Interview: Maik Taylor

They just don’t make goalkeepers like this anymore! The German-born, Northern Irish international is still adored by the Fulham faithful 15 years on from his departure to Birmingham City in 2004. Firstly, because of his consistent, commanding performances between the sticks as an individual but also for being a pivotal part of teams that achieved an amount of success that will remain iconic and special to Fulham Football Club forever.

In 235 appearances for the Whites, Taylor not only played the most games across two 101 point winning promotions, he also kept 94 clean sheets with a clean sheet to game ratio that no Fulham keeper since his debut in 1998 has bettered. Daniel Smith spoke to Maik to reminisce on his fantastic Fulham career…

DS – Growing up, which football club did you support and did you always want to be a goalkeeper?

MT – Growing up I supported Southampton as my first footballing memory was them winning the FA Cup in 1976. I always wanted to be an outfield player. Never ever played in goal until I was 19 and went in goal by accident while I was in the army and enjoyed it!

DS – Did you have any role models within the game growing up, or anyone you learnt a lot from in the earlier days of your career?

MT – I loved watching Kevin Keegan growing up. Loved his enthusiasm and will to win. Peter Schmeichel was my goalkeeping idol once I started playing in goal.

DS – How did you get your first opportunity in football?

MT – Ray Clemence was the manager of Barnet FC and had his scouts watch me playing for the army and non-league with Farnborough Town. Barnet bought me out of the army and I learnt so much from Ray on the training field and discussing matches with him. He gave me so much confidence.

DS – How did the move to Fulham materialise and what appealed to you about the move?

MT – I was at Southampton in the Premiership who I’d supported as a child and had worked so hard to achieve my dream of playing at the top level, so I wasn’t looking to leave there. Also, I’d only been there a year, had bought a house and our first child not so long born. But with a managerial change, I found it hard to break back into the team. I wasn’t getting a fair chance to fight for the shirt. Then the club informed me that Fulham and Kevin Keegan had agreed a fee and asked would I like to speak with him. At the time I reluctantly agreed because I didn’t want to drop down 2 divisions. But I also wasn’t prepared to sit around and pick up my wages without a fair challenge for the no.1 shirt. Once I’d spoken with Kevin and heard the plans he and the club had with the owner I knew it would be fantastic to be a part of that vision. 

DS – What was your relationship like with Al Fayed?

MT – Awesome! He was good with all the players. Apart from high fiving Louis Saha, one day in the player’s lounge calling him ‘Boa!!!!’ At the time Boa had a shaven head and Saha had dreadlocks with colours beads in!! Easy mistake! 

DS – What about meeting Michael Jackson! What was that like?

MT – That was surreal!! I’ve still got the personally signed team photo with Jacko in it. 

DS – What was your relationship like with Kevin Keegan?

MT – My relationship with Kevin Keegan was great. As was his with all the lads. He was very approachable and made life easy as long as we showed the same work ethic and hunger as he did which should be a given as a pro footballer. He was a great man-manager and his enthusiasm and desire was first class.

DS – What was the overall atmosphere like surrounding the rumours of Keegan leaving for England. Did it dampen the party atmosphere at all?

MT – Obviously initially the mood was dampened by Kevin leaving to take over England but he was very ambitious and very passionate about his country so we understood that he had to take the opportunity. But we had a game to concentrate on the next day. We wished him good luck. He was very popular but that’s football for you!

DS – So, Keegan leaves. Were you surprised that Paul Bracewell was the man chosen to replace him? Did your relationship change when Bracewell went from a teammate to the manager?

MT – It didn’t surprise me that Paul Bracewell took over. He was one of the most senior, had the most experience and was looking to go into coaching. Relationships obviously do change when someone goes from a teammate to ‘Gaffer’, but my relationship with Paul was one of a work colleague and not much closer. He did his thing after training and I went home to my family. No other reason. He was a good bloke. So nothing really changed in that respect.

DS – What did Tigana change when he came in and how would you describe your relationship with the Frenchman?

MT – I thought Kevin was a very good manager. But Jean Tigana blew me away. It was the first time I had experienced ‘sports science’ and we spent a lot of time on team shape and organisation. A whole new world to a lot of us. But we benefitted greatly from it and got more rewards on the pitch. I had a great relationship with him.

DS – Everyone saw on camera how Sean Davis, the fans, even Tigana himself celebrated that famous goal against Blackburn. But how did you celebrate it down the other end and what was the atmosphere like after the game?

MT – That match lives long in the memory. One of the best feelings in a game in my time at Fulham. So much hard work had gone in during that season to get us to that point. We were confident but then to go a man down the odds stacked against us. We hung in there, backs to the wall stuff, but we kept going and Sean found some energy from somewhere to burst forward in the final moments and score. Wow, we all went crazy. Tigana showed emotion like we’d never seen, possibly because of some things that were said in the Blackburn camp prior to that game. But most likely that we knew we were very nearly over the line with that win. My feelings after were a bit tearful at what we’d done and how hard we’d worked to get there with a team spirit and togetherness you dream of. But also mental exhaustion from the intense concentration to not let that game slip away in the circumstances. It made everything worthwhile. It’s what we were all fighting for!

DS – Difficult decision but which promotion campaign was more memorable for you personally. Keegan’s or Tigana’s and why?

MT – It’s obviously tough to decide as both were fantastic seasons. But I’d have to go with Tigana’s promotion. Not only was it promotion to the Premier League where we all wanted to play our football. But the brand of football we were playing and the quality of our squad was exhilarating. I remember playing Birmingham City away in only the 2nd match of the season and after kick-off and 25 passes we were 1-0 up. They were one of the fancied sides to go up that year! Trevor Francis said after the game that it was the best away performance he had ever seen at St Andrew’s. That kind of summed up the season!

DS – Going into both promotion campaigns, did you expect us to be as successful as we were?

MT – There was an expectation from everyone around us that we should at the very least be challenging for promotion. That was only natural given the resources from the owner and some of the money being spent in the transfer market. But that is never enough alone. The personalities and character of the players already at the club and the new signings meant that we as players had our own expectations, hunger and desire to achieve promotion and if you unite that all together then it gives you a very good chance.

DS – Did you know that in the English leagues, you are one of a very small handful of players that have accumulated a century of points in a season twice? Fulham are still the only club in England that have done this.

MT – I hadn’t known or thought about that stat before but am very proud to have played my part in 2 extremely successful seasons.

DS – What was your favourite match for Fulham?

MT – There are so many games I enjoyed for Fulham. Beating Aston Villa 0-2 away in the FA Cup when we were a League One side and at the time they were top of the Premier League was a highlight.

Beating Watford 5-0 on boxing day when we were the top 2 teams in the Championship. But the outstanding one has to be that Blackburn away match for all that it meant.

DS – We normally ask what a player’s favourite goal was but since you were a keeper, is there a particular save that stands out in the memory?

MT – I don’t usually have a favourite save. Sometimes there are great saves. But they mean nothing to me if it doesn’t have an impact on the match and we’ve lost! Far less of a “worldy’ save is so much more crucial if it’s at an important stage in the match and we go on to get something from the game.

DS – When did you learn of Fulham’s interest in Van Der Sar and how did you feel after getting Fulham to the Premier League?

MT – Tigana pulled me aside during pre-season to tell me that Edwin VDS was coming. He apologised and explained that he wasn’t looking for a goalkeeper as I’d done well in helping us achieve promotion. He’d failed to sign a few players because no one across Europe had really heard of Fulham. So he needed that one big signing to elevate the club profile to enable him to sign other high profile players. Unfortunately for me, it happened to be in my position. A Champion’s League winner and someone he could buy extremely cheaply for that calibre of player and what a signing he was. On and off the pitch an all-round top guy, great pro and world-class keeper. Obviously, I was gutted he was in my position, and I desperately wanted to play in the Premier League again after working so hard to get back there from Southampton. But that’s football!

DS – What was your relationship like with Edwin?

MT – Ed and I had a great relationship, we were roommates and supported each other whoever was playing. He was extremely supportive of me when I played due to an unfortunate injury to his foot. He accepted that as I was playing well during the last 6 games of the season, that he would spend that time on the bench. But he helped me a lot. Top man.

DS – Was it a special occasion for you personally getting to play in the UEFA Cup for Fulham against Hertha Berlin? How frustrating was it that we exited the competition with a 0-0 despite managing to keep a clean sheet?

MT – It was a special occasion playing in the UEFA Cup and being against a German side was good as my mother is German. But again keeping a clean sheet doesn’t live too much in the memory because we failed to win and didn’t progress in the tournament. I remember us dominating the game but we just couldn’t find that goal we needed on the night!!

DS – Was it a hard decision to leave Fulham in the end?

MT – It wasn’t as tough a decision to leave Fulham in the end if I’m being honest. Not because I didn’t like the club, not in any way, shape or form. I absolutely loved everything, well nearly! I loved my teammates, the management staff, the people working around the club, the fantastic supporters, London and family life at home. The only thing that made my decision easy was Edwin!

Great guy, but too bloody good a goalkeeper that no matter how hard I tried I had to be honest enough to admit it was a lost cause trying to compete against him and get into the team!! I didn’t want to work so hard and not have the excitement of matchday and play. I realised it was a challenge too big for me so I had to move on. I was ambitious and wanted memories of playing.

DS – So if Fulham never did sign Van Der Sar, do you think you would have stayed with Fulham for the rest of your career?

MT- Absolutely mate! Why wouldn’t I?! The only reason I left was because there was no chance I would play ahead of him. I’m not afraid to say that. There’s no chance I was prepared to just sit on the bench and pick up my money without a fair fight.

DS – Overall, how would you look back on your time at Fulham?

MT – I’d look back at my time at Fulham full of immense pride and great times. Pride that I played a very small part in helping them grow to what it has become. The whole club will always have fond memories for me.

DS – Here are some quickfire questions about your Fulham teammates:

* Closest mates – Alan Neilson.
* Jokers – Sean Davis.
* Leaders – Chris Coleman.
* Best player – Louis Saha.
* Biggest moaner – Barry Hayles & Rufus Brevett.

DS – Are you still in contact with anyone from your Fulham days?

MT – Alan Neilson is still one of my best friends and Steve Finnan is still very close and we try to make time for a few rounds of golf.

DS – Moving away from Fulham now. A few more questions for you Maik. Due to FIFA regulations at the time, as a British Citizen who was born abroad, you were able to pick which home nation you wanted to represent. What was your reason for picking Northern Ireland?

MT – I felt that as a 28-year-old playing in League One my chances of representing England were zero!

N.Ireland offered me the opportunity to play for them on the international stage and I am forever grateful and honoured to have represented them 88 times. Very proud indeed. 

DS – Is there a standout moment from your international career?

MT – Beating England 1-0 at Windsor Park against a star-studded England team when we were rock bottom against all odds, my 2 sons were mascots that day.

My eldest coming down the tunnel holding David Beckham’s hand. My other son holding my hand. Is undoubtedly my standout moment playing for N.Ireland. 

DS – It must have been amazing to remain within the national setup after retirement and being part of the backroom staff for the recent success Northern Ireland have achieved?

MT – Absolutely thrilled to have been asked to join the coaching staff with N.Ireland immediately after retirement from playing and then for the team to qualify for a major Championships for the first time in 30 years was simply an incredible experience.

We’d desperately hoped and tried to do just that whilst I was playing but it wasn’t to be. This was the next best thing, to be involved on the coaching staff and experience the European Championships in France was amazing.

DS – What are you up to now?

MT – I’m currently the first-team goalkeeping coach at Walsall FC.

DS- Finally Maik, we ask everyone this question. Pie or pasty, which filling?

MT – Chicken and mushroom pie!!!