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Sir Elton John: Watford icon tells Gary Lineker about his love of the club and Graham Taylor

Sir Elton John: Watford icon tells Gary Lineker about his love of the club and Graham Taylor

Watch the full interview on BBC iPlayer from 18:00 GMT on Friday and on Football Focus on Saturday from 12:00 GMT on BBC One and online.

Former Watford chairman Sir Elton John says getting manager Graham Taylor to the club was one of the greatest moments of his life and he still goes “crazy” supporting the team every weekend.

The music legend spoke to Gary Lineker for BBC Football Focus in a lengthy interview about the important role the Hornets have played in his life.

He bought Watford in 1976 and, along with manager Taylor, took them from the bottom of the Football League to the top flight, where they finished second in 1983, Europe and an FA Cup final.

John sold the club in 1990, bought them back in 1997 and stepped down as chairman in 2002. In that second spell, Taylor came back and led them to two more promotions, as they rose from Division Two to the Premier League.

Here is what the club’s honorary life president John, who has brought out a book called Watford Forever with John Preston, had to say to Lineker in their interview at Vicarage Road.

On his beginnings as a football fan

My dad brought me here when I was five or six but I also used to sit on the touchline at Craven Cottage.

My cousin Roy Dwight played for Fulham in the same team as Jimmy Hill, Bedford Jezzard, Johnny Haynes, Tony Macedo. I grew up watching Fulham a lot but this is my local team.

When Roy went to Nottingham Forest, I concentrated on this place.

I can’t tell you how much this club has given me, so much pleasure. I get very emotional when I think about it.

On how he became Watford’s owner

Elton John, pictured at Vicarage Road in 1974 when he was the club’s vice-president

I did a concert here with Rod Stewart to raise money for the club and I become vice-chairman. The chairman was Jim Bonser. He’d had enough of the abuse. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. I became a director and then chairman.

I was so determined to do something other than what I’d been doing, totally different to what I’d been doing.

In what I do, I’m surrounded by a lot of sycophants. This was where I came from – I lived six miles up the road.

I didn’t get any stick. I got homophobic comments, which I laughed at and expected. I knew I was setting myself up as a gay chairman of a football club. Everything I experienced like that was done with humour. I’d always wave back at them.

I was determined. When I set my mind on something, I wasn’t playing silly games. I wanted to do this and knew I could.

On appointing Graham Taylor

In 1977, a year after taking over, Elton John appointed Lincoln City manager Graham Taylor. Taylor chose Fourth Division Watford even though top-flight West Brom also wanted him.

There was talk of us getting Bobby Moore. I spoke to him but the board of directors weren’t keen. Muir Stratford, who was one of our directors, said there’s a chap at Lincoln City, Graham Taylor, I think he’s the best young manager. He was 28 [when Lincoln appointed him in 1972].

I phoned him up and he was being chased by West Brom. He was the name on people’s lips. I said ‘I’m Elton John, chairman of Watford, and I’d like you to be our manager’.

To his credit he came down and sat down with me in my house in Windsor and I convinced him to be manager. Bert Millichip, the West Brom chairman, said: ‘What’s he going there for, turning us down to go to that club?’ I can see his point of view certainly.

I don’t know [why Taylor chose Watford instead]we just clicked.

It was one of the greatest moments in my life when he said yes because I felt done stuff outside of music I never thought I could do. I convinced him we could be in Europe in six years. He looked at me as if I was stark raving mad. Then we went on this great adventure.

On his special relationship with Taylor

Elton John and Graham Taylor
Elton John brought Graham Taylor to Watford in both his spells running the club

I had two great relationships in my life in football and music – [songwriting partner] Bernie Taupin came from Lincoln and Graham came from Lincoln.

We had a special relationship, which was important. Because I’m on the outside, I used to love who he’d be interested in buying. We’d go to watch games outside of Watford together. That was fun. We got locked in at Rochdale. We stood on the terraces.

He’d say ‘I’ve got this player, I need to buy him’, so [I’d say] ‘here’s the cheque to get him’. He’d never overspend on players. He never took advantage of money with me. He bought players he wanted to be a team. If you weren’t Watford through and through, he’d have you up against a wall.

We socialised. We’d play games. We were dreadful losers. I loved going round his house. We both came from working class backgrounds and we just clicked. He was terrifying sometimes. He was never terrifying towards me but I saw him in action sometime and thought: I don’t want to get on that side.

He had great man management skills. He was of his time. I hated the way he was treated and called a turnip [as England boss]. That hurt me. He was a good man.

He was a great guy; he’s like my brother. When he died, I was distraught. I’d only spoken to him a couple of days before.

On what the club meant to him, and similarities between football and music

The Elton John Stand
One of the stands at Vicarage Road is named after Elton John

It [the first spell] was an extraordinary wonderful time of my life. Thank God I did this. It meant so much to me. Because it was part of my life coming here as a young boy to two horrible stands and a dog track.

When you do things together, playing in a team that clicks and you get momentum, it’s so thrilling. It’s like doing a musical or album that’s successful. When it does, you know it’s magical.

It’s all about momentum. You get a band together like I had in the first place and started doing shows and going to America. We went to the Troubadour in Los Angeles to 300 people and it took off. In the next two years, we galvanised ourselves and traded in on the momentum we had. Momentum is so important. Adrenalin. If you click.

In my dreams [I could have been a footballer]. I love football but I was destined to be who I was because I love music. The combination of music and this was extraordinary.

I can’t tell you how much this club has given me, so much pleasure. I get very emotional when I think about it. This really sorted me out. I’d come here and it would bring me back down to earth. It was a communal effort. I find a bit of this missing in football, now. You knew the name of everyone, the tea lady, the guy who did the pitch.

On his FA Cup final regret

Watford lost the 1984 FA Cup final 2-0 to Everton at Wembley. That remains as close as they have ever been to winning a major trophy. John considered giving players a pre-game speech, something he had never done before, but decided not to.

The FA Cup final was a conundrum. Looking back, I should have told Graham: ‘I’m going in there to talk to the dressing room before the game.’ In music, you have tours and special things like Glastonbury or Dodger Stadium where there’s always a highlight coming up. Those things you have to pull off.

After the cup final, I thought they played like they thought it was enough just being there. I would have gone in and said: ‘In football, you don’t get this very often, it’s rare, you have to go out and believe you can win the game.’ I made a mistake.

I think Graham would have done [let me do a speech] if I’d had the courage [to ask]. It made sense. I’ve been to big occasions, they haven’t. Everton weren’t the greatest team but they had old heads.

On his love of Watford today

I’m life president. I go crazy every weekend. Weekends can be doom and gloom. It ruins my life. It gets worse.

Now in the club we have Valerien Ismael as manager. What he’s come in to do is try to stabilise a club who were firing managers left, right and centre.

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