Where are they now? Neil Taylor

by Ron Head

Neil Taylor played more games for Subiaco than anyone else (260), was a dual premiership player, premiership captain, won fairest and best awards in 1981 and 83, was runner up to Dwayne Lamb in 1984, and when Haydn Bunton selected his best ever side of players during his two stints as coach, of four and nine years respectively, Taylor was named as captain.

In an era that heralded the biggest ever class contingent of rovers in this State, with Buhagiar, Melrose, Valli, Fong, Cable, Carter, the Krakouer brothers, Duperouzel, Wiley, Shaw, Kevin Taylor, Mitchell, Bairstow all representing Western Australia, it was a tough assignment to catch the eye of a State selector, and, although making the squad in 1983, Taylor never wore the gold and black, surely one of the best players to be denied that honour.

Neil Taylor experienced some of Subiaco’s worst years as well as some of their very best in his fifteen years at Subiaco. He was a shining light in the bad times and an inspiration in the good ones, captaining the club from 1982 to 1987.

An outstanding rover as a junior with Woodlands, a club co-founded by Cliff Fitzpatrick, father of AFL chief Mike, as a junior, where he was coached by well respected junior coach Jim McDonald, Neil was a member of the Subiaco colts side in 1974, and made an immediate impression. Becoming the second Subiaco player in a row after Greg Wright to win the Burley(later Jack Clarke) Medal as fairest and best in the Colts competition in 1974, in Subiaco’s first ever colts flag, there were high expectations for the young rover. 

But his initial foray into league football was anything but impressive. “I found it hard in my first couple of seasons and really struggled,” he said. “I started as a rover, and played six games in 1975 with another half dozen the following season. The pace seemed to be beyond me, so I trained all the harder to develop my stamina.”

After spending the first five games of 1977 in the reserves, Taylor was selected in the league side as a wingman, and the move worked, as he became a regular, his endurance, determination, and general team attitude suiting the new role. With another two years experience under his belt, Neil returned to roving duties, and never looked back.

The late seventies and early eighties saw the Subiaco Football Club at it’s lowest ebb, with four wooden spoons, three second lasts, and a succession of coaches. Between 1976 and 1978 the club introduced thirty three debutants, one of which was Taylor. Only four of these(Taylor, brother Brian, who was a double centurion, Ken Bell, Phil Lamb, and Rod Brown) went on to play a hundred games at the club, with Gary Buckenara, Tim Gepp and Glen O’Loughlin advancing to the AFL.

Neil recalls one particular match against Swan Districts which was an illustration of the plight the Lions were in at that time. “Phil Lamb and myself were playing on the Narkle brothers, who kicked five goals each, which would surely be a record for two wingmen in a league match. We were named as Subiaco’s best two despite that.”

Subiaco finished in the bottom half in Taylor’s first nine years at the club, but his team ethos and inspiration were already under notice, and in 1982 he led the side onto the ground for the first game of what would be a six year reign.

When the good times came, with four grand final appearances in consecutive years, it was all the sweeter.
“ Club sponsors Western Underwriters insured against us making the four in 1985, and we collected a hundred thousand dollars by qualifying for the finals. We unfortunately lost the grand final to a strong East Fremantle side, but the payout was spent on a players trip to Hawaii the following January,” Neil recalled. “The bonding and comaraderie became the foundation for a payback premiership over East that year. We didn’t go on a players trip after the 1986 season and were runners up to Claremont in 1987, but a couple of weeks in Penang early in 1988 was followed by another premiership that year. There’s a message there.”

At the age of thirty two, Neil Taylor called it a day after the 1989 season.

Moving to Mandurah, he quickly adjusted to the coaching caper, guiding Mandurah Mustangs into the grand final in each of his three years at the club, with a premiership in 1993.  Ten years later a return to Subiaco saw him in charge of the colts in 2003 and 4.

Regarding opponents, Neil had a lot of respect for South Fremantle wingman Tony Morley, Phil Kelly(East Perth, who was a colleague at the University of WA), Barry Cable, the Narkles, and Perth’s Alan Johnson. Best he played with? “Peter Featherby. Peter carried us along with his experience, having played finals before we did, and he was a huge influence on our success.”

A physical education teacher in WA for twenty seven years, Taylor has recently returned from a three year stint in Singapore and India, which he describes as an enlightening and great experience. It didn’t take him long to become involved in football after arriving back in Perth, with Peel signing him as an advisor and assistant with their under fifteen squad, which plays in an interclub competition. Moves are afoot regarding an involvement with Subiaco next season.

A single parent for many years, Neil has two daughters and two grandchildren. He is still teaching.

Neil Taylor was an outstanding player and captain during a tumultuous period in the development of the Subiaco Football Club, which laid the foundations for the success it has enjoyed in more recent times.

 

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