Graham and Coaching

Introduction

Thanks to Richard Pollard (link), I have been off searching for connections with Charles Reep, Graham Taylor, Watford and Simon Hartley.

My search has led me to Graham as a coach. What he achieved fascinates me and has long term issues for coaching and the experiences of success. Graham was born in 1944 and died on 2017.

He was the youngest person to qualify for a full FA coaching badge at the age of 27 (in 1971) (link).

Graham’s Coaching

Chronology

  • Retired as a player at Lincoln 1972.
  • Appointed Manager of Lincoln City in 1972 as the youngest manager in the Football League.
  • Won the Fourth Division title with Lincoln in the 1975-1976 season with a record points total.
  • Moved to Watford in the 1977-1978 season.
  • He took Watford from the Fourth Division to the First Division in five years.
  • Watford were First Division runners-up in 1982–83.
  • Watford were FA Cup finalists in 1984.
  • Appointed at Aston Villa in 1987-1988 season.
  • Led Aston Villa to promotion in 1988 and second place in the First Division in 1989–90.
  • In July 1990, he became the manager of the England team.
  • He resigned in November 1993, after England failed to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
  • Appointed Manager at Wolves in March 1994.
  • Returned to Watford in March 1996.
  • Watford Division Two champions 1997-1998.
  • Watford won the Division One Play-off Final 1998-1999.
  • Ill in November 1998, retired as Manager.
  • In 1998-1999 season, became the third manager to manage 1,000 league games in England.
  • Appointed Manager of Aston Villa February 2002 until 30 June 2003.

Edward wrote a detailed account in November 2017 of Graham’s coaching career (link). He provides a great deal of information about Graham’s early career at Lincoln.

Meetings at Watford

Richard’s correspondence indicates that Charles, Graham and Simon met twice in 1982, through Richard’s suggestion, at Graham’s home to discuss analysis at Watford. Alan Campbell writes of these meetings “Pollard introduced Graham Taylor to Reep and as a result of that conversation it was agreed Hartley would analyse Watford’s games and give copies of his report to both the manager and Reep” (link).

Edward records that “if Watford’s rise represented a fairytale story for the club’s hitherto success-starved supporters, Taylor’s project remained significantly less popular with football fans outside of Hertfordshire”.

He added that during this period Graham’s “exceptional man management and firm hand on the tiller” guided Watford through the opprobrium they received”.

Stephen Pye (1982) wrote of Graham that he “was forced to defend his system throughout the 1982-83 season but he remained adamant that the Match Analysis approach used by Cullis and advocated by FA Director of Coaching Charles Hughes was the right fit for Watford (link).

Steven Scragg (2017) (link) wrote that at Watford Graham developed “a rigid framework, and one which demanded high fitness and energy levels. He drilled a disciplined unit, but one which was allied to elements of flair”.

Valerij Lobanovs’kyj

There is a paragraph that caught my attention in Edward’s account. He noted:

Taylor’s strategy, was based solely on attack. Watford climbed the league by raining goals. “I knew we couldn’t defend our way into Europe”, was Taylor’s assessment. Taylor’s game was based on an energetic, high tempo, direct style requiring exceptional fitness and stamina. What made it pioneering for the English game was that it also demanded high pressing. This style, designed to dictate and restrict the space in which the opposition have to operate, had been widely admired in the hands of Rinus Michels at Ajax, Barcelona and the Netherlands. But Graham Taylor’s introduction of the concept into the English game was greeted in an all-too-familiar English style: petty, small-minded and mistrustful. Watford would look to get the ball forward as soon as possible and then press hard to win possession in the final third. Playing the ball forward speculatively was – is – not an unusual sight in the English leagues. Taylor had merely refined it and used it to build a winning strategy.

Edward’s article does not mention Valerij Lobanovs’kyj’s coaching career at Dynamo Kyiv from 1974 to 1990 (link). In the eighteen seasons Valerlij was at Dynamo Kiev, the club won: eight Vysshaya Liga titles ( 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1986, 1990); six Soviet Cup finals (1974, 1978, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1990); two UEFA Cupwinners’ Cup competitions (1975, 1986); and the UEFA Super Cup (1975).

Valerij’s system has important resonances with Graham’s play in the late 1970s at Watford. Both had found a system that work. Both used analysis of performance to enrich training and competition. Both sought to play energetic, high tempo, direct style requiring exceptional fitness and stamina that included high pressing.

In the 1970s, before Graham had started his coaching career, Valerij was developing a counterattacking and goal-scoring team that was informed by detailed observation and technical analysis (link). James Horncastle (2012) suggested of Valrij’s vision:

At the heart of his efforts to create intelligent athletes was the ideal of universality whereby it was encouraged that everyone play anywhere on the pitch. Defenders had to know how to attack. Attackers had to know how to defend. The switching of roles and interchanging of positions was “Total” and done without a second thought.

Brian Glanville (2002 (link) said of Valerij:

For Lobanovsky, modern football meant speed and power, and players’ technique needed to be of the highest quality. He rejected the term total football, as applied to the brilliant Dutch and West German teams of the mid-1970s, and said that he would never expect, say, a centre-forward to perform the role of a defender, or vice versa. When these players found themselves in such a different position, however, they should be capable of mastering it.

England

Alan Campbell (2018) noted of Graham’s appointment as England manager (link):

When Taylor was appointed England manager in 1990 the critics would never have allowed him to use the tactics he’d employed so successfully at Watford – and in any case no England manager could expect to significantly change the style of football which highly paid players are accustomed to at their clubs. It wasn’t a good fit, and ended in ignominy for a decent man, although both Norway, under Egil Olsen, and Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland used variations of the long-ball game with significant success.

In an interview in 2002 (link), Graham is reported as saying:

At the risk of sounding boastful, in every other respect I have been successful in 29 years of management. It’s international football where I failed.
“I would like to put that right before I am finally done with this game.

His hope was to return to international football “England will never come again and neither would I manage a home country. But to be a foreign national manager, yes, I would like that. I would like to put that right before I am finally done with this game” (link).

Ireland and Norway

It is interesting that Ireland and Norway achieved success in the 1990s with methods Graham would recognise from his Watford days.

In a New York Times interview prior to the 1994 World Cup, Jack Charlton, manager of Ireland, is reported by James Clarity (link):

Charlton plays the cautious English game, looping the ball long down the field and hoping his men can get to it first …
“People say to me, ‘You play the long-ball game,’ ” Charlton said in a recent interview. “We don’t play the long-ball game. We play the ball behind people, whether it’s from 5 yards or 50.”

Paul Doyle (2007) wrote of Egil:

Olsen’s Norway were wretched to watch. But there was more to them than kick-and-run. “The long ball stuff, I got that from Charles Reep, but I think my real innovation was zonal defending, We developed that to a degree that had never before been done and the players became really good at it. From 1993 to 1996 we conceded only one goal from open play. By wringing exceptional performances from average defenders, Olsen not only made his team tremendously difficult to break down, but can be partially credited with earning lucrative moves abroad …

Graham’s Coaching

In an account of Graham’s early years, Steven wrote (link):

It was at Lincoln City that he’d honed his skills, being handed the manager’s job at the age of just 28 after injury had prematurely ended his playing days. Many of those who saw them, fans of the club and rivals alike, rated Taylor’s 1975-76 Division Four title-winning side as the finest team to ever play at that level. The statistics spoke for themselves: 111 goals were scored, with 32 wins and just four losses from their 46 games played.

Stephen concluded his valedictory post about Graham (link) with this paragraph:

Graham Taylor was a genuine footballing man. At the time he began his coaching odyssey, he was the youngest FA accredited coach at the age of 27, and despite creating a massively polarising method of football, one which won admirers and detractors in equal measure, he made a lasting impact on the vast majority of those who worked with him or crossed his path in one way or another. He was a man who left an indelible imprint on the game and will be sorely missed 

It is interesting that Graham played his career in football at Grimsby and Lincoln. In May 1966, whilst at Grimsby, he received his FA Preliminary Coaching Award and at 21 years old he was believed to be the youngest-ever recipient of the award.

Graham moved to Lincoln City in 1968 and was appointed club captain. The Soccer History Magazine (2017) (link) notes “like several City players of the time Graham helped out with coaching local teams and from January 1970 he coached the Lincolnshire League club Lincoln City School Old Boys.

He was a very young coach in his late 20s when he accepted an offer to coach Lincoln. On his appointment he became the youngest manager in the Football League and was paid a salary of £50 pounds per week. He received his FA Coaches’ Badge in 1971 as the youngest graduate on that course run by Walter Winterbottom at Lilleshall (link).

What is interesting about Graham’s coaching journey is that he experienced coaching. He also experienced success as a young coach.

Three seasons after starting at Lincoln, Graham’s team won the Fourth Division Championship for the club with a record 74 league points. After his move to Watford in the 1977-1978 season he took the team from the Fourth Division to the First Division in five years. Watford were First Division runners-up in 1982–83 and FA Cup finalists in 1984. At Aston Villa he led Aston Villa to promotion in second place in the 1987-1988 and then second place to Liverpool in the First Division in 1989–90.

Then came Graham’s time with England. Subsequently, on his return to club football, Graham’s teams won the Division Two championship in 1997-1998 and the Play-off Final in 1998-1999.

In 1998-1999 season, became the third manager to manage 1,000 league games in England (the other two were Brian Clough and Jim Smith) (link). In total, by the end of his career he had overseen 1241 games.

Like many coaches, Graham had to deal with a range of conditions. Lionel Birnie (2018) (link) recalls of Watford “If anyone remembers the club in the mid-1970s it was really a greyhound stadium with a football pitch in the middle and he turned it into one of the best football clubs in the country, and he did that by the force of his character”.

He also dealt with job insecurity. Edward (2017) (link) recalls “Graham argued that managing England was no pressure compared with being an untested 29-year old coach – a wife, mortgage and two young children – with the Lincoln City faithful calling for your head. The Lincoln team he inherited were in a mess but Taylor steered them to a tenth place finish in the Fourth Division in his first season. Thereafter the team moved down to twelfth, up to fifth and then record champions.

I do think there is lots in Graham’s coaching that many coaches will find fascinating. It includes a system of play that has connections, unwittingly with Dynamo Kyiv and Ajax. He was a transformative coach and one for whom the term “innovation” is used frequently.

In his oration, Luther Blisset (2018) (link) reminisced about Graham’s impact:

We never feared any challenge, we never entered the field of play with a half-hearted approach. He showed us, time after time, it was about giving our best every day and believing in yourself and each other because if we believed then you, the supporters, would believe. It was about winning together and dealing with the losses together. We built a glorious Hornet heart together and it was unbreakable until Graham’s passing.

Luther concluded:

He set the absolute gold standard for future managers and players. That past is important. It should be respected and celebrated, not feared or forgotten. It should demonstrate what can be achieved when everyone commits to a cause and community. This is Graham Taylor’s legacy. Be better as players and as people.

Game Analysis

This post was initiated by an email from Richard Pollard. I need to do much more research now about the interactions between Graham, Charles Reep, Charles Hughes, Richard and Simon Hartley. These were fascinating times at Watford and have a strong resonance with me for what was going on in Kyiv with Valerij and his colleagues.

I have no doubt that Graham was able to develop his pattern of play with the players he had in his team, the flair he sought and the decision support he received from his staff. There is a sense of history too as Graham was aware of Stan Cullis’ achievement with Wolves .

It is an area ripe for research, particularly if I can find Simon Hartley and comprehend his relationship with Richard and Graham. I think it will be another engrossing analysis story … against the odds and with them.

Photo Credits

At his desk (Graham Taylor Scrapbook)

1990 (Graham Taylor Scrapbook)

Graham Taylor (Planet Football)

Grimsby 1964 (Graham Taylor Scrapbook)

Graham Taylor (The Telegraph)

2 COMMENTS

  1. A wonderful post Keith well done. I remember reading an article in ‘Insight’ in the 70’s, where Graham said he lost his opening 12 games of the season at Lincoln and was fortunate to still be in the job. He also said he believed in giving players a chance before making a decision about their future.
    Regards
    Ron Smith

    • I am delighted you found this post, Ron. I was thinking of you when I wrote it. What struck me about Graham, pre-England, was that he was a coaches’coach. He played Division Four football and retired early then coached his socks off. I read the Lincoln quote and I am delighted he stayed and they stayed with him. I am hoping they saw coaching in him and dealt with all the political issues about his retention. I saw it as a triumph of process over outcome. I love coaching and writing about it. Thank you.

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