Taylor falls through credibility gap

The weight of fans' expectations and a welter of injuries proved too much. Phil Shaw reports
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The Independent Online
The seeds of Graham Taylor's demise at Molineux were sown two years ago last month on an apocalyptic night in the Feyenoord stadium at Rotterdam.

Taylor's credibility and - it seemed to those who observed him closely during his 20-month reign as manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers - his confidence were damaged irreparably when the Netherlands shattered England's hopes of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup finals.

Already dubbed "The Turnip" by one newspaper, Taylor's image was further tarnished by the screening of a Channel 4 documentary featuring his tragi- comic touchline antics as the Dutch sealed his fate. Phrases like "Do I not like that" entered popular usage.

The sight of a nerdish Taylor puppet spouting a stream of semi-consciousness on Spitting Image compounded the impression of Taylor, a personable, urbane individual, as a figure of fun.

Before that infamous Cutting Edge programme - in which Taylor also swore profusely - Wolves' owner, Sir Jack Hayward, had been sitting in his retreat in the Bahamas pondering whether to offer him the job in succession to Graham Turner.

Informed of Taylor's behaviour by his son Jonathan, the chairman, Sir Jack cooled his interest (under pressure from his wife and butcher, he later admitted). There was a brief flirtation with Bryan Robson, but he was an unknown quantity, and expensive too. The Haywards began to reconsider Taylor's plus points.

Not only was he vastly experienced, having been in management since December 1972, but he had proved with both Watford and Aston Villa his ability to win promotion to and establish a side in what is now the Premiership.

Yet Wolves' fans, even then, had their doubts: "Keep the Turnip off our patch" screamed a Sun headline over a story quoting supporters' club officials who resented the fact that Taylor had dropped Steve Bull early in his England reign.

Ironically, one of Taylor's final acts was to drop the Molineux cult hero for the first time in his Wolves career. But after the board had bitten the bullet, late in March last year, he was at pains to stress that Bull was central to his plans. In the evening a Wolves team without their injured talisman won at Bolton, and followed up by beating Tranmere in Taylor's first game in complete charge.

Results tailed off and they failed to reach the play-offs, but after a substantial expenditure on players hopes were high that Wolves would shortly enjoy the status their magnificently refurbished stadium merited. They started well enough, and at this stage last year led the table.

A devastating succession of injuries - Wolves had a complete team's worth of players under the surgeon's knife last season - undoubtedly undermined their challenge. But when things went wrong, it was also noticeable that Taylor was quick to go on the defensive, revealing a negative side to his character that had not been evident prior to the fiasco of his final months with England.

The crowd never warmed to him, regarding themselves, pointedly, as "Jack Hayward's Barmy Army". Although Wolves finished fourth - their best position in a decade - their failure in the play-offs suggested that expectations for the current campaign might be artificially high.

The signing of Bradford City's Dean Richards for a club-record pounds 1.85m, followed by the pounds 1m purchase of Mark Atkins from Blackburn, nudged Taylor's outlay towards the pounds 8m mark. Wolves, however, peaked in 12th place and were down at 18th following Sunday's goalless draw at home to Charlton, in which they appeared sorely lacking in motivation.

Afterwards, as hundreds chanted for his sacking, Taylor said it would be dishonourable to walk away from a job he had been given by people with "integrity", a quality he described as rare in football. Sir Jack had repeatedly expressed his conviction that Taylor was the man to lead Wolves back to the promised land, and it seemed the matter would rest there. Someone, clearly, changed his mind yesterday.

From Worksop to Wolves

1944 Born Worksop, 15 September.

1961-68 189 League appearances for Grimsby.

1965 At 21, becomes youngest person to qualify for full FA coaching badge.

1968-72 Makes 150 appearances for Lincoln.

1972 Playing career ended by hip injury at age 28. Becomes manager of Lincoln.

1976 Lincoln Fourth Division champions.

1977 Quits Lincoln for Watford, taking the club from Fourth Division to the First in five seasons.

1983 Taylor guides Watford to second in the First Division as they qualify for Europe for first time.

1984 Watford lose 2-0 in FA Cup final v Everton.

1987 Quits Watford to manage Aston Villa.

1988 Takes Villa back to the top flight at end of first season, as runners- up in Second Division.

1990 Guides Villa to second in First Division. Appointed manager of England as successor to Bobby Robson. Taylor had progressed through the international ranks by taking charge of England youth, Under-20 and B teams. First game in charge of national team sees England beat Hungary 1-0 at Wembley.

1992 England go out at first stage of European Championship finals following goalless draws with Denmark and France and a 2-1 defeat by Sweden, Taylor substituting Lineker in his final international.

1993 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands kills England's hopes of qualifying for 1994 World Cup finals. England beat San Marino 7-1 in final qualifying tie but Taylor's reign as manager ends when he resigns with a record of 18 wins, seven defeats and 13 draws in 38 internationals.

1994 Appointed manager of First Division Wolves.

1995 Wolves miss out on promotion to Premiership when they are beaten by Bolton in play-off semi-finals. Taylor resigns after a disappointing start to 1995/96 season as Wolves slump to 18th in table with just four wins in 16 games.