I am writing this tribute on behalf of all KitAid supporters as well as the 387,636 recipients of kit across the world, who benefited from Graham’s tremendous support prior to his untimely passing.
KitAid was very fortunate to have Graham as Patron and we, as a small voluntary charity, have always been immensely proud of this. He helped us tremendously and he definitely opened doors for us that were firmly closed without his backing. He was generous with his time and always kept to every commitment, which included painstakingly signing hundreds of thank you certificates with a signature which was as clear from the first one to the very last. There must be quite a few thousand of these proudly being displayed on clubhouse walls all across the UK as a testament to his support of our work.
I can still remember my first ever conversation with Graham when he called me at work and said, “off you go, you’ve got 5 minutes to explain what KitAid does and what you want me to do….” As a fan it took me about 30 seconds to get over the shock of hearing his voice, but after a couple of minutes he stopped me and said, “ok I trust you but don’t ask me to do too many things and be aware that after a couple of years I may need to step down as I get so many requests to be Patron of different charities and groups” I think one of the proudest things about this is that he never did step down and I always felt that he liked supporting us as he loved seeing pictures of kids smiling in their new kit and he really understood the difference having boots or kit made.
Graham was incredibly generous with his time when he signed up to supporting KitAid at an event. He attended our 10th and 15th Anniversary dinners and spent most of the evening chatting to people and signing autographs. He also gave brilliant after dinner speeches which always felt as though he was just talking to you and they were so funny and interesting. He donated his last ever pair of football boots at the last dinner and I was really pleased that they sold for more than a signed pair of racing boots donated by Lewis Hamilton.
He also attended an all day conference we arranged for KitAid helpers and the charities we worked with. He was the first person to arrive and the last to leave even though he was only really supposed to attend for a couple of hours. To me it was a sign of how interested he was in the world and how he wanted to help people less fortunate. He came up to me at the end and said how one young girl had asked him to sign an autograph for her Dad who was a Luton supporter to “Turnip Head”. He said it was ok as he found out his real name was Robert so he signed it best wishes to Roberta!!! He always had a glint in his eye that made you feel comfortable and at ease.
Graham once wrote to all 92 league club kit managers on our behalf asking for kit donations at the end of the season. This letter opened doors for us with some very big clubs who would previously not have taken KitAid on board. He had so many contacts in the football world and he was always happy to share them with us.
Family was very important to Graham and we were very fortunate in getting to know Rita and Karen. Once when going to collect some signed certificates Rita invited Sally in as Graham was still signing them and she stopped ironing, made a cup of tea and caught up on our latest news. My proudest moment was when I was invited to attend the renaming of the Graham Taylor stand at Vicarage Road as a guest. It was a very special event but Graham and Rita went out of their way to make me feel welcome. I sat next to the couple who had asked Graham to be best man at their wedding, which he did, and they were still friends years afterwards. Only Graham would do something like this.
We will miss Graham so much but will always look back with pride that little KitAid was supported by such an incredible man. He took us to a higher level and always inspired us to carry on and achieve more. We are a small charity but we do things the right way, the Graham way. Graham’s legacy will live on and there are 387,636 individual testaments to this all across the world, who would not have received kit or been able to play the game we all love.
Finally we would like to offer our sincere condolences to Rita and family and to the whole football family across the world. Thank you Graham and God bless you.
Derrick Williams MBE on behalf of all KitAid supporters