'Graham was everything I hoped he'd be'

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BBC Radio 5 live football correspondent John Murray worked with Graham Taylor for many years. Here he fondly recalls what life was like on the road with the former England manager.

Graham Taylor and I sat next to one another in commentary boxes here, there and everywhere.

The first time we were squeezed together in one was for a not-terribly-high-profile match on a Friday night at Brentford. I can still see him bounding up the steps at Griffin Park, wearing a black and white checked jacket, cheerily acknowledging people as he came.

And I remember thinking afterwards that Graham Taylor was everything I hoped he would be. He was good fun, charming, engaging, and he had lots to say about the players, the match and all matters surrounding it. And, off air, he wanted to know all about me.

When I got to know him better, he would always be great company post-match, often late into the evening. I have never actually met his wife, Rita, his children, or his grandchildren, but I feel as though I have because Graham would tell you exactly what was going on in their lives.

Graham Taylor and his wife Rita<!–

He loved all sports, particularly athletics and cricket – Graham actually followed England on tour to South Africa. And, believe it or not, he enjoyed the music of both Vera Lynn and Adele, whose albums he bought.

As a match summariser, I knew that if the game wasn’t very good and nothing was happening, Graham was someone you could go off at tangents with, because he had such a wide field of interests. During one such commentary, I remember us discussing how he used to take an annual holiday in Caister-on-Sea, and the merits of that Norfolk seaside town.

But don’t go thinking he was a pushover. There was a steely core to Graham Taylor that all winners have, and he always struck me as one of life’s natural leaders – I’m convinced that was one of the secrets behind the many successes he had.

Once, when we had lost our ticket in an underground car park in Innsbruck, he very nearly persuaded me to tailgate a car through the barrier. He was extremely disappointed that I pulled up short of causing untold damage!

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When I turned up at the airport to fly to Euro 2008, Graham appeared with one foot in a plastic boot. He’d injured it somehow, but rather than withdraw from our broadcast team so close to the finals – which he had been advised to do – he travelled all around Austria and Switzerland in some discomfort but without a word of complaint.

Being under scrutiny as a football manager for most of his life, he could click a switch and go into serious mode at a moment’s notice, and what he said carried a real authority.

We were both part of the commentary team in Montenegro for a European Championship qualifier when Wayne Rooney was sent off for kicking out at an opponent.

The next morning we were reporting on it into the Breakfast programme, and though Graham was bleary eyed when he arrived in the room, he sat down, clicked into action, and made perfect sense. I recall thinking that had he still been England manager, he would have answered the questions in exactly the same way.

The way things ended for him with England, and the criticism that came with that, clearly stayed with him. He would often reference it himself and was, sometimes I felt, almost too willing to talk about it.

We would always try to guide Graham away from large gatherings of England fans because of the greater possibility of someone saying something out of turn in those circumstances. On the occasions that did happen, Graham would go and talk to them, and they would inevitably be left feeling rather foolish. Later, though, there would often be a quiet word to you which revealed the hurt was still there.

But it says a great deal about the man that it is for his warm, generous, human qualities that I will remember him best.

Yes, Graham Taylor was everything I hoped he would be.

Graham Taylor tribute<!–

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