The last stand of football's dinosaur Gordon Taylor

The last stand of football’s dinosaur: Gordon Taylor sees himself as a street fighter but he’s finally been outflanked by the players in the wage-cut crisis

  • When money or his power base is at stake, Gordon Taylor is unremittingly tough 
  • Taylor’s stance on player wage deferrals has not surprised those who know him  
  • 75-year-old has not remotely appreciated how bad he and his organisation look 
  • Senior players who see him as a dinosaur may now urge him to make way

Gordon Taylor’s appreciation of the finer things in life got him through when he accepted an invitation to appear on Celebrity University Challenge six years ago.

He appeared alongside actors John Thomson and Bernard Hill in a Manchester Metropolitan University team, having graduated in economics at the old Manchester College of Commerce in 1969. He correctly answered on LS Lowry and the Australian 20th century artist Sidney Nolan and even identified the former Liberal MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles as David Steel.

Appearances are deceptive where the 75-year-old chief executive of the PFA is concerned. His meandering sentences create a sense of mild eccentricity but when money or his own power base are at stake he is unremittingly tough. ‘A street fighter,’ says one source who worked with him for years.

Appearances are deceptive where Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the PFA, is concerned

Taylor’s stance in the past week — rejecting player wage deferrals in the teeth of public indignation unless crippled clubs can individually justify them — has not surprised those who know him well. Precisely the same modus operandi cemented his fiefdom and eye-watering annual salary in the first place, 28 years ago.

The Premier League had just been formed when Taylor went into battle with part-time chairman, Sir John Quinton, to ensure that the PFA got a big slice of the accompanying new TV deal.

He was so intent on getting what he wanted that he threatened to bring the players out on strike in support.

Few held out the remotest hope of him winning. Only the lower-league players — who knew they might come to depend on the union for help in retirement — showed interest and Taylor was encouraged by his own management committee to back down. One source says: ‘Even Gary Neville [then on the management committee] was saying at one stage, “Just settle it now, Gordon”. But he was having none of it.’

Taylor’s recent stance on player wage deferrals has not surprised those who know him well

He emerged triumphant, securing a flat annual sum of around £8million for the union and every time a new TV deal was agreed he was back at the negotiating table with Richard Scudamore, demanding a cut for the PFA, with accompanying salary hike for himself.

‘He destroyed Scudamore,’ says the source. The PFA’s slice rose to £15m nine years ago and is now £27m. His own wage, £2.3m, makes him Britain’s top paid union leader. He spent £1.9m of the union’s money buying Lowry’s ‘Going to the Match’ masterpiece at auction, bidding himself. When a better-paid senior administrator’s job came up at the FA in the 1990s, he expected a 25 per cent pay increase to stay.

Two sources describe him throwing a new contract across the table when the union’s management committee had the temerity to want to debate this.

The pay rise was waved through at the union’s AGM the next day.

When Taylor’s money or his power base are at stake the 75-year-old is unremittingly tough

The union’s sometimes shambolic processes have not been conducive to scrutiny. For years, management committee meetings would take place on a Sunday morning at the PFA’s Manchester offices and some members, who had played the previous day, would not be able to attend. AGMs would be staged in near-empty rooms. Few seemed bothered.


Gordon Taylor’s salary – while latest PFA accounts show only £100k was spent on research into concussion

Taylor’s lifestyle is not outwardly ostentatious. His detached house near the Brockhall training ground of Blackburn Rovers, the club he played for in the late 1970s, is thought to be worth considerably less than £1m. He has tended to drive Jaguars — classy models rather than flashy ones — and has not been one for lavish holidays.

A substantial amount of money will have fed his gambling addiction which, according to reports he did not challenge seven years ago, saw him get through £4m and 2,000 bets in two and a half years — racking up debts of £100,000.

Beyond the very attractive remuneration, what seems to drive Taylor — who has two adult sons with his wife, Cathy — is the profile and the glitz that comes with his kingdom.

Misjudgments have flowed from the untrammelled power and lack of accountability. In 2008, he signed a confidentiality agreement with News International, having received more than £700,000 from the publisher because his phone had been hacked. It meant that other PFA members had no idea they had been hacked. One lawyer describes that as ‘a major betrayal.’

Ben Purkiss (right) lobbied to make the PFA executive more accountable to the management

The union has seemed invisible amid the demand for research into links between heading and dementia. The family of Nobby Stiles, who is struggling, have been devastated by the union’s insensitivity.

Those seeking something better have been brutally dispensed with.

Ben Purkiss, current PFA chairman, lobbied behind the scenes in 2018 to make the executive more accountable to the management committee. Taylor subsequently ruled that a non-playing member like Purkiss could not be chairman.

The 36-year-old had to go public, and though he has forced reviews into the union by Sport Resolutions arbitration service and the Charity Commission, the quid pro quo is that he must depart when it finally reports. Though Taylor announced the review 17 months ago, Sports Resolutions only published its formal terms of reference last month and Taylor has said he will not leave until the PFA’s AGM following the publication of both reports. He may still be in post next year.

Taylor has finally been outflanked with the Premier League petitioning players directly

This battle has felt like his last stand, a chance to prove that he will ‘not go out with a whimper’ as he put it last year. It has proved far more ignominious than that.

Taylor has finally been outflanked, with the Premier League petitioning players directly on Saturday.

Some sources believe that senior players in the game, concluding that he is a dinosaur, may now urge him to make way for someone more in touch.

The answer to one of the few questions Taylor answered incorrectly on that University Challenge was ‘focus group.’

It was on the tip of his tongue but ultimately eluded him. A few such sessions would have served him well just lately. Amid the escalating national crisis, he has not remotely appreciated how bad he and his organisation look.

 Taylor (far right) has not remotely appreciated how bad he and the PFA look during this crisis

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