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Just a Good Man

Sometimes you should meet your heroes. Colin Payne goes back to 1999
when he first properly met Graham Taylor.

“I was going to buy you a bottle of Taylor’s, but it was twice the price.”
And that was my opening gambit when I met Graham Taylor to interview him for ‘The Yellow Experience’ back in 1999. I had just handed over a bottle of Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port that I had hastily picked up from Oddbins on my way to Vicarage Road. I had been told that the great man was partial to a glass of the stuff, although I’m sure his tastes were more refined than the second-cheapest one I could find. I had considered giving him a bottle each of Graham’s and Taylor’s, as at the time I thought that would have been clever: alas though my budget only stretched so far. With a laugh, a handshake and the words “I do like honesty”, I was directed to a leather armchair in his office, placed before a desk behind which he sat. I felt immediately at ease.

This was the beginning of what I still describe as my most memorable Watford moment, which is fortunate as 20 years later I find myself writing about it! I couldn’t believe it was going ahead. In June 1999, just a couple of weeks after the play-off victory at Wembley, I had written Graham an introductory letter asking for an interview. I pointed out it was for a fanzine, and that I fully understood it might very well not be possible for him to accommodate my request as, let’s be honest, it wasn’t top of his to-do list. Within a week I had received a reply basically saying, ‘bear with me on this… you’ll appreciate I’m busy… but I’ll contact you when we can meet up.’

Of course he was busy, what was I thinking? He was managing a Premier League Club, so even if he did want to talk to me, how on earth would it be fitted in? Then a letter arrived in September, with a time and date for me to come to his office at Vicarage Road, and an apology for taking so long to get back to me. And there I was, sitting before him, with around 20 questions I had garnered from fellow fans, in order to present a Q-and-A-style interview. It went well: he answered the questions seemingly honestly, was good natured and considered, and the time seemed to fly by. Although I’m sure we spoke for about 30 minutes, it never seemed like it. And as our chat ended I realised that Graham Taylor was every bit the man I had thought he was. They say ‘never meet your heroes’, but in this case I am eternally glad I did.

I was standing to say my goodbyes and leave, happy that it had gone well, when he noticed I had my camera by the chair. “Do you want some photos?” he asked. Of course I did! “Julie…”, he called to his PA, “can you come in here for a moment?” With that he instructed me to give my camera to Julie, and show her what to click, then ushered me back to my chair. At that point he stood behind me, placing his hands on my shoulders, and posed for the shot that is still my Facebook profile picture whenever appropriate. He then scurried around to the other side of his desk, and took a back issue of ‘The Yellow Experience’ from a drawer, holding it up, smiling, giving it the Taylor seal of approval, while I captured the image. From there he moved around the office, taking down pictures from his wall, and posing with them as he explained why they were important to him. In between he just chatted, asking about me, my life, how long I had supported Watford, what I had enjoyed, did I remember this and that. I felt that he liked me, and that mattered.

When I finally left, I felt strangely emotional, in a good way. That little ‘extra bit’ with the camera had taken no more than ten minutes, but it was ten minutes he didn’t need to take, ten minutes he could have been doing something more with, something far more ‘Premier League Manager-y’.

It struck me later the same evening that he wasn’t just being nice, although he was I guess, but that he realised how important this was to me, how important he was to me, and by taking just that little bit more time he knew how much it meant to me. I was to meet him properly on three further occasions, and each time he was just as utterly likeable. Each meeting has a similar little story attached, illustrating other reasons why we all miss him so much beyond what he achieved with a
small Hertfordshire football club.

But ultimately the thing I love most about Graham Taylor was that he was just a good man, and in life, no matter what you achieve, that is what really counts.