19 July 2013

“I felt like we were one big family” – Tommy Taylor on managing Orient

For a period in the early millennium, 4000-odd people would congregate in east London on a Saturday afternoon to shout the words “Taylor out!” repeatedly for 90 minutes. 

Yes, Thomas Frederick Taylor – manager of Leyton Orient between November 1996 and October 2001 – certainly felt the sharp end of Brisbane Road’s collective tongues towards the end of his tenure. 

But it's worth remembering though before that he got his team to two play-off finals and signed Matt Lockwood, Carl Griffiths, Amara Simba and, erm, Billy Beall (well, we all make mistakes, although most of ours don't cost £50,000).

Despite the sour end to his reign, Tommy is steadfast in his love for Orient – he also played for club over two spells – and speaks fondly of his time at the helm. 

Here Tommy – warm, entertaining and funny in person – tells the story of his days as manager of Orient… 

“I’d never met Barry Hearn before in my life, but in November 1996 I rang him up and said, ‘Is there a job going at Orient?’ Pat Holland had just got the sack and Cambridge were refusing to offer me more than a rolling three-month contract – even though at that time we were second in Division Three.

"The players thought they
were better than they were"
“They just wanted to know that they had you for three months and could get rid of you anytime without spending money. I said, ‘Up yours, I’m off’. Barry said the job was mine if it wanted it. He knew what job I’d done at Cambridge with a tiny budget.

“I went back to Cambridge and told them I'd got a job. And straight away they said they’d offer me the same money and twice as long. I told them no. They had their chance to do it right from the start.

“I left the next day. But I was nervous about going to Orient because – and I’m not being rude about the team – but I looked at it and thought, fuck me we could get relegated out of football. [Orient were 18th in Division Three at the time.]

“There were some good players there but it was an old team and they thought that they were better than they were and they put themselves in trouble more times than they got out of it.”

Building a team

"Locky was a hell of a player"
“I got Wim Walschaerts in. He was a big one for us. He used to win loads of balls in the middle of the field. I got Dean Smith in - he was a great one. Simon Clark was a great signing, Stuart Hicks was a great signing. We called Smith, Clark and Hicks the three amigos. We should have played 4-4-2, but with three good centre-halfs we had to play them.

“I brought Matty Joseph in, which gave us pace. I got Matt Lockwood in. He was on £125 a week at Bristol Rovers and I said to him, ‘That’s just taking the Mickey, mate.’ So we got him on a good bit of wages and he did very well for himself.

“Locky was a hell of player. Hell of a left foot. I wanted to play him more forward because he couldn’t defend. If I was more forthcoming about it I should have played him and Martin Ling in midfield and let them to go for it. But you don’t really come across a good left back like that who can get forward and put crosses in.”

Best signing

Amara Simba: "Magnificent"
“It was a couple of months into the 1998 season, and Amara Simba knocked on the door, sat down and told me where he’s been and what he’d done. I sent him off to train with the lads. He was unbelievable.

“I got straight on the phone to Barry Hearn and said ‘I think I’ve found a diamond here, mate.’ And Barry said, ‘You tell me that every fucking week.’ And then he asked me if he was a youngster. I said, ‘Well, you could say that. He’s 36.’ Barry yelled, ‘Do what?’ But I said, ‘Baz, just watch him play.’

“He was a magnificent player. Out of this world. I’d love to have seen him in his heyday. I still talk to people now about what a great player he was. He always scored two then wanted to come off. I’d say, ‘What the fuck do you want to come off for?’ And he’d reply, ‘Everybody clap me’. I’d say, ‘You wanker!’”

Super Carl

"He was a fucker"
“That 1998/99 season we had Simba and Carl Griffiths up front and we were doing well. [Orient were third in March.] Griff was a real good centre forward, real clever. One of the better ones. But he was always a luxury. And in those divisions you can’t have luxury players - everyone’s got to do a bit of graft for each other. He’d do fuck all but he’d score a goal. Griff’s feeling was, well, I score my goals and that’s it; either we win the game or we lose the game.

“Port Vale came in for him in March. I told him that I didn’t want him to go, but I’d understand if he did. The money was good for him and he’d be playing a higher grade of football. I said, ‘The supporters won’t want you to go, I’ll take a bit of stick for it, Barry will take a bit of stick for it, but I’m leaving it to you, mate.'

“Then he turned it round in the press and said that it was my fault, that I wanted him to go. But I would never say that to him ever. Griff was a money man. He loved a pound note. He always played in lower division football because he knew he could pick his bonus up for scoring so many goals. It was easy for him. He was a fucker – but I regret not holding on to him.”

Wembley heartbreak

“We got into the play-offs that season. Before the semi-final second leg against Rotherham everyone in the dressing room said they’d take a penalty if it came to it. But at the end of the game I said, ‘Right, who’s got the bollocks to take one now, boys?’ And, I’ll tell you what, they all stood up.

Orient at Wembley
“Scott Barrett said, ‘I’ll save two, don’t worry about it.’ And he did. But then in the final against Scunthorpe we had so many chances to score but it just wouldn’t go in. I said to Paul Clark, it’s just not our day today. We had five or six good chances, they had one good chance and scored.

“I told the boys to watch out for Alex Calvo-Garcia. I said if anyone’s going to score in this game it’s going to be him - he’d scored against us nearly every time we played. He always came on the blind side of everyone – and that’s what happened, he came around the back post with a header.

“Losing that final was a massive blow. I’d rather have lost in the semi than in the final. It absolutely killed the players. We had a great support there. If they cheered like that every week we’d have slaughtered everyone. The team we had deserved to go up. We had some footballers. We were a better side than Scunthorpe.”

Ups and downs

“The next season was a poor one. [Orient finished 19th.] It was one of those play-off things. Everyone was on a downer. But I didn’t want to change the squad at all. I thought we were good enough to get back up there. And the following season showed that.

"The first play-off final killed me more than the second"
“We got into the play-offs again in 2000/01. Locky scored that magnificent goal in the semi-final against Hull. I remember saying to Paul Clark, ‘He’s going to hit it any minute.’ And he just got it on his left foot and let it go.

“In the final against Blackpool we went 1-0 up very early. We weren’t playing outstandingly but we were in front. We missed a couple of good chances. But they were a good team. Their boy Paul Simpson was the cleverest player on the field and he changed the game. He made the difference, coming in behind the behind the midfield two.

“But the first play-off final killed me more than the second. I could take the second one, but I know it was hard and I felt for the players and the supporters. We should have been in the next division. We had a good enough team to get there but you have to do it for 40-odd games but we didn’t do it for 40-odd games."

“Taylor out”

“The next season I thought the team we still had there would do well. It only needed one or two bits or pieces moved about or brought in. But the fans were on my back.

“If I said to you, for the next month I’m going to come round your house, give you a tenner, and be there for 90 minutes shouting and having a go at you. How would you like it? But that’s my work and I have to deal with it.

“It’s harsh, but I love it. You get your good times, you get your bad times. I get paid for it. It’s probably the only job in the world where someone can come and have a go at someone. Football supporters, especially the men, only come to let off their steam. Their wife has a go at them every night of the week and they think, fuck it, I’ll go and have a go at the manager, at that cunt over there.

“But people pay their money, they can say what they like. The only thing I didn’t like is when my wife and kids were there and they take the abuse and they don’t deserve it. And Barry’s family… they were having a go at them too. And it was nothing to do with Barry.”

The final curtain

“By October I could see where Barry was going. He’d taken enough abuse over Pat Holland before that, and I didn’t think he needed that sort of abuse chucked at him again.

"You won't find a better chairman in the Football League"
“I went to his house and Barry said to me ‘Do you think it’s time?’ He didn’t want to say I was sacked. I said, ‘Yes, it is. It’s upsetting to say that, but it is.’ We shook hands. It was the hardest thing for us to say cheerio to each other.

“You’ll never find a better chairman than Barry Hearn in the Football League, I’ll tell you that. He knows sport, he knows people who go out there and give it their all. He’s a lovely man, he’s passionate for the club and he wants the club to do well. You won’t find a better chairman than that.

“I never had an argument with the man. He used to come to me and say, I don’t think this is right, I don’t think that’s right. And I’d say that’s the way I want to do it, and he’d say fair enough, if it goes wrong it’s down to you. His wife is a beautiful woman and she’d give me so much stick in the board room. Barry would say, ‘I told you, it’s no good me talking, she can do the talking for me.’

“I was devastated to go. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to the players. But to tell you the truth I would have been so emotional with them I couldn’t have gone back. I felt like they were one big family. And all of them rung me up. Everybody said they were sorry. I said, that’s football, get on with it. And make sure you don’t lose any more games!”

Orient forever

“I think I’m an honest manager. I always say to the players, ‘Whatever I’ve got, I’ll give you, but you’ve got to give me whatever you’ve got on the field. And if you need anything at any time, if your family needs anything at any time, you can always speak to me and I’ll get it done for you. But if I’m doing that for you, you’ve got to give me 110 per cent every time you go out. That’s on the training ground as well.’

“If you talk to any of the players at Orient and ask them how I treated them, not one of them would say I didn’t give them what they wanted at any time. If they think they’re cocky and they’ve got one on me then I’ll blast them in front of people, and if they don’t like it I’ll say, ‘Get your fucking gear and go home now.’ I’d rather put two kids on instead of two senior players.

"Orient’s a club everyone likes and where you want you to do well. Orient people are very close. It’s a great club and I hope for Barry and the supporters’ sake it keeps going up the league. I can’t blame Barry for not putting his hand in his pocket to subsidise it. He’s put a lot of money into it.

"I would go back to Orient. If Barry rang me up and asked me to be chief scout I’d have to think about it because it’s a great club to work for."

You can read the full account of Tommy's time at Orient, both as player and manager in my book Leyton Orient Greats

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