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Taylor – it was tough to leave Gills
Taylor – it was tough to leave Gills

It’s 25 years to the day that Gillingham suffered the heartbreak of losing to Manchester City in the play-offs at Wembley and here we get Robert Taylor’s thoughts.

Taylor was to leave Priestfield in January 2000, barely six months after that fateful day that saw The Gills beaten – ironically moving to City; and we spoke to “Super Bob” about his memories of that twelve month period.

One of the scorers twelve months earlier when the Gills were eventually beaten by City, the memories of the game still haunt Rob.

“You think you’ve won the game with three minutes to go and then you get the added time on which Mr Halsey put on at the time which we all thought at the time was a bit funny,” he told us.

“It was a horrible day, a surreal day, it’s like one minute you’re up and then six/seven minutes later you’re down – that’s football for you. It happened to Manchester United the week before in the Champions League Final (when they beat Bayern Munich in Barcelona) by scoring two late goals as well!”

“When I first came to Priestfield at the start of 98/99, I hadn’t done a pre-season with injury and I was on the treatment table when the move happened. Brentford tried to keep me with Ron Noades chucking money at me to stay, but there were some boys I had at Brentford with me who were already at Gillingham who we all got on really well at Brentford and we wanted to rekindle that again and get that team-spirit back.”

“The boys were ringing me saying “come here, come here, it’s such a great club”. So, in the end I came over, had a chat and it went from there. It all happened so quickly – I trained in the morning and was on the bike in the afternoon with Tony and his stopwatch getting me fitter and fitter and once I was, I was OK.”

“The players knew that I could do it and I knew I could prove myself to the supporters and hopefully they appreciate what I eventually achieved!”

Going into the 1999/2000 season, Peter Taylor replaced Tony Pulis as Gills manager. “Two completely different characters really,” Rob told us, “but similar coaching styles, but with Tony going a bit more direct whilst Peter brought in the football side of things, but we put the two together really as we knew we could mix it up and we knew we could play football.”

“The thing was for the following season was to keep the squad together, that’s the main thing as when I was at Brentford, we lost the Play Off Final to Crewe and we lost five or six players out of the eleven before getting relegated that season.”

“It was key that we kept everyone together and we added a couple of players to the squad and pushed on a little bit. Carl (Asaba) got injured in the season and Andy Thomson came in and you have to form a different partnership.”

“But Thommo came in and did very well for the club as well – he was an intelligent footballer who could score goals also. Tony had it and Pete had it also – getting players who could just slot in and do the job of the player missing.”

Speaking about his move to Manchester City, Taylor explained how hard it was to leave Priestfield:

“It was a wrench – I loved my time at Priestfield – it was a hard decision for me and we’d be sitting down for a couple of weeks trying to sort out about me staying, but there was nothing on the table for me to stay.”

“I wanted to stay, but it was one of those situations where I got pushed down an alleyway that I couldn’t get out of. I wanted to play at a big club, and I wanted to play at the next level up after missing out on the Wembley Final.”

“But I was really enjoying my football as I’d scored eighteen times before I left – I loved playing under Peter Taylor and Tony Pulis – but it just happened.”

“I was sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon about to have my roast dinner and I got a phone call from Paul Scally telling me that Man City had put a bid in for me and it had been accepted and that was it – I didn’t know anything else!”

“I then got a phone call about an hour later from Joe Royle saying we want you to drive to Manchester tonight and within a couple of hours, I was on the road for a meeting the following morning to sort the contract out and that was it…”

“I kept track of the results and went to the second leg of the Semi Final against Stoke and I went in the dressing room after the win with the boys and joined in the celebrations.”

“That was a good night and I honestly kicked every ball with them as they were still my mates, the boys that I’d played with that season and I really wanted the club to go up and they did.”

“I watched the Final on television I think when I was away – I managed to get to a bar and watch it in Turkey, I think! It was another tense game just like the previous year – I was pleased for the boys that they won as they deserved it from the year before to be playing in the Championship.”

“I was pleased for all of them, I was pleased for the club! I was so happy that the boys went up – I knew that they would be pushing for the top slots or Play Offs as they were strong minded players.”

“The players that Tony built in that team and Peter inherited had that winning mentality and it was strong and I knew they wouldn’t falter or go down – they kept the players who were there and I knew that they would push on and probably win it or get into the Play Offs again.”