DAVID TAYLOR, whose untimely death at the age of 60 was the source of shock and sadness in Scottish football and beyond when it was announced late on Tuesday night, was a man who ably managed to mix business with his greatest pleasure.
Football was a genuine passion for Taylor, not a statement which applies to every administrator of the game. Combined with his professional skills in law and marketing, his love and knowledge of the sport helped him become one of its highest-profile office bearers.
If he was something of an unknown quantity to the football public when the SFA appointed him chief executive in the summer of 1999, he became one of the country’s most recognisable figures during an often tumultuous eight-year tenure which led him to become Uefa general secretary.
Born in Forfar, where his father Alex was a committee member at Forfar Athletic, he remained a lifelong devotee of the Station Park club. Taylor played at amateur level and also undertook SFA coaching courses, while he was a committed foot soldier in the Tartan Army.
A qualified solicitor, he branched out into economics and business in senior roles with the Scottish Development Agency and Scottish Trade International before being head-hunted by the SFA at the age of 45 to replace Jim Farry as chief executive.
He arrived with a pledge to “create the conditions for the game to grow and prosper in Scotland”, but the vagaries of his new role quickly manifested themselves. His first major test came from boxing, rather than football, as the decision to stage Mike Tyson’s heavyweight contest against Lou Savarese at Hampden in the summer of 2000 provoked protests from politicians and women’s groups.
Taylor, whose primary duty in that instance was to protect the commercial interests of the national stadium, handled the furore as diplomatically and effectively as could be expected.
Like any SFA chief executive, his decisions which attracted the greatest public interest came with the appointment of Scotland managers. Following Craig Brown’s resignation in 2001 after failure to reach the 2002 World Cup finals, Taylor had his first opportunity to make a mark on that front.
Unfortunately for him, his desire to “think outside the box” would ultimately backfire spectacularly. In recruiting Berti Vogts from the relative international football backwater of Kuwait, Taylor was sincere in his belief that taking a fresh direction in the shape of the national team’s first-ever foreign coach would revitalise Scotland. Instead, the German proved to be a calamitous appointment and the criticism of his performance inevitably spread to Taylor.
The subsequent appointments of Walter Smith and then Alex McLeish may have been easier to make, but Taylor nonetheless deserved credit for getting them right as the Scotland team was duly revived and pride restored on the pitch.
Perhaps his biggest personal disappointment during his time with the SFA was the failed joint bid with the Republic of Ireland to host Euro 2008. Taylor arrived in Geneva for the bid decision ceremony in December 2002 full of optimism, proudly wearing a kilt as he made his presentation to Uefa’s executive committee. Those inside the room said Taylor’s passionate oratory had been the most impressive they heard but the bid failed abjectly on a series of technical and political issues.
Taylor, though, was making his mark in European football circles and was drafted onto Uefa’s Control and Disciplinary Body in 2002. He struck up a strong bond with Michel Platini and, when the Frenchman became Uefa president in 2007, he quickly identified Taylor as a candidate for the role of general secretary. Platini said yesterday: “Together with the European football family, I am deeply saddened to hear of David’s passing.”
“He was an invaluable addition to Uefa when he first joined us as general secretary, and brought us considerable experience and wisdom as a football administrator of the highest calibre.
“In addition, he gave us his boundless enthusiasm as a lover of football, who adored the game and enjoyed many memorable moments following Scotland’s fortunes.
“We will all greatly miss his outstanding professional competence, as well as his countless qualities as a colleague and a person. On behalf of the European football community, I wish to convey my heartfelt condolences to David’s wife Cathy, and their children, James and Alan.”
In September 2008, Taylor was the driving force as Uefa’s executive committee agreed to increase the number of nations at the European Championship finals from 16 to 24 from the 2016 tournament, a move which may help end his homeland’s lengthy absence from major competition finals. In 2009, Taylor changed roles at Uefa, becoming chief executive of the subsidiary body set up to oversee their business and events operations. Most recently, he was Uefa’s corporate business advisor.
Scotland remained his first love and he was at the national team’s most recent fixture, the friendly against Nigeria in London last month.
Taylor, who consistently opposed the involvement of Scottish players in Team GB’s football teams at the 2012 London Olympics, also publicly endorsed the Yes campaign for this year’s independence referendum.
Although Taylor had suffered health issues in recent years, including a near-fatal heart problem in 2011 when he collapsed while playing recreational football at Uefa headquarters in Nyon, his sudden death has stunned his friends and colleagues.
“I was so shocked and saddened to hear of David’s passing as I spoke to him recently at a London airport and he was in fine fettle,” said PFA Scotland president Tony Higgins.
“I knew David well from both his roles at the SFA and Uefa and I found him to genuinely believe that proper dialogue with the players was fundamental to good governance in football. He was also very popular with staff at Uefa and was held in the highest esteem. Football will sorely miss his presence.”