Taylor made for top flight

Swans' defender talks to Phil Cadden about his fairy-tale rise from non-League football just 18 months ago to walking out at Anfield against his boyhood idols Liverpool today

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The Independent Online

For a player who was turning out in front of 298 people for Wrexham against Grays Athletic in the Conference scarcely 18 months ago, Neil Taylor has taken his remarkable rise to both the Premier League and international level with Swansea City and Wales respectively in his measured stride.

Taylor, via an apprenticeship at Manchester City, has gone from scoring on his final appearance for the Dragons at Rookery Hill to hitting the jackpot when Brendan Rodgers' men take on the club he supported as a boy, Liverpool, at Anfield today.

All this and he is only 22.

Meteoric does not quite cover such a whirlwind period for Taylor yet he remains admirably unfazed as he calmly recounts his career to date which could have started at his favourite Merseyside club.

Taylor says: "I was spotted by Manchester City at the age of eight. I was a centre-half then and they watched me three times, but my parents actually got a call from Liverpool first.

"They were the first club to show any interest, but they waited to see me play a couple more times while City wanted me to go straight away for a trial so I went there.

"I don't have any regrets that a move to Liverpool didn't happen. To be honest, even if I'd made it at a big club like Manchester City, I don't think I would have gained as much as the way I've come through. At City, I could have been a professional, but not played a game for three years. I would have been in the reserves and then looking for loan moves.

"This way, I've learnt so much about the game. I know what it's like to really earn your money. I'm a family guy. I have a partner, Genna Lee, and nine-month-old Madison Lee so my determination has completely changed.

"I've gone from putting petrol in my car and buying a few clothes to thinking about my partner and baby and how I want them to live in a nice place.

"I now have to provide for a family and I don't want to be a disappointment. So I know what its like to strive for that next contract and I still have to do that here. I have to prove myself. We all do here at Swansea City. It's the beauty of our team."

Born in the north-Wales town of St Asaph, which is famed for the 2008 BDO World Darts champion Mark Webster, the Steps singer Lisa Scott-Lee and, most notably, the legendary Liverpool striker Ian Rush, Taylor began his football education with elder brother Deanknocking around in the back garden of their Ruthin home.

Sunday League sides Mold Alexandra and then Mynydd Isa were Taylor's early playing outfits before the blue half of Manchester came calling. "Travelling to Mynydd Isa seemed long enough," says Taylor, the youngest of three children. "But travelling to Manchester was about 90 minutes each way so going there three times a week was a big commitment.

"My parents, John [who is a West Ham fan] and Shibani [a Chelsea supporter] played a massive part. At that time, they didn't know if the trips would be of benefit.

"Dad was a computer programmer and often away for most of the week to earn the money for the family so mum would drive me up in our Vauxhall Carlton before we got an old Mercedes with a big engine to get up and down the motorway.

"I'd be doing my homework and eating my tea in the car because the journey was quite long. It takes over your life, but it was all I ever wanted to do. Now I'm older I realise the commitment they put in and that's why I want to repay them."

However, the dream of becoming a professional seemed to end almost before it began for Taylor when City released him at the tender age of 15 following an injury. Taylor says: "I got my foot stuck in the floor. My knee was strained and I was out for up to two months. Being injured, added to my lack of size, didn't help. I wasn't as sharp at the time when I needed to be and the decision was made to release me.

"It was horrible. The worst part was going to City to be told with my mum. The coaches were upset, too and said: 'We know you have the ability so make sure we're seeing you as a professional in years to come'. That stuck in my mind and I didn't want to walk away from the game. My parents had worked so hard for me so it was tough. I had to start again."

A trial with Wrexham followed and, after facing the then Champions League winners Liverpool including Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Co at the Racecourse Ground in a pre-season friendly, he won his first professional contract of £150 a week before making his debut in 2007 as a 79th-minute substitute in the 5-0 Carling Cup defeat to Aston Villa.

"We got absolutely hammered, but it was a proud moment for me," Taylor expressed with a hint of a smile. "Wrexham was a tough school and my first full season we got relegated. There was the administration, players left and the next minute, you find yourself at the bottom.

"I was a young lad and it was a steep learning curve. I'd become a non-League footballer which is not where I wanted to be. I hated it. The Conference is the toughest place I've played in.

"My last game was at Grays. I scored and it was a nice volley, but the crowd was next to nothing.

"My ambitions were to go on and make a big career. At that time, the Premier League seemed a long way away, but what I went through made me grounded. I needed a fresh start and to step away from my comfort zone to progress."

A Wales debut in Croatia following the most nerve-racking warm-up of his life was swiftly followed by a £150,000 transfer, set by a tribunal, to current club Swansea.

Taylor enthused: "It was a perfect fit. I'd gone from training with Wrexham's youth team because I wouldn't sign a new contract to a team who almost made the Championship play-offs. It was a big step up and suddenly I had to up my game and get better. I knew I was only one injury away from playing. I was ready."

Taylor got that chance and made 32 appearances during the promotion-winning season. But the final act saw the left-back sent off after 53 seconds of the semi-final first leg at Nottingham Forest for a knee-high tackle on Lewis McGugan.

Taylor says: "As I walked off the pitch, I thought I'd ruined it for everyone. I went to the final at Wembley and still felt responsible. It was the hardest game of football I've ever watched in my life. I kicked every ball."

A hat-trick from Scott Sinclair as well as a Stephen Dobbie strike sent Swansea into dreamland with the result being fixtures such as today's.

"It's not until you stand in the tunnel against the top Premier League players that you realise where you are," says Taylor, who opted to stay at the Liberty Stadium in the summer following an approach from Newcastle. "But they only have two arms and two legs so we have to fancy ourselves.

"It's amazing to think I'll have the chance of doing it at Anfield. I'm a Liverpool fan and I've been on the Kop a couple of times. My favourite player was [Steve] McManaman.

"It'll be a great occasion. Craig [Bellamy] mentioned it on Wales duty that when you walk in to Anfield you realise how massive the club is and what great history it has.

"The last year has been crazy, but I'm so lucky. I've a healthy family, a good place to live in Swansea and playing regularly in the Premier League – I couldn't ask for more."

Other rapid risers

Chris Smalling

The England and Manchester United defender went from turning out for Maidstone United in the Isthmian Premier Division to hooking up with Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford within two years via a £10m move from Fulham.

Les Ferdinand

Ferdinand played for a number of non-League clubs before being snapped up by QPR from Hayes in 1987 for £30,000. 'Sir Les' enjoyed a superb top-flight career at Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur as well as 17 caps for England.

Stuart Pearce

The former England left-back, nicknamed 'Psycho', established a career as an electrician and plumber while playing for Wealdstone long before top-flight Coventry City paid £30,000 for him in 1983. A move to Nottingham Forest two years later saw his career blossom.

Carl Jenkinson

The Arsenal full-back joined the Gunners from Charlton Athletic in the summer but only last year was out on loan at Eastbourne Borough and Welling from the Addicks. He played a total of eight times for Charlton. Within weeks of joining Arsenal he was playing in the Champions League.

Ian Wright

At 22, Wright moved from Greenwich Borough to Crystal Palace in a deal costing a set of weights from the training room. He made his mark quickly and helped his side to promotion to the top flight in his second season.

John Barnes

Graham Taylor gave a youthful Barnes his chance in the Watford reserve team after he was scouted playing for Sudbury Town in 1981. A professional contract followed and the faith was repaid with 65 goals in six seasons at Vicarage Road before his £900,000 move to Liverpool in 1987.

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