2016 was a year in which there was a seemingly endless series of announcements of deaths of people in the public eye. Many of those deaths seemed tragically too early. And in maudlin moments I pondered on who it would be whose demise would really knock me back. There was only one person. And it seemed that it would be an event that was years away.
The town where I grew up is a bit of a nondescript place, a dormitory commuter town on the North West outskirts of London, just outside of the M25 Orbital motorway. In the 1970s and 80s when I was a kid in Watford it was going through a phase of transition. The industries that the town had built around were gone or going – the brewer Benskins at the top of our road was derelict; Sun and Odhams printers were in decline; the truck manufacturer Scammells was soon to close.
In the shadow of its behemoth neighbour it could have been a nothing place. But from 1977 in partnership with Elton John, Graham Taylor took a little football team from a nondescript town and gave us a sense of identity. The success that the club had in his first tenure (and again in his second) united the town. Gave us something to be proud of. Gave us exciting times.
I wouldn’t have been a football fan if it hadn’t been for Graham Taylor. My parents had no interest in the sport. Well, they didn’t until Graham’s focus on making Watford a family club drew them and many others to matches in the 70s and 80s. It was something natural for us all to do at a time when most of the rest of football in England was not family day out material.
What Graham Taylor did with Watford Football Club was so much more than “just a game”. He will be deeply missed by me and thousands of others from the town and further afield for what he gave to us: Elton John’s Taylor-made army.