January 12, 2017 / 2:04 PM / 7 months ago

Former England soccer manager Graham Taylor dies, aged 72

Former England soccer manager Graham Taylor crosses the finish line of the 2004 London Marathon, Britain April 18, 2004.David Bebber/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Graham Taylor, the former England football manager, has died of a suspected heart attack at the age of 72, his family announced on Thursday.

Taylor, who had a playing career with Grimsby Town and Lincoln City, was a successful manager in English football's top flight with Watford and Aston Villa, guiding both to second-place finishes in the old first division.

It was his ill-fortune, though, to be remembered for his turbulent reign as England manager between 1990 and 1993, when he was widely criticised for failing to take the national team to the 1994 World Cup finals.

Amid vicious and sometimes personal vitriol, Taylor remained a dignified and charming personality and went on to become a much-loved and admired figure within the English game.

After further spells as manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Watford for a second time and Aston Villa, the son of a journalist made a successful career in the footballing media as a radio pundit.

"With the greatest sadness, we have to announce that Graham passed away at his home early this morning of a suspected heart attack," his family said in a statement.

"The family are devastated by this sudden and totally unexpected loss."

Taylor's death prompted a wave of affectionate tributes.

Alan Shearer, the Premier League's leading scorer, said on scial media: "Completely shocked by news of Graham Taylor.

"Always held him in the very highest regard - the man who gave me my first England cap. So sad."

Paul Hayward, the Daily Telegraph's chief sports writer, spoke for many within an industry that had given Taylor a rough ride during his England reign when he wrote: "His time with England might have soured him. He refused to let that happen."

During the worst of his three-year reign, which saw him resign after England had failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, Taylor was infamously portrayed by a national newspaper as a "turnip" with his face superimposed on the vegetable.

THE IMPOSSIBLE JOB

Yet despite all the flak he soaked up with remarkable equanimity -- his England reign was famously, and sometimes comically, celebrated in a fly-on-the-wall documentary The Impossible Job -- Taylor's remarkable achievements in nearly three decades at club level should not be understated.

A journeyman player, he became an enterprising young manager who took fourth-tier Watford all the way to the top flight and to an FA Cup final in a glittering era for a homsepun club overseen by the club owner, pop star Elton John.

The singer said on his Instagram account: "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."

Further success at Aston Villa saw Taylor land the England job but the team flopped at the 1992 European Championships and never made it to USA 1994 as the vitriol towards him became almost intolerable.

Years later he reflected without malice in an interview: "People ask me if I am still hurt about being called a turnip but I am not. I don't go to bed worrying that a newspaper put a turnip on my head. If I had lived my life like that I would have been very sad.

"That is not what hurts. That is not what I have to live with. It is not qualifying for the World Cup. In a quiet moment, when I'm driving the car, I think, 'Graham, how the hell did you get that wrong?'

"It is then that I sigh. I have some good things on my CV but the big one I didn't make and I will carry that to the day I die'."

Nonetheless, even after the documentary in which his touchline mutterings, such as, "Do I not like that?" became part of the English footballing lexicon, he fought back with real skill to guide Watford back into the Premier League.

Reporting by Ian Chadband,; Editing by Neville Dalton

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