Graham Taylor – more successful than all of Watford’s other managers combined

This Saturday, in memory of their most successful manager, Watford are hosting the inaugural Graham Taylor Matchday between themselves and Real Sociedad. Graham Taylor sadly passed away in January this year aged 72, but in Watford, he has left behind a legacy. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, along with the backing of then chairman Elton John, Taylor led the small Hertfordshire side from the Fourth Division to the First Division in just five seasons. Indeed, Taylor has been the man behind five Hornets promotions in his three spells at the club, with Watford only recording nine Football League promotions in the entire history, since being admitted to the Third Division almost a century ago.

Forty years of Watford Managers

In the summer of 1977, Graham Taylor was first appointed manager of Watford and went onto to manage the club for more than 14 seasons, across three spells. Since 1977, Watford have had 20 other managers, if you would like to try and name them, then try our Sporcle quiz, before looking at the other tab or reading further in the article.

Sporcle Quiz
League Games Managed
Full League Record
Manager Hired Games Wins Draws Losses Win %
Graham Taylor (1) Jun 1977 428 191 105 132 44.63
Dave Bassett May 1987 23 4 6 13 17.39
Steve Harrison Jan 1988 98 36 27 35 36.73
Colin Lee Mar 1990 28 5 9 14 17.86
Steve Perryman Nov 1990 121 42 35 44 34.71
Glenn Roeder Jul 1993 120 39 32 49 32.50
Graham Taylor (2) Feb 1996 18 5 8 5 27.78
Kenny Jackett Jun 1996 46 16 19 11 34.78
Graham Taylor (3) Jun 1997 176 71 45 60 40.34
Gianluca Vialli May 2001 46 16 11 19 34.78
Ray Lewington Jun 2002 131 42 36 53 32.06
Aidy Boothroyd Mar 2005 152 51 48 53 33.55
Malky Mackay (caretaker) Nov 2008 5 2 1 2 40.00
Brendan Rodgers Nov 2008 27 11 6 10 40.74
Malky Mackay Jun 2009 92 30 25 37 32.61
Sean Dyche Jun 2011 46 16 16 14 34.78
Gianfranco Zola Jul 2012 66 29 15 22 43.94
Giuseppe Sannino Dec 2013 31 13 8 10 38.46
Oscar Garcia Sep 2014 4 1 2 1 25.00
Billy McKinlay Sep 2014 2 1 1 0 50.00
Slavisa Jokanovic Oct 2014 35 21 5 9 60.00
Quique Sanchez Flores Jun 2015 38 12 9 17 31.58
Walter Mazzarri Jul 2016 38 11 7 20 28.95
Marco Silva May 2017 0 0 0 0 0.00
Graham Taylor (Total) Jun 1977 622 267 158 197 422.93

Watford’s Football League history pre-Taylor

The Taylor management years

In 1976, lifelong fan Elton John took ownership of the club, and within a year had brought in Graham Taylor as manager, who had won the Fourth Division two seasons earlier with Lincoln City. In Taylor and John’s first season together, Watford won the Fourth Division title and began a meteoric rise up the Football League ladder. The Hornets achieved back-to-back promotions when they finished runners-up of the Third Division in 1978/79. Three seasons of continual improvement in the Second Division, concluded with Watford claiming another runners-up spot and promotion to the First Division in 1981/82.

Watford initially took the First Division by storm, finishing in second place in their first top flight campaign, only beaten by the dominant Liverpool side of the 1980s. Luther Blissett was the division’s top scorer with 27 goals, before departing for Italian giants A.C. Milan. The second place finish meant qualification for the 1983/84 UEFA Cup, where Watford reached the third round, in the clubs only foray into European football to date. They finished the season with a place in the 1984 FA Cup final where they lost 2-0 to Everton. Back in the league, Watford had four mid-table finishes under Taylor, before he left to take on a new challenge at Aston Villa who had just been relegated out of the First Division.

Taylor’s successor, Dave Bassett only lasted half a season before he was sacked with Watford bottom of the table, his replacement Steve Harrison could not salvage the situation and Watford were relegated from the top flight. The Hornets spent the next eight seasons in the second tier: Colin Lee, Steve Perryman and Glenn Roeder came and went, before Taylor returned to the club as manager in February 1996. Taylor now arrived as a former England manager, but with Watford rooted to the bottom of the table. The task left to Taylor was too great, and Watford slipped into the third tier for the first time since Taylor had led them out of it 17 years earlier. Taylor did manage to salvage a small consolation for Hornets supporters, as he turned the club round enough to ensure rivals Luton Town were the only club to finish below the Vicarage Road side.

Taylor stepped aside to allow Kenny Jackett to take the reigns at Watford for the 1996/97 season, where Watford were disappointingly mid-table. Taylor became the clubs manager for a third time for the start of the 1997/98 season, which saw Watford storm to the Division 2 title and promotion. The following season back in the second tier, Watford had a late surge at the end of the season, claiming 22 out of the last 24 available points in the campaign to sneak into the Play-Offs. Taylor navigated Watford through the Play-Offs with promotion back to the top flight secured with a 2-0 Wembley win over Bolton.

Two promotions in two years showed Watford up in their first Premier League campaign in 1999/2000, as the club were bottom for most of the season, and were relegated with just six wins all season. However there were some famous victories over Liverpool at Anfield and Chelsea at home. Watford started the following season brightly and were one of the favourites to return to the Premier League, but after failing to recover from a mid-season slump, Watford tailed off to finish mid-table. Taylor retired at the end of this season, although came out of retirement less than a year later to take charge at Aston Villa for a second time, wanting to give the Premier League a proper go. Taylor only lasted a season and a half with Villa, before resigning after an unsuccessful 2002/03 campaign.

Post Taylor years

The Pozzo takeover – change in management style

Watford’s Football League Promotions

Watford have only had nine promotions in 90 Football League seasons, and as stated at the top of the article, Graham Taylor has been the man behind more than half of them. It would seem surprising that a team such as Watford hasn’t had an awful lot of movement throughout their league history. They were one of six teams to play in all of the 30 seasons the Third Division South was active, however this isn’t too surprising, given that there was only one promotion spot available and no formal relegation, making exiting the league difficult.

Taylor dragged Watford to one-third of their total promotions in just five seasons, and has twice led Watford to back-to-back rises. By the promotion statistic, this makes him more successful than all of Watford’s 35 other Football League managers combined. With Watford looking to further establish themselves as Premier League regulars, it could be a while before any other manager guides Watford to another Football League promotion.

Taylor’s long term impact on Watford

Watford have a lot to thank Taylor for their recent history, before he arrived at the club, they had spent the majority of their Football League history in the third and fourth tier. Yet, in the last 40 years, Watford have only spent four campaigns in the basement two divisions of the Football League, with Taylor being the man to lead Watford out of third tier on each occasion in two separate spells.

The club appear to have stabilised their financial situation for the first time since Vialli (Taylor’s successor after his final spell in charge in 2001). Vicarage Road has been renovated in recent years to a Premier League standard, which is in great contrast to the three stand stadium it was for a number of years before Pozzos came in. Watford have retained the family club feel Taylor instilled – unlike a lot of clubs, Vicarage Road does not have a stand named after a sponsor (or indeed the whole stadium) and Taylor was honoured when in 2014 he had a stand named in his honour. In addition to this, Watford are currently in their best run in the top division since the heyday of the first Taylor era, so one can only imagine Taylor would be pleased at where the club is at now.

One thought on “Graham Taylor – more successful than all of Watford’s other managers combined

  1. So many managers, forgot about Vialli in the quiz! Let’s see how Silva gets on this season – cautiously optimistic if we make a few more signings!

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