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England soccer legend Taylor dies aged 72

AAP logoAAP 12/01/2017 Tom Allnutt

Graham Taylor, who has died aged 72, is widely regarded as Watford's greatest ever manager and, despite a turbulent and ultimately doomed spell in charge of England, became one of soccer's most respected figures during a career that spanned almost 50 years.

Taylor was born on September 15, 1944 in Worksop in Nottinghamshire to his mother Dorothy, a postwoman, and father Thomas, a sports reporter for the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph and from whom he first learned his love of the game.

Taylor joined the youth ranks at Scunthorpe but transferred to Grimsby in 1962 and went on to play 189 league matches.

In 1968, Taylor was bought by Lincoln and played 151 games for the Imps, captaining the side before retiring in 1972 due to a serious hip injury.

Taylor then pursued a long-held interest in coaching, having already qualified as the youngest-ever Football Association staff coach aged 21.

He took the manager's job at Lincoln and guided the club to the Fourth Division title in 1976.

Taylor had gained a reputation as one of the country's brightest young coaches and in 1977 was approached by Watford chairman Elton John.

Taylor was not immediately convinced. After all, Watford were languishing in the Fourth Division, from which he had just earned promotion, and when John stated his ambition for the Hornets to be playing in Europe, Taylor rolled his eyes.

Hoping to dampen the pop star's lofty expectations, Taylor said it would cost the club almost a million pounds.

"Right, let's give it a go," John replied.

Five seasons and three promotions later, Watford had finished second in the First Division, ahead of Manchester United, and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

It was one of the most rapid and remarkable surges English soccer has ever seen.

Taylor forged a team that was not only successful on the pitch but engaging off it.

Players regularly visited supporters at work, free of charge or any marketing motive, and when Taylor first arrived he took to the streets of Watford to ask fans for their views. At a time when football was plagued by hooliganism, the club stood as a beacon of cohesion and local harmony.

Taylor steered Watford to the third round of the UEFA Cup the following season as well as the FA Cup final, where they lost to Everton, but despite establishing their status in the First Division, they could never match the heady heights of 1983.

Taylor sought a new challenge at Aston Villa, whom he led to second place in 1990, an achievement that prompted the FA to come calling.

Early scepticism about Taylor's lack of major trophies eased when England lost just once in his first 21 games at the helm but things quickly turned sour at Euro 92 when a surprise 2-1 defeat to Sweden ensured the team failed to make it out of their group.

Taylor was heavily criticised for his decision to substitute Gary Lineker with the score at 1-1 and the Sun's reaction was particularly vicious, their headline 'Swedes 2 Turnips 1', accompanied by a picture of Taylor's head as a turnip. It became the enduring emblem of his tenure.

On the pitch, an ageing and injury-afflicted England then failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup following a miserable campaign that included crucial defeats to Norway and Holland.

After a brief period at Wolves, Taylor returned for a second spell at Watford, before announcing his decision to retire in 2001.

In retirement, Taylor spent his time working as a television and radio pundit for the BBC while also helping Watford through a period of financial difficulty.

He served as the club's chairman from 2009 until 2012 and a stand at Vicarage Road was renamed the Graham Taylor Stand in his honour in 2014.

He leaves his wife Rita and two daughters, Joanne and Karen.

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