NORTHERN Ireland legend Gerry Armstrong has credited the late Graham Taylor for his incredible World Cup ‘82 heroics and for getting him into the best shape of his career.
The former Tottenham Hotspur striker said he was ‘shocked’ and ‘saddened’ by the sudden passing of the ex-Watford and England manager who he described as a ‘shining light’.
And, in a glowing tribute to Taylor, who passed away on Thursday, aged 72, Armstrong insisted no one could ever replicate what his ‘great friend’ did at Vicarage Road during the early 1980s.
It was in 1980 that Taylor convinced Armstrong to leave Spurs, then in the top flight of English football, to join Watford in the Second Division.
And, within two years, Taylor had led Watford into the old First Division, running Liverpool close to the title at the first time of asking in 1982-83.
Fond memories, indeed, and Armstrong, who made 76 appearances from 1980-83 with the Hornets, believes Taylor’s legacy will live on forever.
“He had a great effect on me because he got me fitter than I ever was before,” said Armstrong. “He got me to a top level of football and, obviously, Northern Ireland benefited.
“Between 1980 and 1982 was the qualifying for the World Cup and, then, the World Cup itself. I went into that campaign fitter than I ever was and I always give credit to Graham Taylor for getting me in great shape for it.
“He got the best out of me for the three years he had me at Watford,” he said.
“He was trying to sign me for over a year and was trying to get me on loan before that. He convinced me it was good to leave Spurs and go to Watford who were in the bottom four or five in the Second Division while, obviously, Tottenham were a First Division club.
“I wanted to play centre forward and he convinced me he could help me. So, I joined them on the strength of that and it proved a great decision.
“He was a brilliant manager. He knew what he wanted to do and knew how to do it.”
Taylor is also credited for discovering and nurturing John Barnes at the age of 15 and turning Luther Blissett into a striker. And Armstrong reckons his old boss was responsible for creating a ‘family atmosphere’ at Watford like he had never seen before.
“He was very humble. He didn’t just look after me, he looked after Luther Blissett and Nigel Callaghan and he took John Barnes from 15 years of age and made him what he was. We all got great discipline and professionalism from him.
I went into the World Cup campaign in ‘82 fitter than I ever was and I always give credit to Graham Taylor for getting me in great shape for it.Gerry Armstrong
“It’s just really sad but his legacy will live on,” he continued. “What he did at Watford no one will ever achieve.
“He made the club a big family. There was more of a family atmosphere at Watford than any other club I was at. It was a brilliant family atmosphere.
“I was really devastated to hear the sad news of the passing of, not only my manager at Watford, but such a good friend.”
The legendary Watford boss was subjected to disgraceful abuse from the English media during his brief time as England manager from 1990-93. However, Armstrong believes he should be remembered as one of the most remarkable domestic coaches in the modern game.
“The abuse was below the belt and beyond the pale,” he said. “He knew the press and they didn’t need to do that. If you look at his record, his first 10 or 15 games in charge, he had one of the best records and still has one of the best of any England manager.
“He’ll be remembered as one of the great managers. At Watford, there’s never been a better manager.”