IT doesn’t matter what Peter Taylor achieves at Gillingham. It doesn’t matter how many medals he won as a player, or how many promotions as a manager.
Because nothing will ever eclipse the day in November 2000 when the 60-year-old was asked to lead his country.
“It’s the best memory of my career, no question,” says Taylor, who took charge for a single game against Italy in Turin before the arrival of Sven Goran Eriksson.
“When I got the call from Adam Crozier at the FA asking me to take over, it was the best phone call I’d ever got. I never dreamed it would happen to me, that I would manage England.”
Nor did anyone else. Just four years earlier, Taylor had been battling relegation from the Conference with Dover. And five years before that, he was playing part-time for Dartford whilst working as an insurance broker at Standard Life.
A speedy winger with Southend, Crystal Palace and Spurs, Taylor won four caps for England – the first coming as a Third Division player – in a career that yielded an impressive 87 goals in 388 games.
He also scored in his first two international games, the last player to do so before Rickie Lambert equalled the feat earlier this year. But when a broken leg suffered whilst playing for Leyton Orient robbed him of the work-rate and mobility for which he was renowned, Taylor quit the pro game, signed part-time terms with Maidstone and – aged just 31 – and entered the insurance business.
“I had a chance to get a move elsewhere, but I decided I would like to play Non-League and get myself a job,” he said. “And it was great. It made me more organised with budgeting and things like that. It helped me become a better manager.”
By 1986, he was at Dartford, a riotous four-year spell that saw crowds go through the roof and produced four straight 100-goal seasons. Then came Southend and Dover, where Taylor was working when he got the call from former Spurs team-mate Glenn Hoddle asking him to take charge of the England U-21s.
There, he nurtured the likes of Gareth Barry, Emile Heskey and Rio Ferdinand, naming almost all of them in his one and only England squad, which finished in a narrow 1-0 defeat in the Stadio Delle Alpi. “I owe a lot to Peter for setting me on the way with England,” said Heskey, who went on to win 62 senior caps.
“He worked so well with the players and developed a great spirit and confidence. He was always entertaining and an hour would pass before you knew what you had been doing.”
When he was brutally jettisoned by Howard Wilkinson in 1999 – with a record of one loss in three years – the players gave him a signed photo of the squad with messages like: “You are a legend” from Kieron Dyer.
Though his success at club level since has been mixed – promotions with Gillingham, Brighton and Hull, failure with Crystal Palace, Leicester and Bradford – it is this work on the coaching ground that is universally acclaimed.
As is his sheer enthusiasm. Though he readily admits he has “too many clubs on my CV”, Taylor has never been too proud to take a job; his résumé includes a spell as assistant to Barry Fry at Peterborough, a return to Non-League with Stevenage in 2007 and, last year, a stint in charge of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. “Peter was fantastic for me,” said Fry. “
For a man to travel 226 miles a day to take a coaching session and only get his expenses paid, particularly that man being an ex-England man, is a credit to the individual.
“Peter just wants to coach – that’s his forte. He organises very, very well and he tells players where they’re going wrong. But he also makes it fun. It’s important to have a laugh with the players as well as the serious stuff, and he combines that fantastically well.”
Taylor’s return to Gillingham last month marks his 16th job in 20 years. It is hardly the record a manager wants, but his ethos is simple. “It doesn’t matter what division, or where in the world,” he says. “I just love working.”
PETER TAYLOR FACTFILE
Born: Rochford, Essex, 1953 (Age 60)
Playing career: A skilful winger, Taylor started out in Non-League with Canvey Island before joining Southend as a 17-year-old, making his debut in 1970. Twelve goals in 71 games for the Shrimpers – and promotion to the Third Division – yielded a switch to Crystal Palace.
Though relegated to the third tier while at Sehurst Park, Taylor played in an FA Cup semi-final and won four England caps, scoring in his first two games – both against Wales. Signed by Spurs – recently relegated to the Second Division – in 1976, Taylor became a regular, winning promotion back to the top flight and scoring 31 goals in 123 games before leaving to join Leyton Orient in 1980.
Injured whilst at Orient, Taylor saw out his career at Exeter before retiring from the pro game in 1984, aged 31.
Managerial career: Appointed player-manager of Dartford in 1986, Taylor twice won the Southern League title and also had spells in charge of Southend and Dover before becoming England U-21 boss in 1996. A single season at Gillingham in 1999-2000 then brought promotion to Division One, although Taylor left to take over at top flight Leicester the following season.
After a good start – which included taking charge of England for a single game – Taylor was sacked in 2001, subsequently winning promotions at Brighton and Hull before brief stints at Crystal Palace, Stevenage, Wycombe and Bradford.
A spell as manager of the Bahrain national team was followed by a return to the England Under-20 set-up earlier this year, before he was named Gillingham manager for a second time.