Graham Taylor was a football father to ex-Northern Ireland defender Peter Kennedy

Former Northern Ireland defender, 
Peter Kennedy
 has paid his tributes to his late Watford boss, Graham Taylor.
Former Northern Ireland defender, Peter Kennedy has paid his tributes to his late Watford boss, Graham Taylor.

Former Northern Ireland defender, Peter Kennedy (right) insists Graham Taylor was like a ‘father figure’ to him and was largely responsible for re-igniting his professional football career.

The ex-Portadown centre-half was plying his trade at Notts County in 1997 and contemplating a return home to Northern Ireland having grown increasingly frustrated at Meadow Lane.

That was until Kennedy received a timely phone call from Watford as Taylor enquired about his services, based on the recommendation from legendary Northern Ireland striker, Gerry Armstrong.

Kennedy went on to enjoy four glorious years under Taylor at Watford from 1997-2001, helping the Hornets secure promotion to the old First Division and is still remembered fondly by fans for scoring twice in the 4-0 win over fierce rivals Luton Town at Kenilworth Road.

It was a memorable time in the career of Kennedy and he insists he will be forever grateful to his old boss for reviving his career.

“He was unbelievable to me,” said Kennedy. “I was at the first stage of my career in England with Notts County and it wasn’t going well. I was down in the dumps and was home sick and thinking about coming home.

“All of a sudden, after a couple of phone calls I was sitting in Graham Taylor’s office at Watford and he was absolutely fantastic from that day on.

“He made me feel comfortable and looked after me. In the four years I was there we were very successful and I think he gave me three new contracts in the first three years I was there. In general he was a fantastic man with a good heart and a good football man.

“On a personal note, my daughter was born there and he made sure we were all fine and looked after. He was just a really, really nice man.”

The news of Taylor’s sudden death on Thursday came a shock to Kennedy and he admits he was hit hard and is still struggling to come to terms with the untimely passing of someone who helped shape his career.

I always remember his team-talks which were unbelievable. He would start off talking about a team and the next minute he’s talking about what happened in Coronation Street the previous night.

Peter Kennedy

And he reckons the Taylor family can be very proud of the former Aston Villa and England manager and take some comfort from the kind tributes paid by the many ex-professional footballers who were lucky enough to be influenced by him.

“I know the family, his wife Rita and the two girls are devastated but they can look back and be very proud of Graham. He was like a father figure to me. It’s very sad. I hadn’t seen Graham in over 10 years but it’s just amazing the mark he left on me.

“He’s the best football manager I’ve ever worked with. Both sides of it, the coaching and the managing, What a great man to play for. And we were successful which helped.

“The first year I was there we won the Division three and went up through the play-offs. I’ll always remember the game against Luton when we won 4-0. I never really understood what that rivalry was all about until that day.

“It’s a very intimidating wee place, Kenilworth Road and the crowd is very close to you. We were winning 4-0 and there were people going mad everywhere.

“Graham told us at half-time, ‘lads, I want you to go out and don’t concede and don’t score any more goals’. We all looked at him as if he was mad but we did exactly that. That’s the type of man he was.

“I always remember his team-talks which were unbelievable. He would start off talking about a team and the next minute he’s talking about what happened in Coronation Street the previous night,” he laughed. “He was a fantastic man.

“It’s just very sad and it probably won’t hit me for a while yet. I’m gutted. I know he was 72 but it’s a big loss for Watford Football Club.

“He left a big mark on my life I haven’t seen him in something like 12 years and I’m talking like I was sitting with him last week.

“It will always be a part of me. Football is all about memories and thinking about Graham it’s just very sad.”