MARTIN SAMUEL: After 42 years, Taylor leaves behind an almighty mess

MARTIN SAMUEL: After 42 years running the PFA, Gordon Taylor leaves behind an almighty mess… in his last decade he has been found wanting, out-dated and inadequate in his handling of major issues

  • Gordon Taylor announced he’ll stand down as PFA chief executive next summer
  • After 42 years in office, the 75-year-old leaves an almighty mess behind him
  • His handling of major issues has been inadequate and so ham-fisted
  • Taylor’s final years as PFA chief executive have been mired in controversy

The day Gordon Taylor assumed executive office at the Professional Footballers’ Association, no black player had represented England, won the league title or lifted the League Cup.

November 13, 1978. Summer Nights, from Grease, was No 1. The Black and White Minstrel Show had not long finished its final series. 

The world in which Taylor became PFA chairman had Jimmy Carter in the White House and Jim Callaghan in 10 Downing Street. He predated Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. Taylor has been in office longer than any current world leader, bar Paul Biya, president of Cameroon.

After 42 years, Gordon Taylor announced that he will be stepping down as PFA chief executive

So it is worth recalling what happened on his watch.

Everything. All of it. The dementia scandal; the abuse scandal; the men-only dinners that were only ended by legal challenge; the night in 2012 when PFA members and guests were required to applaud a recently convicted rapist because his name was already printed in the brochure as part of a team of the season.

Everything, right up until this moment, when Taylor’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis was decreed so divisive, ham-fisted and alienating that salary caps were re-introduced in the lower leagues.

Imagine that. As PFA chairman, Jimmy Hill successfully campaigned to end the maximum wage; in Taylor’s final season, such limitations are again desirable. Not that anyone would know this from the congratulatory tone of Taylor’s announcement on Wednesday.

There may have been a time when Taylor’s departure would be lamented, his achievements lauded, but not recently.

In his last decade he has been found wanting and inadequate in his handling of major issues

As smart as he appeared when negotiating his union’s share of the Premier League’s spoils at its inception, so in his last decade he has been found wanting, out-dated and inadequate in his handling of major issues.

When the abuse scandal broke in 2016, many in the game were blind-sided, particularly as it became apparent accusations against sex offender Barry Bennell could be found in a TV documentary, Soccer’s Foul Play, in 1997. 

Club executives — the majority of whom had no involvement in English football then — wondered why there had been so little interest at the time. Yet Taylor was the PFA’s chief executive when the programme aired, and had already been in a position of power for almost 20 years.

Where was his engagement? Where was his union? To have 40 counsellors on call to help victims once the truth came out 19 years later is a fine response, but where was the PFA’s resolve at a time when it wasn’t a headline in every newspaper?

As for dementia, the Football League Review was writing about the potential for danger in heading the ball in its October 1966 edition. Taylor became PFA chairman 12 years later. Any significant evidence of concern for his contemporaries? Not judging by the actions of his organisation. 

Chris Sutton believes that the PFA’s dementia taskforce is just a ‘time-buying PR exercise’

It was 2002 when they made their first statement about the potential problem of football-related dementia, and 2017 when they delivered on that in any meaningful way, with financial support for research.

Even so, Taylor’s announcement this week coincided with the news that one of the leading campaigners on the issue, Chris Sutton, had stepped down from a PFA taskforce in the belief little of worth is being done.

Dawn Astle, daughter of West Bromwich striker Jeff, walked out on Taylor during a previous discussion, with the same complaint. Instead of leading his organisation and their members, instead of being in the vanguard of research and aid, Taylor parrots inappropriate cliches about his mother suffering dementia, having never headed a ball in her life. No wonder those at the sharp end are exasperated.

Increasingly, his final years have been mired in controversy. In 2018, The Guardian reported Taylor had used the word that put FA chairman Greg Clarke out of his job recently — ‘coloured’ — at an event to promote diversity and racial equality.

The newspaper spoke to four witnesses who supported this, while a PFA spokesman insisted Taylor ‘believes he didn’t say it and it is not language he would ever use’. Maybe the witnesses misheard. 

Either way, without the incriminating footage that sank Clarke, Taylor sailed on for two more years. Perhaps he would have gone on for longer had the atmosphere around his leadership not grown so toxic.

In 2018, Taylor reportedly used the word that put FA chairman Greg Clarke (pictured) out of his job recently — ‘coloured’ — at an event to promote diversity and racial equality

The announcement on Wednesday that he would finally step down by the end of the 2020-21 season only brought more frustration. Why wait, it was asked.

Taylor will pocket in the region of £1m before he goes, and there is an increasing fear an independent review of his stewardship will be little more than a whitewash, exonerating Taylor and paving the way for his cronies to continue in his image. Taylor pledges his availability to continue supporting the PFA, a prospect that will make his critics recoil.

After 42 years, and given the mess he leaves behind, surely he has already done enough?

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