Legend is a word that gets bandied about far too often these days. A couple of goals here and there can get players classed as a legend, acts over and above the call of duty often attract the label as well. Today we lost a true legend, one who set out to achieve something at our football club, and eventually set a record that will never be broken.
When I saw the news that Graham had passed today I instinctively knew that for many years to come I would once again remember where I was, just like the building site in Redhill when I heard about Keith, and just like being in my bosses car when I heard about Butch. Graham may have been a little older and had achieved everything in his career that he was going to, but at 72 he was still too young.
I’ve read a few of the obituaries in the national press and his spell at Lincoln is almost glossed over as a footnote. His later career more than eclipsed his first tenure as a football manager, but his achievements at Lincoln live long in the mind of all those who experienced it. There is a cruel and cold irony in the fact he has passed today, a day when two managers described as ‘the best since Graham Taylor’ signed new deals.
I wasn’t born when Graham Taylor prowled the touchline at Lincoln City, and by the time I was aware of him properly he was in charge at Aston Villa. Perhaps his greatest achievement came as manager of Watford in the early 1980’s. No doubt they’ll have stories and dedications written about him already, as will Villa fans and I expect Wolves fans too.
For me Graham Taylor will always epitomise my Dad’s experiences supporting Lincoln in the 1970’s. The team that Taylor built is (for many) the benchmark against which all Lincoln City sides have to be measured. When you break a record, it sets a precedent for fans and in 1976 we set one that can never be broken. Two points for a win has been abolished, and so the record number of points in a single season under that system will always read ‘Lincoln City, 74pts’. That record will forever belong to Graham Taylor and his assembled team of Lincoln Legends. If you think we’re doing well this season, imagine 21 home wins from 23 games.
I met Graham a couple of times and he was always friendly, open and down to earth. He often spoke of his days at Lincoln and the players who were more like family to him. Of course even Sir Elton John has referred to Graham as ‘like a brother’ today, and that is a true measure of the man. He came from a time when football was a game of the people from top flight to bottom, and he thrived in building relationships and garnering success with team spirit and togetherness.
His tactics often got criticised, unfairly in my opinion. There are many variations of long ball, there is the type that John Beck played, and then there was Graham Taylor’s approach. He liked strong and physical sides to play for im, but that shouldn’t be a negative thing. I’m told he was direct at times, but throughout his career he engaged flair wingers. It was a direct approach that encouraged skilful and able players in the final third. If he were truly long ball, how did John Barnes rise to fame under his watchful eye? How did he incorporate players such as Dick Kryzwicki and Alan Harding in his sides? There was much more to Graham Taylor than a big punt up field, he was a scholar of the game and a man who broke new ground with his methods.
He was also an intelligent man and something of a trail blazer in his early days as a manager. The game moved very quickly, and many thought after his England spell Graham hadn’t moved with it; they were wrong. Further success with Wolves and back to back promotions with Watford proved that he still had what it took to be a success 25 years after he first won something with the Imps.
After his career finished he became a respected and insightful pundit, one I always enjoyed listening to, in part because of his Imps connections but also due to the opinions he had on the game.
So on a day which many Imps fans heard jubilant news about their current managers (more on that later), we have to say goodbye to the best there has been in many, many years at Sincil Bank. Graham Taylor restored the clubs pride and dignity after a desolate 1960’s and early 70’s. He built an unstoppable team of record breakers, and (for now) is only one of two people to ever guide Lincoln City into the 4th round of the FA Cup. The fact he is still remembered fondly over forty years later is testament to his influence on the club and the city.
Much will be written about his achievements elsewhere over the coming days, many will lament his appalling treatment at the hands of The Scum newspaper (amongst others) during his England tenure but others will recollect fond personal stories of his endearing personality. Me? I’ll mourn the loss of a man who managed to put a smile on the faces of Imps fans before I was born, a man who even my Dad got star struck around, and a manager whom will forever hold the record for ‘most points for a win under the 2pts system’ in the football archives.
Graham Taylor (15th September 1944-12th January 2017)