One Graham Taylor
Derrick Williams MBE explains how GT helped charity KitAid to reach their dream of one million items of donated kit
From the very start in 1998, Watford FC has always played an important part in the KitAid story. Our first big collection was at the Vic, and we received early publicity in the matchday programme. However, our relationship with the club really flourished from 2005, when Graham Taylor accepted our invitation to become patron of KitAid.
It started with a letter handed over to his daughter Karen, in a school playground, with a request that she pass it on to her dad. About a month later, I received a call at work, and those distinctive tones shook me as Graham calmly said thanks for the letter, now off you go, tell me in three minutes what KitAid is about and what you expect from me. After a shaky start I managed to compose myself and after a couple of minutes he stopped me and said: “OK, I trust you but don’t ask too much of me and don’t expect me to stay as Patron for evermore as I have so many requests”. Perhaps one of our proudest achievements is that Graham did stay with us, and we consider ourselves so fortunate to have built up a friendship with Graham, Rita, Karen and the family.
Over the years I was incredibly fortunate in getting to meet Graham at his home in Kings Langley as he signed our annual thank you certificates for kit donors. What always struck me was that of the thousand certificates he signed, the first and the last were equally as legible and distinctive. It must have taken him ages, but you could see that he took pride in making each one as good as the one before. I once turned up to collect them and Rita was packing the car and said to just go in and shout that you’re here to collect them. He was sitting in his lounge with his trouser leg rolled up and he insisted on showing me how swollen his knee was! I felt as though I was in a bizarre dream! He also called me when he was waiting to go into theatre to have his knee replaced and he joked that I might be that last person he ever had a conversation with!
Probably my proudest moment was when he invited me to join him for the official opening of the Graham Taylor Stand at the Vic. At the time KitAid had just reached a milestone of reaching 250,000 items of donated kit and we cheekily asked if we could arrange a photo after the Cardiff City game with a banner we had made. He insisted I join him for lunch along with all of the other invited friends, ex-players and family, which was incredibly generous. I sat on a table in the Pozzos’ suite with the couple for whom he had bizarrely been best man at their wedding when the groom wrote and asked him! We were treated no differently from anyone else, and he made a point of checking we were looked after.
Graham also donated his last-ever pair of boots and we auctioned them at our 15th anniversary dinner at the Watford Hilton. On the night they sold for more than a pair of signed Lewis Hamilton racing boots which pleased everyone. When the statue was being made the sculptor asked if we could get them back so he could ensure he had the correct dimensions.
My final meeting with the great man was in early 2017 when once again I went to collect more signed certificates from his new house in Kings Langley. It was at the time Sam Allardyce had just been exposed by the Daily Telegraph sting. Graham invited me in, and I couldn’t resist asking him what he thought. He said he wouldn’t comment out of respect, and he had refused to speak to any of the national press and media for the same reason. A truly principled man.
On my way out I asked how the autobiography was coming along and he joked that no one would want to read it. He thanked me though and said it had prompted him to catch up with Lionel Birnie. I still wonder if he did.
We know how much Graham loved seeing pictures of the donated kit helping others less fortunate and we received incredible support from him over 12 years. KitAid has taken the decision never to replace Graham as patron and the position is left vacant in his honour.
We have a saying, ‘Do it the Graham way’, when we are weighing up options or the best way of achieving something. I also remember Rob Smith saying that to work for the WFC Community Sports & Education Trust, you must have “a bit of Graham about you” and to this day, we are proud to ensure that his legacy lives on in communities all across Planet Football.