Graham Taylor's diary: June 1977

by Lionel Birnie

When I was working with Graham on his autobiography, I would drive up to his house in Little Aston, not far from The Belfry golf course near Sutton Coldfield, and often we'd sit in the hexagonal summerhouse in his garden and look through the treasure trove of mementoes and souvenirs from his life in football and see what memories they threw up.

In one of the many boxes was a battered, red, hardback notebook. I opened it and started reading. It was immediately clear that this was a diary, of sorts, spanning a week in late June 1977, just as he was starting work at Watford.

The notes paint a vivid picture of the football club as Graham found it. Owned by a passionate multi-millionaire, staffed by keen and enthusiastic people, but lacking direction or a clear vision and with threadbare facilities and scant resources.

I asked Graham why he might have taken the notes in the first place. 'I was going into a new club,' he said, 'and I didn't know anyone, or anything about how it operated, and so I wanted to find out about everyone and everything as quickly as possible. I knew I would be meeting a lot of new people and finding out a great deal of information in a short space of time and I needed to be clear in my thoughts so that I could identify what changes needed to be made. I've always found that the best way to do that was to keep notes, so I would go home and sit for half an hour and write down what I had learned that day. It was a way of putting everything into some kind of order.'

I won't go as far to say Graham was a hoarder but he often joked that his wife, Rita, would have liked him to hire a skip and throw some of the stuff away, but I am very glad that he didn't because so much of the material he had kept over the years was invaluable when we came to write his book.

To sit and turn slowly through the pages of Graham's diary gave such an insight into not just the job he did at Watford but how he went about it. He was strident, decisive, fizzing with energy and ideas and prepared to upset people – although not by being deliberately obstreperous – in the process of improving the club.

We used extracts from Graham's diary in his autobiography, In His Own Words, and his diary came to mind a couple of weeks ago when I was invited by Rita to attend the unveiling of his statue outside Vicarage Road.

Tom Walley, John Ward, Luther Blissett and Rita Taylor with the statue of Graham Taylor in Vicarage Road. Walley and Blissett were two of the players Graham inherited when he took over at Watford in 1977. Ward, his friend and former team-mate from Lincoln City, came a little later. Photograph by Simon Gill.

Tom Walley, John Ward, Luther Blissett and Rita Taylor with the statue of Graham Taylor in Vicarage Road. Walley and Blissett were two of the players Graham inherited when he took over at Watford in 1977. Ward, his friend and former team-mate from Lincoln City, came a little later. Photograph by Simon Gill.

Simon Ricketts, giving directions from the bench.

Simon Ricketts, giving directions from the bench.

The crowd at the statue unveiling was so large I didn't get a chance to take a close look at the statue, or sit on the bench, so last week I took a trip to Vicarage Road with my friend Simon Ricketts. For those who don't know, Simon played a huge part in helping me finish the book after Graham died.

Simon had been helping with the book but when Graham died in January 2017, his role became even more important as he helped me find Graham's voice and complete the manuscript. I've written in some depth about that process here.

Graham Taylor's ghostwriter, Lionel Birnie.

Graham Taylor's ghostwriter, Lionel Birnie.

While we were working on the book, Simon was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he spent the first half of this year in hospital after an operation in the hope it would give him a bit more time. I was so happy that we were able to go to Vicarage Road together to see the statue this week and then take a walk into the Hornets Shop to see the book we had worked on together on the shelves.

The statue is a permanent reminder of what Graham Taylor did for Watford in his two spells at the club. It is not an exaggeration to say he built and then rebuilt the club we know today, then stepped in as chairman to provide a lead and reassurance for supporters when the club's future seemed to be in jeopardy.

With the unveiling of the statue, I thought it would be interesting to reproduce the notes Graham Taylor made in June 1977. Knowing how the story turned out, it's easy to take for granted the progress that was made, but reading his notes is a reminder of the task that lay ahead of him, Elton John and everyone at the club when he took over as manager. Some of the details he concerned himself with may seem mundane or trivial but it just shows what running a football club involved.

Graham Taylor's diary

Wednesday, June 22nd 1977

Fact-finding visit to Watford prior to signing contract on further visit on Friday to take over officially as manager on Monday, June 27.


Decided to arrive by train and took the Met Line from Euston. Pleasantly surprised on arrival to see parts of Watford I had not anticipated. Very residential area – first impression was that I could live here but would these people get ‘excited’ about their football club.

Arranged a meeting with Ron Rollitt, the general manager/secretary, and obviously a man of tremendous influence in the club. So far, over the telephone everything I had asked for had been done extremely courteously – in fact, it has been rather too good at times.

I had arranged meetings with the local press – Oliver (Oli) Phillips of the Watford Observer and Mike Green of the Watford Echo. I had wished to meet them together but appointments were kept separate at their wishes. Interesting, and would have to find out why?

Photographs at the ground with Nigel (photographer at the Echo), who gave me the indication that the Watford Observer got everything first and that too many people from the club had access to the press. Also that Echo were not really Watford orientated.

Meeting with Ron Rollitt, and chairman came down. Not really sure of general manager – he was in on final contract meeting. First impression of club was that organisation and discipline was sloppy. On seeing wage structure it was obvious that there had been no real policy.

Conscious that I am pre-judging the playing staff but I don’t think they are good enough. Come from all over and are not readily on call. Lack of lead from board who are immature and don’t really know how a football club should be run. All very nice people though and chairman is very sincere in wanting football club to be successful.

Administratively, life could be a bit difficult as my office is situated in the wrong position and Patsy Gledhill is the only member of staff. Overworked anyway and I’m sure the club suffer because of this.

At the end of the meeting – some two-and-a-half hours – I was just about as confused as I could be and still hadn’t discussed half of what I had wanted to. There’s a great deal to find out about a lot of the people and I am going to upset quite a number in order to get this club on its feet.

Mike Green – Echo
Had over an hour with him. Doesn’t travel on the team coach. seems nice enough fella – not a lot of ‘go’ about him.

Oliver Phillips – Watford Observer
Have to watch this situation – suspicion I was being taped and shall have to find out. Friday’s Observer convinced me I had been recorded as everything was word for word. Rivalry between two newspapers tends not to be all that healthy.

Friday, June 24th

Signed contract with Ray Ingram (my solicitor) present.

Board meeting
Unbelievable. Held in my office due to alterations in boardroom. No real order. Chairman doesn’t know how to conduct a meeting and Ron Rollitt directs flow. Interesting to see him get a bit upset over a vice-presidents’ issue. Club's overdraft is £90,000.

Photographs and press conference
Daily Mirror and Evening Standard and local newsmen. Chairman impressive in handling media situation.

Television interview with chairman
Up to London and then interviewed from Midlands. Not all that successful as TV people didn’t seem to be sure what was going on.

Had long conversation with chairman and Mr Smith and Mr Stratford about players. Money available and informed them about Sam Ellis, Dennis Booth and Ian Bolton.

Sunday, June 25th

Visited Mr Smith (vice-chairman) and went with him to Dacorum League presentation. Keen on selling club to public.

Dropped office literature in. No keys for desk or file and really wonder about prior organisation. John Collins’ desk and file in outer office were disorganised.

A great deal of work to do.

Had a look round dressing room block. Could really be made good and if we get things going this shouldn’t be too bad.

A lot of mess still about from the greyhounds and this is obviously going to be a problem. Evidently get £12,000 revenue p.a. from them.

Impression that David Butler is going to be an asset to me.

A lot of people about the ground due to greyhound racing.

Monday, June 27

Ron Rollitt in morning. Fixture list and he had looked through it and wanted to know my views on certain travel arrangements at Christmas. Obviously got a free hand as regards travel and there is no set policy at all. Long talk with him as regards Chairman and Board and he feels that we have to teach Chairman how to become both Director and Chairman. Had a look at accounts from AGM August 10 1977 and Elton John is committed to over £100,000. Obviously it is his club and I am more than interested to see whether he loans or gives money. Not all that sure yet about administrative side as regards organisation and am not too happy about how I shall get my letters done. However, there is no anti deeling but I have to go through Ron to get to Patsy Gledhill and consequently it will be very difficult to have confidential letters typed. Arranged for dictaphone as I think this will be necessary.

David Butler
All of three hours with David, who strikes me as a very keen man and willing to learn. However from what he had told me and from the little I saw the club is not functioning as a football club at all. Organisation is lax and generally speaking nobody is really sure of responsibilities.

Tuesday, June 28

Called in to see Johnny Hartburn, Sue Chalk and Margaret Tomkins. Commercial office. Interesting, he has been here one year but increased revenue considerably. Seems enthusiastic and has thirteen years’ previous experience at Orient and Fulham. Has increased income considerably over first year and could be an important person in future of club. Have to arrange a meeting with him.

Long day with Dave Butler again, visiting training grounds and they have so many venues that no wonder they never get down to one thing – lack of stability here but I am convinced more and more that the players are not really being given the correct lead and that some of them will be past the point of no return by now. Had a visit to the kit supply retailer and ordered more kit and tried to get better organisation here as well. Everything is rather confusing at present and the job is going to be very hard to pull it round. No chance to dictate any letters at all at present and there are now some 30-40 need answering. I must do this and see how organised one becomes there. Went through contracts and was rather surprised to find very few players had been given service bonuses although main exception Arthur Horsfield had got five and a half thousand including S.O.L. Not impressed with incentive scheme which is not related to income and can cost 35,000 at top and 5,500 with 40 points. There is no service bonus at all.

Wednesday, June 29

Dealt with approx 15 letters in over one hour. Constant interruptions and I know we shall have to get this better. Had a look at the circuit in weights room and not all that impressed as no record can be kept of improvements etc. David Butler responsibility for kit and this boy is certainly [a] hard worker.

All afternoon with Danny Blanchflower and that was some experience.

Evening met Wally Fielding and was reasonably impressed and he would take some replacing. I shall have to see him in action and carefully decide what course of action to take.

Contacted George Kerr (Lincoln) as regards Sam Ellis – offered £4,000. Spoke about 15,000 as if directors had fixed price. Oh George!

Thursday, June 30

Alan Burridge phoned – amenities and recreational manager. Offered help and arranged meeting. Ray Brown is manager of Watford Leisure Centre. Dinner with Dr Vernon Edwards (club doctor) and his wife. Obviously going to be valuable person and will be prepared to give information about players. Feels there are players who did not give their best.

Spent three days interviewing playing staff and whilst all interviews conducted on friendly basis obvious to me that changes will have to be made. Question marks for various reasons against Rankin, Garner, Horsfield, Sherwood, Joslyn, Bond. Those players who live far away will eventually have to be replaced.

After three weeks in job beginning to get some idea of club and it certainly isn't anything like I've been used to.

Theres seems to be an indiscipline about the place and no real lead at all.

So many people about the ground at times – no idea who they are. Greyhounds three times a week and trials on Thursdays, no training facilities simply makes it a place with no real football identity at all. In fact, identity is a problem all round. Players don't live in Watford – there isn't a commitment to the club at all – feeling it is being used.

Ron Rollitt (general manager / secretary) with personal secretary Patsy Gledhill. On face of it these two must earn their money as they do everything but I’m not too sure whether this is for benefit of club and some of the reception and telephone duties ought to be taken away from Mrs Gledhill. Suggested purchase a dictaphone as I can see a lot of problems getting my letters done. Not sure about their organisation at all and yet Ron Rollitt seems very concerned as regards myself. Not sure how he figures in the financial matters at all. Lunch hour – no one on the telephone when the press call.

Board of directors
Elton John – chairman. 30-year-old multi-millionaire pop star. Watford supporter all his life. Local boy made world star. Wants success for the football club but doesn’t really know how to get it. No grip of board meetings and yet has a mind of his own, good opinions and is no fool. He has a lot of advantages but also disadvantages and simply because of who he is people could want him to fail.

Geoff Smith – vice-chairman. Coach company proprietor. Club use his coaches and his brother drives them. Complaint from players that he drives the coach too slow and journeys take too long. Nice man and has lived in the area his whole life.

Muir Stratford – Articulate, enthusiastic.

John Reid – Elton John’s manager. Young man and don’t know yet about his commitment to the club.

Jim Harrowell – Ill in hospital and not expected to play an active part in club again but a strong Watford supporter and director of many years.

At present time board reads not less than five and no more than 10. To be altered to read not less than four and not more than seven.

In general the board is not stable in thought or policy at the moment and very reliant on chairman from financial point of view.

Any new directors must be prepared to work and are interested in contributing to running of the club.

Chairman must be available to be contacted, and he has to learn a great deal about the job.

Weight room, in which David Butler organises a circuit. He is very keen on body work. Apart from that there are only a few cones and absolutely nothing else at all.

£90,000 overdraft
Loss of £55,000 in 1976-77
Average 6,000 gate in 1976-77
Elton John has by far the major holding in the company and in effect one could say it is his club.

Commercial manager Johnny Hartburn with the female staff Sue Chalk and Margaret Tomkins. A former player and will be interested to see his background with regard to commercial qualifications. Introduced myself and had a three-quarters-of-an-hour chat with him. Seemed quite sharp and alert and this is one person who can help promote the club. Had four years with Orient and nine years with Fulham prior to this.

There’s the feeling you are in the makings of a stadium and yet short of atmosphere. Has greyhound track round the pitch and that is used two or three times a week. Makes for untidyness and certainly a lot of the ground needs smartening up.

Groundstaff is Les Simmons with two or three part-time helpers. He pays a lot of attention to the pitch, even to the extent of not liking the players to go on it.

No one seems to know who is in charge of it. We now have a lot to spare because a new colour scheme was introduced last season and consequently a lot of the old kit is available. Not impressed with how the kit is packed and would hazard a guess that no one really knows what we have got or not.

Medical staff are Dr Edwards, Dr Black and Dr O’Connor with the former being associated with the England party – probably this is how Dave Butler got his chance to work with the England Youth.

Dr Vernon Edwards will obviously play a leading part in the development of the club and can be an influential figure. His philosophy is the same as mine – the treatment of the injuted player should be as uncomfortable as possible!

Playing staff
Seems to lack real drive and leadership. Relatively young but with a group of older players. The’ve not been pressurised for some time and suspect there’s a lack of real discipline in certain quarters. Comments received are that there are a couple of moaners and that Alan Garner is a class above others but doesn’t always play in top gear. After interviewing 17 of the 20 pros I am more convinced than ever that some of the staff will have to be changed.

John Collins – coach

David Butler – physio

Wally Fielding – part-time trainer who seems very committed to youth set-up. Ex-Everton star. Seems to do almost everything as youth team manager. I think he may need someone to work beside him (perhaps Tom Walley?). Biggest problem is we have no pitches for youth games and a lack of facilities in general. He takes the under-18 team and Pat Malloy takes the under-17s. Feels that Pat (68) is too old.
Pat Molloy – old stager who although paid very little seems to be full-time and has a lot of duties.

Mollie Rush – tea lady, laundry lady, cleaner and landlady. Is involved on matchdays as well!

Les Simmons – groundsman who asked me to give a day or two’s notice before letting the players train on the pitch!

John Collins – is used to being in charge and seems to have been affected by me taking over. Not sure we can work together, although have been impressed by his abilities as a coach. The danger as I change players is whether he will begin to side with them?

No scouting system at all. One local scout and I think Bill McCracken is still on the stage (aged 95!). Traditional thing in football is that because of prior work people are offered a job for life.

No one watches opposition games. Have appointed four scouts but will have to look into the whole scouting system as soon as possible.

Training facilities
None at the ground and the club travel to a range of training grounds.

These are – Cassiobury Park, hills and long running and plenty of grass. Shendish – five miles out of town and the sports ground belonging to Dickinsons paper company. In pre-season lunches were provided but there’s the problem of getting pitches booked. Watford Leisure Centre – they have all-weather pitches which is good for evening training with youngsters. Woodside – where the under-18s play. It’s council-owned and has a running track round it but we struggle to get on pitches and have to give a few days’ notice. Hartspring Leisure Centre – indoor area and already booked for Mondays. Metropolitan Police Sports Ground – tried to book for regular use previously. We have got to get a ground where we can keep equipment.

Not sure if there is any set policy for away travel. Vice-chairman is coach company proprietor and we get very competitive prices. His brother is the coach driver but players complain he drives too slowly. Train is also used for some longer trips – look into day returns and group ticket schemes. Club has a good away following so must look into possibility of hiring a train for certain trips.

Youth policy
Almost non-existent. Wally Fielding seems to arrange trial matches, which is fine as long as I know what is happening. Must develop contacts with local clubs and schools and begin to strengthen youth teams. Developing young players essential for a club this size. Cannot rely on transfers. But youngsters must be identified and retained depending on potential to make it into the first team. Tom Walley is not going to play a part on the pitch but could be an asset here. Could be someone to shake-up the whole thing.