Even someone like me who isn’t under the spell of football knew who Peter Taylor was. He’d been a footballer but I remember him as a manager. He and Brian Clough formed one of the most legendary partnerships in football history. For years top division football in the seventies was dominated by the usual few teams and Nottingham Forest were stuck way down in the nether regions. The club frothed out of the murky lower levels to the very top in a short space of time under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor’s management. There’s even a statue of the famous duo.
Peter came full circle as he’d started with Nottingham Forest as a lad. He was one of eight children raised in Nottingham. It was his future wife the 14-year-old Lily that persuaded her boyfriend to play for her father's football team and he was soon spotted and signed up by Nottingham Forest. There was no job for him: as the Second World War raged he made his first team debut aged just 16 and started his football career.
I won’t summarise his career but by 34 his football days were over due to injury and he went into management. All the time he’d been playing he was learning from Coventry manager Harry Storer while getting to know Middlesbrough striker Brian Clough who was six years younger. In 1962 he was managing Burton Albion and three years later Brian appointed him as his assistant at Hartlepool United. They built an effective squad and famous partnership started. They were a well-matched pair and went as one entity to Derby County in May 1967. Within five years the club fizzed up to the top division. In 1973 both resigned as they didn’t rub along well with the board of directors and moved to Brighton & Hove Albion
By 1976 both were managing Nottingham Forest. As they had done at Derby they lifted the team up to top-flight in 1976–77 and even won the league title in 1977–78. Nowadays they be paid in millions. They went on a spending sprees buying terrific players and Peter authorised the English game's first £1 million transfer (buying Trevor Francis from Birmingham City - I can remember him in my football sticker book.) They seemed to know which play
Peter retired in May 1982 aged 54 (Brian Clough stayed on for another eleven seasons but the teams were never as effective with Peter.) Brian didn’t mind giving credit where it was due and said, "I'm not equipped to manage successfully without Peter Taylor. I am the shop window and he is the goods in the back." Brian Clough was the forceful motivating power but Peter had the essence of picking talented players. Brian Clough was the famous one and Peter didn’t mind; they got on and often finished each other's sentences.
Oddly he came out of retirement to manage Derby. At the time the two old chums got on. There was a wobble in the autumn of 1980 when Peter published a book called With Clough and hadn’t told his chum he’d written it. Things turned permanently sour over a dispute over the transfer of John Robertson from Nottingham Forest to Derby. Brian Clough saw his chum as a"a snake-in-the-grass" for not letting him know summarising it in his usual direct way, “We pass each other on the A52 going to work on most days of the week. But if his car broke down and I saw him thumbing a lift, I wouldn't pick him up, I'd run him over". They never spoke to one another again.
In October 1990 the 62-year-old Peter Taylor was on holiday in Majorca when he died suddenly of pulmonary fibrosis (a build-up of scar tissue in the lungs.) When his old chum Brian Clough was told of the news he wept heavily. He attended the funeral and dedicated his autobiography to Peter, his story headed up with the well-meant words: "To Peter. Still miss you badly. You once said: 'When you get shot of me there won't be as much laughter in your life'. You were right".
I found the church in an affluent area and I thought the Sat-Nav was drunk again as I seemed to be heading toward a nature reserve. I drove slowly along a quiet tree-lined track not sure if cars were allowed. There was not one person around to tell me otherwise. I was about to turn around when – above tall evergreens - I spotted a taller church spire. This was it. I found the church doors to be locked. Often I go inside the churches I visit, rant at an imaginary meat-eating flock, say a prayer for my mum (often on knees) or do a loud cheek-pop to break the silence but I couldn’t get in.
I strolled around the back to a few graves. Not many people are buried here bearing in mind the hulking size of the church. I found Peter quite quickly. He left behind a wife, a couple of kids and a groove in football’s history books.
There’s even commemorating the famous duo (note the cheesy grin)…