Graham Taylor’s warm character exemplified by response to Middlesbrough supporter asking him to pick Stephen Pears and Jamie Pollock for England
13 January ~ Graham Taylor always came across as a thoroughly decent man. His voice when co-commentating on the radio was warm, his enthusiasm for the game infectious. He was such a nice man that writing about his abhorrent treatment at the hands of the tabloid press during his time as England manager seems inappropriate. Upon hearing the sad news of his death, I thought about the time my mother wrote to him asking him to select Stephen Pears and Jamie Pollock in his next England squad.
The two players were integral members of the Middlesbrough team, in 1991-92, my first full season of going to games, Pears made some of the greatest saves I’ve ever seen and was considered one of the club’s best goalkeepers.
It may seem a little odd to think of Pollock as a possible England player but he was, at that time, a prodigious talent, a fixture in Boro’s midfield at just 17. In 1992, aged 18, he was the beating heart of a side that won automatic promotion to the Premier League and reached the semi-finals of the League Cup. He went on to become a member of the England Under-20 squad that finished in third place at the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1993 and played 200 games for Boro before leaving for Osasuna in 1996.
With the pair excelling for Boro, albeit in Division Two, the fact that neither of them had been rewarded with an England call up was, in Mam’s mind at least, because they played for Boro and not one of those fashionable London clubs. I, aged 8 or 9, was in full agreement. She wrote to Graham Taylor and told him this, and added that he should stop spending all of his time in his plush London offices and attend some games up north.
Taylor wrote back a couple of weeks later. He explained that he was well aware of Pears’ ability, and knew about Pollock from the England youth set up. He also said, in quite forthright fashion, that he did not spend all of his time in London and that he was actually based in the Midlands.
Not long after the letter, Stephen Pears was called up to the senior England squad. Unfortunately, he was forced to withdraw on account of a fractured cheekbone suffered in a collision with Cambridge United’s Dion Dublin. Mam still maintains that her letter to Taylor played a part in Pears’ call-up. It is nice to think that it did. I still have the letter at home.
Graham Taylor achieved some incredible things as a football manager. That he took the time to reply to this letter is just one example in a long list of reasons as to why he was so well-respected. His contributions to various football broadcasts on the radio exuded a warmth rarely, if it all, found within the vast array of former players and managers currently working in the field. He will be much missed. Dave Hearn