Football: Taylor ready for emotional return

MAIK TAYLOR, the Fulham goalkeeper, remembers that May day well. He was only four, but the image of Southampton winning the FA Cup in 1976 is indelibly imprinted on his memory.

Taylor watched Saints' finest moment on television in Germany, where he was born and grew up because his father was serving there with the British army. He did not have a football team before then, but that afternoon Saints captured his affections and they have held them ever since.

Imagine Taylor's joy then when in January 1997 he signed for his beloved Southampton in a pounds 500,000 deal from Barnet. During his 11-month spell at The Dell he played his part in keeping them in the Premiership before he moved on to Fulham for pounds 800,000 in November. But his love for Southampton will be put to one side come 3pm on Saturday when Taylor lines up against Saints at The Dell in the third round of the FA Cup.

"Southampton winning the FA Cup in 1976 is my first real football memory," he said. "At the time I didn't support any team because growing up in Germany I didn't exactly have a local English team.

"Everyone was supporting Liverpool because they were the best side at the time, but I wanted to be different. I remember watching the 1976 Cup Final and from that day Southampton have been my team.

"When I was a kid I was always collecting mugs, scarves and replica Southampton shirts and I was mad about them. It was an unbelievable thrill when I signed for them at the start of 1997.

"But I'm a Fulham player now and there will be no sentiment when we play them at The Dell. I think that's the way it's got to be really. I still look out for Southampton's result first, but Fulham are my number one priority."

Fulham have already knocked Southampton out of the Worthington Cup this season and Taylor wants to make it a double dose of misery.

Taylor could be forgiven if he felt he had a personal score to settle with the Southampton manager, Dave Jones, who effectively ended Taylor's Southampton career when he brought the goalkeeper Paul Jones with him from Stockport.

"I played in every game for Southampton until the end of the season and in those 18 games I conceded 19 goals and kept seven clean sheets," he said. "I played at Old Trafford and St James' Park when we beat Newcastle 1-0 as we avoided relegation. I then went away on holiday with my wife and I was already looking forward to starting my first full season in the Premiership when the news broke that Graeme Souness had resigned.

"I didn't really think it would matter to me whoever came in because I had played well enough. But of course they went for Dave Jones and he brought his own goalkeeper with him, even though he had not watched me in a single game. I didn't get a chance at all and when Fulham came in I joined them."

Yet Taylor does not bear Southampton any ill will. He takes no pleasure from seeing them in the relegation mire. "I believe they will come good and avoid the drop - but hopefully they won't come good against us," he said.

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