Hero – Peter Taylor

I love divisive individuals. They enhance the debate, and an amalgam of compliments and insults, congratulations and denouncements, make for fascinating reading, with nobody ever able to say fully that they are right. Except for me, right here, right now – as while somebody out there could write 15 paragraphs right now on why Peter Taylor is a villain (try tepid football, Junior Lewis and leaving the club behind when he did, for starters) they would be categorically wrong to do so.

Peter Taylor is a proper hero and anyone who holds contrary views was ruined as a child. And possibly dropped on their heads as part of the ruination.

The background then… Taylor was a terrific player. He was a burly, hip-swivelling left-footed right-winger (the explanation for Kevin Ellison at Luton suddenly becomes clear as day) who shot to national fame when he scored two stunning goals for Third Division sash-wearers Crystal Palace at Chelsea in an FA Cup fifth round tie in 1976, earning him an England call-up (only Steve Bull has since matched that particular achievement) which prompted bigger-name players to ask who he was during training. Palace made the semi-finals that season and Taylor’s increased standing got him a move to Tottenham a year later. After his playing days, er, petered out, he went into coaching through the then-traditional method of starting at some non-league jokers (Dartford, in his case) and working his way up.

By the time he arrived at Hull City in 2002, he had acquired a terrific coaching reputation and a momentarily chequered but largely efficient managerial CV. A weirdly unsuccessful spell at Leicester in the Premiership had sullied his references, but he’d just done a devastatingly effective job at Brighton, taking them up as champions of the third tier in his only season, and had previously managed a similar masterly task at Gillingham.

He also had a nation’s sympathy and goodwill, having been maliciously fired by Howard Wilkinson as England under 21 coach (because he was associated with the ‘disgraced’ Glenn Hoddle) despite a 100 per cent record in qualifying matches, only for him to be then handed the caretaker’s job for the full squad prior to Sven Goran Eriksson’s arrival. It was he, of course, who gave David Beckham the England captaincy. So, despite paying £5million for Ade Akinbiyi and losing an FA Cup quarter final to a FNLS team that bought its winning goalscorer off the internet, clearly City had landed a chap who was nationally lauded and had the notices to back it up.

And the Tigers needed one. Jan Molby’s three months in charge had been a case study in underachievement. Molby’s complaints and excuses didn’t become him, and Adam Pearson quickly acknowledged he’d erred in appointing the salad-dodging Dane. Yet one thing Molby did leave behind was a team – a team yet to gel, but a team nonetheless. Three of his summer signings would go on to become indelibly linked with Taylor’s reign at Boothferry Park and the KC, and predominantly for positive reasons.

Much of Taylor’s attainments over the next four years emerged from his own bloody-mindedness. An immediate example of this would be Damien Delaney, a rosy-cheeked Irish defender whom he collared from his old club Leicester for £50,000, and who initially would look out of place wherever he played. Taylor threw him into the left back position which with its initial lack of wisdom did at least rid the side of the wholly ineffective Shaun Smith.

Sadly, Delaney seemed rarely better and became something of a target of the South Stand. Taylor, for the first of many times, would ignore the faithful and be proved right as Delaney developed into a fine central defender who would spend five and a half gratifying years with the club. There seemed to be something poetic from Taylor’s point of view that his first acquisition would also secure an indelible entry in the club’s record books by scoring the last City goal at Boothferry Park, albeit entirely unintentionally.

Delaney issues aside, City began well under Taylor. Molby’s talented but unentwined team, which had won only twice, were victorious in four of his seven opening matches, drawing the other three. Boothferry Park’s farewell match also heralded the farewell of Taylor’s unbeaten record, but as City settled into the KC Stadium, things remained on course for sufficient recovery. Molby’s new boys – Stuart Green, Stuart Elliott, Ian Ashbee, Dean Keates – reacted well to their new manager, and gently City began to look like a side ready for an assault on the division in the second half of the season.

A bad January got worse; City lost poorly at Leyton Orient and Southend, drew with York at the KC and then were done by Lincoln at home too. During this time, Green undertook his bit of vintage toy/pram separation after being left out of the Lincoln match (he and the others had stunk at Southend), while Marc Joseph joined to cause havoc in his own defence. Green was packed off to Carlisle on loan and though he rehabilitated himself in the summer, Taylor’s unequivocal refusal to rule out Green’s return to City prompted derisory comments from the Tiger Nation over remaining loyal to players whose ability, bottle or attitude was in question. Taylor’s bloody-mindedness would, again, win the day.

Joseph’s arrival was uncontroversial to begin with. Fans’ favourite Justin Whittle, plus the impressive John Anderson, maintained their partnership, and so Taylor more frequently stuck Joseph in at right back (having told Mike Edwards, just back from a cruciate injury, that he was releasing him without watching him play). The issue of Joseph’s inclusion at a higher emotional cost would come later.

Although the departure of Edwards, to this day the last lad from the ranks to become a fully-fledged first team player, left a sour taste, Taylor also succeeded in clearing out genuine deadwood. Injury-ravaged horizontalist Richie Appleby and talented shirker (and utter waste of a shirt) Ryan Williams were escorted from the premises. In came new striker Ben Burgess, ugly and surly but in possession of a smart left-foot and a facility to score goals, while loan signings Jon Walters and Jon Otsemobor made tidy contributions to the season’s end, which proved to be mixed but clear in its potential. City managed numerous five-figure crowds at the Circle in the last five weeks, by which time a push to the play-offs had been largely ruled out. The football wasn’t always pretty, but for the first time since Brian Little’s play-off season, there was a groundswell of hope.

Yes, the football wasn’t always pretty. This is a stick with which Taylor’s plentiful detractors use to beat the man regularly. He bought and utilised good attacking players but was often seen as unduly negative, especially at home, and was rarely seen trying to win away matches with anything other than breakaway football. Yet sometimes, maybe even despite Taylor sometimes, City won away from home superbly, freely, flamboyantly. His brand of football was sometimes hard to call, and his regular refusal to express any regret over stifling or lukewarm tactics, irrespective of their effectiveness, put backs up.

This was also a contributory factor to a general media image Taylor procured – that of a moody, monotonous and soundbitten bore. He was probably none of these, and certainly those who ever had his company privately said he was a pleasant and sometimes amusing man and clearly a talented thinker on the game. He didn’t enjoy the media obligations which management brought; rarely did he give elongated post-match interviews or provide great insight, in spite of any respectful questions put his way. He liked getting players “in the building” and used north-south rivalries to try to inspire his players with accents of a higher geographical origin than his own. But the freer-thinking supporter tolerated Taylor’s blandness in voice; what mattered was his first full season in charge of the Tigers, which was ahead.

Numerous things went Taylor’s way in the Division Three (now League Two, keep up) promotion campaign. He purchased well in the summer; clinical Aussie striker Danny Allsopp formed a 33-goal partnership with Burgess; twinkle-toed winger Jason Price pleased the crowds with some scrumptious displays on the right flank; and left back Andy Dawson, deliciously snatched as he fell out of contract at Scunthorpe, became an effortless presence in defence. Other players hit big spells of form; Delaney had shifted into the centre of the back four and became almost superhuman (not to mention ever-present, a remarkable feat); Ashbee was a fantastic spoiling presence and a natural captain; Elliott cracked in a splendid 14 goals from the wing and Green, rejuvenated and repentant, returned from his Carlisle-based period of chokey to play an active and sometimes spellbinding role in the centre. And midway through the season, Taylor shelled out £50,000 on the oddly-named Villa reserve keeper Boaz Myhill, who quickly provided extra security behind a tightened back line and provided the final piece of a long-awaited jigsaw.

Taylor, however, didn’t help himself with a couple of decisions which fray his legacy to this day. His decision to sign Karl “Junior” Lewis, a trier of negligible skill who had followed Taylor round various clubs, was treated with a mixture of concern and humorous consternation. Lewis, however, sometimes redeemed himself with the odd vital goal and could, at least, tackle. He just couldn’t pass, trap or dribble.

While the decision to deploy Lewis was capable of emitting laughs as well as groans from the Tiger Nation, the regular re-assignment of Whittle to the reserves did not. Whittle, already relieved of the captaincy thanks to Ashbee’s arrival and his own lack of rubberstamped involvement, had now seen his place disappear in favour of Joseph, whose lack of positional sense and aggression, among other things, made the decision all the more galling for the large number of Whittle devotees in the seats.

Strike me dead if you desire, but Whittle was never quite as good as many made out. City have certainly had better defenders in the last generation, even though the context needs applying, and as such, Whittle was marvellous for the sort of scrap City required when he joined as the Conference loomed. There was no doubt, however, that he was the better option to partner the talented Delaney when held up alongside Joseph, and Taylor knew that the supporters were all behind Whittle. He dropped Whittle after a 2-2 home draw with Macclesfield, having used as many excuses involving Whittle as he could for City’s disappointments; then watched, undoubtedly in horror, as City succumbed 3-1 at promotion rivals Huddersfield, with Joseph making a mockery of the central defensive position in Whittle’s place. The City fans’ unabashed calling of Whittle’s name during the match just served to tighten Taylor’s resolve, and by the time the fans forum, broadcast on the radio, came round he had pinned down every answer to every question he doubtlessly expected from the Whittle camp. For his part, the former skipper kept a dignified silence and remains uncommitted on the subject to this day. He started just one more game for City and, unpalatable though it may be, City managed to clinch promotion without his help.

City were inconsistent at the end of a relief-filled campaign, with wonderful wins over Scunthorpe United, Leyton Orient and especially away at Swansea tempered by maddening defeats to Torquay, Mansfield (Mansfield, for God’s sake!) and Northampton. Doncaster Rovers – whose post-Christmas visit to the KC produced a 23,000 crowd, a tremendous away support and a flukey but symbolic hat-trick from Price – were the worthy (if rather too territorial) winners of the title, and City secured second place and a first promotion for 19 years with a famous win at Yeovil, with Ashbee rounding off a fine season of collected leadership with a ludicrously unAshbee-like winner.

Taylor’s shtick and standing was now familiar to the City supporters. We had a manager who was very hard to like. He wasn’t warm, he didn’t seem to identify with the area or lay down any roots. He had no real feeling in his post-match (or pre-match) musings, he was just doing a job and being paid for it. Yet it was also very hard not to respect him, not to wish him well, not to admire his ability. And his demeanour paid dividends for him – City’s promotion proved he made the right decisions when the Tiger Nation would have had it differently – he was right to bring back Green, to buy a seemingly ordinary Scunthorpe defender, to replace the reliable Paul Musselwhite in goal with an untried youngster with a daft name, and to utilise Junior Lewis and Marc Joseph. Maybe he was lucky in some respects. But when luck is on your side, you don’t bemoan it, as you’re quick to curse its absence when fortune goes against you. Peter Taylor had done what plebs like Hateley and Molby and triers like Joyce and Little had failed to do – get City out of the bottom division.

The detractors didn’t give up – okay, so he’d got us up, but with the money and players available, he should have got us up as champions, they say. It’s a point, certainly, and some of the aforementioned defeats at uninhabitable holes like Field Mill were galling and contributory. But Doncaster, painfully, deserve credit for a freakishly outstanding season during which we didn’t lose to them (though the televised goalless draw at Belle Vue was unarguably the least compelling match Sky has ever covered). Maybe the newcomers who didn’t ever entertain the idea of watching City at Boothferry Park but quite liked the KC when they went for a nosey were responsible for this blinkered viewpoint. Those who watched the team under Ternent, Dolan and Hateley would surely be more grateful for a promotion, irrespective of its nature. Frankly, anyone who did complain that Taylor hadn’t earned any plaudits because we only went up as runners-up and with a small silver plate should shut up.

So, along came League One (and it was League One by now), and again with Adam Pearson stumping up the readies for an immediate attack on a weak-looking division, Taylor stuck his fingers in his ears and made more crucial and controversial decisions on strengthening.

With Burgess suffering from a long-term injury, he signed goal-free strikers Aaron Wilbraham and Jon Walters and persevered with putting both Lewis and Joseph in his starting line-ups.

However, he also acquired Leon Cort, an imposing, balanced and remarkably fair-playing centre back from Southend on a free transfer – and then sent us all silly by adding Hull-born ex-England player Nick Barmby to the squad, fresh from his release by the declining Leeds. Much will always be speculated upon as to who really decided to bring Barmby in. Pearson, with one eye on the PR and another on the finances, was seemingly more enthusiastic about the securing of the Wolfreton High alumnus than Taylor himself, though enthusiasm was something Taylor rarely did about anyone or anything. And, frankly, once Barmby settled in and began to lord it over a division in which he could have played with tuxedo and cigar, the origin of the move was insignificant.

Cort and Barmby were immense signings, among Taylor’s best. For every missed chance from Walters (a shadow of the player who’d been in on loan two seasons before) or scuffed piece of confidence-free marksmanship from Wilbraham, there’d be a blessed bit of Barmby genius or, more stunningly, a goal from Elliott. And another. And another. City looked promotion candidates from the outset, and this heralded the most joyous season under Taylor, despite the odd regression into tedium beyond definition. Elliott became the most important player of the Taylor reign from this point, and perhaps the detractors could take some form of mediocre, ironic consolation from this, in that despite signing a lorryload of players, the best one to serve Taylor was one already in place before he arrived.

Sometimes, City were mesmeric. A fantastic 3-2 win at Peterborough, which included the first of a neat handful of crucial goals from the dangerous Cort, was a particularly memorable treat for the travelling support. City were also dogged, something Taylor could claim real pride from – the late 2-1 win at Barnsley thanks to a very late goal from the circular, pygmy-like, about-to-be-ditched-for-twatting-someone-in-the-stiffs Michael Keane was a typical example of this, and the nature of the display did not dampen the sheer joy of the win.

Through the latter part of 2004, City began a sequence of eight straight League wins which began with Elliott’s brace in a 2-0 success over Brentford and ended with a 3-1 win at Stockport and goals from Wilbraham, Price and Allsopp. Yet medicine inevitably followed the sugar, and the four match winless sequence – hindered by the madly prolific Elliott’s absence with a busted cheekbone – which followed almost certainly cost the Tigers the League One title, especially as it included a defeat to main rivals and eventual champions Luton. Taylor again fended off the brickbats about unmotivated players or uninspiring tactics and instead set about securing the player who would inspire a final push to promotion.

Elliott’s goalscoring from the wing had been a welcome antidote to the collective inability of the centre forwards to score – Allsopp was homesick and allowed to go after a humdrum season, while Walters and Wilbraham were unqualified calamity signings who scored three League goals between them. Barmby was very much the second-position striker who sometimes played wide, but nine goals from him eventually proved vital. Taylor’s supposedly uneven relationship with his superstar did not effect either the manager’s judgment in picking him, nor Barmby’s facility to deliver. It was still obvious, however, that one more forward was required – and here Taylor’s influence and reputation as a national coach of distinction as well as a club coach of efficiency was confirmed, as he gently persuaded Craig Fagan, a former Birmingham player, out of Colchester and up to Hull.

Fagan, despite a mild doubt about his temperament, was a roaringly instant success, scoring on his debut in a fabulous win at chasers Tranmere (which also brought a goal for Ellison, the more typical Taylor signing – the limited trier). Fagan’s arrival coincided with Elliott’s return and City embarked on a thrilling couple of months of matches – a 4-0 win at Bournemouth putting to bed last-ditch doubts and a thoroughly satisfying, dominant 2-0 win at Bradford (where the City fans were given one of the home stands – justice in evidence right there) turning the probable into the inevitable.

The fact that City didn’t win any of their last four matches and went up thanks to Tranmere losing a midweek game in hand was also, perhaps, typical of Taylor’s reign. Yes, two promotions, but the hardline anti-Taylor extremists would state that we didn’t go up with panache, with a fantastic destruction of some collective of lower league shiteaters. They can get lost.

Certainly, as the Championship loomed, the prospect of Peter Taylor leading Hull City into her first season of second-tier football since 1991 seemed a viable one. His brand of occasional negativity and baffling dullard’s football would perhaps be an astute way of making sure we kept our heads above the surface. After all, we were no longer going after promotion – this was now a season of survival. City were going to be beaten and seriously outplayed at times and reach troughs in performance not experienced since the months prior to Taylor’s arrival. A manager who knew the division (which Taylor did) and could handpick his tactics depending on availabilities and form (which Taylor could) was vital.

Again, supporters occasionally despaired of Taylor’s short-sightedness. The Championship holiday was over by Christmas, when even though some sound home performances had given City a base to secure their survival, occasional personnel issues gave City fans mild causes for concern. In a marked contrast to his two successors thus far (plus his transfer policy at his own next club), Taylor’s recruitment ideal consisted almost exclusively of gathering players from the lower divisions in the hope of nurturing them into Championship performers.

This was mainly a failure – Sam Collins and Danny Coles would be limited and error-ridden (not to mention injury-prone) centre backs (though to be fair to Coles, he barely played a game under Taylor); striker Billy Paynter was noticeably unable to raise his game. Signings from above, such as full back Mark Lynch and midfielders Keith Andrews and John Welsh were – in order – overused, misused and just not used. Ultimately it was old guard players – Barmby, Elliott, Delaney, Cort, Dawson, Myhill – who would prove most crucial in City’s eventual survival. Oh, and the one signing from below which did work – for Taylor at least.

Jon Parkin’s arrival in January was somewhat divisive; an arrival in Taylor’s own image, you might say. City fans with memories of the large striker’s comic displays at Macclesfield, to whom Taylor paid £150,000, were apoplectic. But Parkin became City’s saviour, defying and demolishing supposedly capable defenders, scoring fine goals against Crystal Palace, Stoke (in a stunning 3-0 away win), Millwall, Luton and, eventually, the goal of all goals against Leeds at the KC which earned a generation-making 1-0 win. His fitness (put down to the lack of a pre-season) let him down at the death but by then City had done enough. Parkin had delivered, and again Taylor could look at those waiting for his downfall and stick two more fingers up in their direction. Parkin’s subsequent decline was nothing to do with Taylor.

Come the season’s end, and Taylor had led a scratchy, inelegant but entirely efficient team to safety with some ease. He had now taken the club to two promotions and unflustered Championship survival in his three full seasons. Charlton began sniffing and maybe, just maybe, some of his detractors were wondering if the grass would really be greener if a new manager came in. When Taylor pledged his future to the Tigers, the sigh of relief was almost wholly collective. But there was clearly strain between his chairman and himself, and a week later the lure of Palace, the team with which he enjoyed his shot to fame as a player, was too much. Rightly, people mourned his departure and offered scolding words his way for going so soon after a pledge of loyalty. But Taylor had perhaps taken City as far as he could, and albeit messily, had secured his place in the Tigers history by leaving. When the Bright Young Thing of football management, Phil Parkinson, arrived at great expense and to everyone’s approval as Taylor’s replacement and proceeded to lose numerous things – opening games, his nerve, the support of the dressing room and his job – the shadow of Taylor’s prosaic achievements loomed larger.

Taylor paid a seven figure fee to take Cort to Palace with him, thereby earning City a profit of £1.25m after just two seasons; and more comically took Green with him too, almost certainly as much for family reasons as for playing reasons. The anti-Taylor brigade finally got their wish to see their man dismissed following a Hull City match when the Tigers got a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park in October 2007 and Taylor, whose side were on a poor run, paid with his job. Glee was expressed among the lamer brains within the Tiger Nation. He is now managing Stevenage Borough in the Conference.

Peter Taylor’s legacy may include some dodgy signings and a distinct unwillingness to lighten up and embrace his surroundings, but these foibles should be easily outweighed by two promotions and a rather comfortable opening Championship season. If you can’t see beyond his character shortcomings and ignore his actual achievements, then you’re the one with a problem. Peter Taylor is the best manager, on stats, to work for Hull City. Only the unduly churlish, emotionally disadvantaged or cranially vacant would try to deny him status as a Hero.

Matthew Rudd