I’m beginning to not like the way New Year’s start. Last year on January 10th, I lost a pivotal cultural force in my life in David Bowie and now two days after it being a year to the day, Graham Taylor who defined some of the fondest memories of my footballing world has passed.
Taylor was responsible for my first ever pitch invasion. I was perched on the shoulders of my dad as we sneaked into Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank, when they used to open the gates with ten minutes to go, to join in the pitch invasion celebrations at the Imp’s last home game of the season – a Graham Taylor managed team had just won the old Division 4 title.
Taylor had won 21 out of 23 home league games that season (with two draws) a hint that football management was very much his game.
I was too young to remember Taylor’s Lincoln City days, which still remain the benchmark to which all Lincoln City teams have been measured against since. Taylor’s first spell as manager of Aston Villa though is still crystal clear.
The recent drop off in Villa’s fortunes in the past five years somewhat mirrors what happened post the European Cup win in 1982. Although, it wasn’t quite as dramatic as then.
Doug Ellis came back to the club, broke up our most decorated team and managed to get them relegated within five years. When Villa dropped, I remember feeling that it might actually be the kick up the backside that Villa needed. To Deadly’s credit, he managed to get the man who was good enough to deliver it.
Watford fans would have been gutted when Taylor left them after performing miracles during a decade in charge to join Villa. In the season Villa had won the European Cup, Taylor had got the Hornets promoted. The following season they finished runners-up to Liverpool in the top-tier, the season after they made the FA Cup final.
Taylor dropped a division to take over at Villa and Watford soon got relegated once he’d left.
‘Taylor was responsible for my first ever pitch invasion’.
Rebuilding the team into an exciting and positive force that got Villa straight back up was a great achievement, but Taylor also very much laid down the foundations for the club’s success once he’d left.
He took a chance on David Platt from Crewe for what he called an “over the top” price of £200,000; to this day perhaps the best Villa transfer of my life time.
Platt energised the promotion push, inspired a runners-up finish in the top tier, gave Villan’s national pride when Platt shined in the 1990 World Cup for England (I doubt they’d have reached the semi-finals without him too). The £5.5m transfer fee that Villa received from his transfer to Bari allowed Ron Atkinson to rebuild Villa once again into a successful team with a runners-up finish in the club’s first ever Premier League campaign and a League Cup win the following season.
Graham Taylor also took a gamble on Paul McGrath and brought to the club a player who would go on to be one of its favourite sons, and be one of the cornerstones of Big Ron’s success.
Taylor also discovered Dwight Yorke as a teenager during an Aston Villa Pre-Season tour of the West Indies, a player that Brian Little would ultimately reap the benefits of when he helped Villa lift the League Cup in 1996.
When I was thinking about naming ‘My Old Man Said’, I never wanted it to be ‘Aston Villa this’ or ‘Villa that’ like the rest. I wanted it to be rooted to the supporters of the club and in the “My Old Man” song, the fact that it celebrated Graham Taylor’s team certainly resonated:
‘With Spinksy and Birchy, Alan McInally,
there the boys who’re gonna do us fine.’
Personally, it provided a hidden relation to one of my favourite periods of supporting Aston Villa. When we had a team that was dynamic and played without fear. How it should be and hopefully, something i would feel again supporting the club once the dark days had passed (still waiting!).
The ‘If Only’
Graham Taylor’s passing also recalls a different kind of sadness, when we were mourning him in a football sense, after he left Villa for the ill-fated England job. The sadness of a lot of Villa fans at losing him at that time marks the affection we had for him. The question of “if only he stayed” still rattles with possibility.
Other people will have better personal stories about Taylor, mine are simple ones relating to when he returned to Lincoln, while he was the Villa boss.
I once skipped school one afternoon to take my Aston Villa: A Complete Record 1874-1988 book to a nearby hotel, which was hosting Taylor and the Imp’s title-winning team of the 70’s, so that he could sign it, which he gracefully did, happy to see a Villa & Imps fan.
Also, he brought the Villa squad to Lincoln to play a friendly against Nettleham to mark their new floodlights in December 1989 and I got to hang out with the squad at a bowling alley for the afternoon (and buy Nigel Spink a drink…an orange juice).
This was the thing about Taylor, he never forgot his past and kept connections to all his main clubs – Lincoln City, Watford and Aston Villa. That’s why he came back to both Watford and Aston Villa to manage again, to try and help them out in troubled times.
While the press may focus on his difficult period as England manager, true football supporters know the value of him to the game. After all, only the truly great managers have football stands named after them. A big respect to Watford for making that gesture during Taylor’s actual lifetime.