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Watford 0 Middlesbrough 0 (14/01/2017) 15/01/2017

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. On Thursday morning, unaware of the breaking news, idle curiosity led me to dig up some early eighties albums on Spotify, much-loved during my student days a few years after their release. They sounded distant and diminished, almost comically morose and bleak; they belonged to an entirely different time, both musically and personally, and it was clear during the couple of hours we spent together that we had nothing left to say to each other. A lifetime ago, near enough. Another world. We’ve all moved on.

2. But some things endure. Some things are forever, or near enough. For all that we enjoy watching the clips of yesteryear, were this only about our golden memories of a football team and its manager, it’d be a very different occasion. In the expressions of sadness, pride and remembered joy since the news of his death, it’s evident that the seeds planted by Graham Taylor way back in the late seventies and onwards have continued – and will continue – to grow. That the people who bought into the values he instilled in the club and its surrounding community continue to do so. That the significance of those values in an era of insatiable profiteering is no less than it was in an era of brutal hooliganism.

The idea that a football manager could shape a generation – or one town’s contribution to a generation, at any rate – seems completely preposterous when you write it down. I can imagine Graham chuckling as I type. But you were probably there too, you were probably part of it as well. You know what it meant. If I count the people who showed me how I ought to live my life, what I ought to value and what I ought to aspire to, I get to Graham Taylor very quickly indeed. It’s just there, it requires no thought at all. It’s part of me. I know I’m not alone.

3. This isn’t an easy day for anyone. It comes with the inevitable awkwardness of these occasions, the desire to say it all and the utter impossibility of doing so. We do the appropriate thing: we do our best. The club conducts itself with considerable class, with the restraint and good taste that’s typified this new era. The minute’s applause is intensely moving, almost lifting the stadium from its foundations.

I take reassurance in the fact that he knew, that we told him time and again of our endless gratitude and admiration, that he invariably preferred to graciously acknowledge that adoration before moving onto a proper conversation about something of greater interest. He knew. He got it. Incredibly, it didn’t really change him. But I hope that some kind of comfort is given to his family, to whom we owe almost as much as the man himself.

4. Not an easy day, least of all for today’s crop of players, charged with honouring an occasion of which most can only have a limited understanding. In some ways, a game of football is exactly what you need: something to get lost in, something to carry aloft the songs from the good old days. Elton John’s Taylor-made Army rings around Vicarage Road again, through tears and smiles. In other ways, a game of football is the last thing you need: it’s not as if we can throw four up front and relive those good old days, and the deadening mundanity of a hard-fought mid-winter six-pointer feels distinctly out of keeping with what we wanted today to be about. Squibs don’t come much damper.

5. It quickly becomes apparent that the absence of Nordin Amrabat leaves us with not a jot of creativity. Aware of this, we abandon all interest in passing the ball through midfield – Valon Behrami practically turns his back when possession is with our wing-backs behind him, safe in the knowledge that he won’t be involved until Boro have it back – and thud it long in search of a Deeney flick or, you know, something wherever possible. We were often guilty of over-passing last season, of being content to be tidy rather than incisive; we’ve certainly got that one sorted. It might’ve been kinder just to have given Ben Watson the season off.

Inevitably, we look better when we make progress in wide areas: Jose Holebas can hit a decent cross when afforded the opportunity, Younes Kaboul shows a surprising aptitude for attacking play once he gets through the gears on his occasional forays. Abdoulaye Doucoure, the pick of the midfield, has a drive saved from the edge of the area. At the Rookery end, we’re largely untroubled until Stuani has a close-range poach disallowed for what appears to be a tight offside; he later floats a chip onto the roof of the net when well-placed. Not a game in which you want to concede a cheap goal. Or any goal, come to think of it. Nobody does.

6. Half-time brings chocolate, which tastes almost indecently luxurious in the context of such unsweetened gruel. Of the parade of former players, Luther pays the most heartfelt and touching tribute, the force of his emotions evident in every word. “He was like a father to me. I owe everything in my life to Graham Taylor.” It takes you back to a time when Luther Blissett wasn’t a household name, when all of this magical, wonderful story was yet to unfold. It makes you realise how fragile it all is. How precious.

7. We do more than enough to win the game in the second half, while also failing to do so. It’s a crude assault on the Boro goal, like trying to pick a padlock with a rocket launcher, but it pretty much does the job: we’re a gigantic side and absolutely dominant at set pieces, when we can remember to deliver them rather than trying to be clever. Boro gradually retreat in protection of a point that’s considerably better for them than it is for us, leaving only the threat of it being one of those games where Gestede thumps a header into the top corner in the ninety-third minute. If my memory is to be believed, that’s happened at least four times in the last five years.

We force chances at a steady pace. Valdes saves comfortably from Okaka, Capoue swings a curler very narrowly wide, Cleverley hits the post from a long throw, Deeney breaks clear and is foiled only by a minute deflection as the ball travels under Valdes’ dive. None of it is anything other than agricultural, although Cleverley’s fifteen minute cameo in a supporting forward role suggests some promise of better things to come.

And I have to say that, on this evidence, better things are desperately needed. Yes, injuries. Yes, squad lopsidedness. Yes, I get all of that, I sympathise. Still. You can sustain this kind of football while it’s successful, because none of us care as much about style as we care about winning. But heavens above, it looks ugly as sin without that hazy glow. If you’re going to play like this, if you’re going to abandon aesthetics in favour of brute force, you’d better bloody win. Especially if you’re not going to bother to build a relationship with the supporters.

Thin ice, I suggest.

8. But that can all wait. It’s easy to contrast the past with the present, but nothing will ever match up, let’s face it. In truth, the generosity of the Pozzos to those who built the club before they bought it is uncommon and laudable; there are few people successful enough to buy a football club and yet modest enough not to need to prove how thoroughly they own it by trampling over its history. Today isn’t about them, clearly, but it’s framed by their willingness to cede the spotlight. And when you look more closely, you find those seeds still growing, still branching out: the recent opening of the Sensory Room, for example, feels as if it comes from much the same place, and the same set of values, as the family enclosure once did.

There’s only one Graham Taylor. But there are many of us, and there’s no better tribute than to continue to place the values he instilled at the heart of our football club. And beyond, to continue to make them part of our lives.

Family and community, open and welcoming and inclusive, determined and ambitious, modest and yet proud.

Elton John’s Taylor-made Army.


1. NW - 15/01/2017

More post match comments that show why we love this site. Well put.

Graham Taylor often said football was about exciting people. Walter clearly doesn’t agree with him. It’s a long time since I saw both a team and fans so thoroughly miserable about having to go to football. Yesterday was the longest without a shot in the premier league this season.

I can’t wait for him to go, I hope it won’t be long.

Doucoure was ok, okaka has a decent touch, Deeney needs dropping for a bit and sulky Holebas continues to prove QSF right.

In the pozzos we trust. Well be ok this year largely because Sunderland, hull and Swansea are awful but that’s about it.

2. Iveco76 - 15/01/2017

As always absolutely brilliant and brings tears to my eyes.

Watford is a wonderful Club and GT knew how grateful we all were and how many lives he changed for the better – his modesty and humility meant he didn’t need to tell everyone what he’d done.

3. harefield hornet - 15/01/2017

You’ve hit another level with that. Well done.

4. lissarda - 15/01/2017

A quote from one of your BSAD match reports came to mind on Thursday. St Andrews 1999, the Play off semi final. “Sang “One Graham Taylor, there’s only one Graham Taylor” and meant it like I’ve never meant anything in my life before.” I was at that game and those words struck such a chord with me. Hard to imagine feeling that way about any other football manager. RIP Graham.

5. Clive Broe - 15/01/2017

I always read your column but this is the first time I have felt that I could not let the moment pass without comment. You are right – you are not alone. It is part of me too.
We travelled up from Devon yesterday knowing that it wasn’t really about the game (perhaps just as well) but to be there and share in the emotion. An inadequate way of expressing our gratitude, admiration and without gushing too much our love for a wonderful man. It is not just what he did but how he did it that affected us all.

6. David A - 15/01/2017

Beautifully put Ian. Only I think the influence will last more than a generation. Before GT joined when I told people I supported Watford, it was with resignation as we’d get lumped with Port Vale, Darlington, Scunthorpe, Lincoln etc (and I have no disrespect for any of those teams). But after GT, people envied and respected me. I could say it with pride. People knew about Watford. Despite our seasons in the 2nd tier that is still true. I can still say it with immense pride. Thank you and God rest GT.

7. Robert Hill - 15/01/2017

The game almost seemed secondary to the occasion. And yet and after a mundane 1st half we dominated the game. Boro retreated, defended deep and we very seldom looked in trouble after HT. but I thought we were anxious and possibly because of the occasion. Other days we would have got 3, but it wasn’t one of those days. But for me there were some positives. Cleverley gradually made a difference and just showed that quality which we lacked previously. Okaka is a handful and we have missed him. But there looked to be an improvement albeit against a side which really didn’t trouble us in the 2nd half. Nearly we put the icing on the cake for which everyone was praying for, but in the end it wasn’t to be. I am frustrated with the missing quality of Success. What problem has he really got? With him back in the team and with Amrabat too, I’m sure we will be ok. I couldn’t fault the effort yesterday but we do lack quality at times.

But after the game and looking back, there is no doubt what GT left us. Saturday was the 1st time I’d been in the New hospitality area in the GT stand. What a massive change, but it is now pure class. I cannot fault what the Pozxo family have given us and the stadium is now one hell of a facility. GT started this in 1977 and slowly but surely we have generally kept improving after a history of Division 3 South football and mid table finishes. I shed a few tears for GT and I don’t mind admitting it. But the occasion just reminded me of GT’s legacy. It is absolutely huge and we are so fortunate to have some prope football people running our club. Gt always looked at the bigger picture and boy do we owe him almost everything for where we are, and I have no shame in shedding tears yesterday. GT was one hell of a lovely and decent man who had that professionalism and zip in his eyes. We owe him so much.

8. sw17 - 15/01/2017

My oldest friend and I spent half time discussing what we feel about GT as we were both 100% absent in the 80’s for very different reasons.

He simply new little about him other than the “Do I not like that ” documentary which didn’t show him in his greatest light. So I was happy to tell him of my two personal experiences with him and to hear him agree that there are too many similar fabulous stories for anyone to not think of him as the ultimate gentleman.

I’m glad we had that half time discussion about Grimsby 7-1 2/12/67 and the “hiding on the internet” quote from the 90’s.

9. NickB - 15/01/2017

Thank you for providing such a (predictably) classy and uplifting companion to Matt’s piece on Friday. The final four sentences of thought #2 have set out perfectly the key to his place in so many people’s hearts.

10. Stuart Campbell - 15/01/2017

Most people, when trying to hit a nail on the head, reach for the largest hammer in the toolbox. Then, with all the strength they can muster, clatter the fastening and its surroundings into submission. One or two, just one or two, take a different approach, using accuracy and a practised, elegant swing to produce an infinitely more effective, elegant result. Tellingly, beautifully executed, Mr Grant. Hats off, sir.

11. John Parslow - 15/01/2017

For GT – there really is nothing more to say.

For the game & season….

The last para of thunk 7. yup. my thoughts exactly.

On a poignant day I cannot fathom how we have a manager that we just cannot have any kind of relationship with. We flirted with QSF. Admired the tactical brutaility of Joka. Adore Zola. Laughed with (at) Beppe. Respected Dyche, Mackay etc. Loved Loved Loved GT.

If you cant be bothered to use one of Sinclair or Ighalo for the last 15 of a game where a win would pretty much secure your season – then seriously WM – what is the point !

Thin Thin ice indeed.

12. John Morris - 16/01/2017

As one who travels up from Devon, I had decided to miss this match, but after Thursdays news I realised that I had to share Saturday pm with the Watford family at the Vic. Thank you Graham for making our dreams come true.

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