Matt Taylor interview: West Ham midfielder has learnt to value Upton Park life

As West Ham man's career winds down he is determined to enjoy every minute on the big stage

Many things lose their excitement as they become more familiar but playing football is not one of them. Not, at least, for Matt Taylor. Coming to the end of his 10th season in the Premier League, West Ham United's reliable man feels the buzz of top-flight competition more sharply than ever.

Taylor, 32, is nearly at the end of his contract at Upton Park and is loving his renewed role in West Ham's recent run. They host Hull City on Wednesday night, sensing that two wins will probably be enough to keep them in the Premier League for next season, and three certainly will be.

This, then, is a very big game and the prospect of running out, under lights, in a full ground, with so much at stake clearly means the world to Taylor, even more now than it did first playing for Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth 10 years ago.

"When you're younger, you probably don't appreciate what you're actually doing," Taylor reflects after training at Chadwell Heath, West Ham's Essex base between Ilford and Romford. "The older you get, to be running out at Old Trafford, Chelsea or Upton Park, to be in that position as a professional footballer, you appreciate it. The older you get, you realise it's not around for ever.

"When you're younger you don't think that far ahead, because you're trying to get to the next stage of your career. The older you get, you appreciate everything you have and everything still to come."

Taylor certainly has an eye on the future, already coaching youth teams at his former club Luton Town and working on his badges this summer. But his playing days are not over yet, and he has been as important as anyone to West Ham's new year resurgence; a run of four wins and one draw which dragged them, almost implausibly, from the relegation zone and into the top half.

It all started at Stamford Bridge. On a Wednesday night in January, West Ham went there having just been beaten 9-0 by Manchester City over two legs in the League Cup and, even more damagingly, outclassed 3-1 at home by Newcastle United in the League. They needed to tighten up and so manager Sam Allardyce brought Taylor in, not at left-back but in a narrow midfield three protecting the defence.

"We went into that particular fixture believing that we could get something from the game," Taylor remembers. "There were probably a lot of people from outside the club who thought we couldn't get anything."

Allardyce had a plan and it worked perfectly. Taylor, Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble occupied Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard far more successfully than many other midfields have this season.

"You can't go to Chelsea and try to play expansive football because they will destroy you," explains Taylor. "I don't think that's being disrespectful to us, that's being honest. So we didn't go there and play open. We all got bodies behind the ball, the shape was very good.

"The way Chelsea play is that their attacking players play slightly infield. Willian and Hazard don't play wide. Because of that we bunched up the midfield and were strong in there, and when they got it wide we defended crosses when we had to come into the box."

West Ham escaped with a clean sheet and a point, and Allardyce felt such vindication that he famously spoke in his post-match press conference of having "out-tactic- ed" Jose Mourinho. "We were resolute in defence and we defended for our lives," remembers Taylor. "We were given a game-plan by our manager and implemented it in a professional way."

Mourinho complained about "19th-century football", but two days after this interview Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge without an obvious plan to stop Chelsea and they were beaten 6-0. That stalemate was a triumph.

"It gave us that little boost," says Taylor, who is now established back in the team having hardly played in the first half of the season. "We went on a good run, we picked up good wins and we were solid." They won their next three games 2-0, and those four straight clean sheets made West Ham look like a true Allardyce side again.

"One of the things that stands out here for the gaffer is that he prepares you and gives you all the information you need for the fixture," says Taylor, "and providing you with that information is vitally important, because as players there is a tendency for it to go in one ear and out the other."

That is not the case with Taylor, who is seriously considering coaching when he has stopped playing and is receptive to seeing what works best. "As a player, you look at things that work with certain managers and you try and implement them yourself, if that was what you wanted to do."

As soon as the season is over on 12 May, Taylor and his team-mate Joe Cole will start working on their Uefa B Licences. But Taylor is already working hard, having taken Luton Town Under-15 and Under-16 teams on Thursday evenings for the last 18 months. Some of the same coaching staff are still there who taught him when he was on the Youth Training Scheme at Luton in the late 1990s. "They've been really good for me," Taylor smiles, "the club have a fantastic youth set-up."

Taylor played three seasons as a teenager for Luton in what is now League One and League Two before Portsmouth signed him, and he knows that for the next generation of players the best beginning is in competitive football. "There's no better start for young footballers than playing against other footballers where it's their livelihood at stake. That is how they pay their bills, that's how they pay their mortgage. So everything they do leading up to the game is spot-on.

"There is a space for youth football, but competitive football allowed me to have a platform to achieve what I have achieved within the game and have what I would say is a decent career."

My other life: Carp fishing

I've got three kids and I don't have a huge amount of time to do what I want to, purely and simply because life is just so busy and I'm constantly on the go. But if I did have a couple of days to spare, I really enjoy carp fishing. Last summer I went to France for five days with a couple of mates, we went to a lake called Fishabil, which is about six hours from Calais. I really enjoyed that and had a brilliant time there.

West Ham United are looking for the Supporter of the Season. Go to whufc.com for details

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future