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Interviews

Gerry Taggart: "I had a great relationship with the fans."

12 April 2018

The former Reds and Bolton defender caught up with barnsleyfc.co.uk in an EXCLUSIVE interview ahead of this weekend's clash.

The commanding centre-back made more than 200 appearances in an Oakwell career that spanned five years after joining the Club from Manchester City in 1990, becoming a cult hero among the Barnsley fanbase.

 

Taggart came through the ranks at Maine Road alongside the likes of former England international David White, Paul Lake, Ian Brightwell and ex-Barnsley striker Ashley Ward.

 

“At that time, Manchester City were willing to play young players so it was a great breeding ground for young talent,” said Taggart.

 

“There were a lot of young players making their debuts at that time and the backbone of the side was made up of young players so it gave people like myself something to look forward to and I obviously managed to make my debut when I was 18.”

 

Taggart was given his opportunity at Maine Road by Mel Machin, who became Barnsley boss in December 1989 after being sacked by City with the club bottom of the old First Division.

 

The Northern Irishman then linked up with Machin at Oakwell, a manager who Taggart believes had a big influence on his football career.

 

“When I first moved to Barnsley I didn’t really understand what playing football was all about really; I was just a young man going out and enjoying myself,” admitted the 47-year-old.

 

“So, he made me captain and straight away I had to mature a little and buck my ideas up; he matured me into a man and a leader because in my second or third season I was captain of the team. I just knuckled down a bit more, so he basically helped me mature as a player.

 

“He was very unlucky not to get us into the Play-Offs. He was a very good coach; very aware of where the team’s strengths lay. 

 

“His recruitment at the time was very good because Barnsley weren’t blessed with money, so his recruitment was very good and I thought he brought in some very good players. He had this idea that we were going to play with three centre-halves and it just seemed to work.”

 Gerry Taggart

Performances at club level didn’t go unnoticed, and Taggart was eventually rewarded for his fine form with a call-up to the Northern Ireland squad.

 

The centre-back made his international debut on 27 March 1990 in a 3-2 defeat to Norway at Windsor Park - in a team that included Danny Wilson playing in midfield.

 

“It was unbelievable - in those days you got a letter to the club and your home address, and it was fantastic,” continued Taggart.

 

“In the season when I joined, Barnsley were in a lot of trouble and I came in as Mel’s first signing and we managed to stay in the league. He brought in one or two other players - Andy Saville and Brendan O’Connell - those players helped Barnsley survive that season.

 

“On the back end of that, Billy Bingham had heard about the performances I’d been putting in for Barnsley and I got a call-up.”

 

Taggart got of the mark for Northern Ireland as he scored twice during a 3-1 win over Poland in Belfast on 5 February 1991.

 

The Reds legend bagged seven goals in total for his country, including a stunning strike against Germany in a 1998 World Cup qualifier in Nuremberg, which finished 1-1.

 

“It’s hard to put into words,” said Taggart. “When you look back on it, it’s kind of a surreal moment and you don’t understand what’s happening.

 

“I suppose, when you go into games, you have an air of confidence that you can score from set-pieces, so you have a self-belief that you have the capability of scoring.

 

“But when you actually look back, that goal against Germany - I have no idea where it came from; I’ve never scored a goal like that before or since. It was a half-volley from the edge of the box and it’s pretty surreal when I look back at it now because, at the time, it doesn’t really sink in what you’ve just achieved.

 

“It’s the best goal of my career, no doubt. I think I’ve scored 40-odd goals - most of them with my head - but I have scored one or two with my feet and that’s the pick of the bunch, no doubt.”

 Taggart for Northern Ireland

It was a period of transition at the time for the Reds, who, during Taggart’s time at the club, were in the second tier of English football.

 

The 1994/95 campaign saw Barnsley make a real push for top flight promotion but, due to the restructuring of the football league following the inception of the Premier League, only two teams would secure promotion - meaning clubs finishing from second to fifth would be in the Play-Offs.

 

As fate would have it, the Reds finished sixth - four points behind fifth place Tranmere Rovers - meaning the Club missed out on the play-offs.

 

“If Barnsley had reached the play-offs, that’s as much as we could have hoped for,” continued Taggart. “We had a good team, a solid team and a bit of quality thrown in the mix.

 

“Maybe with one extra player we’d have got over the line. We always sold our best players, which was another thing - we sold David Currie to Nottingham Forest and when he came back he was a shadow of the man that left.

 

“We sold Carl Tiler and Mark Robinson, so although we were trying to build a team we kept selling our best players, which made it even more difficult to try and get into the play-offs.

 

“In hindsight, Barnsley were there or thereabouts where they should have been; Mel Machin and Danny Wilson, in my last season, got us as high as we could. You’re talking one result, here or there, that we missed out on.”

 

A fans favourite, Taggart was adored by the Barnsley faithful for his full-blooded, committed and ruthless style of defending.

 

Add to that his uncanny ability of scoring goals from set-pieces, which he did on his debut against Brighton and Hove Albion as the Reds drew 1-1 at the Goldstone Ground.

 

“It was quite amazing; I played in a reserve match at Oakwell when I first joined and I broke my wrist - I had to go to hospital and get a plaster cast put on,” reminisced Taggart.

 

“I made my debut at Brighton and scored, and then the next game back at Oakwell the week after as I ran out, the fans started singing the ‘Ooohh Gerry, Gerry’ chant and there’s a load of them with bandages on their arms.

 

“So it just sort of went from there and progressed, so you’d have five or six hundred people with bandages on their arms and before you know it half the Ponty End had bandages on their arms - it was like a sea of bandages.

 

“I think the fans appreciated my style of play, which was no nonsense and all action. In those days I’d go on marauding runs from centre-half, which they also seemed to enjoy, so I had a great relationship with them.”

Taggart for Bolton 

Following six seasons at Oakwell where he was named Young Player of the Year on two occasions, the Northern Irishman joined Bolton in 1995.

 

The Trotters had won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs under Bruce Rioch, but were now being managed by Roy McFarland following Rioch’s departure to Arsenal.

 

“The first season where Danny was manager, my last season, that was the season where we all thought we had a good chance of making the play-offs and we just missed out again,” said Taggart.

 

“At that stage I was 24 and I knew I could handle the pressure of the Premier League. There were a couple of clubs in for me as well; it wasn’t just Bolton. I had this clause in my contract where Man City had to get at least 50% of the transfer fee, so obviously Barnsley were holding out for more money than I was probably worth, or what other clubs were willing to pay.

 

“I ended up going to Bolton because a couple of other clubs weren’t willing to pay over the odds, so I ended up at Bolton in the Premier League. There were other clubs interested, but they wouldn’t go over that £1.5 million.

 

“I think we were all just so deflated after Danny’s first season and Barnsley being Barnsley at the time were always looking to sell their best players, so I suppose it was a win-win for everyone.

 

“When I went to Bolton, we had better players than at Barnsley. Barnsley played better football - being at Barnsley is the best I’ve ever been coached in my career; the best football I’ve played in my career.

 

“But Bolton had better players, there’s no doubt about that. In John McGinlay they had a fox in the box, if you were under pressure you could always count on him to get you goals.

 

“My first season was hampered by injuries, but in my second season I played every game near enough and we managed to win the league quite comfortably in the end. We had better players, but Barnsley definitely played better football.”

 

Bolton were relegated after just one year in the top flight, but returned at the first attempt as Champions - finishing a staggering 18 points clear of second place Barnsley.

 

The Trotters were certainly value for money as they wowed the First Division crowds with 100 goals scored and 53 conceded.

 

In addition to securing Premier League football for the next campaign, Taggart was also named in the PFA Team of the Year.

 

“That was a good honour to have; I was proud of that,” admitted the centre-back. “Obviously, getting promoted was the main priority, but to win the league was fantastic.

 

“Then, to top it off and be recognised by your fellow professionals as being one of the best defenders in the league was a great honour, so I’m really proud of that award.”

 Taggart at Leicester

Bolton suffered relegation from the Premier League again, this time on goal difference to Everton - despite amassing 40 points.

 

From the Reebok Stadium, Taggart moved to Leicester City in 1998 where he would be playing top flight football once more.

 

The Foxes also reached the League Cup final in his first season at Filbert Street, losing to Allan Nielsen’s injury time winner against Tottenham Hotspur.

 

However, Martin O’Neill’s side returned to Wembley the following year and beat Tranmere Rovers 2-1 as Taggart picked up his first major honour at the second attempt. 

 

“That was the icing on the cake for me,” said Taggart. “It took two attempts, and everyone says it was only against Tranmere, but it doesn’t matter; Tranmere were tough opposition that day.

 

“The semi-final set us up, beating Aston Villa who were, at that time, reaching the final and winning it quite regularly at that time in their history. So that was a massive game against Villa.

 

“It was a step up in class from Bolton in terms of the quality of players and to win at Wembley and go up the hallowed staircase and lift a major honour speaks for itself.

 

“I’ve savoured every moment of that because at some points in your career you don’t appreciate the good things you’ve done, and winning the League Cup is one of those moments - especially after losing it the year before.”

 

Winning the League Cup gave Taggart and his Leicester teammates the chance to showcase their talents on a European stage in the UEFA Cup.

 

However, their continental dream was soon over as Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade won 4-2 on aggregate in the First Round.

 

“It was a fantastic experience - you’re coming up against different styles of football, different mentalities and different cultures,” continued Taggart.

 

“I managed to score a goal in the home leg against Red Star Belgrade, we were knocked out in the return leg but it was a really enjoyable experience. It was one of those things where you wanted more, but it just wasn’t to be.

 

“The atmosphere was crazy - they didn’t have that many supporters, but they were letting of smoke bombs left, right and centre, so it was a really tense atmosphere. The war had just finished in Yugoslavia, so it was tense and cagey, and we managed to get a draw in that first leg.

 

“The atmosphere at Filbert Street was normally bubbly and lively but, that night, it was different. We had to play the second leg in Vienna rather than Belgrade because they couldn’t guarantee our safety, so they had to move the return fixture.”

 

In a career that spanned 18 seasons, Taggart worked under a number of talented managers including Machin, Wilson, Colin Todd, O’Neill, Peter Taylor, Micky Adams and Tony Pulis.

 

However, there is one manager who stands out above all as the greatest that he has ever worked with.

 

“Martin O’Neill deserves all the credit for our success,” insisted Taggart. “Don’t get me wrong, he had some good players, but I put Martin O’Neill down as one of the best managers to manage in the Premier League at that time. The man is a genius.

 

“He’s head and shoulders above any manager I’ve ever worked with, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Gerry


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