Reflections on Graham Taylor

Pic courtesy of Clurr

1. That documentary was the making of him

For some, it fit perfectly the narrative of a village idiot in demise. For me, though, it destroyed a perception I’d developed over the previous decade of an earnest, provincial civil servant who firmly believed that there is a point to ironing your pyjamas.

Whatever the language and bathos of those 50 minutes, here was a man with hot blood coursing through his veins, after all. From behind the Acacia Drive exterior emerged someone I could finally imagine enjoying a few beers with: after hours, with the bar curtains drawn tight and guilty smiles on our faces.

Someone’s image nose-dived all right, on the evening of January 24, 1994, but I think you’ll find it was Phil Neal’s.

2. Class, in all its forms, is permanent

The obsession with success for the national football team, seemed oddly irrelevant today. With just an occasional nod to the truism that international football was probably a bridge too far for Graham Taylor, even the tributes on that savage free-for-all called Twitter focused tightly on what he did accomplish: being a proficient club manager at the highest domestic level, while never losing his soul.

This was not a case of death buying the dead some restraint. The tributes were fulsome and uninhibited, and a lesson for all of us. Whatever your achievements or failures, your character will outlive them all in the consciousness of others.

“In a way, the world is a great liar,” Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan once wrote. “It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn’t, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That’s what it really admires. That’s what we talk about in eulogies, because that’s what’s important. We don’t say, ‘The thing about Joe was that he was rich.’ We say, if we can, ‘The thing about Joe was he took care of people.”

3. Enjoy these particular tributes while you still can

So many eulogies have focused on Taylor’s common touch and ‘everyman’ persona. There was talk of daft letters he nonetheless answered, or the conversations with fans in which you’d have thought he was merely a fan himself.

Just six months ago, working on the coast for a magazine feature, a colleague of mine found himself being watched by Mr and Mrs Taylor, on holiday at the time. My colleague being a football fan, the conversation took an inevitable turn, yet while Mrs Taylor politely made her excuses and walked on with the dog, her husband hung around for another 10 minutes, happily talking ‘shop’, as if stumbling upon a kindred spirit was the highlight of his vacation.

Now think of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and the rest of the ‘smoked glass’ generation, casting crumbs to the masses from behind their phalanx of PR people. How differently might their obituaries eventually read, do you imagine?

4. The Buggles lied

Video did not kill the radio star. Against the backdrop of shallow, shouty television, he is the counterpoint that became ever more precious. With neither looks nor special effects at his disposal, he stands or falls on his speech alone, and the calibre of thought to which it gives voice. Graham Taylor could spout the occasional commentary booth inanity with the best of them but in the main, he was one of the better analysts, rarely given to verbal excess and frequently telling me something I hadn’t already figured out for myself. That I will never again hear that reassuring Lincolnshire voice on a Radio 5 Live commentary is the part of today that is hardest to take in.

That perceived civil servant of 30 years ago has come a long way. Today feels like I’ve lost an uncle.


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