The Watford Observer is serialising the sixth Tales From The Vicarage book, titled Rocket Men, featuring interviews with Luther Blissett, Ian Bolton, Ross Jenkins and Steve Sherwood.

Here, Oliver Phillips looks back at Jenkins’ first meeting with Graham Taylor.

As did all the players in successive interviews, Jenkins met the new manager from a position of discomfort. In turn they sat awkwardly on a low seat while Graham Taylor perched above them and spelled things out very plainly.

“He told each of us that we would get a chance to prove ourselves as useful to the cause,” said Jenkins. “He explained: ‘I am the new manager and you are going to do what I tell you to do. So you will get the chance to prove you can do the job I want you to do.’”

“He was extremely well focused on what he believed in. He had some success with Lincoln but I had not picked up on his style. Together with Graham, Elton became more dominant, more visible and responsible and progressive. The new manager changed concepts everywhere.

“Graham had a definite plan for the way he was going to cope with Division Four and how he was going to make it work. He was extremely confident but that was it. You got off your low seat and left in no doubt that you either toed his line or you would be out.”

Fitness and everything on the training side became geared to the requirements of a successful team. “Physical fitness was very much the accent with an additional concentration on body and stomach, which was fine by me,” Jenkins added.

Then came the pattern of play: the formation of play and working on players’ strengths.

“That was very important,” he said. “He aimed to improve what we were good at and, where we had weaknesses in our game, he aimed to improve them or make them not so significant by adjusting play accordingly.

“That’s why I produced that left-foot shovel kick at Sheffield Wednesday in the Third Division run-in,” he added with a rueful smile.

Taylor varied the venues for training but when you arrived at a new one, you knew it was going to be a long one.

Jenkins said: “Could he talk! Gordon Bennett, he could talk.  For two hours you would run around and learn and practise what he had told you.

"You weren’t going to get off that training pitch until Graham was satisfied that we had taken in the exercises and lessons. Only then could you pack up and go home.

“Graham created this environment that if you performed you would play. We all had to be part of the team and the pattern.

“Individual players were like those in a band; you could play a drum solo but Graham did not want too much. He was focused on playing in a certain way. Within that you could be individual as long as it did not compromise the overall team ethic.

“In a way, we each became individuals within that system because we became good at it.

"In time it was like putting on your favourite CD. You enjoy it, you know what comes next but you know where you have to be and what you have to do.

“There was room for skill, ability and individuality but the most important thing was the team.

"He challenged you, such as training out in the rain. He never over-praised you but you knew you were doing it if he picked you.”

Taylor improved every player, working on Jenkins with Ian Bolton sending 40-yard passes to his chest or feet so developing and vastly improving what had been, up until then, haphazard control. He also solved the long-running problem of the tall player not being as impressive in the air as he ought to be.

Taylor decided, as Jenkins was not good at a standing jump, to encourage him to arrive in the danger zone later, so gaining a run to aid his jump. The effect was almost immediate.

“He worked on so many things, repeatedly,” he said. “They were like drills we worked on so eventually if someone stopped the game, you could point blindfolded to where each of your colleagues was.

"Everything in attack was with a view to getting a cross, a shot or a header.”

Taylor was soon to observe Jenkins was an intelligent footballer as he deployed the striker as a magnet for defenders, enabling others to attack the ball without receiving such fierce challenges.

He said: “You would go in on a Monday morning after a game and you knew you would be working on certain things.

"It was very much a team culture, a team responsibility, and he created a very strong team ethic. He was the pied piper and we followed him.”

Taylor made it very clear that he knew where he was going: to the top. The question was as to who was going with him. The four who finally made it from Division Four to Division One – the Rocket Men – each hoped they would make the complete journey but at that time they did not know if that meant the Third or Second Divisions.

Jenkins said: “I don’t think we thought in terms of playing in the top flight. We just set promotion as the target and then refocused when it was achieved.

"In a sense Graham announced there was a train going to the top and questioned did we want to join him on the journey? The majority got on that train and headed for Division Three and beyond.

“I was very happy in that environment. I think I surprised Graham with what I could actually achieve. I think he considered I was not the answer to what he wanted up front. He did say he had inherited a team ‘with a bloody giraffe as striker’.”

Order Rocket Men here or the complete Tales from the Vicarage series as a gift set here.