40 years ago today, Brian Clough left for Leeds leaving Peter Taylor behind on the south coast. Many joke that that decision didn’t exactly turn out well..
However in this piece for The Seagull Love Review which i wrote last year I assess his short period at the Albion and argue that Taylor’s decision to stay behind kickstarted the club’s imperial phase and reinvented the club forever. Quite a good move for Brighton then…
There’s a rare colour photo of fans queuing up outside a sunny Goldstone before the first match of the 1974/5 season; all flared jeans, tank tops and collar length hair. Large billboards advertising Guinness, Esso, and Hamlet cigars overlook about a hundred boys and blokes slouching about. A mustard coloured Ford Cortina drives past. Despite that days’ opponents not having played the Albion for over a decade, the atmosphere as recalled by veteran posters on North Stand Chat was “nothing special”, and one supporter remembers not much more about the afternoon than the August pitch being “in need of a trim”.
Brighton’s new manager in that day’s programme, “Albion Review” (10p), was even more circumspect, describing the club’s upheaval in the summer and the departure of most of the previous season’s first team squad in a mere two sentences; “Since the last League match there have been a lot of changes at the Goldstone, my longtime friend and partner Brian Clough left to take over at Leeds. ” But, he concluded prematurely as it turned out, “all that is old news and all in the past”.
For 46 year old ex goalkeeper, Peter Taylor, who had played with Clough at Middlesborough and then spent over a decade as his No.2 in a successful management spells at Hartlepool and Derby and a torrid last year on the South Coast then it was a shock to most, including Clough and a certain Leeds chairman, that he’d stayed in his post. He’d been offered twice his yearly salary, around £20k, to continue the partnership at Elland Road, but turned it down partly out of loyalty to wealthy chairman Mike Bamber and a reluctance to move his family yet again. It was Clough, alone, who was to endure the 44 days.
Taylor’s attempt to break out on his own, would of course be relatively short lived. He subsequently considered his two seasons solely in charge at Brighton “a failure”, and felt he’d let Bamber down. Most observers agree that when Clough invited Peter to his Majorcan villa in the summer of 1976 with the aim of what was to be a reconciliation, he’d made his best signing for Nottingham Forest. A promotion and then a blur of unlikely League Championships and European cups were only a few years away. “We both knew we were banging our heads against a brick wall on our own”, Taylor had concluded. “Together we could do any job. There was no point delaying”.
Yet on that August day he was all smiles, his new signing; 6ft plus striker Ian Mellor from Norwich, playing in a unfamiliar all white strip, scored the only goal of the match in the 69th minute. It was Malcolm Allison’s Crystal Palace, who to Albion fans were just another London club in 1974 remember, and with another Peter Taylor on the wing in their 11, who went down to a 1-0 defeat in front of a bumper 26 thousand crowd. Despite the optimism and again despite Taylor’s glorious hubris further down his programme notes “When – and i say when, and not if – we win the Third Division title, we will have got there by playing skilful football. Anyone can annihilate the opposition by brute strength and dirty play, we will annihilate them with pure football.” the reality was only one further win in their first 16 matches. Just as in Taylor’s second season at the club, this time by himself, Brighton again struggled to a disappointing 19th in Division 3. Pure football it wasn’t. Only a home record of two defeats at the Goldstone had prevented relegation.
It was, however Taylor’s reputation as a scout that ultimately secures his reputation. His links with Burton Albion and an offer of £50 a week secured the 19 year Peter Ward a contract at the beginning of 75/76 and he quickly made Brian Horton club captain following his signing from Port Vale later in the season. Most would agree two of the top three Albion signings of all time. But despite 26 goals from Fred Binney, who Taylor dropped in favour of Ward towards the end of 75/75, Albion trailed in their last few games to only finish fourth. It was the end for Taylor.
Like that old joke about Ringo not being the best drummer in The Beatles, its too harsh on him to suggest that, perhaps, he wasn’t even the best Peter Taylor to manage Brighton. The aforementioned Palace winger; Peter J Taylor, in his brief League 2 championship winning stint, wasn’t here long enough to perhaps decide either way. Unlike the undeniable loyalty of Peter W, however, our ex-Palace friend couldn’t wait to say his farewells. The alternative narrative, though, amongst some Brighton fans of a certain age that it was his signings and team that formed the basis of Alan Mullery’s imperial phase is too generous and ignores the facts. Mullery admitted he’d inherited a “great squad” and accepts that was part of the motivation for taking the job on as an inexperienced 34 year old but in reality it was only Ward and Horton who remained in the team on that legendary day at St James Park in May 1979.
40 years on from Taylor’s arrival, it now looks like a classic period of consolidation. An interim summer appointment after the shock exit of a media friendly TV pundit. A new low key coach who, critics say, struggles to inspire his team. A poor start to his first season. “He would always be behind his desk, he would try to motivate us but he just couldn’t do it.” one of his signings concluded. The Taylor experiment ultimately failed and he went back home. To glory. Brighton’s ambitious rich young chairman had to look elsewhere, in the end, proving wrong his manager’s belief that the club had, in fact, hit the ceiling.
The welcome signing of Alan Mullery to be the club’s new ambassador, the proud succession of the Bloom family over the last half century illustrate that those that populate the Amex’ boardrooms today are thankfully keen students of the club’s history. The historical parallels are a lot messier , in truth, than I’m perhaps hinting at. But I’d say Peter Taylor’s, now mostly forgotten, three seasons at Brighton and Hove Albion are finally in the post-Poyet era worth some urgent reassessment.
(Thanks for the pics and research via the articles at the wonderful Albion archive collected at http://thegoldstonewrap.com/ )