We arrive at the ninth player in our series of ten recalling wingers of the seventies. As mentioned there is no necessary meritocracy at play here but let’s say there was difficulty in deciding whether to go with Peter Taylor or Dennis Tueart. A feature of each which struck me was the strong association each had with the respective south and north of England before I delved further.
On the surface, both could be described as forward players who tended to be found at left wing a lot of the time so little to separate there. Subconsciously, I think they spring to mind together due to what I perceive as a similar running action. Bearing in mind an undercurrent to this series is profile, background and colour we will go with Peter Taylor as I feel there is more of a story to be told. Tueart also had a much steadier career and was a major feature for a good decade if you go back to his time at Sunderland as well. A theme running through this series is how most of these players flickered and burned, sometimes to a greater and lesser extent with their clubs, but certainly internationally. We might excuse Eddie Gray and Steve Heighway at this point.
There have been a few matches highlighted in this series that were integral to the player and profile of the subject in question. It is fair to say that serious national lift-off happened for Peter Taylor in the FA Cup fifth round match away to Chelsea whilst playing for Crystal Palace in February 1976. Palace were in the third division and Chelsea in the second. Palace won 3-2.
An unexpected result perhaps; an absolute shocker of a result definitely not. What was the story was the number eleven more or less doing it single-handedly against the backdrop of the fedora-wearing, ever colourful landscape that was his manager Malcolm Allison. A story was developing on two fronts.
Malcolm Allison was a living screenplay by and large whatever he did. Around this time he was dominating the back pages with his team, whilst frolicking in the bath with actress Fiona Richmond on the front pages. The fact that his cavalier Crystal Palace side was making a run in the FA Cup would certainly be news but it was the nature of it, and how it was led by a solid, stocky winger from Southend that provided back-filler. In that match, Taylor ripped through Chelsea via pace, intelligence, shooting and technique. Everyone wanted to know more about this team and its magic. Allison loved it and once again had the press in his hand.
But what about Taylor. He had been signed for Palace from Southend in 1973. His first chance at the big time came at 15 in a trial game at Spurs, his boyhood club. He was put in midfield up against a two years older and wiser future legend – Steve Perryman. He didn’t make much of an impression. By his own admission, he was overly left-footed. Messrs Allison and Venables set to work on improving him and his attitude as he believed he knew it all. Seemingly he was really interested in his own game rather than how he could benefit the team.
He became a serious force and was a difficult player to come up against. Built like a rugby centre three-quarter with pace and an ability to change direction with now equally strong feet, he was a handful. Arms held high with such upper body strength he was hard to knock off the ball. A mechanical running style topped it all off helped by great pace in the first sprint. A goal scoring rate of one every four or so games which he pretty well maintained throughout his career at Palace, Spurs and Orient obviously helped as well. In David Swindlehurst at centre-forward, he had a willing market for his goods.
Unbelievably he was picked to play against Wales in the spring of 1976. I remember it well and the first third-tier player gaining a cap for England in 15 years was massive news. Can you see that happening now? He even scored coming on as sub and was to do the same thing a couple of months later against the same opposition in the Home Internationals. He was the last player to score two goals in his first two internationals for England until Rickie Lambert did it 37 years later. It was no surprise when he signed for Spurs six months later in October for £200,000. His club and international career appeared to be going stellar.
So you would have thought, but like a few wingers before him in this series it was never just as straightforward as one might think. Spurs were not having a good season in ‘76/77 and he was not able to produce in such a struggling team. Aside from probably Steve Perryman, a young Glenn Hoddle and goalkeeper Pat Jennings there was little genuine quality in the side. Much was expected of Taylor but it wasn’t happening and the expectation following the transfer weighed on him heavily. The other feature I remember was his physical likeness to midfield colleague, John Pratt
He did play left and right wing and he slowly got to grips with the team. Following promotion in 1978 things improved no doubt helped by the arrival of Argentinian World Cup stars Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. Nevertheless he was never to play for England again following those four caps in 1976 and never at all whilst with Spurs. Manager Ron Greenwood was happy enough to employ wingers but Taylor never was able to move the likes of Steve Coppell, Peter Barnes or others aside. Now that was unexpected and he has alluded to the fact that perhaps he thought he had made it in that year and took it all for granted.
He moved to Orient in 1980 and then gradually slipped down the leagues. He then managed plenty of clubs and famously handed David Beckham the England captaincy whilst caretaking the England job. Considered a decent and pleasant character, the studious and serious side to him obviously came through in his management career. That memory of him is huge and the business of beating a full-back was always writ large on his features. Full-on intent was one propelling force for him.
He would have been at the opposite end of the spectrum from Gordon Hill on a match day – this was his job, not fun. His regret at not making more of his international career became apparent though this conscientious grain that ran through him. Once again another story of the decade’s wingers stands on its own hind legs amongst the others.
Is the ‘Intent’ the best way of describing him? I’m still not sure on that but I tend to go with a first gut recall on how I saw them. As mentioned he was not the sleek rabbit that singed your eyebrows as you sat in the front row. Nor was it his build and running style that brings me to that nomenclature. But the serious features, the early greying of the black hair that he had has me seeing a schoolmasterly aura about him. He would have been a credible character to hand out ‘The Textbook of Wingplay’.