Graham Taylor's immense achievements with Watford will always shine brightly

Ex-England manager has passed away at the age of 72

BY Raf Diallo 15:16 Thursday 12 January 2017, 15:16 12 Jan 2017

File photo dated 20-05-1984 of Watford Football Club Chairman Elton John wearing the club scarf with team manager Graham Taylor on a balcony overlooking a crowd of well wishers. It was the clubs first appearance in their 93 year history Picture by PA PA Wire/PA Images

For many, the pinnacle of a football career as a player and manager is to represent one's country.

Graham Taylor, who has passed away at the age of 72, did just that with England as manager between 1990 and 1993.

His rise to international management followed the rich promise he had shown in the club game.

A player at Grimbsy Town and Lincoln City in the 1960s and '70s, Taylor had taken his first managerial steps at the latter club in 1972, becoming the youngest league manager at the time aged just 27.

After showing promise there, it was Watford that would prove to be the making of him as a manager.

In 1977, he was brought there by Elton John, the legendary musician and then owner of Watford FC, who had taken charge of the club a year previously.

They would form a firm friendship which would underpin a surreal rise for the Hornets. 

Watford President Elton John greets Graham Taylor at Vicarage Road today (Thursday) as he arrives to take up his new job as General Manager/PA. Elton John is back at the helm of division two Watford after heading a consortium of investors to take over at Vicarage Road. Picture by Michael Stephens PA Archive/PA Images

"Elton is a couple of years younger than me and we became such great friends that we were more like brothers than chairman and manager," Taylor once said in an interview.

Elton John aside, there was nothing glamorous about Watford at the time. The club had been down in the English Fourth Division for a couple of years.

In a 2014 chat with the Watford Observer, Taylor recalled: "When I look back I have to smile because it was a Fourth Division club with a greyhound track around the pitch. That is what it was."

But Taylor would have an immediate effect as he guided them up to the Third Division within a season, finishing 11 points clear of second placed Southend United.

They would lose just five times in that campaign and manage to forge the best defensive record of the campaign. 

Taylor's forward signing Ross Jenkins would contribute 16 goals to that cause.

One promotion was a success but two in two seasons was just brilliant as Taylor repeated the trick in the 1978-79 Third Division and took the club up to Division Two and within touching distance of the top flight.

Jenkins again proved crucial with his 29 goals helping Watford to second in Division Three.

Taylor's Watford sides were seen as direct, although the manager himself felt they "were wrongly accused of playing long ball". Instead, he emphasised that he wanted his teams to "get the ball forward quickly" and into the danger zone in the box, citing that "around 92 per cent of goals were scored in that part of the pitch".

His game plan worked. While their first season in Division Two saw them avoid relegation, they would begin marking their improvement by climbing up the table to the point that in 1981-82, Watford won promotion to the top division, finishing second to Luton Town.

Incredibly, the best was still yet to come. By this time a young John Barnes had arrived and made his debut. Fellow Jamaica born England striker Luther Blissett had been at the club since before Taylor's arrival but grew as a player during that late '70s era and into the 1980s.

In October 2015, he spoke to Newstalk's Off The Ball about that extraordinary time at Watford, saying, "At the time we came together and it was an amazing group of players and we gelled very well together and success just came. We used to look forward to each game and just enjoyed it and because we enjoyed it, the performances were a bit special."

Graham Taylor back at Watford, shares a joke with team coach Luther Blissett as they meet the press at Vicarage Road. Picture by PA PA Archive/PA Images

Blissett would hit double figures in every season for Watford from 1978 to 1983 in that first spell at Vicarage Road.

He would plunder 27 league goals in 1982-83, as Watford experienced their first season in the Top Division to finish as top scorer.

If he thrived individually, Watford enjoyed their greatest ever season, with a campaign that was so close to Leicester City 2015-16 proportions. 

Driven by Blissett's goals, Taylor guided the Hornets not just into the top half of the table but up to second.

Only a mighty Liverpool side finished above them that year. Alongside Blissett and Barnes in the team were, one-club man Kenny Jackett, former Northern Ireland international Gerry Armstrong (scorer of Watford's first Division One goal in a match against Everton) and ex-Arsenal player and assistant Pat Rice.

But there was still more to come for Watford under Taylor's tutelage.

After that outstanding debut season at the top level, they would get to Wembley in May 1984 as the Hornets first and (so far) only appearance in an FA Cup final - a time when the cup was the pinnacle for many.

Everton were the opposition, during their own golden era of success, and it was the Toffees who would prevail 2-0.

While a trophy didn't arrive for Watford, Taylor and his team's achievements during that era still stand the test of time. His Watford showed anything was possible. 

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