Others more qualified than me will talk about the achievements of Graham Taylor, the football manager who died yesterday. Of course, Taylor managed at club level with distinction, and at international level with immense dignity. How he maintained his sanity when caught in the headlights of the tabloid explosion which accompanied his final days as England manager is testimony in itself.
I was privileged, whilst taking a funeral within the football community, to meet Graham Taylor a few years ago. It was an occasion which I remember for a number of reasons – the huge floral tribute of red roses (from Elton John) the mass card on the mantelpiece (from Sir Alex Ferguson) and a number of my heroes from my childhood in a huge congregation. I had a few conversations that day – but the one I remember was with Graham Taylor.
We got to talking about life more generally, outside football – and I suggested to him that he had had a great deal to handle when England manager. I expressed sympathy for all he had gone through. He smiled, and said that there was one thing which had made a difference. He used to walk past his local church, and one day tried the door, and found it open. He went inside, and found sanctuary, peace, away from the prying lenses and journalists. Soon, it became a habit – just going in, and sitting. After a while, he was ‘discovered’ by a parishioner – and it sadly came to an end. But for that time, the church had been valuable to him, in offering peace, refuge and sanctuary. The sadness lay in the fact that his celebrity status prevented him from worshipping publicly because of the constant harassment he received from the press.
As others have said, Graham Taylor was an immensely nice man. He will be missed in a world where common decency is hard to find. May he now find the peace, the refuge he craved, in the nearer presence of Almighty God.