Gone ... but not forgotten. My tribute to departing Rotherham United winger Jon Taylor

By Paul Davis | 09/06/2019

Gone ... but not forgotten. My tribute to departing Rotherham United winger Jon Taylor
Jon Taylor

THE best toy I ever bought my two sons when they were kids was called a Zig Zag Zog.

It was a dinky little item that worked off sensors, racing all around the house and suddenly changing direction whenever it detected a skirting board, a cooker door or anything like that.

God, it could be thrilling as it whooshed at 100 miles an hour through the lounge, across the kitchen, out on to the patio, here, there and everywhere. No-one could predict where it would dash to next or where it would end up, least of all the Zig Zag Zog itself.

Does it remind you of anyone? Perhaps a certain record buy who last week bade farewell to Rotherham United after three energy-packed seasons?

Jon Taylor, a winger who could provoke delight and dismay in equal measure, is departing at the end of his contract having made an impact at AESSEAL New York Stadium far greater than his 5ft 5in frame.

Eighty-five starts for the Scouse power-ball, 34 substitute appearances, 13 goals, three years of 100 per cent effort and nought to 60 in two seconds flat.

The £500,000 attacker, now 26, knew no fear and was prepared to take on anyone.

He arrived from Peterborough United in August 2016 with one great trick — the ability to push the ball 20 yards past an opponent and hare after it — and over time he added a second cunning weapon to his armoury. 

By the time his Millers career drew to a close, he could also push the ball 25 yards past an opponent and hare after it.

There were many good moments in two Championship seasons, both of which ended in relegation, and, at his best, he was a fulminating, fizzing force in a single League One campaign that climaxed in a Wembley play-off final and promotion.

The Millers dressing room was bonded by 'Tayls' glue. Teammates despaired of him and loved him. He was funny when he was trying to be and even funnier when he wasn't.

Matt Hamshaw listened in to one of his conversations when the squad gathered for lunch after a morning workout. “Daft as you like,” the coach smiled, shaking his head with genuine fondness.

No-one at the club's training complex was more open or more friendly. If an outsider turned up at Roundwood, they'd find that Taylor was the first to bring them into the fold and make them feel at home.

Rotherham's former yoga instructor, Mark Davies, still talks of being petrified on the day of his first session until a particular player spotted his nerves and went out of his way to reassure him.

The wide man was the first to admit his failings — a lack of thought and composure after a bustling burst of brio — yet his all-action approach could make him a nightmare to play against.

“I know what I am,” he said. “I'm a hard-working lad who will just keep going. “Sometimes I will frustrate people, I know that, but I give everything.

“I can do something unbelievable and follow it up with something cr*p. That's just the way I am, a bit erratic.”

He was always good for an extra Man-of-the-Match award or two as well: a couple of eye-catching runs in the opening five minutes and then the combination of sponsors and alcohol would do the rest.

Maybe the winger's greatest day in a Millers shirt came last November in the 2-2 home draw with Sheffield United when he scored and terrorised the Blades' right-wing-back. 

Kieron Freeman simply couldn't cope. Taylor shot by him one way. Zig. He sped past him another. Zag. Pulsating, perpetual motion. Zog.

Ah, that toy again ... on occasion, you'd come across it, whirring away, desperate for action, stuck between the fridge and the washing machine.

With girlfriend Ellie and mum and dad Yvonne and Harry at Wembley

A helping hand and it was straight back to top speed as if nothing had happened. Just like Tayls, all it ever wanted was to be on the move.

My lads loved it more than any other present. Even an Xbox or PS4 couldn't compare for pure glee and there were delighted peels of excitement as, a bit like a couple of juvenile Kieron Freemans, they tried and failed to keep up with it on its crazy, unplanned journey throughout the house.

Those peels were all the louder when they were magnified around 8,000 times by home fans.

Other highlights included the stunning goal at Kenny Jackett's Portsmouth that saw the Millers end their 28-match winless away run in September 2017 and beating 6ft 8in Peter Crouch in the air in front of the New York faithful against Stoke City last September.

There was also his impact in February as a half-time substitute at Hull City that inspired a comeback from 2-0 down to 2-2 and that volley in the home draw against Sheffield Wednesday a few days later.

No-one was more popular in the dressing room than joyful, joshing Jon. He didn't have mates, only best mates. 

Girlfriend Ellie was his biggest buddy he once told me, an honour he also bestowed in the same interview on roommate Joe Newell and Glasgow Rangers defender Connor Goldson, whom he knew from their time together as youngsters at Shrewsbury Town.

Ellie, who studied at Manchester University, has been with him all through his career and they now share a home in West Derby, an affluent suburb in East Liverpool. “I'm genuinely amazed,” I told him. “What, that I've got a girlfriend?” he asked in mock offence. “No,” I replied, “That you've got one with a degree.”

His attitude was infectious. He was scared of nobody and his willingness to back himself and the men around him spread spirit through the camp.

“We'll win every game next season,” he declared towards the end of his first year when the drop from the Championship was looming after a 1-0 defeat at Bristol City.

A couple of minutes later, there was a tap on my shoulder at Ashton Gate. “I've been thinking,” a squat, muscular figure said. “Can you change 'every' to 'most'?”

Taylor was small but strong, with a low centre of gravity that made him difficult to knock out of possession, and he had the engine to match the speed.

When pulses were checked during sessions of sprints, the rate at which he recovered raised eyebrows. Not only was he quick, he was capable of being repeatedly quick from the first minute to the last.

The performance and physio staff reckoned he'd run a good 10k, if  only he could concentrate for that long.

All this was fuelled by the most unbalanced diet of anyone in Paul Warne's squad: meat and more meat. “Vegetables aren't for me, Mate,” he reckoned. “I just can't get them down.”

Warne summed up the player's approach: “Every match, it's like I've locked him in a cupboard for three days and let him out just before kick-off.”

The brand name on his performance-tracking GPS vest summed him up even better: Catapult.

With those large lungs came a kind heart. He emerged early from the New York tunnel for the warm-up before the West Brom encounter on December 22 last year so he could hand-deliver a Christmas card to my season-ticket-holding mum in the West Stand. He has no idea what that gesture meant to a woman in her 70s who had lost her husband a few months earlier.

Back at Roundwood, when training was done, he would be on a constant loop looking for allies or victims. He was the only player who could make me laugh before he'd even said anything. The devilment on his face was enough.

Peterborough arrived for a reserve fixture last term and included in their side his old partner in crime at London Road, Marcus Maddison.

Taylor watched from behind glass and every time Maddison took a corner in the first half the Posh man was greeted by a knock on the nearby window, the world's most innocent smile and two furtive fingers.

His tweet after the West Brom game

Tayls loved being a Miller and claimed last season that he'd be happy to stay. But the prospect of a chance from elsewhere to remain in the second tier saw him reject the Millers’ offer of a new deal and he won't be gracing League One with them in 2019/20.

“Rotherham as a club sum me up as a player,” he said. “It's a good fit. We suit each other. I'm not one to kid myself that I'm some unbelievable player who should be playing at a higher level than the Championship.”

After the April 27 2-1 loss at West Bromwich Albion that sealed the Millers' fall from the second tier, he posted a tweet that hinted at an impending exit and betrayed his Huyton upbringing:

'Absolutely devastated. Thank youse all so much for supporting us this whole season. Some great memories that I will remember forever. UTM.'

Meanwhile, after around three seasons of its own, the Zig Zag Zog did its knee — or whatever it is that Zig Zag Zogs do to end their playing days — in an ill-advised charge towards the tumble-dryer following an unintentional encounter with the dog-basket. 

No amount of physio could repair the damage and it was retired to the grazing pasture for clapped-out toys that was our loft.

Sometimes, when I lay awake late at night, I thought I could hear it crashing full pelt into the water tank before taking a lightning detour around a bag of ancient birthday cards, winning a header against Peter Crouch, leaving Kieron Freeman for dead and crossing a ball into the third row of the North Stand.

My missus said I was just imagining things. But I hope not.

 

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TAYLS' INSTAGRAM MESSAGE TO MILLERS FANS

"Thanks very much for the last three years. I have loved every minute of it and have made friends for life.

"I have memories that I will never ever forget and there are a lot of people to thank for that.

"I did tell the manager and staff before the last game of the season that I would rather shake hands and say thanks now than do it over the phone in a few months’ time or keep conversations going as I didn’t want anyone to think I was leading them on.

"Thank you for letting me be a Miller and I will still love this great club because it has been the best three years of my life being part of it on and off the pitch."


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