I never met Graham Taylor, although I might have seen him play football. It would have been in the late sixties and I was probably being dandled (good word) on somebody’s knee in a stand at Blundell Park, home of the mighty Grimsby Town FC. He played for them between 1962 and 1968.
Since the ex-England manager’s death yesterday people have said a lot about what a nice chap he was. As I say I never met him, but I did send him a letter once.
I’d bought a commemorative Grimsby Town first day cover and thought it might be nice to try and get it signed by a famous ex-player. At the time he was back managing Watford after his spell as England manager, so I sent my request to him care of Watford FC.
I wasn’t really expecting to see it come back, signed or otherwise.
Not only did he sign it, but he also enclosed a letter that he’d obviously put some thought into. I’ve reproduced it here. My first reaction on receiving the reply was ‘What a nice man’. Whenever you hear post-death gushing tributes to the recently deceased you usually take them with a large pinch of salt. In this instance you can put your condiments away. He was indeed ‘a nice man’.
Although Graham Taylor went on to bigger and better things I’m afraid Grimsby has fared slightly worse. Once upon a time it was the largest fishing port in Europe, with over a hundred deep-sea trawlers. Now it has one big trawler left, and that’s a floating museum. If you want to see what the fishing industry used to look like then go have a look at Grimsby’s Fishing Heritage Centre, where they’ve pickled it for future generations.
Surprisingly, though, I read somewhere that there are more new businesses opening up in Grimsby than anywhere else in the country. Although I’m not sure whether these figures are supposed to include betting shops and massage parlours.
Blundell Park, home of the mighty (have I said that already), Grimsby Town FC, is one of the few bits of character left in the area that hasn’t been turned into flats. Sadly the plans are to pluck them from their home for over a hundred years and move them to a new concrete dustbowl on some anonymous industrial estate out of town.
In 2010 further ignominy was heaped on the mighty Grimsby Town when, after 117 years, they were relegated into non-league football. To rub further salt into the wound (you can get your condiments out again), local ex-fishing rivals Hull City got promoted to the Premier League around the same time.
After three play-off appearances the mighty Grimsby Town FC finally made it back into the football league last year. So, at least Graham lived to see that. He obviously had a soft spot for them.
I come from Grimsby and I may sound as if I’m being overly critical of the place, but it’s only because I care for its wellbeing. Indeed, I do get quite defensive when its name is used for comedic effect (Sacha Baron Cohen take note). It’s a little bit like having an incontinent granny. You can snigger at the odd fart that sneaks out, but you’d get feckin’ cross if a stranger took the piss.