One Graham Taylor. 12/01/2017Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
How to add anything. What to add. Eulogies can be so dull. How not to flounder in superlatives? Forgive me if this isn’t coherent…
It’s tempting to list achievements. Promotions, Cup Final, Europe and so on. You know all that, though. How about… pre-GT we had spent three of 96 years in the top two divisions. Since GT arrived we’ve spent four outside the top two divisions. Three of them getting promoted. His legacy includes a permanent shift in status. But more than “mere” achievement on the pitch, dramatic and fabulous though it was, changing our status though it did, was the “how”. The what AND the how were what made him, what made us.
I started coming to Vicarage Road in 1980. The best time, the worst time. The best because we were on the gallop, on the way up. The worst because, by the coincidence of my birth, I joined the party at a time when Watford were fantastic, on the pitch, off the pitch and that left a legacy. Such high standards. In that period, the five seasons that it took us to get to the top flight from the fourth division, we found time to record nine cup shocks. Nine victories against higher-division opposition, including Manchester United (twice), European Champions Nottingham Forest and the overturning of Southampton’s 4-0 first leg lead with a 7-1 second leg. For longer serving Watford fans this was remarkable. For the kids… it was fantastic, but surely how football always was. Beating the big guys. Going out simply trying to score more than the other lot, and expecting to do so.
And more than that, being part of the family. Mike Walters‘ brilliant piece in the Mirror hits the nail on the head; he changed the way the club was. He made it inclusive, safe, fun, and created a legacy that has little parallel. So you have kids of that generation – my generation – growing up with a wonderfully romantic, positive view of how Watford should be. What the family club was like, what it meant. And that filters down. The prominence of red was part of that. Yellow and black, smart, classy. Yellow, red and black, fun.
England. Yes, whatever. Expectations exaggerated by an overperforming – some might say lucky – 1990 team which lost key personnel, had others on the way out. Gascoigne injured, Shearer injured, still had to be horribly unlucky. Whatever. The lazy, armchair view, the pillorying that we’ve all heard too often still makes me bitterly angry more than twenty years on. Except that he had the good grace to get over it, or at least not to let it poison the way he conducted himself, so heaven knows I can manage. And anyway, but for that would we have got him back, to do it all again?
Anecdotes. So many. The one about Elton and the bottle of brandy. The one about ringing up fans who hadn’t renewed Season Tickets. The one about being some stranger’s best man just because he’d asked him to. The ones about the Family Enclosure Christmas parties where all the players turned up (in 1985, for example, the day after a horrible, violent clash with Tottenham) and he had as much time as anyone wanted. The thing that’s really clear, from social media, from your mates, from the radio is that everyone who ever had any contact with him had such an anecdote, or six. The one where he is introduced to someone, meets them again six months later and remembers the name of their wife and kid. The one where he meets a colleague of mine on the starting line of the London Marathon and when the name is shared asks the colleague to thank me for sponsoring him.
It’s all so human. He was brilliant, brilliant at what he did. As extraordinary as a rock star, a leader of industry, a fine artist, a racing driver, a bestselling writer. But he was a real person too, touchable, reachable, quirky, goofy. He replied to every star-struck letter that I sent him from the age of 10 to the age of 37. As Fran put it elsewhere, whenever you met him he made you feel as if the privilege was his. He was brilliant AND human, and that made him truly, truly inspirational.
He was loved by many people, but he was the heart and soul of our club and our town.
We owe him a send-off. We need to pull ourselves together.
See you Saturday.