According to Sir Alex Ferguson, the reason that Dimitar Berbatov struggled to settle into Old Trafford in his first two seasons was purely because of the size of his club record transfer fee. “When we buy a player for a lot of money there is more focus on him” he said “if they have an odd bad game there is a criticism which other players may not get”. It’s a factor which was well understood by Sir Matt Busby when he agreed to pay Barnsley the odd amount of £29,999 for centre forward Tommy Taylor way back in in March 1953, a fee agreed so that Taylor would not be burdened with the label of a £30,000 player and the story goes that a tea lady was the beneficiary of the extra pound!
Taylor tragically lost his life in the Munich air crash but is regarded by those who saw him play as the greatest centre forward ever to represent Manchester United and England. He was the finest header of a ball in his era, his control and first time passing immaculate, his scoring rate for club and country extraordinary. In fact, he was so good that the great Alfredo Di Stefano of Real Madrid dubbed him ‘Magnifico’.
Although Taylor was a member of Busby’s team of youngsters he was not home grown but signed from Barnsley for that unique transfer fee. The big Yorkshireman’s path to Old Trafford was an unusual one in modern terms. At the age of 14 he was working at the Warncliffe Colliery, a job he left to begin a professional football career with Barnsley. At 18 he began two years’ national service and on 25 May 1950 duly became Gunner Taylor 22366853, being posted to Oswestry with the Royal Artillery.
In 1953 United were coming to the end of an era, with Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy on the look out for a new centre forward. Taylor fitted the bill and once signed he soon justified their faith. In 189 appearances for United he scored 131 goals giving him a goal ratio of two every three games which remains unsurpassed. He won championship medals in 1956 with 34 league goals and in 1957 while also putting away an impressive 16 goals in 19 internationals for England.
Taylor’s growing stature in the world game was illustrated immediately after the 1957 FA Cup Final in which he scored United’s goal, when Inter Milan made the then astronomical offer of £65,000 for his services. Busby rejected the bid because his dashing young centre forward was not for sale at any price. Such a great shame that Sir Matt – and England, were unable to enjoy the full fruits of that judgment.
Tommy Taylor was arguably the greatest centre forward England, let alone United, ever had. He was certainly one of the most underrated and his scoring record would have been staggering in any era. He managed two goals every three matches for United so put another way, he found the net once every two hours or so that he spent on a football pitch.
Tragically, along with seven of his team mates, Taylor lost his life in Munich on 6 February 1958. With the world at his feet, a great future had been snuffed out at the age of 26 leaving many to reflect on how he good he might have been.
Has Tommy Taylor been remembered well by English football?