug naturally reassured the outspoken Gregory [Gregory accused Ellis of “living in a time warp”] that Taylor’s arrival was not to be interpreted as a means of undermining him.
Graham Taylor inevitably took on the vacant post, but Villa finished the 2003 in a precarious 16th place.
Suffice to say it didn’t start well with Ellis second time around either;
“We had a massive row at our first board meeting – so I stopped going.”
Citing the breakdown of his relationship with Ellis and advising of the urgent need for a restructure within the club, he submitted his resignation to Ellis, leaving Villa for the final time.
On his departure, Taylor reflected;
“The results weren’t good but if I thought the situation could have been changed I’d have stuck it out.”
Whilst few would look back on that season with any great joy, Taylor was perhaps one of the earliest to forewarn of Villa’s struggles worsening should proper reform fail to be imposed.
The seeds of stagnation and future failure were arguably already sown.
Ellis would go on to sell the club to Randy Lerner barely 3 years later, refuting Taylor’s claims at the time.
Within his final spell at Villa, the infamous Birmingham derbies remain an open wound for many.
The St. Andrew’s fixture  featured the infamous career ending Enkelmann blunder. David Ellery, the official on the night losing control. Darius Vassell seeing a goal disallowed. Juan Pablo Angel being targeted with dangerous fouls early in the match. De La Cruz hitting the bar. What did I say about that open wound?
The return fixture heightened tensions further. Joey Gudjohnnson’s red card for a dangerous lunge descended the game into farce with Dion Dublin headbutting Robbie Savage and Villa ending the game with 9 men.
Another Enkelmann blunder capped matters, allowing Blues to complete an unsavoury double, in violence marred derbies.
Taylor though, dusted himself off and acted with dignity. Mostly whilst the entire city was losing their heads around him. It was a bitter year of rivalry, unmatched since.
Despite the chaos, he calmly convened the press and sat himself in front of the cameras the following day, ensuring that Dublin apologised for his behaviour. It was unprecedented. It spoke volumes, restored calm and even a little pride.
This was a principled man who rose above it and was also single minded in his pursuit to improve Aston Villa and football.
He will be greatly missed, no doubt.