It has seldom been considered fashionable to play for Bolton Wanderers – but back in the days of long hair, rutted pitches and glam rock, this part of Lancashire was playing football way ahead of its time.
Bolton Wanderers were back on the up by the time Ian Greaves picked up the baton from Leeds-bound Jimmy Armfield in 1974 and would soon be knocking hard on the door for a return to Division One.
After the cash-strapped sixties and a drop into the third tier for the first time in the club’s history had eaten away at the once-healthy attendances at Burnden Park, people were flooding back through the turnstiles again.
More than 48,000 turned up to see a see-saw FA Cup fifth round clash with Newcastle United on Valentine’s Day 1976, and 50,000-plus watched Wanderers miss out against Everton in the club’s first-ever League Cup semi-final a year later.
For a young player like Steve Taylor, who had turned professional under the watch of Armfield in 1974 and accompanied the first team on their pre-season tour to Germany, it was a dream come true.
But just as Jurgen Klopp is credited with finding a brand of football that has electrified Anfield, Taylor believes Greaves had exactly the right persona and tactical nous to make Bolton the place to be in the seventies.
“Sometimes it’s just the right time,” he told The Bolton News. “And everything clicked for Ian Greaves when he took over from Jimmy.
“He was such a big personality and got on so well with the players. That was one of his big strengths. I think he was used to dealing with characters at Huddersfield where he’d had lads like Frank Worthington and Les Chapman.
“But the reason fans liked him is that he played the right way. He didn’t believe in long ball or anything like that, he’d tell you to play it out from the back, encourage it, and that didn’t happen all that much back then.
“The goalkeepers could pick the ball up, of course, so usually you’d see the ball knocked as far down the other end as possible and build from there. But Ian Greaves was happy with his defenders getting the ball. It didn’t start with Pep Guardiola – this was the mid-seventies.
“You could slow the pace of the game down, tire your opponents out a bit. Kill some time if you were a goal up.
“I think they call it game management now. And maybe at times you could say it wasn’t quite as exciting – but we won a lot of games and it worked.
“And the team was good to watch, there were a lot of good players he could call on to win a game.”
As a striker, Taylor enjoyed his most profitable season in 1976/77, grabbing 16 league goals in the same year Neil Whatmore got 25 and Paul Jones another 11.
That free-scoring Bolton side owed much to the experienced wide threats of former Scottish international Willie Morgan and ex-England and Liverpool man, Peter Thompson.
“I think as a striker you’ll have ups and downs but sometimes you have to look at the service you get,” Taylor said. “Is the ball getting into the penalty box enough for you to score goals?
“If you are a Lionel Messi and can take five players on to score, that’s great, but the majority of players rely on that final ball. And if you are not getting it then your chances are going to be limited.
“I was spoiled at Bolton. You had Peter Thompson and Willie Morgan on either side and you just knew that they would cross the ball all day long.
“Willie was like a machine. It was always near post, never back post. It was just his style.
“You don’t really see many clubs doing that these days, although a team like Sheffield United are probably as close as you’d come. The Manchester United and Citys know they can get goals from everywhere and so they don’t need to rely on the wide men as much.”
But 1977 proved to be the final year of Taylor’s Bolton career and by October he had moved on to Oldham Athletic for £38,000 – his replacement, a certain Frank Stewart Worthington.
“I enjoyed my time at Bolton but I think once Frank came along I knew my chances would be limited,” he said. “I’d had a really good season before I left and scored plenty of goals considering I’d had about eight weeks out with a cartilage.
“But when we just missed out on promotion and the manager said he was bringing another striker in, and that turned out to be Frank, well, my time was up wasn’t it?
“He was a wonderful player and I just think it’s such a pity that he never got the move to Liverpool because it would have been something to see him in a team like that.”
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Taylor, who would score plenty more goals for the likes of Burnley and Rochdale over the course of a career which would span into the nineties, has had reason to reflect of late after being diagnosed with skin cancer.
Taylor is currently recovering from an operation to remove cancerous skin cells on his forehead – an operation he was glad to complete just as the lockdown brought everyone in the UK indoors.
The 64-year-old, who lives in Oldham and also has property in Lytham, has been given the all-clear by specialists but has urged people to be careful in the sun if they get the opportunity this summer.
“In winter we have a place we go to in Tenerife and probably 18 months ago I’d noticed a patch of dry skin on the top of my head and didn’t really think a lot of it,” he explained. “I just put a bit of cream on and left it alone.
“But then as time went on it developed into a rash. I didn’t want any drama and didn’t really deal with it – but then it got bigger and we knew it needed to be sorted out.”
After seeing doctors in Oldham, Taylor was able to get himself into a specialist at Salford Royal who was able to deal with the problem on-site using Mohs surgery, the result of which was 12 stitches but a weight off the mind.
“The staff and in particular Dr Nicholas Telfer were amazing,” he said. “There was a lot of anxiety in there at the time because they knew what was coming around the corner and that things were about to get very serious. But to get in there when I did, cutting it very fine, I was so relieved.
“I look a bit like a pirate at the moment with my stitches and a big black eye, plus they had to cut some nerves in my head so it’s a bit numb. But they got it all out first time, so I can’t complain at all.”
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