THE BIG INTERVIEW
Craig Salmon talks to football scout and former Garstang FC commercial manager Les Taylor
Football man Les Taylor’s career in the game has virtually come full circle.
In love with the beautiful game from an early age, the 68-year-old has spent a lifetime involved in the sport.
A keen player in his youth who once used to play for Morecambe reserves and later managed Pilling FC, Taylor became a prominent figure in the background of a whole host of clubs – both professional and amateur – in Lancashire.
He has held a wide variety of commercial positions at the Shrimps, Blackpool, Fleetwood Town, Lancaster City and in more recent times Garstang.
Devising innovative ways of creating revenue streams for clubs he worked for, Taylor has been talented – and lucky – enough to work in the game for the past 35 years after initially starting his working life in the meat trade.
However, after ending his eight-year association with Garstang in the summer – Taylor has decided to return to the frontline of the sport once more.
While he may have gone a touch past the age where he can pull his boots on in a playing or coaching capacity, Taylor has taken up a role with the PFSA – the Professional Football Scouts’ Association.
He will be a familiar figure on the sidelines of North West non-league football grounds this season as he looks to uncover any hidden gems, which may have gone unnoticed by the professional game.
It is a new role which he is relishing as he revealed: “I am just in love with the game of football – always have been.
“And in one respect I’m back fulfilling my dream because I am back directly involved in football.
“That may sound silly considering I have worked in football for the best part of 35 years .
“But my roles have always been on the commercial side of things.
“So this is something I am really looking forward to getting stuck into.
“My brief is to find the next Jamie Vardy!”
Taylor’s link-up with the PFSA has developed through a friendship he struck up with Dave Hodgson – the co-founder of the PFSA – while he was working as the lotteries manager at Blackpool several years ago.
Along with his commercial role with the Seasiders, Taylor also doubled up as the club’s school recruitment officer and formed close ties with Hodgson, who had scouted for Blackburn, Bolton and later Manchester United.
In fact, Taylor – who hails from Morecambe – has always had an eye for talent and once recommended a player to Hodgson who later earned a two-year professional deal from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
“It was when I worked at Lancaster City; there was a lad called Michael Barnes,” he said
“He was only a young lad at the time and I don’t think he was in the first team at Lancaster.
“He was in the Under-18s, so he would only be about 17.
“Dave had heard about him and rung me up.
“I always remember the Under-18s playing Morecambe at Christie Park.
“I went down to watch and I remember watching Michael and thinking, ‘This lad is a bloody flyer’.
“He was flying down the left wing and getting crosses in with his left foot.
“But the thing which really stuck in my mind was that Lancaster won a free-kick in the 70th minute, which Michael took.
“Throughout the game he had predominantly just used his left foot – I don’t think he had hardly kicked it with his right. But this free-kick was in a perfect position for a right footer and Michael stepped up and struck it with his right foot.
“I think the keeper saved it but it was a terrific free-kick, but I just thought straight away, this lad has got something about him
“So I got on the phone to Dave and said, ‘To be honest with you Dave, they have to be really good for United haven’t they?
“But I said to him, ‘If you have anybody quicker than this lad, then I’d like to see him’!
“So Dave said to me, ‘Is he worth bringing in then’?
“I said, ‘Yes I think he is’.
“In no time at all, United had given him a two-year contract.
“He was training with the first team alongside Ronaldo, Rooney – all the United stars at that time.
“I think Michael only ever made one appearance for United.
“Alex Ferguson gave him his debut in the League Cup at Stoke City.
“You have to be absolute top notch to play for United and so just to play one game for them is a big achievement.
“He went on to play for Shrewsbury and Chesterfield in the Football League and obviously had a good career in non-league with AFC Fylde.
“If you speak to Michael and I have done since, he probably just lacked that little bit of drive.
“He could have had a really good career in the Football League – I have no doubt about it.
“But he ended up doing really well at Fylde and away from the game he’s got a really good job as a tree surgeon.
“I once remember talking to him when we were both sitting in the stands at a game at Kendal Town.
“He was saying that he could not really afford to turn pro and go full-time and that he had a family now.
“The amazing thing about Michael was the reason why it had been so late before he had been picked up by anyone was because he had played in goal right the way up until he was 16!”
Taylor, who will be trained fully as a scout by the PFSA, is hoping he can help realise the dreams of many youngsters who thought their dreams of becoming a professional footballer had gone.
“I know the clubs have their academies, but there’s still a lot of talent in non-league who have slipped the net,” he said.
“For example, Manchester United will have say four 17-year-olds who play left back and they will release three of them.
“Those three will probably have been at the club since they were eight-years-old.
“They will have had high hopes of making it big with United, but they get released and become disillusioned with the game.
“They get that brassed-off with it that they just go off and play with their mates in local football. So we are kind of looking for these players who have been released but re-emerge somewhere else.”
While Taylor’s scouting role is what will occupy him in the future, he is also proud of his accomplishments in the past.
He admits his decision to leave Garstang this year was taken with a heavy heart, but he believes he has left the club on a very solid footing.
Over his eight-year association, he has helped improve the club’s commercial activities – attracting numerous sponsorship deals and creating the hugely successful ‘Score Lottery’ draw.
Despite facing many challenges – most notably when the ground was flooded last winter – the West Lancashire League outfit remains secure and has been able to spend money on its ground and facilities in recent years.
Taylor also credits the club for helping him in his recovery from serious illness.
It was just under a decade ago that he was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Happily he made a full recovery, something which was aided by the offer of a role at Garstang by chairman Adrian Wilding.
“I have had eight years at the club,” said Taylor.
“It’s been a really enjoyable time. It helped get me going again with a project after I was seriously ill.
“In my time, we created a lot of revenue for the club.
“The lottery raised £100,000 in eight years which is an amazing amount of money for that level and probably heading towards that figure in other off-the-field activities.”
“We were able to spend money on the ground.
“The floodlights was a big one and a lot of money was spent on pitch drainage.
“The changing rooms were completely revamped.
“I suppose my biggest legacy you can’t see because it’s all under the pitch, but obviously the floodlights were a major thing.”
Taylor revealed the club is in a position to move to the next level, but he is not so sure that there is that big an appetite to see North West Counties football at the Riverside.
“The next thing to do at Garstang was to put a stand up,” he said. “A facility which could hold about 200 to 300 people, which would have you looking towards the next level.
“I also wanted a little hospitality box which I could look after the sponsors better.
“I am disappointed in so much that we’ve not achieved what we wanted to achieve when I first joined the club.
“We have achieved many things as a club, but ultimately we have just fallen short of where I would like us to be.”
Taylor admits he worries about the future of the amateur game as local leagues dwindle, clubs disband and players seemingly losing interest.
“I get the non-league paper every week and you see clubs folding all the time,” he said.
“You see clubs which are 80 or 90-odd years old packing in.
“The reason is that the older people who have been at those clubs for many years running the club are retiring, but they are not being replaced.
“The players of today, they don’t want to take it on.
“David Graham is a big stalwart at Garstang, but if he ever moved on, it would leave a big hole.
“There has always been an amateur game, but it’s dwindling.
“The West Lancashire League has had to restructure this year because clubs are packing in the reserve sides.
“Once upon a time you would have two divisions of reserve teams, now you have reserve sides playing in the same division as first teams.
“These days, the lads just can’t be bothered to get out of bed in a morning and play.
“I was talking to somebody at Slyne with Hest the other week. They are a reasonable club in the West Lancs with decent facilities, but they are struggling to get players for the first team.
“They have had to drop their reserve team. It just seems to be too much trouble and too much commitment for lads these days.”