LONDON: Former England manager Graham Taylor died on Thursday at the age of 72 after suffering a suspected heart attack.
Taylor made his name as the mastermind behind Watford’s rise to the English top-flight in the 1980s and also enjoyed a successful spell as Aston Villa boss before spending three years as England manager.
“With the greatest sadness, we have to announce that Graham passed away at his home early this morning of a suspected heart attack,” a statement from the Taylor family read.
“The family are devastated by this sudden and totally unexpected loss.”
Leading Watford and then Aston Villa to the runners-up spot in the old First Division established Taylor as one of the brightest managerial minds of his generation.
Taylor appeared to have landed his dream job when he took over as England boss in 1990, but his ill-fated reign ended when he resigned in 1993 after the team failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.
That difficult period, which saw Taylor harshly lampooned by tabloid newspapers, couldn’t detract from the respect he was held in across the football world.
The news of his death drew a shocked reaction as stars paid tribute to one of the English game’s most memorable characters.
“Completely shocked by news of Graham Taylor. Always held him in the very highest regard – the man who gave me my first england cap. So sad,” former England captain Alan Shearer tweeted.
Paul Gascoigne, one of the England players most associated with Taylor’s reign, said: “I’m deeply sorry to hear about Graham Taylor. His enthusiasm for life and football was incredible. My thoughts go out to his family.”
– Unbreakable bond –
Taylor is most fondly remembered at Watford, who will mark his passing with a minute’s applause before their home match against Middlesbrough on Saturday.
A previously unglamourous club languishing in the fourth tier when Taylor arrived from Lincoln in 1977, Watford were utterly transformed as he led them to the top-flight in just five years.
It was a remarkable ride that produced Watford’s only FA Cup final appearance in 1984, the club’s first foray onto the European stage and an unlikely alliance with flamboyant pop star Elton John.
John was Watford owner for much of Taylor’s 15 years at Vicarage Road and the pair remained firm friends long after their time in football was over.
“He was like a brother to me. We shared an unbreakable bond since we first met,” John wrote on Instagram.
“We went on an incredible journey together and it will stay with me forever.
“He took my beloved Watford from the depths of the lower leagues to unchartered territory and into Europe.
“We have become a leading English club because of his managerial wisdom and genius.
“This is a sad and dark day for Watford. The club and the town.
“We will cherish Graham and drown our sorrows in the many brilliant memories he gave us. I love you Graham. I will miss you very much.”
Taylor returned to Watford to win promotion to the Premier League in 1999 before joining Villa for the second time in his last managerial role.
Dion Dublin, who played for Taylor at Villa, said: “I am completely shocked. I only saw him a couple of months ago.
“He was a very, very, funny man. When I played under him at Aston Villa he taught me so much.
“He was very understanding of people’s situation. He had my utmost respect and was a pal as well as a manager. It is quite devastating news.”