In a sensational end-of-year publicity steal, Sir Elton turned his anger
on British soccer. The story was news in every British sports newspaper
page of December 23, 1998. Here's what the London Daily Telegraph had to
report after the press conference of December 22, 1998:
As the Telegraph's Sue Mott wrote, Elton sat alongside Watford FC
Manager Graham Taylor in the Club Lounge at Vicarage Road, and asked of
the fans: What have I got to do to make you love me? Watford, fourth in
the First Division and well on target for the play-offs, deserve better,
than fans heading off to do the Christmas shopping or defect to
Manchester United games, was Elton's message.
Elton calculated that the press is always looking out for the mega
rockstar this time of year, and played them a clean publicity goal. His
grey suit lent him a conservative appearance all the better to deliver
volleys of abuse to the over-paid, under-performing footballer he
believes to be symptomatic of the sport, the Telegraph reported.
"I'm a very well paid entertainer but when I see the figures being paid
in the Premiership, I just laugh. It's a joke," Elton said. "If people
are willing to pay that money, they've got more money than sense. It's
absolutely ridiculous. There are hardly any players in the Premiership
worth ?5 million let alone ?15 million. It's money for a lot of old
rope. It's about time it stopped. It's crazy."
Elton continued: "When I go out on stage I play for 2.75 hours and I
give people real value for money. And I don't think a lot of the players
who go out there give people value for money. I don't think they've got
the basic skills down for a start. If they can't pass the ball properly
and they can't tackle without getting sent off and they can't control
their temper - there is a responsibility to stay on the pitch and play
as well as possible. It's the commitment and level of skill that I
question. I just think certain players aren't worth the money.
"It's all Premier, Premier, Premier, Premier. The whole point of setting
up the Premiership was that it was going to be the best in Europe and
it's not. There are only two or three clubs that would survive in the
Italian league." It was evident, even behind the blue-tinted glasses the
Watford chairman is passionately sincere.
Elton was well aware some fans (those that go) may think it hypocritical
of a travelling rockstar to lecture them on attendance: "Probably people
think: he's not there, he's not interested, but it's not true."
In fact, Elton's very much into sport, but had been playing a world tour
("It's like playing 130 (sport) internationals in 180 days," said
Taylor, loyally) and on Dec. 10, 1998 Elton lost an Aids-benefit tennis
tournament with Andre Agassi in Chicago.
It was while he was travelling back from America that his thoughts
turned to Watford's plight, horribly exacerbated by the true extent of
Taylor's illness. Reported as a throat abscess, a doctor told Taylor and
his wife, after a dash to hospital as a septic throat threatened to
close his air passage, that he had been two hours from death.
Elton had been telling him for ages to take it easy. "I was very angry
at Graham actually. I told him to go home many times. He's had a very
nasty shock. Football's great but it's not the be all and end all of
everything. Nor is my career. Life itself is more important. He got a
You would imagine Elton John might know the feeling. "I would think I
was that close. I had a couple of nasty turns when I did the cocaine. I
was found unconscious a couple of times and then woke up and put more up
"When I got sober and clean in 1990 I had to do what I was told for a
change, although I didn't like it very much. And it worked. I'm not a
therapy or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) bore, I hope - I haven't been to a
meeting for five years actually," he added. "I don't want to spend the
rest of my life in old church halls talking about how much I used to
drink, boring the ass off everybody. I drove everyone mad. They were
feigning death every time I walked into the room.
"That's why I admire people like (footballer) Tony Adams - people who
get ?their life back. I actually rang Paul Merson when he was still at
Arsenal. I don't know if the message got through. (Paul aka 'Gazza')
Gascoigne is another one. I've managed to speak to Paul on the phone
just to give him encouragement. Addiction's a horrible thing, especially
when you've got so much talent. You care about seeing people pour their
Elton said he craves the simple life these days: "I'm 52. I'd rather be
in bed or watching a decent movie or reading a good book."
The press audience were doubtless shocked to hear him say such things.
But... "Why? Why? I did all that in my 20s and 30s. I did as many drugs
and as much drink as anybody possibly could do. I lived a life of
complete and utter debauchery. Now I'm afraid to say that I would rather
go to a porcelain exhibition than to a rock concert."
But no one should underestimate the extent of his true love for Watford.
On tour, he plagued his mother with phone calls to turn on teletext so
he could find out the latest score. His fondness and friendship with
Taylor is palpable.
He does draw the line this time, however, at funding the club to the
tune of the many millions that marked his first spell as chairman.
Elton's not keen on spending millions to buy players, or on the antics
of some players: "It's outrageous. It makes me absolutely fume," he said
on the subject of players who don't actually bother to turn up for a
match. "What annoys me is that these players are so skilful. You'd think
(such players) want to go out and play. I cannot understand this
mentality, this prima donna mentality."
The man who used to throw the most famous televisual tantrums in the
history of broadcasting, added: "I don't do many prima donna tantrums
"I just think these players need a good shaking. When they look back,
when they're 45, they're going to regret it so much. To go on the pitch
and give 100 per cent, that's all you can ask for. But it seems to me
that when we came second (at the FA Cup 1984) in the old First Division,
we did it on attitude basically. "But some of these players swanning
around - like (England Coach) Glenn Hoddle. Hah, hah, hah. Ooh, you
know, played once every five games."
The private audience ended with Elton going off to berate the spoiled
brat Premiership footballers on Sky TV. "It's all your fault," he told
them with mischievous glee. And tabloid newspapers listened on.
And here's a mop-up of what Elton told the (other) salivating
reporters - at least, in the manner in which they reported it:
According to The Mirror of Dec. 23, 1998: Headlined: Rocket Man Elton
John launches astonishing attack: Hoddle's jealous of glamorous Becks,
Shearer is not worth the cash. Flagged as "Exclusive" Sir Elton last
night launched a fierce attack on Glenn Hoddle, accusing him of being
jealous of David Beckham's glamorous image.
The Watford Chairman claimed that Newcastle's ?18 million asking price
for Alan Shearer was "ridiculous". But he saved his sharpest barbs for
England Coach Hoddle, saying that he treated Beckham "shabbily". "I felt
for David Beckham so badly at the World Cup," he said. "Afterwards I
offered him and his fiancee Victoria (from The Spice Girls) the use of
our house in the South of France.
Maybe there's a bit of resentment on Glenn Hoddle's part that David has
a great England career ahead of him. "Hoddle was a great player but he
didn't have a great England career. Beckham has a very famous, lovely
girlfriend. Maybe Hoddle resents that too.
Elton said Hoddle "shot himself in the foot," failing to pick player
Michael Owen for the World Cup tie against Romania. "If he had played
against Romania from the start we would have won that match. No
Elton was sympathetic and supportive of Paul Gascoigne, the profile
player not picked for England's World Cup campaign in 1998. "We are the
same kind of person in many ways because I wasted a lot of my life on
stupid things," Elton said, referring to Gazza's well-documented drink
Elton recalled how, when he himself was suffering from drink in the
early 1990s, Graham Taylor put a bottle of brandy in front of him and
said: "That's your lunch."
Now the tables had turned, with Taylor in serious ill-health. "I'm glad
he's our manager again, and I'm almost glad he's had this health scare.
Two or three weeks before he was seriously ill, I repeatedly told Graham
to go home. I told him to do as he was damn well told for a change.
"When I heard he had been rushed to hospital, I wasn't the least bit
surprised. I was relieved they had finally got him out of it. He has to
get some sense of priority into his life, and I can help him do that."
On the World Cup, Elton said: "Hoddle? He would not have been my choice
as England manager, but there's nobody else. "Anyway, I find
international football boring. It's too negative. I would much rather
watch either AC Milan or Manchester United and Chelsea. "I thought
England were one of the most innovative teams at the World Cup, but it
was an appalling tournament. France have some great players, but they
must be one of the most boring teams ever to win the World Cup. And the
last one in America was boring as well."
Next, Elton turned on media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and his bid to buy
team Manchester United: "I think it's extremely unhealthy, and so do the
supporters," he said. "It's all very well for the fat cats on the board,
who can line their pockets (from the deal), but why on earth would
United fans want Murdoch to run their club?"
Others feeling Elton's Rocket Man turbine heat were: team Aston Villa,
and players Paolo Di Canio, Pierre van Hooijdonk and Emmerson at
Middlesbrough. Di Canio is currently in Italy refusing to come back to
team Sheffield Wednesday FC, while van Hooijdonk is on strike at
Nottingham Forest FC.
At the same press conference, Taylor admitted to reporters that his
health scare was life threatening: "Yes, you are talking about a
130-minute ambulance ride that should have taken half an hour. In the
ambulance...I wasn't thinking about our League position."
Taylor said he was embarrassed to ask Rita to call for medical help,
"but when you start coughing up blood, you have to be sensible about
what's happening." Taylor has returned to Watford on a part-time basis,
but coaching and team selection will be left in the hands of his
assistants Kenny Jackett, Luther Blissett, and Tom Walley until January
But the Daily Star newspaper of Dec. 23, 1998, had a different spin on
the ambulance ride, quoting Taylor as follows: "I thought it was just a
sore throat. It was very fortunate my wife called an ambulance and
within 13 minutes I was in hospital."
Reminiscent of Elton's own 1986 throat scare, Taylor added: "I have to
protect my voice because the vocal chords have been affected. I don't
want to be left with a permanently croaky voice. I will not be shouting
on the touchline."
The Daily Express of Dec. 23, 1998, also corroborated with the Star's
version of events, quoting Taylor as: "Because I was saying I had pains
in my chest they (the ambulance crew) thought it was a heart attack and
the ambulance did the 30-minute journey from my home to the hospital in
A hospital specialist saved Taylor from a throat operation, and
prescribed less risky drugs to clear the danger.
"I still feel weak," the Express reported, "and get tired easily. I have
been told the infection that caused the abscess is still in my system
and I have to be careful." His attendance at the press conference was
also against medical advice.
Elton also added that he's still willing to see Watford spend £5
million on players, "but crazy things like £7 million for Nick Barmby?"
Elton also praised Watford's star striker Noel Gifton-Williams: "A
lad...who is learning and in the last three months has really come on.
But he's just a teenager, he shouldn't have too much too soon." - a
comment almost contradicting Elton's position on whether teenager
Michael Owen should have played for England against Romania!
Don't forget, while Taylor takes a well-deserved rest, we'll shout about
the latest on the team!