A cable car chugs gently up the side of a mountain rich in luscious Kahikatea trees. The camera pans out, the Pacific Ocean is calm and a brilliant sun is waking, stretching lazily over the Miramar Peninsula. Music plays. Another shot shows a balcony and a barbecue and in a third a lounge area with a huge window which frames this idyllic picture perfectly.
It looks like something sent to tempt honeymooners.
This is Steven Taylor’s new home, on the cusp of Oriental Bay, in Wellington. Taylor swapped Newcastle for New Zealand in the summer. At 32, he reached for a new life. He admits he ‘pinches himself’ every morning, when he wakes up an hour and a half earlier than he used to, to make sure he catches what is a truly breathtaking sunrise.
“I had two suitcases packed and I literally just flew over,” says the former Newcastle defender.
“I’d been in Turkey in the summer speaking to a few clubs and I got a phone call from Michael Bridges. He knew the manager was looking for an experienced centre half. I had a good chat with the gaffer (Mark Rudan) on the phone. He said, ‘Listen, will you be up for it to come over here?’ I said ‘Yes’. I don’t have any ties. I don’t have a wife or kids. I went home to see my parents and left to come here. It was all out of the blue.
“The managing director (of Wellington Phoenix) picked me up and gave me options for where to live, in a penthouse in the city centre and then he said, ‘Or there’s this house on the hill overlooking the ocean’. I said ‘That’s a no brainer’.
“We came to this cable car. I said, ‘What’s going on here?’ He said, ‘You’ve to got to get in to get to your house, you haven’t got a garage. You park your car on the side, you get in the cable car and it goes to your house’.
“We got in it, got to the top of the hill, went in and when I saw everything I just started laughing. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t believe it. The views are unbelievable. I’m still blown away by it. I know I’m a lucky lad.”
Back home in North Tyneside, rain crashes off windows as if trying to break them and the wind is whistling an angry tune. Taylor grew up in Whitley Bay. He laughs at the contrasting weather.
“Tynemouth beach is beautiful and of course you have the Tyne Bridge and the eye, but the weather’s a bit different here!” he adds. “The whole lifestyle is outdoors. It was about 27-28 degrees the other day and we were all on the beach. The lads were like, ‘This is nothing’. It was like a sauna.
“We’ll do beach runs at seven o’clock in the morning, hill runs, relax for a bit, train and then do another session in the afternoon. We do pool sessions where you have to stay afloat for twenty minutes without touching the sides. It’s good for testing mentality. It’s opened my eyes.
“The sports science out here is massive. They go into great detail every Monday morning, about the team we’re playing, the instruction and everybody is buying into it because they want to go to the next level. You’ve got hungry players here. For a lot of the lads their dream is to go to Europe and play football and the manager wants winners.”
There is an App all Wellington Phoenix players must log into at eight o’clock every morning, to report their sleep and general well being. It is a club with ambition. But then there is after training.
“We’re sponsored by a coffee brand so we go for a coffee at the marina when we’re finished,” he adds.
“It’s becomes an all day thing. You’re in the marina, you’re in the sun. You go on the jet skis, you go out on a speedboat for four or five hours. We have portable barbecues which we take to the beach. Oriental Bay is absolutely beautiful. It is view after view.”
It is still sinking in.
Taylor, although born in Greenwich, spent his childhood on the north east coast, joining Newcastle’s academy when he was 12, then a centre forward. By the time he was 16 and a strapping centre half John Carver was pushing Sir Bobby Robson to play him in the reserves. He had a loan spell which he always speaks of with great regard under Tony Adams at Wycombe and after returning to St James’ Park, went on to make 268 appearances for his boyhood club, scored 15 times, played 29 times for the England Under-21 side and was called up to train with the full squad.
He had a spell in MLS with Portland Timbers, and was at Peterborough last season, where he was caught clearing the snow off touchlines to ensure a game continued.
He believes that now, completely outside of the bubble that surrounds English footballers from when they are young, he has had to grow up.
“It’s been life changing,” he says. “It’s a reality shock. At Newcastle I lived in a bubble, I kept doing the same drive every day into Benton, then I’d do my own things with mates who I’d went to school with.
“I had everything done for me. I’d never paid a bill. I’ve had to learn how to build a barbecue. It was dropped off and you have to put it together, I didn’t have a clue so I got the kit man to help with that!
“I’ve even taken cookery lessons. You have to put food on for the boys and I didn’t know where to start. I’ve never cooked before. I’ve had to kind of grow up. I’m using a washing machine for the first time in 32 years. I take my shirts to the dry cleaners. You have to do things for yourself now.”
Wellington Phoenix are seven games into a 27 game A-League season. The Westpac Stadium holds 34,500.
“It’s a transition kind of league and the attackers and wingers are very good,” he says. “We have good foreign players out here who understand the league. The money is spent on the attackers and wingers, like the MLS used to.
“The style of play is to get the ball wide and the wingers seem to be the marquee type players. The quality is very good. I think that’s why Championship players fancy a crack out here.
“Our exposure is now similar to what MLS was five years ago. I’m getting phone calls all the time from lads back home who aren’t happy at not playing and want to come over. The stadiums out here are unbelievable. Brisbane holds around 55,000, there is Melbourne City and they are huge but the teams are new. We’ve been getting 25,000, so it’s been pretty impressive.
“In America it was a show. Here it’s more about the game. It’s some life. I’m very, very happy.”
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