The majority of people aged 60 and over become aware that the years appear to be shortening. You no sooner say Christmas is coming up, than it has arrived, passed and the leaves are on the trees. I retired when I was nearly 65 and settled in France but now I am nearly 77. How did that happen?
The years appear to accelerate by. I mention this because I find it hard to believe that it is a year since Graham Taylor left us.
It has been hard enough to accept his passing and there are still times when it briefly flits into my mind to reach for the phone for an observation, only to come up against the unpalatable fact the option is no longer available.
Was it a year ago that we walked up to the parish church of St Mary’s that February morning with the sound of Buddy Holly resonating from the speakers outside? It seems only recently that I momentarily fretted after the funeral over the prospect of flying back to France on February 3 – the date the idol of my teenage years, Buddy, was killed in a plane crash.
Yes, February made me shiver as the song goes, but for those who knew Graham well, it remains hard to accept the fact he is no longer with us.
At the recent November book launch of Rocket Men, Ian Bolton and Luther Blissett admitted to be struggling with the acceptance that the man is gone. He was so much a part of and an influence on our lives – the void is still there and they say that time heals, but, if it really is a year, the healing is slow for I feel that void as much as ever.
We shared a number of memories, which will be forever seared into my mind. We both loved Buddy, were fascinated by the Second World War and, with that era in mind, perhaps vicariously gained a degree of reassurance and comfort from hearing a Vera Lynn song.
He often talked of retirement and said on occasions he would meet me “up The Cock and talk over old times over a pint or two”. He lived in the Midlands then but he never shook off the desire to come back to this locality where he had his finest hours, and finally he made it, albeit for too short a time.
Graham was there in spirit at The Palace Theatre when the book on his four stellar players was launched. His words, his actions and deeds were recalled by the quartet who made the incredible journey from Division Four to the “impossible dream” of top-flight football. His widow Rita and family were present as the former players reminisced with reverence and that must have been a comfort.
Of course, for the family the loss is much more immediate and personal. I thought of them when Graham’s birthday passed in September and then received a stark reminder of how they would have to cope over that first Christmas when we received the annual Christmas card – but no longer from ‘Graham and Rita’ but ‘Rita and family’.
In our minds we all have a piece of Graham and he delighted in that fact for, despite his England days and times with Aston Villa, he always wanted to achieve something at a club that had never been achieved before. He did not want to duplicate a club’s past history but to set down a benchmark in achievement, and also style and culture.
It is now left to the Watford of today and tomorrow to equal the fact Graham created the finest and most dedicatedly talented team in the club’s history when it reached second place in the top flight, but there was so much more than that. There was the family club, the professionalism, the fair play awards and the embracing of the community. We were all in that together.
I am glad a tradition has been established for clapping in the 72nd minute of games, commemorating his 72 years. One can only hope that takes root and lasts, as indeed has Z-Cars, despite sundry ill-considered assaults on its pre-eminence by those who did not have an ounce of Watford blood in their veins.
One should guard tradition and that Watford blood does count for something. I’m still proud I was born in Watford, despite the mess they have made of the town, and like to kid myself that Henry Grover, the founder, heard my first lusty cries when I was born a few doors from him in Upton Road.
Looking back over the years, the images of Grover, Fred Sargent, John Goodall, Skilly Williams, Harry Kent, the legendary Tommy Barnett and Cliff Holton, along with Ken Furphy and Duncan Welbourne, would have graced the 1881 flag had it been launched in 1976. That was before Graham arrived and brought new legends and new highs. Each of those individuals made singular contributions to the cause of Watford FC with Tommy holding the appearance and goalscoring records for well over 30 years. Yet of those names from the past, only two most modern are incorporated in the current 1881 flag. The achievements and achievers of the first 78 years are airbrushed out – a telling reminder that the past gathers dust over the years and is easily overlooked. Seemingly, the mountains of yesteryear do not seem so high when regarded from a distance.
Over the last year, there have been commemorative games and Graham has been further ingrained in the DNA of the community by being further linked with various charities. There has been a bench in Cassiobury park unveiled and on the anniversary, the 1881 Movement is entreating fans to bring their scarves tomorrow to acknowledge the time last January when everyone of a Watford persuasion was stunned by the news.
A year has passed and it seems akin to a couple of months. It is good to remember and celebrate his memory. Long may it continue and let us hope the 1881 Movement of 2070, still includes his image on their flag. As I have pointed out some deserving names have already been forgotten.
Many deserve to be remembered for a millennium; Graham more than any other.