By Ryan McKnight
Editor of FC Business magazine
19 November 2010
Although this was my first ever ‘official’ interview with Gordon, having battled for a share of the microphone with him at numerous events over the years, I always knew it was going to be a conversation of few questions and a lot of listening.
You see, Taylor’s descriptive knowledge of the game is such that short answers are just not possible. He really is the ‘Google’ for player and football industry knowledge. Couple that with his desire for progress of the game, his very public opinions on young home-grown players having appropriate opportunities and there is no questioning the prominent position he finds himself and his union in.
Taylor is passionately positive about what he repeatedly calls “my members” and is keen to tell me how well he thinks the likes of former Chelsea player Scott Minto are doing in the media now – all before I get to ask my first question on his appraisal on the Premier League’s 25-man squad ruling.
The cynics (start a queue behind me) look at the rising percentage of foreign players set against the home-growns and say the ruling is mere lip service to an issue the League had to be seen to be doing something about. Taylor disagrees.
“I think it is a bit more than lip service. It is an acknowledgement to increase young talent. What I will say is that having them in the squad isn’t good enough. Having our young players getting splinters in their bottoms isn’t doing anyone any good.
“If you look at the players that are coming through, even they had a very tough time to do so. James Milner was told by Souness at Newcastle that he couldn’t risk playing young players – lucky for him he got a move and has come through – but of course you don’t hear about the ones that didn’t that still could have been great players.”
The PFA has focussed in recent years on young players. The ‘Meltdown Report’ of 2008 was a sign of the semi-militant approach the PFA were willing to take in order to attempt to get what it sees as best for the game.
Taylor also preached a lot of sense on the back of the recent issues highlighted by Danny Murphy. “I think Danny was just trying to maintain the thread that there should always be a duty of care between all of us in the game.
“The football is not an oasis free from law and order and we shouldn’t forget that. Instead we should be having constant dialogue to continue the high levels of professionalism we have set ourselves.
“When you name specific clubs like that the media will always look to take it on but the argument of ensuring we all respect our duty of care to each other is a solid one and one that got lost in the overspill of what happened next.”
Players and their “issues” is water off a duck’s back for Taylor having been involved at the PFA for almost three decades. Yet there are still problems. Shouldn’t the PFA share some of the blame, seeing as they had so much experience in putting out the fires?
“It is very difficult to get any human being to act the way you want them to. Players today have some of the best role models we have ever had. On top of that they have educations, club chaplains, doctors, psychologists the lot.
“You can take a horse to water but sometimes a young or old player is just going to do something you never expected. You can’t be with them 24/7. The vast vast majority of my members are never any bother at all and as a percentage we have just the same amount of problems as the police, the army or any other business.
“We’re not naïve to it and we will continue to focus a huge amount of effort and resources on helping players stay on the right path. Look at Joey Barton – we had him in at the Sporting Chance Clinic with Peter Kay and if you look at his persona as well as his performances we really feel we are getting somewhere and we’re really proud that Joey has done that. But you never can tell, all you can do is help and try to prevent players from losing their way.”
Taylor feels the PFA doesn’t always get the credit he feels it deserves for their social work. “People don’t realise that we give one third of our total income into CSR related activities now – that’s millions of pounds and is at the very core of where the PFA wants to be. We work closely with all the other stakeholders to activate these and that money is making a huge difference to a huge amount of people.”
Oh yes, working with the Premier League, Football League, the FA and LMA. The modern Press-fueled vision is one where Mob leaders meet once a month to make sure no one is working on their patch. The reality, according to Taylor, is one of much more harmony.
“I can of course only talk on the areas where we work together but on the whole we have excellent relationships with the Premier League, Football League, the FA and the LMA. We have commercial collective bargaining agreements with some of those organisations.
“I recognise that each of those organisations has their own agendas and on certain issues there are naturally going to be disputes. But if you look at how the Premier League have increased solidarity payments to the Football League and increased parachute payments to a four year period you can see the evidence that consultation is taking place and things are happening.”
One thing on the verge of happening is ‘St George’s Park’ or Burton if you prefer. As with so many of the PFA’s public messages on youth development, Taylor’s opinion is predictably interesting.
“Look it is clear that it has got to happen but that is just phase one. The previous centre that the FA operated at Lilleshall did produce good players like Michael Owen and Sol Campbell for the England first team. The acid test of Burton will be to see if it can do the same as Lilleshall and the same as what other countries’ coaching homes do.”
On the subject of players and what they can become, Taylor would like to see them involved more closely in the running of their clubs, or at least have some access to the seat of power, and insight into how their clubs work.
“I would like to see players (club captains) on the main board of clubs. I think we need to move towards complete transparency in our game. Having the club captain on the board, being made privy to the financial situations and visions of the club and being able to relay that to his teammates can only be good for the game.
“I also advocate the idea of having supporters on the board as well. As long as they are organised this will have only positive impacts on clubs and I’m glad to see that some are heading in that direction.”
So what of the future for the PFA and Taylor himself – will he hang his boots up any time soon?
“I think it is very important for people to remember that football has no divine right to be the most popular played sport in this country or the world. If we don’t all continue to progress as individuals and organisations then other sports will fill that void that we create. So from a PFA perspective it is very important that we continue to battle hard on the fronts we currently are and any more that come along on the way.
“In regards to my future – I’m too busy to even think about it which should give you a good indication of where I am with that. You have to keep your eye on the temperature of the game. I am passionate about making sure football remains a vital and positive part of our social fabric. Also as I get called on more for advice, it is more important than ever that the advice I give is right on the money.”
That’ll be a ‘no’ then to quitting anytime soon. As if I expected anything else from a man that has genuinely lived football man and boy.
Ryan McKnight is the editor of FC Business magazine, the industry bible for football in Britain, and this interview appears in the current issue, out today. The FC Business website is linked here. Back issues of the magazine can be downloaded here (after free registration). Join the FC Business Magazine LinkedIn Group here.