After three decades, the Eagle who once flourished on the wing has returned to his eyrie. In the intervening period, his fortunes have soared and plummeted. He went to hell and back at Leic-ester City, where he was sacked; to Hull and back as his career was regenerated by successive promotions. Now, Peter Taylor is not just moving on but coming home, in a fashion.
It was Crystal Palace, and two of the game's most charismatic characters, Malcolm Allison and Terry Venables, who nurtured and developed him, both as a player and (though they could not have known it at the time) as a coach and manager.
"I was in Southend reserves when Malcolm bought me," he recalls when we meet at Palace's Beckenham training ground the day after his new team's 2-1 friendly win over Boavista. "That was him being very brave. It worked out great for both of us. I owe him everything as a player. I could not believe how big this football club was. I had gone from Southend reserves to playing in front of 20,000 people in an incredible atmosphere."
He adds: "Malcolm and Terry Venables were a tremendous partnership. I don't think the players realised how lucky we were, with the training and the advice we got. I've taken things from both. It's said I'm always happy to give youngsters a chance, and that's what they said about Malcolm. And they always used to say that Terry was a good laugh on the training field but serious at the right times, and that's how I regard myself."
Taylor's goals and dashing wing-play contributed to Palace's scintillating 1976 FA Cup run, when the then Third Division side overcame First Division Leeds and Second Division Chelsea and Sunderland before Southampton halted them at the semi-final stage.
"If I can be half as successful as I was as a player here, I'll be delighted, because I don't mind saying I was a good player and definitely gave value for money," Taylor says. "I'd like to do the same as a manager."
It was always going to require an extraordinary emotional pull, and the anticipation of a return to the Premiership, which he experienced at Leicester, to inveigle him from Hull, where his teams secured promotions in successive years. "The threeand-a-half years at Hull City was the most enjoyable experience I've had, and it was always going to take a really good opportunity to leave there - and this is that. This was a professional decision. I thought I had a chance of getting this team promoted."
He adds: "I'm very pleased with the way the troops have been working, and their spirit is excellent, so I think we'll have half a chance. True, we've lost some good players in the summer [in Andy Johnson, Fitz Hall, Mikele Leigertwood and probably Emmerson Boyce]. Even with them, Palace only finished sixth. It just shows you how difficult it is, and I think the Championship is even tougher than last year. But I've been allowed to bring in other players (including the centre-half Leon Cort from Hull). Financially, I always knew there would be three to five million to spend."
The irascible Simon Jordan gives the impression of being a chairman who will not suffer failure for too long, but Taylor says: "I don't think that's the case. I know he's had a few managers, but I think a lot of them might have left rather than him getting rid of them. He wants promotion, and rightly so, but I don't think he's the kind of man who says the manager's going to go if he doesn't get it."
Taylor adds: "If in three years' time we've got back to the Premiership and we've stayed there I would have achieved my own biggest ambition. That's a massive challenge, but it has to be my target."
At 53, the hair is greying, though he is still a man whose physique exemplifies the kind of fitness he demands from his players. There is no doubting his mental toughness. "I've got stronger, especially from the Leicester experience," he says. "Probably I was too respectful of the players and maybe didn't lay down the law as much as I have done at other clubs."
He adds: "Getting the sack was something I was very upset about, and I said to myself that was never going to happen again. Maybe I tried to like them too much, to say they're good players, let them get on with it, and that's not the way to do it. A manager has to be a manager, whatever level he is at."
The Palace vacancy was created when his predecessor, Iain Dowie, succumbed to the overtures of Charlton. Intriguingly, Taylor also came close to being offered that job, and the man who moonlights as the England Under-21 coach also spoke to the FA's kingmakers in the summer about the vacancy about to be created by the departure of Sven Goran Eriksson after the World Cup. "I had an interview, but to me it was an interview about the job, not for it," he stressed.
Yet presumably the man who was caretaker coach, pre-Eriksson, for one match, still harbours England No 1 ambitions? "I think anybody would be inter-ested in being the manager of England," he says. "For Steve McClaren it's a wonderful honour. But I'm enjoying myself being a club manager and running the Under-21s, too. It's a lovely involvement. The pleasing thing about it here is that Simon Jordan wants me to do it, as well. I'm pleased with that."
Promotion Boys: Welcome to the Championship
SOUTHEND Returning to the second tier after a nine-year absence, they have won promotion in the past two seasons and look the best bet to avoid the drop, especially having retained manager Steve Tilson. In striker Freddy Eastwood, the Shrimpers have a player with a desire to prove himself at a higher level after scoring 25 goals last term. Set to be paired with Michael Ricketts - remember his single appearance for Sven's England?
COLCHESTER Southend's Essex neighbours lost the highly rated Phil Parkinson to Hull, and his departure is a severe blow to the debutants. New manager Geraint Williams has lost two of last season's stars, defender Liam Chilvers and 16-goal midfielder Neil Danns. Much will depend on last year's 17-goal striker Chris Iwelumo and the impressive Greg Halford, and Aidan Davison should provide reassurance between the posts.
BARNSLEY In terms of history and support, the biggest of the promotion boys. Manager Andy Ritchie had spoken of a two-year plan to get out of League One, but it came sooner, via the play-offs. They may prove a breath of fresh air as Manchester United reject Daniel Nardiello and winger Michael McIndoe will be keen to prove themselves. But they must be more ruthless in front of goal, with top scorers Marc Richards and Chris Shuker having departed Oakwell.Reuse content