I’d been invited to speak about the process of ghostwriting Graham Taylor’s autobiography at a meeting of the Watford Writers group and, after five nights of The Cycling Podcast’s theatre tour, was surprised to feel quite so nervous about addressing an audience again, but there was something intially intimidating about being able to see the whites of people’s eyes.
I could feel my mouth go a bit dry so I reached for the water and managed to over-fill my glass so it spilled all over the table. I don’t think anyone noticed and there was a warm feeling in the room so once I got going it went fine. Everyone was very kind at the interval and afterwards and I was really glad I’d done it and not used the snowy weather and the beginnings of a sore throat as an excuse to pull out.
I was asked to speak for about 40 minutes, so the following piece is quite long but I figured that as I’d written it I may as well share it more widely. This is what I wrote in preparation, although I deviated a bit here and there on the night.
Photographs by Simon Gill
Thank you very much for inviting me here this evening and thank you all for coming. First of all, how many of you are Watford supporters or football fans?
[A good show of hands]
That’s good news.
And I assume that everyone writes or is interested in the process of writing?
Excellent, excellent. We should be okay with this then.
I am going to talk a bit about the process of ghostwriting and how it differs from journalism. A lot of you are writers or perhaps you are writing something now so when I talk a bit later on about how I write hopefully you’ll take something from it, even if it’s to think, ‘That’s nonsense, I’m not going to do it like that.’ There’s no right or wrong way to write anything, in my opinion, although it’s probably taken me 20-odd years to realise that. So what I’m going to say is how I approach it – there’s no golden rule – because all that counts is what goes on the page not how it gets there. No one knows what’s been left out, no one knows the thought process you went through to get to that point, no one knows the avenues you went down that didn’t work out. All that you get judged on is what’s in the finished book.
Sometimes people will let you know what they think of your work and if people don’t like what you’ve done you have to develop a thick skin, but the thing is they can’t have any idea what you’ve put into a piece of work, they don’t know about the days when you doubted everything and think you’re not going to get finished, and, really, why should they?
To write anything I think, whether it’s journalism, or fiction or ghostwriting, you have to know your subject and your character or characters as well as you possibly can. I’ve never written fiction but you have to create characters who are three-dimensional and real. You have to know how they would react and what they would say in different situations.
In my case, I was ghostwriting for someone who was famous, who had a public profile and quite a distinctive way of expressing himself, and I found that made it quite a lot more difficult to capture Graham Taylor and put his life story down on the page.
For two years I worked with Graham, and for a further year I worked on my own trying to think and write like him, and the end result is this: Graham Taylor, In His Own Words.
For those who don’t know, Graham was the England football manager but before that he was Watford manager and he transformed the club and with it the fortunes of the town. If anyone remembers the club in the mid-1970s it was really a greyhound stadium with a football pitch in the middle and he turned it into one of the best football clubs in the country, and he did that by the force of his character.
I am going to explain how I came to become Graham Taylor’s ghostwriter because, after all, who am I? And I’m going to talk about how a friendship developed that made it harder for me to work on the book. And then I’m going to talk about completing the book after he died, when it became almost overwhelming at times.
In order to explain all that, though, I suppose I need to go right back to the beginning and talk a little bit about my own career because although this project was 70 years in the making for Graham, it was also, in a way, 20 years in the making for me.
I first met Graham Taylor when I was about nine or ten at a Watford Football Club open day for young supporters at Vicarage Road when you got to play on the pitch and meet the players. It was either 1984 or 1985 and I queued up for Graham’s autograph with dozens – hundreds possibly – of other young supporters, all dressed head to toe in Watford kit. Eventually it was my turn at the front and I can still remember the conversation.
‘Hello son. What do you want to do when you grow up?’
‘I want to play for Watford. If I’m not good enough for that, I want to write the programme.’
* * *
Scroll forward 12 years to 1996. Graham had left Watford, he’d gone to Aston Villa, he’d become England manager, he’d been portrayed as a turnip on the back page of The Sun, he’d failed to qualify for the World Cup, then he had to rehabilitate himself and his career at Wolverhampton Wanderers and that didn’t work out either. So he came back to Watford, the one place that would still welcome him unconditionally. There weren’t many places queuing up to offer Graham Taylor a job at that time.
In the meantime, I’d grown up a bit and I’d joined the Watford Observer, where I started my career. I’d been on a training course in St Leonards-on-Sea to learn the trade. I’d done all the stuff that young journalists do – I’d covered the births, deaths and golden weddings. I’d been to council meetings and magistrates court and covered local sport and by 1996 I was one of the paper’s sub-editors, laying out the pages, correcting the copy and writing the headlines.
Someone tipped me off that there was a job going at Watford Football Club as head of communications and programme editor. I thought, ‘Well, this is it. This is the job for me.’ I applied and got an interview and found myself sitting opposite Graham being asked how I saw this job. I obviously did okay because I got a second inteview. The questions were a lot harder the second time round because Graham was obviously narrowing down his candidates.
I didn’t get the job, which was very disappointing because I thought it was made for me.
A couple of days after finding out I hadn’t got it, the phone on my desk at the Watford Observer rang.
It was Graham. In the course of a brief conversation he made me feel better about myself than I would have had I got the job. He said, ‘It’s not that you’re not right for the job – although you’re not – it’s that the job is not right for you. Stick at what you’re doing, carry on in journalism and see where it takes you.’ Coming from the son of a journalist, I took that as a compliment.
A bit later I left the Watford Observer and joined a cycling magazine and in 2001 I teamed up with a photographer called Alan Cozzi to write my first book, Four Seasons, which is about Graham’s second spell as Watford manager. I made life easy for myself by making it a coffee table style book with loads of photos and not too many words.
One day a letter arrived on nice paper, written in fountain pen. It was from Graham Taylor and he’d enclosed a cheque for six copies of Four Seasons to give to his friends and family. However, he’d neglected to add on anything to cover postage costs so I had a dilemma. What should I do? I rang him up and explained that as I had financed the printing and publishing of the book and needed to make my money back, every penny counted. He said, ‘I’m sorry about that, why don’t you drop them round to me?’ so I went to his house in Chorleywood and we had a cup of tea and a chat in his kitchen.
I carried on writing about cycling for magazines and, later, The Sunday Times and eight years on, I started work on my second book about Watford, Enjoy the Game, which involved interviewing as many of the players and management from the 1980s as I could. I ended up interviewing around 45 people for that book and quite early in that process I contacted Graham. He already knew what I was up to, because one or two of the players had tipped him off. He said that he was perfectly happy to give me an interview but he asked me to wait until I had interviewed 15 or 20 players because he said he wanted to know the book was well underway so he wasn’t giving up three or four hours of his time for nothing. He also joked that he wanted to know what everyone else had said about him before he started talking about them.
So, the time came and I met Graham at The Belfry hotel near to Sutton Coldfield, where he lived at the time, and he gave me three or four hours of fantastic material. I remember sitting there having had quite a few cups of tea and coffee and I was absolutely bursting for the toilet. He was right in the middle of telling me about Elton John’s battle with drink and drugs and it was great stuff. I had my tape recorder on the table between us. He was in full flow, and I was very close to being in full flow myself but I dared not stop him. Fortunately, with the bead of sweat breaking on my brow, he said, ‘I’m sorry to have to stop here but I need to go to the loo.’ I have never felt so relieved and The Belfry is big enough that I could use a different toilet so we didn’t have to stand awkwardly next to each other at the urinals.
A few weeks after the book came out, my phone rang and the screen said, ‘Graham Taylor.’ I hesitated because there were only a couple of reasons he could be ringing – either to tell he didn’t like the book or that I’d fouled something up terribly, or to ask me how much the postage would be on six copies.
He said, ‘I’ve been reading the book and I must admit I have been struggling because it has brought back so many memories, most of them very happy, but some sad, and I have been getting emotional. So I’ve been picking it up and putting it down. It’s a very good book even if I disagree with a few of the comments by the players. People have remembered things a different way to me but perhaps one day I will do my own book and iron out a few things.’
I said, ‘Well, if you ever do get round to doing your own book let me know as I would drop everything if you needed any help with it.’
* * *
A couple of years later, I called Graham to ask if I could interview him about another period of his career for another project I was working on.
He very politely declined, explaining that he had started work on his own book with another journalist. I tried to hide my disappointment and said, ‘I look forward to reading it.’
Another couple of years later – so we are talking late summer 2014 now – I got a call from Graham completely out of the blue and he said it hadn’t worked out with his ghostwriter, would I like to talk about working with him.
Absolutely. No question.
So, we arranged to meet and my first question for Graham was, ‘What do you want the book to be?’
I asked him to imagine what his book would be like when he held it in his hands. Would it be hardback or paperback? What might it be called? What would be on the cover? Are there photographs in it?
He hadn’t really thought about any of that, he’d just thought about ‘doing a book’.
I asked him why he hadn’t done it before. He said he’d had plenty of opportunities over the years and had started work on at least four or five occasions. He said he must be the only England football manager who had not done a book. He said he’d been offered the chance to do one right after he finished as England manager. I asked why he hadn’t taken that opportunity. He said he hadn’t wanted to cash in on his experience. At that time, he hadn’t drawn a line under his career as a football manager and had wanted to get back to work. Despite a handful of attempts to start work on a book later on, it had never felt like the right time and things had not got terribly far.
I asked, why now?
He said, ‘I am nearly 70 years old and I have lived an awful lot more of my life than I have left to live and so it feels like it’s either now or never.’
Now, he didn’t know he would pass away before the book was finished but he obviously had a sense of his own mortality and knew he didn’t have another 70 years left to write his book.
Then I asked, why me?
He said, ‘You’re the first person who’s asked me what I want my book to be without telling me what they think it should be first.’
I asked him who he was writing it for and he said that he wanted to do something that his grandchildren could read. They were in their teens and early twenties and, he said, they rolled their eyes – lovingly as grandchildren do – when grandad started telling his boring old stories. But he knew from experience that one day they might want to know more about what he did and so he wanted to tell his story his way.
We talked about how it would go, and how we might work together. The first thing I did was give him a blank notebook in which I’d written very loose subject headings on the pages – childhood, school, parents, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City, Watford, Elton John, Aston Villa, England, and so on – with plenty of space for him to add other headings as he wished.
For a couple of weeks, he’d call me and ask what he should be writing in the book, so I’d say, ‘Anything you like. Short sentences, or names of people, or anecdotes or incidents you think you might want to include. You could even write out longer stories, if you wish. Or it could just be a series of bullet points to jog your memory for when we meet.’
He filled the notebook up and I took it away one day and transcribed the lot before giving it back to him. Then he lost it. But that was fine, because we were off and running and it had served its purpose because it had got him thinking about what he wanted his book to be.
* * *
Next we went on a series of road trips to places that mattered to Graham. We traced his life. We went to Scunthorpe, where he grew up, and stood in Axholme Road, outside the house where he lived, and I saw him come alive as he recalled memories from his childhood. I watched as he bowled an imaginary cricket ball so it would bounce off the kerb to bowl his dad out as they played cricket in the street. He talked about the patch of grass down at the end of the road that was Lord’s in the summer and Wembley Stadium in the winter for all the children who played games there. We traced the route from his house to his primary school, which he ran every day. And through this I got a sense of Graham Taylor as he really is. I started to get a feel for his character, his sense of humour, his ability to be slightly contrary at times. All the things I was hoping to distil and get onto the page.
We later went to Grimsby Town’s ground and sat in the dressing room where he’d had his introduction to the tough, unforgiving world of professional football. Where he’d had to learn to swear and joke to fit in. We went to Lincoln City and he sat where the benches used to be and recalled hearing the chants of ‘Taylor Out! Taylor Out!’ after his less-than-successful start to life as a manager.
We went to Vicarage Road and Villa Park. At Watford we brought the story full circle because we stood on the pitch and he looked up at the stand which bore the words, The Graham Taylor Stand.
We sat on the sofa and I tried not to notice the tears in his eyes as we watched An Impossible Job – the documentary about his final year or so as England manager – on YouTube.
* * *
Graham had a summerhouse in the garden at his house near Sutton Coldfield that was filled with stuff he’d collected over the years. There were newspaper cuttings, photographs, football programmes, books and video tapes. He even had his gold disc, presented to him after he and the Watford squad sang backing vocals on a couple of Elton John tracks in the late 1970s. He had an envelope full of embroidered badges he’d carefully snipped off shirts. He had his actual embroidered FA coaching badge, Grimsby Town and Lincoln City badges and the three lions he’d salvaged from the breast pocket of one of his England blazers. Among the most valuable resources were the diaries he kept at various points during his career, including during his time as England manager. It was an Aladdin’s cave of Graham Taylor memories and we had many happy hours going through the stuff because it seemed like each box, folder or suitcase contained new stories. He didn’t know what to do with it all, and I know Rita, his wife, would have liked some of it to go in a skip, but Graham couldn’t bring himself to sort through it all and decide what to throw away and what to keep.
Then we started doing the interviewing. I knew I needed to go into the detail. I found that when we met at his house and we sat on his sofas in the lounge things would go well for a while but he’d relax and begin to feel too comfortable and would slip into football-speak, if I can call it that. He stopped giving me the detail I wanted. So I’d mix things up. Sometimes we’d meet at The Belfry, where I’d had a good experience with him before and which would give our interviews quite a business-like feel. A couple of times we met at Villa Park and sat in one of the executive boxes. Or we’d meet at a hotel down near the Hemel Hempstead junction of the M1 when he came to visit one of his daughters.
Sometimes I would try to focus on a specific era and work hard to keep him on track, but other times I’d loosen things up and let him go wherever he wanted to go. I was always trying to work out the circumstances that would lead to me getting the best information out of him and as the months turned to a year I felt I was building up more than enough to get started on the actual writing.
I recorded more or less every meeting and I must have had almost 200 hours to listen through. Some of it is not great quality because I was trying to keep the recorder surrepticious because people change when they know they are being recorded – they tighten up, they feel they are ‘on-the-record’ and they perhaps try a little bit harder to make themselves sound better than they otherwise might.
Often, he’d tell me some of the best stories over lunch – when he thought we were done for the day. It wasn’t that I was trying to trick him into telling me things he didn’t want me to know, but he would naturally loosen up. I’d dash to the loo so often, to make a note of something he’d said so I wouldn’t forget it, that I think he thought I had some kind of bladder control problem.
Throughout all this, I was also doing other research – reading newspaper cuttings, other books. I read more than a decade’s worth of his programme notes, which I knew he’d written himself. I watched interviews on YouTube. All the time I was picking things up and absorbing things, learning how he expressed himself.
* * *
At some point I realised that some his great stories weren’t quite true. I’ve found this quite a lot with sportspeople. They will tell you a story about how they were 2-0 down with five minutes to go and came back to win 3-2. Then you look at the record books and realise they were 2-1 down with 20 minutes to go. A good story but not quite as good as they remembered. This applies to all sorts of stories, not just events that happened on the pitch, so we had to tackle the issue of the gap between the memory and the reality. I had to sort the myth from the truth without losing some good stories and I did that by acknowledging how the memory plays tricks as events recede into the past.
We had so much material and we thought about what we were going to do with it. There was enough for a multi-volume autobiography but we decided against that because Graham wanted his whole life to be set in context. As he frequently pointed out, when arguing that we should start the book at the beginning and not with a pivotal moment from, say, his time as England manager – he didn’t become England manager overnight, there was half a lifetime that got him to that point.
I knew some good stuff would have to go. We had to prioritise the material and come up with a coherent narrative arc. Any story needs a beginning, a middle and an end but I actually think a book is made up of several small beginnings, middles and ends that together tell the story. Because I cover cycling I can’t help but think of it as being like the profile of a Tour de France mountain stage – a stage in the Alps has perhaps four or five mountains and so I break the story down into a series of mini climaxes, followed by a small reboot. These are usually quite subtle things, perhaps not even that noticeable to the reader, but the small changes of pace and pitch help, I think, to propel the story along.
* * *
I had to continually remind myself that this was not my book. I was writing this for Graham, as Graham. I don’t want sound like I think too much of myself here, or even that I think of myself as a good ghostwriter, but I think there are similarities with an actor taking on a role. I was trying to be like Michael Sheen trying to be Brian Clough, or David Frost, or Tony Blair. I was trying to be Graham Taylor.
As anyone who has written anything knows, finding a voice is one thing but maintaining consistency is another matter. It’s so easy to slip out of your character’s voice and into your own and so it took time to be able to write as Graham. You might think it would be easy because Graham has quite a particular way of speaking, but he has little stock phrases which, if over-used, could easily sound clichéd or even comical. The phrase, ‘Do I Not Like That,’ a variation of which had been suggested to Graham as a title for his book at one point, does not even appear in the book except for one occasion when he references being lumbered with it as a catchphrase.
Sitting down to write is always the hardest bit, I find anyway, but it’s not until relatively recently that I realised that when you are writing a book, you are always writing, sometimes at the most inconvenient times. I’m sorry to put this image in your minds but I’d often find myself instead of singing in the shower, doing impressions of Graham in the shower. Or I’d be out on a bike ride and something would come to me and I’d find I’d ‘written’ a good bit as I was pedalling along. Of course, if you don’t make a note of these things at the time, they can be lost for good so I would stop by the roadside and type out bits on my phone.
One of my tips for writing is to never throw anything away but that also became a hindrance at a certain point. I had handwritten notes in books and on scraps of paper, piles of cuttings and magazines, dozens of text windows on my computer with full chapters, or notes, or random ideas. I had nearly half a million words of interview transcripts. I would go through and bold bits, italicise bits, as if this was helping me to put my thoughts into some kind of order but I ended up in a mess.
So I bought a big artist’s drawing pad and I started to write out the book in a series of diagrams – notes with lines linking those notes, sketching out chapters. Then I overcomplicated that and started using different coloured pens. Although at the time it felt I was making things more difficult for myself, I was actually slowly finding my way.
In the end, I had to get started on a passage that I knew would go into the book and so I picked a section concerning Graham and his relationship with Elton and thought, ‘If I can get this right then it can be the first step.’ I realised that the cliché that says writing a book is like building a house – that you need to start with the foundations, then build the walls, then put on the roof, then focus on the interior design – are nonsense really, because sometimes I’d have the energy and inspiration to sort out a bit of the kitchen before the foundations were in.
I realised that a better analogy for writing a book is that it’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Yes, you can start with the outside if you wish, or the bits that have the most detail, but the important thing is to just put the pieces together and gradually build up the picture.
If I’ve learned anything it is that writing is about perseverance, just keeping going, because you can’t get to the last page unless you have written all the ones in front of it. But you don’t necessarily have to write all the ones in front of it in order. You just have to find your own way, which is what I did.
But the big wake-up was reading parts of the first draft and realising it didn’t sound like Graham. The silence from him and his agent when I delivered the initial pages told me what I already knew. Despite being aware of all the possible pitfalls, I’d been writing as me, rather than as Graham.
I can imagine you’re wondering why Graham needed a ghostwriter in the first place. After all, he was a good writer himself. The son of a journalist, he understood how to tell a story and he could do it well. But when he came to sorting through his own memories he found he just couldn’t. You might wonder why, if I had hundreds of thousands of words of him talking, I couldn’t just reproduce transcripts of those interviews, but it doesn’t work like that either. That wouldn’t make for a pleasing read.
So I went back to the beginning and started again, making doubly sure I wasn’t slipping out of his voice and into mine and here I have to thank a friend of mine, Simon Ricketts, who I worked with at the Watford Observer, who had been a Watford supporter, before deciding to switch allegiances to non-league Wealdstone, and who now works for The Guardian. He was a big fan of Graham’s, he understood what made him tick and he was very keen to see this book come to fruition. He was absolutely vital to me as I worked through the manuscript. He told me when I was losing my way and he encouraged me to keep going.
I sent Graham a small bit, perhaps only four or five thousand words, and heard nothing for about three weeks, which felt like a long time, and a bad sign. However, the reaction was much more positive this time and that gave me the confidence to go on.
Just before Christmas 2016, I saw Graham for what turned out to be the last time. I’d given him a big chunk of the book to read, he’d shown it to Rita, and he was happy. He was very enthusiastic about the idea of it coming out. We’d started talking about the title he wanted and possible ideas for the cover photograph.
* * *
In mid-January 2017, I was sitting at my desk in my office with half a dozen Word documents open on my screen, as usual. I was on the phone to Simon Ricketts, talking through where I was struggling and his advice was the same as it so often was. ‘Just write the next sentence.’
As we spoke, I heard my phone buzz with another call coming through. It was Graham’s agent, Ian Wilson. I didn’t take the call. A minute or two later, he called again. I’ll call him back, I thought. Then an email dropped into my inbox. The subject read: ‘Can you call me ASAP.’
Instinctively, I knew something was wrong. I called Ian and he said, ‘I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Graham has died.’
It was like a punch to the stomach. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, considering the hours we'd spent together, but I felt like a friend had died.
I found I had to turn off Sky Sports News because of all the tributes. I got calls from a couple of friends in the media who knew I’d been working on Graham’s book asking me if I wanted to write something or say something. I didn’t.
After a few days, people asked me what was going to happen with the book and I had to say I had no idea, because it wasn’t my decision to make. At the funeral, Rita said that the family wanted me to complete the book as he had intended.
On the one hand this was fantastic to hear, on the other hand it meant I had to get back to work after a month on hold. I found it harder to listen to recordings of Graham's voice, harder to think like him without dwelling on the fact he was no longer here. Finishing the book was difficult. The sense of responsibility for getting it right intensified. I also had to make sure that the book retained its authenticity, that it didn’t sound like Graham knew he was going to pass away before it was finished (because he didn’t), or that it sounded like he was speaking from beyond the grave, if that makes sense. Any gaps in the narrative, things that we might have gone back over in the final months before publication, would just have to remain as they were.
Simon nursed me along, sometimes only 500 words at a time. I would send him a chunk and he’d give me some feedback – never too efusive to lead to complacency, never too negative to knock me off my stride.
Sometimes I wrote at home in my office, sometimes at the kitchen table, sometimes I preferred the hubbub of a busy café. I moved around depending on my mood. At one point I felt I had to get away for a change of scenery and I thought that going somewhere familiar but different was the answer. Like one giant cliché, I booked an Airbnb in St Leonards-on-Sea, where I’d trained as a journalist, thinking that the significance and symmetry would help. After a couple of days in the seaside town’s cafés, I had churned out another decent chunk but decided I wanted to be at home. The trip had served its purpose, it had got me going again but I realised I didn’t need to stay there.
* * *
I knew I needed more help to finish the manuscript and get it ready for publication and Bloomsbury’s rather puzzling decision to make Charlotte Atyeo redundant turned out to be my gain because, as a freelance book editor, she was free to work on Graham’s autobiography. She knew sports books inside out, having commissioned and edited a string of titles that had been shortlisted for the William Hill sports book of the year award, and was also a Watford supporter.
I’d love to be able to describe in some sort of enlightening detail what it was she did to make the manuscript better but it sounds so simple that I’m in danger of making it sound insignificant when the opposite is true. She cut bits that didn’t need to be said, she moved bits to places where they would work better, she urged me to clarify or simplify passsages. She just made it better and she communicated those changes in such a way that didn’t puncture my fragile confidence or put my back up. Those who know me will know that’s quite a skill.
So together, Simon, Charlotte and I completed the manuscript. If I can permit myself to use this analogy, I was the football manager, I guess, picking the team and trying to get the result, Charlotte was like the director of football, seeing the big picture and offering an experienced sounding board, and Simon was my first-team coach, getting his hands dirty on the training pitch and working with me on the detail – instead of shouting ‘Just another 10 push-ups’ he’d say, ‘Just another 500 words.’ Simon and Charlotte have never met but together they were crucial parts of the triangle.
The most nerve-wracking part was giving the manuscript to Rita and Graham’s two daughters to read. The notes, when they came back, were very few and after some small changes we had the green light to publish.
In the gap between sending the book to press and receiving copies from the printers, I visited Rita to return some photographs we’d used. When she said, ‘You’ve done ever so well. It sounds just like Graham,’ I could have – and nearly did – burst into tears in her hallway.
* * *
I’d like to just talk about the cover photograph too. I read a review recently that makes a point about the cover that pleased me so much. It said, ‘There will be other pictures in the family album in which he is better posed, other pictures in which his shirt goes with his jacket. But none that would have looked better on the cover of the book. Taylor has a glorious grin.’
We had intended to do some sort of photo shoot, perhaps hire a studio and rig up the lights and get Graham to pose for a photograph. But we never got round to it.
Back when I first suggested the road trips to Graham, my friend Simon Gill offered to come along to document the journey. After Graham had died we went through every frame from those trips knowing that if we couldn’t make something work we’d have to rely on something from the archives.
When we were in the changing rooms at Vicarage Road, Graham had sat down and looked round almost in wonder at how plush they were compared to in his day. Simon rattled off a series of frames and when we looked at the pictures we knew it had potential. The background, which was black, was not suitable because we didn’t want a funereal feel to the cover. But once the jacket designer, Steve Leard, confirmed that he could drop it out, we had our cover. And yes, perhaps Rita wishes Graham had chosen a different shirt that day, but it’s absolutely perfect.
To finish, I’d like to read a short piece from Graham’s book which I think says something about life, about sport, about writing, about everything really.
While I was writing this book, I watched the documentary, An Impossible Job. I didn’t particularly want to, for obvious reasons, although it remains a very skilled piece of film-making and it does show what it was like to be the England manager at that time, so I have no complaints about it.
It was not an enjoyable watch but there were moments in it that I had long forgotten. At the end of the film, you can hear the team talk I gave to the England players before the World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands – the one that cost us our place in the tournament. I have given thousands of team talks during my career but this one summed up much of what I believe.
‘In life there are so many opportunities, and they are always round about you. There are too many people in life that never see them. Then there are those people who see the opportunities but don’t grasp them. Then there are other people, who are generally life’s winners… they see the opportunities, they go looking for them, and they take them. And that’s what you are facing now on the football field. Now go out there and take it, it’s there for you.’
Now, we didn’t win that match, but I stand by every word of that team talk. In life you win some and you lose some; the secret is not to get too carried away by one or too dragged down by the other but to keep giving your best. No one can ask any more of you than that.