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      Peter Taylor: Allison, Venables and taking Stamford Bridge


      In 1973, Peter Taylor walked into the manager’s office at Selhurst Park and sat down. The surroundings were unfamiliar, and the stadium seemed vast compared to the one he had left in Southend – it was as if the echoes of the 40,000 strong crowd danced and flickered around the room.

      He was still a young player, but already in his mind’s eye he was flirting with a future in coaching. Sitting across the desk was a mentor in waiting. He was about to learn one of the fundamental principles he would carry with him for the rest of his career.

      Football management is far from easy. You are dealing with supreme talent, with fragile egos, with the hopes and dreams of young men who have sacrificed everything to get this far and won’t take kindly to someone getting in their way. It’s a dog eat dog world, after all.

      But that doesn’t mean football management has to be aggressive. As they say, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. To get the most out of a player, how about treating him like he is the most important person in the room?

      “I got to Crystal Palace and Malcolm Allison said to me: ‘This is the sixth time I have tried to sign you,’” Taylor remembers of that first encounter. “I found that amazing. At that time it was so different to now. Now you would hear it in 10 seconds because of agents.

      “It was the first thing he said to me when I walked into his office – it was the second time at Palace and he had tried four times at Manchester City. It was just so different and exciting. I played in the first-team at Southend but being the young, local player I think it was easier to leave me out because the manager knew I wouldn’t give him any hassle.

      “All of sudden now I was going to play in front of a big crowd. I was going to play with Don Rogers and Alan Whittle. There just seemed a buzz about the place.”

      This was the genius of Malcolm Allison. It was impossible not to be caught up in his self-assurance and joviality; his boisterous nature wasn’t an affront to reality or a hubristic expression of overconfidence but an invitation to dream big and stand tall.

      “Every time I walked into his office I walked out feeling a better player,” Taylor says. “He gave me so much confidence and belief that I could be a really good player for him, and it was lovely.

      “I know there are times when you have to give people a rollicking, and I'm sure he gave me a rollicking every now and then, but lots of times he made me feel 10 feet tall by telling me what I could do, what I should do and how to go for it.

      “The first year I got there we got relegated at Cardiff. I cried in the changing room – I cried because we got relegated but I think I cried more for Malcolm. I felt so sorry for him because I thought he was such a good manager, and I didn’t think he deserved it.”

      Quote Icons

      I cried because we got relegated but I think I cried more for Malcolm. I felt so sorry for him

      Peter Taylor

      Palace were marooned in the third tier, but it was here that they had one of their most memorable campaigns. The FA Cup run of 1975/76 was a sporting visualisation of the unending self-belief of Allison’s side – and at its heart was Taylor and a special Stamford Bridge performance on this day (14th February).

      First up were Scarborough, and of course he scored the winner. Some 23rd birthday present. But then came the draw and Leeds United, who just six months earlier had narrowly lost to Bayern Munich in the European Cup final.

      Was there a moment of trepidation? Don’t be silly. “We went there full of belief,” says Taylor. “We had so much confidence that we might cause an upset. The FA Cup was a massive competition and Leeds were a massive team.

      “For us it was nothing to lose. If they had beaten us people would have said: ‘Well, they are First Division’. But we knew that player for player if we had a good day we could match anyone. If you see the start of the game, Jim Cannon gets the ball and beats three players straight from kick-off – that was the confidence we had!”

      That confidence was not misplaced. Palace took the game to the favourites and emerged victorious; the margin of victory was a single goal and that flattered Leeds. Next up came Chelsea at the Bridge, and up stepped Taylor again.

      “I was really pleased to be in London because until then we were away from home, and I felt for our supporters,” he says. “It was an absolute sell-out. There were policemen with horses there to stop any fighting. It was madness, but what an atmosphere it was.”

      Early in the first-half he twisted away from his marker and thundered an effort against the crossbar, for Nick Chatterton to tap home. It may well have crossed the line by its own volition, but there was to be no ‘Geoff Hurst’ luck for Taylor that day (“I could have done with VAR, eh?” he quips).

      He got on the scoresheet soon enough, finishing off a sumptuous team move to double the advantage. But disaster struck, and Chelsea hit back. Twice. Character was required, and Allison’s side had that in spades, but they need something else too: a sprinkling of inventiveness and tactical nous. That’s where his assistant stepped in.

      “When we had people like Terry Venables coming in, you could never have dreamt we were in the third division,” Taylor says. “He is one of the best coaches in the world, but he also wanted people to enjoy themselves, to have a laugh.

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      It was an absolute sell-out. There were policemen with horses there to stop any fighting. It was madness, but what an atmosphere it was.

      Peter Taylor

      “On the training field he was far more serious than Malcolm. Venables was the organiser. I’ve learned a lot from him in that respect. Players can have fun, but they have to be serious at the right time and that was Terry. On the training field he was the boss, there is no doubt about that.”

      It was here that the work on the training field paid off. “When Terry joined us he was a player-coach, and he was so clever on the pitch with set-pieces. He made me start thinking about them too.

      “When we played Leeds, Dave Swindlehurst had an almighty long shot from the exact same position as our free-kick against Chelsea. I said to myself: ‘They will think he’ll hit it again’. I said to Swindy: ‘Do me a favour, please just run over it’. I’m sure Chelsea will have been thinking about how powerful he was, and then it was a different kind of free-kick. That’s what Terry Venables encouraged us to be: to be different.”

      Taylor used the decoy perfectly, floating a dipping, curling effort into the top corner and sending Palace to the quarter-finals. Sunderland came next, and once again were no bother.

      Allison’s side had reached the semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history, and had become the first third tier team to do so. But their meteoric rise had not gone unnoticed, and suddenly – despite facing a Southampton team a division higher – they were labelled as favourites. For the notorious upstarts, back at Stamford Bridge, this tag did not sit well.

      “Before the game people were talking about us winning,” Taylor remembers. “That might have been a slight difference. It just wasn’t a good performance on our part, it might have got to us. I don’t think either team deserved to win. We should have all gone off down the pub and had a replay the next week.”

      Despite the ultimate disappointment, Taylor looks back on those two Stamford Bridge experiences as a crucial education for his coaching career. After all, if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same, you will be a manager my son.

      He had founded a Sunday league team aged 17 and managed them to eight straight promotions – he was, by his own admittance, always watching Allison and Venables for ways to hone his craft.

      Now, having called time on a successful playing career on gone to manage at Palace and – the highest honour of all – England, he can look back on a wealth of knowledge gleaned from decades in the game. Much like that first meeting with Allison, the principles are simple.

      “Talk to them – always talk to them. Have lots of one-on-one meetings. Be honest and let them know what they need. If someone needs to be quicker, think about how you can help them. If they need to be better in the air, do the same. You have to put a lot of thought in, do things you believe in.

      “It was always in my head that I enjoy improving a player. No matter what I'm doing, I will always try to do that.”