Goalie, de­fender and now man­ager!

The Football League Paper - - MATT TAYLOR - MATT TAY­LOR By Chris Dunlavy

AS LEE McEvilly, the gi­ant Cam­bridge striker, pre­pared to face Ex­eter City in Jan­uary 2008, he spot­ted a fa­mil­iar face across the half­way line.

Matt Tay­lor had played along­side the scouser for Burscough, keep­ing goal as the Lan­cas­trian side won pro­mo­tion to the North­ern Premier League in 2000.

McEvilly de­parted shortly af­ter­wards, join­ing Rochdale for £20,000, win­ning in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion with North­ern Ire­land and for­get­ting all about the teenage keeper he’d spanked balls at in train­ing.

Imag­ine his sur­prise, then, when Tay­lor stripped off his track­suit, donned a striped shirt and lined up against McEvilly in the cen­tre of the Gre­cians’ de­fence.

“I was gob­s­macked,” said the 36-year-old, a feel­ing that only in­ten­si­fied as Tay­lor hacked McEvilly’s goal­bound header off the line to cap a man-of-the match per­for­mance.

It was no fluke, ei­ther. Within months, Tay­lor had won pro­mo­tion to the Foot­ball League, beat­ing McEvilly’s Cam­bridge in a Wem­b­ley play-off fi­nal.

Within three years, he was cap­tain of Charl­ton Ath­letic, fac­ing off against the likes of Leeds, Leices­ter and Not­ting­ham For­est.

So how did a Non-League goal­keeper be­come a Cham­pi­onship cen­tre-back? In a word, hap­pen­stance.

“Ever since my school days, I’d played in two po­si­tions,” ex­plained Tay­lor, who spent time on the books at Ever­ton and Pre­ston as a teenager.

“I’d be in goal for my age group and in the next year up as an out­field player, do­ing it ev­ery Sat­ur­day and Sun­day. Af­ter­wards, I car­ried on play­ing cen­tre-half for my col­lege and the county but was still in nets for Burscough un­der-18s.”

Sci­ence

When Burscough’s reg­u­lar keeper suf­fered an in­jury, Tay­lor was asked to fill in by man­ager Shaun Teale, the former As­ton Villa great.

He seized the po­si­tion and, for six years, that was that. Tay­lor won the FA Tro­phy with Burscough, then tra­versed the NonLeague scene whilst study­ing sports sci­ence at Sh­effield Hal­lam Univer­sity.

Rossendale United, Huck­nall, Hal­i­fax Town. An un­suc­cess­ful trial at Lin­coln City. Mat­lock, where he won player of the sea­son in 2003-04. Guise­ley, in 2005. Then came his lucky break. Off duty, Tay­lor had been play­ing at cen­tre-half for the univer­sity first team. “A nice guy who never missed a sin­gle header,” re­called one former team-mate. Cho­sen to rep­re­sent Eng­land Uni­ver­si­ties, he was spot­ted by Ged Roddy, Bath Uni’s di­rec­tor of sport. Roddy recommended Tay­lor to the man­ager of Team Bath, the am­a­teur uni side who at that time played in the sev­enth tier of English foot­ball. The man­ager’s name was Paul Tis­dale. Tis­dale had no idea that Tay­lor, by then 24, had ever been a goal­keeper.

“And it wouldn’t have mat­tered if I did,” he said. “Matt per­formed ex­cel­lently at cen­tre-half, with a great will­ing­ness to learn. Noth­ing else was rel­e­vant.”

Tay­lor won player of the year in his first sea­son as a de­fender, then fol­lowed Tis­dale to an am­bi­tious Ex­eter City out­fit gun­ning for a re­turn to the EFL. Nine goals, 46 games and one pro­mo­tion later, he was a play­ing in League Two.

Two more pro­mo­tions would fol­low, one with the Gre­cians, fol­lowed by the League One ti­tle in his first sea­son at the Val­ley.

Of­ten de­scribed by gaffer Chris Pow­ell as a “cap­tain with­out the arm­band”, Tay­lor struck up a fondly-re­mem­bered part­ner­ship with Michael Mor­ri­son that in 2012-13 saw Charl­ton post the six­thbest de­fen­sive record in the Cham­pi­onship.

It got the Ad­dicks to within

Rock

“Matt was such a good de­fender,” said Yann Ker­mor­gant, the French striker who spent three years at the Val­ley. “He was a rock – noth­ing got past him. Es­pe­cially in the air where he was so dom­i­nant.”

Re­leased in 2013, Tay­lor’s peak years were over. Nev­er­the­less, he re­mained a solid lower league de­fender for Brad­ford City, Chel­tenham Town and fi­nally Newport County, where – in a late re­turn to his roots – he pro­vided goal­keep­ing cover dur­ing an in­jury cri­sis.

Through­out, Tay­lor al­ready had his eyes on the fu­ture. Al­ready pos­sessed of a de­gree and a di­ploma in sports coach­ing, he en­rolled on an MSc Coach­ing Sci­ence de­gree at Hart­pury Sports Academy in 2014.

Along­side those stud­ies, he coached – and even­tu­ally man­aged – the academy’s se­nior foot­ball team.

“The fact that he stud­ied for a masters and as­sisted me with the first team while still play­ing at a pro­fes­sional level speaks vol­umes about his work ethic, am­bi­tion and com­mit­ment to ab­sorb­ing new ideas,” said Marc Richards, now as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of elite sport at Hart­pury.

As be­fore, Tis­dale was the ben­e­fi­ciary of Tay­lor’s trans­for­ma­tion. Still at Ex­eter af­ter 11 years, he in­vited his former de­fender to head up the club’s Un­der-23s in 2017. And when he fi­nally stepped down a year later, Tay­lor was asked to fill his boots.

So far at least, it couldn’t have gone much bet­ter, with nine wins from his open­ing 19 games and 47.4 win per­cent­age. But then, Tay­lor al­ways could turn his hand to some­thing new.

“You could al­ways tell he was go­ing to go on into coach­ing,” said Dean Moxey, who was in the Ex­eter team that won pro­mo­tion to the EFL and re­turned to the club in 2017. “He was one of those that you talked to and he would help you. And he would also tell you off if you needed it. It’s not a sur­prise to us the start we have made.”

PIC­TURE: PA Im­ages

VER­SA­TILE: Ex­eter City man­ager Matt Tay­lor and, in­set, play­ing for Charl­ton Ath­letic

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