(Reuters) – Rock star Elton John led the tributes to former England manager Graham Taylor on Thursday, saying the man he saw as a brother had turned his beloved team Watford into a European contender.
Taylor, who also managed Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers, died of a suspected heart attack aged 72, his family said.
“We shared an unbreakable bond since we first met. We went on an incredible journey together and it will stay with me for ever,” said John, who was chairman and owner of Watford during Taylor’s tenure.
“He was like a brother to me,” John wrote on his Instagram account.
“He took my beloved Watford from the depths of the lower leagues to unchartered territory and into Europe. We have become a leading English club because of his managerial wisdom and genius.”
Leading names in the game, including many managed by Taylor, queued up to pay tribute.
Alan Shearer tweeted: “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.”
Another ex-England striker, Dion Dublin, said: “He was a very, very, funny man. When I played under him at Aston Villa he taught me so much.”
Gordon Taylor, chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, described his namesake as “a real gentleman”.
“It was sad the way that the England job turned out for him, but that’s happened to a lot of England managers,” he said.
“He was a real quality human being. He cared about his fellow pros and the good of the game.”
Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers Association that Taylor helped form, praised his friend’s work in bringing the FA and top clubs closer together during his reign as England manager.
“I greatly admired him for his honesty, tenacity and professionalism and capacity for innovation,” he said in a statement.
There were also warm words from the world of sports journalism, despite the hard time Taylor received during his disappointing spell in charge of his nation.
Paul Hayward, chief sports writer with the Daily Telegraph, tweeted: “Graham Taylor: a charming man, and very kind. His time with England might have soured him. He refused to let that happen.”
BBC broadcaster Mark Chapman, who worked with Taylor, said: “Graham always had time for people, a smile on his face and a love of football. Considering the abuse he received… says everything about him.”
His BBC colleague, Pat Murphy, tweeted: “Graham Taylor’s decency towards his media denigrators post-England marked him out as an exceptional man. Never forgot but never showed it.”
The Football Association, Aston Villa and Lincoln City, where Taylor began his managerial career, all paid tribute.
(Reporting by Neville Dalton; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Toby Davis)