Sir Elton John and Sir Alex Ferguson have led the world of football in paying tribute to former England manager Graham Taylor following his death at the age of 72.
Taylor, who is thought to have suffered a heart attack, will be best remembered for his spell in charge of England from 1990-93 and successful stints with Watford and Aston Villa.
Confirming his death, a family statement read: “With the greatest sadness, we have to announce that Graham passed away at his home early this morning of a suspected heart attack. The family are devastated by this sudden and totally unexpected loss.”
EFL clubs will stage a minute’s applause ahead of all fixtures this weekend as a mark of respect, while Watford will also hold a one-minute applause ahead of their Premier League clash against Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road. The Hornets will also wear black armbands for Saturday’s fixture.
Taylor began his footballing career as a young player with Scunthorpe and also represented Grimsby and Lincoln before moving into management with the latter.
He also had a spell as manager at Wolves and later became a respected pundit with the BBC and BT Sport.
It was at Watford, though, where Taylor’s managerial career really took off after cutting his teeth with Lincoln.
After being appointed in 1977, he took the club from the Fourth Division to a second-placed finish in the top flight, qualifying the UEFA Cup in 1983. They reached the FA Cup final the following year. He moved to Villa in 1987 but had a second spell at Vicarage Road from 1996-2001, achieving promotion to the Premier League.
Sir Elton, Taylor’s chairman at Watford, expressed his sadness via an Instagram post.
He wrote: “I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear about Graham’s passing. He was like a brother to me. We shared an unbreakable bond since we first met. We went on an incredible journey together and it will stay with me forever.
“He took my beloved Watford from the depths of the lower leagues to unchartered territory and into Europe. We have become a leading English club because of his managerial wisdom and genius.
“This is a sad and dark day for Watford. The club and the town. We will cherish Graham and drown our sorrows in the many brilliant memories he gave us. I love you Graham. I will miss you very much.”
Former England winger John Barnes was part of the Watford side which rose to the top of the English game after Taylor brought him to the club from non-league Sudbury Court.
Barnes told Sky Sports News: “Graham started my career, so of course I know more than most about the influence he had on players.
“I was a 17-year-old boy and he put me in the team straight away, he cared about me as a person first and a footballer second.”
Footage was shared widely on social media on Thursday of Taylor addressing a member of a Wembley crowd who was abusing Barnes, with Taylor saying: “You’re talking about another human being, just watch your language”.
Barnes added: “He really cares about you off the field.”
Watford’s present chairman and chief executive Scott Duxbury said: “As one, together at our club, we are all utterly devastated to learn of Graham’s passing.”
Taylor took charge at Villa following relegation to the Second Division. He won promotion at the first attempt and two years after that, in 1990, they finished runners-up to Liverpool in the First Division.
That achievement was instrumental in securing him the England position. Years later, in 2002, he came out of managerial retirement for a second spell at Villa.
A tweet from Villa read: “We are deeply saddened today by news of the death of our former manager Graham Taylor. RIP Graham.”
Former Manchester United manager Ferguson told the League Managers Association’s website: “I have very fond memories of Graham. He was approachable, open and honest. If he could help you in any way, he always would. I was really shocked by this terrible news and I send my condolences to Graham’s wife and all of his family.”
LMA chairman Howard Wilkinson added: “I greatly admired Graham for his honesty, tenacity, professionalism and his capacity for innovation which earned him richly deserved success. Above all, he was a true gentleman.”
The stand-out choice to replace Sir Bobby Robson after Italia 90, Taylor’s spell in charge of England ended in disappointment after failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, a campaign which was chronicled in the TV documentary, An Impossible Job.
Taylor took England to Euro 92 but his side did not progress beyond the group stages. He was derided for substituting leading striker Gary Lineker when a goal was needed in a decisive game against Sweden.
He resigned in 1993 having faced fierce criticism at times with the national side, notably for his perceived reliance on the long-ball tactics which served him well in club football. One newspaper ridiculed him by depicting him as a turnip.
“Very sad news that Graham Taylor has passed away. An outstanding manager, lover of football and thoroughly decent man,” said Lineker on Twitter on Thursday.
Alan Shearer, who was handed his first England cap by Taylor, told BBC Radio Five Live: “He was genuine, he was honest, he was passionate, he was down to earth, but most of all he just absolutely loved his football and he was such a hard worker.
“You could tell that with his enthusiasm, the way he spoke about it, the way he coached us and the way he trained us.”
England manager Gareth Southgate called Taylor “a fantastic football person”.
In a video released by the Football Association, Southgate said: “It’s extremely sad news, Graham was a fantastic football person.
“You always talk about people’s contribution within football but you remember them most as people and he was somebody that had time for everybody and was generous with that time and I think they’re the human qualities that you remember the most.”
Current FA chairman Greg Clarke added: “On behalf of everyone at the FA, I am saddened to hear this news. My thoughts are with Graham’s family and friends.
“He was a hugely popular and respected figure in the game, not just in English football but in international circles as well.
“I know Graham was very proud of his time as England manager and it was always great to see him at football grounds across the country.”
Taylor became the first president of the LMA during his time in charge of England and was also a senior figure at his first club, hometown Scunthorpe.
“The club is saddened to learn of the passing of Iron vice president Graham Taylor OBE at the age of 72. The thoughts of everyone at Scunthorpe United are with his family at this sad time,” said a statement.
Those sentiments were echoed by Grimsby, who tweeted: “We are saddened to hear of the passing of former GTFC player & England manager, Graham Taylor. Our thoughts are with Graham’s family.”
Gordon Taylor, a playing contemporary and chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association since 1981, told BBC Radio Five Live: “It’s a real shock. He was a real gentleman.”