Football family gathers to pay tribute to Graham Taylor

Football family gathers to pay tribute to Graham Taylor
A Watford supporter watches the giant screen ahead of the funeral service for Graham Taylor held at St Mary's Church, Watford. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA

Updated 4pm: Luminaries from the world of football gathered for the funeral of Graham Taylor in Watford on Wednesday, paying tribute to a husband, father, grandfather and one of their own.

"'Family first, except on match days', he used to say," daughter Joanne told mourners during a poignant service at St Mary's Church.

The former Watford, Aston Villa and Wolves manager died on January 12, aged 72, following a suspected heart attack.

Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Watford captain Troy Deeney were among the hundreds of mourners to attend.

In Watford, the affection for Taylor was undimmed by his ignominious England reign from 1990 to 1993, which saw Taylor's team fail to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

An estimated 1,250 to 1,500 people gathered, many in the gold, black and red of Watford Football Club, to pay their respects. Some scaled a multi-story car park to view proceedings.

Taylor led the Hornets from the old Fourth Division to runners-up in the top flight in his first spell in charge, when Elton John owned the club.

John was not present, but his tribute to Taylor was read by John Motson, the BBC commentator, as audio of the service was relayed to those outside.

"I have so many wonderful memories of Graham that I could write a whole book. He was without doubt like a brother," John said.

John lauded Taylor's enthusiasm, commitment and passion as Watford became "an unstoppable force of nature", with the likes of Luther Blissett and John Barnes in the team. Both were among the mourners.

The singer-song writer also relayed how it was Taylor who made him face the spectre of substance abuse.

John said: "His lecture to me one day shook me to my core. He told me how foolish I was and how I was letting myself - and more importantly the club - down.

"As you can imagine, those words rang so true and I will never forget them.

"To love somebody you must be prepared to be honest and open. And Graham was the most honest and open man I've ever met."

John in 1977 appointed Taylor as Hornets boss ahead of England's World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore. He described Taylor as "a genius from Lincolnshire".

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, Taylor enjoyed a solid, if unremarkable playing career with Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Lincoln.

He retired in 1972 due to a serious hip injury and soon gained a reputation as one of the country's brightest coaches.

He achieved three promotions in five seasons with Watford, before leaving for Aston Villa in 1987.

He made Watford, where he had a second spell as manager from 1996 to 2001, a family and community club.

John said: "He is a legend in this community, in football and in life. I love you my friend. Thank you for everything."

The number and diversity of those in attendance - from players who played under him to rival managers and colleagues from his latter career as a BBC radio pundit - were a tribute to the man.

Within football, Taylor was widely recognised for being approachable, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

He was considered a gentleman, warm and engaging.

Reverend Tony Rindl told mourners that Taylor did not speak until he was five years old and all laughed in unison at the thought he soon made up for it.

The order of service was adorned with a CS Lewis quote: "The pain of grief is the cost of the joy of love."

The first hymn - Lead Us Heavenly Father Lead Us - was sung at his 1965 wedding to wife Rita, whom he first declared his love for aged 13.

His family shared their cherished memories, Karen and Joanne of 'Dad', Rihanna, Elsie and Jack of 'Grandad'.

Karen read 'The Dash', a poem by Linda Ellis which discusses the punctuation between two dates on a coffin and denotes how one spent one's life.

His grandchildren recalled "giggles" and mystery Valentine's cards, accompanied by a signature kiss.

"You always did make us feel so special and so loved," they said.

"We'll continue to make you proud. You'll never know how much we'll miss you."

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