Gordon Taylor: How will PFA chief executive's reign be judged?

Gordon Taylor
Gordon Taylor has headed up the PFA since 1981

For a man who had been in his job for almost four decades, it should hardly come as a surprise that Gordon Taylor was in no rush to hasten the beginning of the end of his tenure.

According to those advising him, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive had been warned by senior colleagues that if he failed to announce plans for his departure at the union's belated annual general meeting on Wednesday, he would face a renewed and highly damaging rebellion from within his membership that would inevitably seal his fate.

Far better, Taylor was told, to go in comparatively dignified fashion, on his own terms and in his own time, and eventually he agreed.

No wonder the 74-year-old seemed in good spirits when - accompanied by Mark Flanagan, ex-Number 10 spin doctor and now managing director of Portland, the prestigious crisis communications consultancy Taylor had hired to help him survive the crisis - he arrived at Manchester's Midland Hotel, despite refusing to answer the BBC's questions before his departure was confirmed.

According to the PFA's "continuity plan", Taylor will only step down after the completion of an independent review into its governance that has only just started, and which could take many months to conclude. And only then after a recruitment process for a successor, which in turn could take a considerable amount of time to conduct. And only then after the AGM that follows that.

With no timescale provided, it will be no surprise if Taylor is still in post two years from now, despite demands from some critics that he should go immediately.

It will also dismay some that PFA chairman Ben Purkiss, who by challenging Taylor last year eventually brought about the chief executive's downfall, has been made to step down, along with the rest of the union's management committee, and cannot stand as chief executive for five years.

Purkiss told me he was at peace with the outcome when we spoke briefly after the meeting, but former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has questioned why the 34-year-old is having to leave his role.

It will be a source of encouragement to many that the results of Thomas Linden QC's PFA review will be made public, and that the search for Taylor's successor will be "independent", but others will worry that he may still be able to exert some influence over the future of the organisation he has ruled for so long.

Gordon Taylor succeeds Cliff Lloyd as the head of the PFA in November 1981
Gordon Taylor succeeded Cliff Lloyd as the head of the PFA in 1981

So how will Taylor's reign be judged?

The ex-Bolton, Birmingham, Blackburn and Bury winger can certainly claim to be leaving the PFA in a much healthier and wealthier position than he found it in 1981, when he became CEO.

Much of that is down to his skills as a negotiator. In 1992 Taylor threatened to call a strike if the union did not receive a significant share of the newly established Premier League's TV revenue. It worked.

Then, in 2001, he became one of the few to successfully stand up to former Premier League supremo Richard Scudamore, threatening industrial action again after receiving 99% support of his members.

His stance persuaded the Premier League and Football League to make an improved offer to the PFA of £52m funding over three years, rather than original deal of £30m. In December he managed to secure a new contract with the leagues and the Football Association worth £60m a year over three seasons.

A supporter of various anti-discrimination initiatives, Taylor also helped establish campaign group Kick It Out, and could always point to the benevolent grants, welfare services and post-career support made possible by the funding he had secured.

The issue, however, was that the money also enabled Taylor to become one of the world's best-paid trade union officials, his £2.2m salary a symbol of largesse in the modern game.

For years, Taylor was able to rely on the loyalty and apathy of his members. From an allegation that he ran up a £100,000 gambling debt, to comparing the Hillsborough families' campaign for justice to the Ched Evans case (for which he apologised), he came through a number of controversies.

In 2017, he brushed off a stinging attack by FA chairman Greg Clarke, who told MPs: "The PFA spends millions of pounds a year on the CEO's salary and pension and they are walking away from alcoholics, from addicted gamblers. I will never look up to their governance."

But then came the Purkiss mutiny, the chairman's demand for a governance review and reforms sparking an unprecedented revolt by former players, many of whom had suffered financial difficulties since retirement and complained of a lack of PFA support.

Suddenly, Taylor's salary was compared to the much smaller amount directed towards research into the links between heading and dementia. That coincided with a greater awareness of mental health issues and alcoholism and gambling addiction among former players, more frequent allegations of bullying in academies and, worst of all, football's child sex abuse scandal, with some victims claiming the PFA could have done more.

Taylor always insisted that he had only ever acted in the interests of his members, but after the Charity Commission launched an ongoing investigation into the PFA, and mounting speculation that Taylor may have breached union rules by never standing for election, he eventually agreed to an independent review.

Even then, in a period when the chief executives of the Premier League, FA and Football League all stood down, Taylor defiantly clung on with a defiance that drew parallels with the former Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

But finally, three months later, Sports Resolutions was appointed to lead the review, and then, a few weeks after that, Taylor finally announced he would - at some stage - be leaving.

Gordon Taylor
Taylor made more than 500 league appearances for Bolton, Birmingham, Blackburn and Bury between 1962 and 1980

Taylor insisted that the attacks on his leadership had been "unfair and unfounded" and, in an interview with the Press Association, defended his salary when compared to other chief executive roles in football.

He may well have a point. But for many, his leadership had also become synonymous with the game's reluctance to adapt, and a failure to make the best use of its vast wealth.

Many players, both past and present, still vouch for Taylor. His reign certainly divides opinion. But there seems little doubt that the perception of his legacy will have been tainted by the events of recent months.

The way his departure has been carefully managed may have bought him one or even two more years in the job. It reinforces his status as one of sport's great survivors.

But it could also underline the sense that the time has now come for the union to progress from the personal fiefdom it is often described as, and to move with the times.

"The PFA should take this chance to begin a wholesale modernisation programme," Crouch told BBC Sport.

"It needs to radically reform its duty of care, especially for younger players, and enhance post-career support. Plus it needs to take a world-class lead in safeguarding and mental and physical health and head injury research.

"Football as a whole, with all change at the top, has a fantastic opportunity to breath fresh life not just into its own governance but also for its players and fans."

Some will now hope that the review recommends that a future PFA is funded by the players themselves - rather than the clubs - and therefore gains the genuine independence that it needs to properly stand up to its members' employers and bring about real change in the game on a range of issues, from race and gender equality, to safeguarding.

Perhaps once Taylor has eventually gone, such an idea may gain traction. But as his departure proves, nothing at the PFA happens quickly.

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