Former England manager Graham Taylor has died at the age of 72.

Taylor was appointed England manager in 1990 and spent just over three years in charge of the national team.

A family statement said: “With the greatest sadness, we have to announce that Graham passed away at his home early this morning of a suspected heart attack. The family are devastated by this sudden and totally unexpected loss.”

Taylor was a defender for Grimsby and Lincoln City before becoming a manager when he took over the latter in 1972 and led them to the old Fourth Division title in 1975-76 before joining Watford.

In his first spell at Vicarage Road  between 1977 and 1987, Taylor took the club to the top flight and they finished second to Liverpool in 1983.

He was appointed by Aston Villa in 1987 and, after leading them to promotion into the top tier, took them to second in 1990.

A tweet from Watford, where Taylor established his name and who he led from the fourth to the first division in only five years, as well as to the 1984 FA Cup final, read: “Everyone at #watfordfc is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our most successful manager. We love you, Graham Taylor. #thankyouGT”

Sir Elton John, the former Watford owner and honorary life president, paid tribute to Taylor in a message posted on Instagram.

“He was like a brother to me,” he said. “We shared an unbreakable bond since we first met. We went on an incredible journey together and it will stay with me forever. He took my beloved Watford from the depths of the lower leagues to unchartered territory and into Europe.”

Taylor endured a difficult time in charge of the national team, with criticism about his perceived long-ball game and Taylor was pilloried mercilessly  by a savage and unforgiving tabloid press.

Graham Taylor

A glum looking Gary Lineker on the bench after being substituted during the Euro 92 game against Sweden.

However under his leadership England qualified for Euro 92 in Sweden, though England did not make it out of the group stages after failing to win a match. Arguably, the lasting image from the tournament from an English perspective was when Taylor substituted captain and leading goalscorer, Gary Lineker, in the final group game against Sweden when a goal was needed. It proved to be the striker’s final game for England. Taylor kept his job, but failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States led to his resignation in November 1993.

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said: “He was a hugely popular and respected figure in the game, not just in English football but international circles as well.

“I know Graham was very proud of his time as England manager and it was always great to see him at football grounds across the country.

“He had an exceptional knowledge and a love for the game that never diminished over the years. He will be much missed by us all at Wembley and St. George’s Park.”

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former England manager Graham Taylor,” tweeted the Football Association. A statement from the Football League added: “We are extremely saddened to hear Graham Taylor has passed away. A genuine legend of the game. Our thoughts are with his family.”

A statement from Villa read: “Aston Villa Football Club are deeply saddened by news today of the death of our former manager Graham Taylor. Graham joined us from Watford in the summer of 1987 and set about transforming our fortunes following relegation to the old Second Division. By the end of his first season, Villa were back in the First Division, clinching promotion as runners-up to Millwall. Getting to the top-flight was one thing, staying there was another but we managed just that the following campaign – with much better times on the horizon.

“With the addition of Paul McGrath and Kent Nielsen, we finished as runners-up to Liverpool and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Unfortunately there was a price to pay – Taylor’s achievements brought him to the attention of the Football Association, who were looking for a replacement for Bobby Robson after the 1990 World Cup finals. Doug Ellis reluctantly let him go although chairman and manager were reunited 11 years later.

“When John Gregory left in January 2002, Taylor became the first Villa manager to be appointed for a second time, although that spell only lasted for one season. Graham will always have a place of honour in our history books for his achievements while at the helm – and our thoughts go out to his family and friends as this sad time.”