He may be nearing his pension age but former Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and England manager Graham Taylor is still as much in love with football as he was as a schoolboy playing in the streets of Scunthorpe.
The 63-year-old speaks with all the passion and enthusiasm displayed by the hundreds of young footballers who flocked to last weekend’s Grass Roots Football Live event at the NEC and after spending an hour coaching over a dozen children for Precision Training, Taylor is invigorated.
His glittering career as a club manager may be overshadowed by his unsuccessful spell as national coach, a period in which he had to endure the most severe and unacceptable press coverage, but there are none more knowledgeable about the world’s favourite sport than Taylor.
From FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s controversial proposal to restrict the number of foreign players in every team, to the cost of coaching qualifications, the lack of English talent coming through and the dearth of decent sporting facilities, Taylor has clear views of what needs to change in English football and he is willing to express them.
Taylor said Blatter’s idea to limit the number of foreign players each team could field at any one time to five would benefit the national side but would contravene EU employment law. Instead, he placed the emphasis on the Premier League to address the national team’s current slide.
“I don’t see how legally he is going to get it through,” Taylor said. “I think to a degree it would help the national side. It would mean more English youngsters would be playing at the top level.
“When the Premier League was formed in 1992 one of the reasons the FA gave it it’s blessing - and it needed the FA’s blessing or it wouldn’t have been formed - was because it was going to be an 18 club league and that would help the national team. What a load of rubbish because that hasn’t happened.
“We have a national team that is struggling because there are fewer England international players playing in the Premier League. The Premier League may say they were formed to help the national team, that is why the FA gave it it’s backing, but it might be time for a little bit of payback.
“I can understand totally where Blatter is coming from on FIFA’s behalf but he will do very well to get it through.
“There is less talent coming through simply because they can’t rise to the top end because of all the foreign players,” he added. “It is a debatable question, what is right or wrong with our game. We still have some very good English players coming through. Eight or nine played in the Champions League final for United and Chelsea, but that is still a small number.
“People have a go at some of the coaching, they say we need to find coaches and different kinds of coaching, and I understand all that, but when I look at the cost involved to get the coaching qualifications and the time off you have to take, possibly from work or the weekends, there aren’t many people who can afford to do it.
“If you want to get a level one or two and get up to UEFA B, without even thinking about a UEFA A or a UEFA Pro licence, you have to find time off work and money to pay for it. I am sorry FA, there are some people who just cannot do that.”
Taylor believes a factor in the lack of youngsters playing sports is our ever-changing society and he called for communities to follow the example of town’s and villages in Holland where impressive sporting facilities are available and nurtured.
Taylor explained: “Our children and grandchildren have far more things available to them. We talk about playing football in the street but they can’t do it now.
“In my day, we knew that 8am in the morning we had to leave the street because the bus was coming and then at 5.45pm we knew the bus was returning. We didn’t have hundreds of cars in the streets then.
“If we want street football back what do we do? Do we stop people buying cars? It is different now so what takes street football’s place? We have to find ways to get kids playing football. It isn’t just the responsibility of events like this, it is the FA’s responsibility and the Government’s.
“They may say they put money into the Football Foundation but when I go coaching in countries like Holland, every village seems to have its own football pitch and sports pavilion, with no graffiti on it. It is like a badge of honour for them. We will never get that completely in our country but we must be looking towards that. We must be giving top class facilities to our villages, towns and our cities. That is not just the FA’s responsibility, it is succeeding Government’s responsibility and our responsibility.”
Events like last weekend’s successful Grass Roots Live show have now taken on added importance for Taylor and he called for more such initiatives to be launched.
“This event is the basis of football in our country,” Taylor said. “You see all the families and the children, all the coaches enjoying events like this and it is great to see. It is not just about 20 Premier League clubs.
“I saw David Beckham pick up his 100th cap before the recent England versus USA game, now where did Beckham start? In grass roots football and we must remember that.
“The FA is the governing body for all football in this country, not just 20 clubs in the Premier League or 72 clubs in the Football League. There are over 43,000 clubs registered with the FA and some of those clubs have ten teams playing for them.
“This is a major part of the FA’s responsibility but I don’t think they could put on a show like this. This show is fantastic and it takes me back to when I was a kid, and we used to go and see our heroes.
“The youngsters here have seen Stan Collymore’s Mavericks, with Paul Merson, Ray Parlour, Steve Claridge and Neville Southall in goal. Okay, they are slower and they have put on a bit more weight, but haven’t we all? But they haven’t lost any of their ability to do something special with the ball.
“There is an air of positivity about the place. You can see here what makes people fall in love with football.”
And you can see Taylor is still very much in love with the game.