By Tony Dewhurst

There is a striking mural on the wall as you climb the stairs to Gordon Taylor's office that must acquire special poignancy for each year that passes for the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association.

The collage of prints, by artist Colin Yates and entitled Decade of Disaster, captures football's despair in the aftermath of Hillsborough, the Heysel Stadium tragedy and the terrible fire at Bradford City.

There are few more passionate supporters of English football than Taylor, who took charge of the PFA in that turbulent decade, when football was in deep crisis.

The game was blighted by the scourge of hooliganism, while English clubs were banned from European competition.

"That era was probably the most challenging time football had faced in the last century," said Taylor.

"We were fighting to keep football alive 25 years ago.

"I recall taking my two sons to watch Bury versus Blackpool at Gigg Lane.

"There was fierce fighting on the car park, a really horrendous sight to witness.

"It really felt like football was in the gutter, that this sort of thing was the norm on a Saturday afternoon, which I thought was a terrible state of affairs.

"I wanted football to bring people together, to unify, not to see these sort of sights dividing and destroying the game."

A pilot scheme called Football in the Community - launched in the North West - sewed the early seeds for football's revival.

"There was no social responsibility from clubs, we needed to see them as the focal point for community activities because our game was the one sport that brought together many members of the community on a regular basis.

"Suddenly players were working in the community, going into schools as their club's ambassadors, trying to teach a gospel of good behaviour."

The scheme was subsequently developed by all clubs and Taylor added: "Initially, people were quite cynical about it, but the response was remarkable - there was a rise in attendances, and we had letters from headmasters, the police, saying how people were engaging with football again through the community scheme.

"Football can get to places that school teachers and politicians can't reach, there are so many things that the clubs can do collectively."

The Football League Trust, based at Preston, now governs the national scheme and Taylor added: "They do fantastic work, it has mushroomed to all corners of Britain now.

"The Football League Trust has developed the programme, tackling society issues like drugs, knife crime, racism, and literacy through their excellent social inclusion and education programmes at all our clubs.

"I firmly believe it has proved one of football's greatest success stories."

Few issues in the game are now debated without Taylor's constructive and forthright interjections and he takes great pride in the Premier League and Football League competitions.

"Not only did we come out of that terrible period in the 1980s, but we came out of it stronger, more civilized, with all-seater stadiums and families going to football together again.

"For such a tiny island to have such a strong domestic football fabric in society, to have so many full-time clubs, the highest number of spectators and highest number of full-time players, never ceases to amaze me.

"We should be proud that we are probably the most cosmopolitan football country in the world."

Taylor was paid £12 a week when he signed on as a schoolboy in 1960 for Bolton Wanderers. Now some of his members are multi-millionaires.

"We'd get a £2 bonus for a draw at Bolton, and £4 for a win - I never thought I'd see the day when we'd have football millionaires," added Taylor

"Of course the perception of the game is front and back pages, huge salaries and celebrity, but the great bulk of players make relatively ordinary livings out of football."

Most of all, though, Taylor wants his players to be viewed as good role models.

"The game isn't creating monsters, " Taylor said.

"In spite of the success and financial rewards they receive, we are capable of creating rounded human beings who care about the game and care about the society they live in.

"Football reflects every day life because there isn't a family anywhere who don't have arguments.

"We do have our divorces and funerals but we should celebrate our christenings and weddings. Look how football came together for Fabrice Muamba last season.

"I want football to be the great unifying spirit, irrespective of culture, creed, religion or politics."