Shropshire Star

Graham Taylor – a football gentleman

It is 30 years ago tomorrow since Graham Taylor took charge of his first game as Wolves manager.

Graham Taylor is looking forward to the challenge of bringing the disappointed fans back to deserted Villa Park

Well, that’s half accurate.

Taylor had originally planned to sit in the stands at Bolton’s Burnden Park in an observational capacity and leave the on-field direction to caretaker boss Peter Shirtliff.

But with Wolves 2-1 up, and the game swaying in the balance, he could wait no longer, heading pitchside and taking his place in the dugout.

Shortly afterwards, Guy Whittingham grabbed his second goal of the game in front of a packed and delirious away end, and Taylor’s Wolves were off and running,

That was Taylor all over.

When in work, so completely and utterly immersed in the job, so focused on doing whatever was needed to help his team, whether via meticulous preparation, or during the 90 minutes.

It’s fair to say not every Wolves fan was fully behind the decision to hand Taylor his first job – and a high profile one at that – since what had turned out to be an ill-fated spell as England manager.

But it’s also fair to say his commitment and dedication, and - as ever - the wearing of heart on sleeve, won the vast majority of them over. And if opposition fans tried to take the mickey? Wolves fans have always thrived on that type of siege mentality. And always will.

Had it not been for a cruel glut of injuries to key players, and some rotten lock and rotten refereeing in the play-off semi-finals 14 months after Taylor’s arrival, it could have been a match made in heaven.

Ultimately it didn’t turn out like that. But more on Wolves later.

Graham Taylor (right) with Jonathan Hayward.

Ahead of Saturday’s visit to Aston Villa, where a promotion and then top-flight second placed finish, built on his success at Lincoln and Watford, secured Taylor that England opportunity, time for a look back on the man who was so delighted to take the Molineux helm those three decades ago.

John Ward, who would later coach at Wolves for several years as well as temporarily holding the fort as caretaker manager, was a trusted assistant to Taylor during hugely successful spells at Watford and Villa.

The two first met when Ward, a striker, signed for Lincoln, and found himself positioned in the dressing room next to Taylor, Imps full back and captain. An ultimately career-defining moment.

“I was 18 or 19, going into my first day at a professional club, and I was nervous,” Ward recalls.

“When I got there, they said, ‘there you go, that’s your peg’, and I was next to Graham, the captain.

“As I look back now, it was one of the biggest and best things that happened to me in my whole career.

“As soon as I met Graham, he made me feel welcome and settled – ‘come on Wardy let’s get on with it,’ he said – and from then on, I was ‘Wardy’.

“I could sit and talk to him about anything, and I learned so much.

“It was later that I went to play for him at Watford, pretty much as cover as they had some brilliant strikers, that I then moved into coaching.

“I went around to his house and he must have gone through so much analysis over four or five hours – knowing him as I did from there, I am surprised it wasn’t even longer!

“It was a new side to him, I had never seen anything like it, and that was just the start of a really positive working relationship.”

Wolverhampton Wanderers fitness coach Tony Daley (right) and coach Rob Edwards (centre) arrive with Keith Millen (left) for the funeral service for Graham Taylor held at St Mary's Church, Watford..

Another who maintained such a positive alliance with Taylor across several different clubs – including Wolves – was winger Tony Daley.

The flying winger had already made his breakthrough with Aston Villa when Taylor checked in as manager, and had already worked for his new boss during an England Under-20 tournament in Brazil.

Daley was young, ambitious, a hugely exciting prospect who was already exhilarating fans up and down the country with his electric pace and blistering wingplay.

Enter Taylor, and the sort of man management which only true and almost innate footballing instinct can provide.

“I was 19 when Graham arrived at Villa, effectively going into my second full season, and because I’d done well for him on an England Under-20s trip which he had led, I was delighted when he arrived,” Daley explains.

“At Villa, we were going through a transitional phase at the time, there were a lot of older players there and a drinking culture and we’d just been relegated with barely a whimper.

“Graham’s remit was to inject some discipline back into the club, and at the very first meeting with the players, he told us how it was going to be, that he would be speaking individually to some who would be leaving, and anyone else who wanted to go, could knock on his door.

“He brought in new rules, a lot of stuff like no jeans and no tracksuits, and his first pre-season, in terms of the fitness work, was absolutely horrific!

“For me at that time, I’d been on an upward trajectory since I was maybe 15, with people talking about me as a ‘wonder boy’ and wondering what I was going to achieve – I hadn’t experienced any negativity.

“And then, for the first few days of training, Graham didn’t even speak to me.

“Even in training, if I did something well, he didn’t say a word, and on maybe the third day he walked past me in the corridor and I looked to try and attract his attention and he walked straight on by!