Former Watford player Richard Johnson believes that his career would never have taken off and hit the same heights if it wasn’t for Graham Taylor’s support and belief in his qualities. Johnson spent five of his eleven-and-a-half years at the club under Taylor’s tutelage but it was only after the latter’s return to the club in 1996, following spells with Aston Villa and in England, that the then up-and-coming Australian midfielder finally managed to earn a place in the side.
Richard Johnson said “During the successful period that we had when I was a player during the mid 90’s, if you went through player by player we weren’t the most technically gifted but we did have good individual, talented players as a team and ethos, that Graham Taylor instilled in us, it was all about the team and not about individuals. For me personally, I owe pretty much my Watford career to Graham. I got on well with him, he was always very fair to me and if you showed commitment, 100 per cent effort and if you died for the cause then you got on great and played with him. Before he came back, I had been at Watford for a few years when I came through the youth teams but I was never really settled as a regular. But when Graham came back for that second spell he saw something in me, sat me down and told me that he wanted me to be part of this. He basically gave me the freedom to go out and play. I owe him the biggest sort of gratitude for the career I had at Watford because I sort of flourished under Graham. It was a fantastic period to be involved with the club. As a person he treated everyone the same and gave everyone the same opportunity. Then it was up to you to take that opportunity. He was a hard taskmaster, we trained very, very hard under him but if you gave him the effort he’d give everything to back you. That period under him was the best time of my football career. He was a genuine guy who helped me a lot. As a football manager, he’s hard to describe because some of his training techniques were out of the ordinary, on Thursday we never trained with the ball.”
Taylor was the cornerstone of Watford’s success at the end of the 90s as he engineered back-to-back promotions from the Old Division 2 to the Premier League between 1997 and 1999 and the Australian Richard Johnson admitted that nothing he says can ever add to the legacy his former manager left at the club.
Richard Johnson said “As a person I can’t speak highly enough of him and what he did for this football club. Getting the club to the Premier League from Division 2 and in terms of getting the fans on board and making Watford an ‘inclusive club’ like including the fans. There’s no one in the country who has ever done what he did for a football club.”
Such was Graham Taylor’s influence on the football club and the community that the club paid tribute to him after his death in 2017 by unveiling a statue of him outside of Vicarage Road in August 2018, a monument Johnson feels is befitting of the manager’s influence on the Hornets.
“Personally I owe my Watford career to him and what he did for the community was fantastic. Ask any Watford fans and they will all say the same”.
Johnson, who went on to have spells at QPR, Stoke City and Milton Keynes Dons in the aftermath of his by release by the club in late 2003, but said the Watford fans were unique in the way that they support their side.
Richard Johnson said “As soon as I joined Watford from Spurs, where they thought I wasn’t up to their level, to finish my traineeship, I realised that I was joining a club that looked after its players, had a special bond with the community and that is a very family-oriented club. If you show enthusiasm, commitment and determination the Watford supporters will get behind you. Watford have always had a good affiliation and a good feel with the fans and I suppose, looking back, I didn’t really understand at the time because I didn’t know the history of the club. But since I’ve been there 11 years you soon come to get an understanding that obviously the catalyst for that was the period that Elton John bought the club and then Graham Taylor became the manager. And GT’s focus was all about engaging with the community and making the fans feel part of the club and that was probably the main difference for me. Bigger clubs like Man United and Real Madrid have got a global sort of fan base, if you like, but fans from those clubs probably don’t get the same sort of intimate experience that a club like Watford does”.