Photo: Chester FC

The dust had barely settled on the previous campaign when Joel Taylor was announced as the first close-season signing for Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley’s Chester. The exciting left-back was a prize catch for the pair, who had been keeping tabs on the now-23-year-old for two years previous. Far from an untried prospect, the long-time Stoke City youngster was hardened by over a half-century of games for National League North rivals Kidderminster Harriers, where he had also more than showcased his credentials against his current side.

After a 2018/19 season not without its strands of encouragement, yet at times scarcely believable, 9th-place finishers Chester were crystal clear on where the ambitions lay for 19/20. As joint-boss ‘Jonno’ told Non-League Daily in pre-season: “Our aim is to win the league, let’s not beat around the bush.”

The form of newcomers King’s Lynn Town has rendered everyone else an outside shot at the division’s one automatic place, but Chester, 4th after 25 games and with a duo who are dab hands when it comes to promotion, the Blues won’t be fading out quietly. For Taylor, eight months on from his Seals switch, nothing has changed his mind that it was the right move, and the laid-back left-sider also remains a man very much on his own mission.

 

Plenty of positives for the team in recent months, but what’s your assessment of the season so far on a personal level?

Obviously, coming into a new team, it’s always a bit difficult trying to settle in, but as the season’s gone on, me personally, I think I’ve been doing as well as I can. I think we’re 4th now, so you can see from the outside looking in that something’s going right. At the moment, I’m just enjoying every part of it, every game, every training session, and just trying to give my all.

What about your impressions of the club itself and its potential? Did anything surprise you after joining?

Coming to Chester, I knew in the back of my mind that it was a big club and they’ve been in the League. It’s been fantastic for me, coming to the club. The fans are lovely, the coaching staff, the players, it’s like a family-owned club. Playing every week, with the fans behind you, and having that good support, even at away games, it’s just lovely to play in front of that and to give back what they’re showing us.

Other than left-back, where else have you played, even going back to growing up?

Before I turned 18 – obviously I was at Stoke City academy – any time before that, I played everywhere in midfield, I played everywhere up front. So, I’ve literally played everywhere besides centre-back and right-back.

When you first got put at left-back, did it take time to think ‘yeah, I don’t mind it here actually’?

To be fair, when I got told I’m more of a threat at left-back, it wasn’t much of a difference, because just before that, I was playing left-midfield. It’s not a massive difference but at the same time, you’ve got to adapt your game, be a bit more defensive. On the flipside, going forward was exactly the same; get forward as much as you can, crosses into the box, goals, assists and whatnot. Adapting-wise, it’s just been defending really, but I feel like I’ve gone past that now and it’s working for me, and left-back’s my position.

During that time at Stoke, were there any standout players in similar age groups to you there?

Yeah, there was James Alabi, who used to be at Chester. Obviously he’s done well for himself in the Conference, getting promoted with Leyton Orient. There’s another one called Tom Edwards, who starts for Stoke City now at right-back. He’s two years younger than me, but being as good as he was for his age, he used to play up with my age. He’s excelled and he’s doing really well.

As young players, were there any senior pros who especially tried to help and offer some advice?

The one I would say is Charlie Adam. Even when I got released from Stoke City we kept in contact, and he knows the gaffers at Chester, so they’ve obviously had a few conversations and whatnot. In my time at Stoke, he was the one who would come and speak to the lads and give them a bit of confidence when going up with the first team.

Leaving Stoke, did it feel like ‘if football doesn’t work out, I’ll be alright, I’m equipped to do other things,’ or was it a particularly scary time?

In the back of my mind, I did think ‘what’s gonna happen next?’ or ‘where am I gonna be next, is it gonna be in football, am I gonna have to work a normal 9 to 5 job?’ and all that. To be honest, since I was young, all I’ve done is play football, and I’ve always thought ‘someday, I’ll get to where I wanna be,’ so that kind of drive kept me going and going, until I found a team, which was obviously Kidderminster.

Is it West Bromwich where you’ve grown up?

There’s a town called Smethwick, and there’s literally a road that separates Smethwick and West Bromwich.

And what kind of background have you come from, a big family, a smaller family?

I’ve got quite a big family, to be fair. A lot of cousins. I’ve got a few brothers who involved themselves in football when they were younger, so football’s kind of ran through my family.

Is there Caribbean heritage in the family, too? Another option for the future for international football maybe.

From what I know of, my grandparents are from Jamaica, so that’s the only other nationality I actually know of, but there’d probably be a few more from the Caribbean. I’d love to play for Jamaica one day, hopefully.

How would you describe your personality for anyone who doesn’t know you?

I think I’m a very easy-going person. With the people that I’ve played with, a lot of them would say that I’m a very laid-back person, on and off the pitch. I’m a very chilled person, I like to engage in conversations with people and get a feel for who people actually are, and on the flipside, they can get a feel for who I am.

Joining Chester, have you had to move away from the Midlands?

There’s me and Akwasi Asante, and he lives in Wolverhampton, which is about 15/20 minutes from me, so we just commute, take it in turns to drive.

What are those journeys like, have you got the tunes on?

It depends how we’re feeling at the time. Sometimes we get the tunes blasting, ready to go to training or getting ourselves ready for the game. Sometimes, like I said, I like to have engaging conversations with people, so other times we just speak about football, about life, stuff like that.

Both being Midlands-based, did you and Akwasi know each other before Chester?

I’ve got friends who are his friends, but me and him have never actually known each other as friends. So I’ve always known who he is, but haven’t actually encountered him until I came to Chester.

Are you someone who thinks a lot about your game, analyses ‘I could have done this in that game’ etc.? Or are you good at being committed and focused, but also not letting it rule your thoughts?

I would say I’m definitely someone who looks a lot at my game and has a think about whether I’ve done enough in the game, what I can do better. At the same time, when I am being praised for doing well, I don’t let that get to my head, because that’s when you can almost come off what you’re originally doing. So, I always reflect, whether I have a good game or a bad game, and try and improve, each step of the way.

What’s different about the managers here compared to other coaches/managers you’ve worked with?

What I would say is that with my experience of past managers, Jonno and Bern are more like your friends, kind of thing, so they get involved in the group’s banter and whatnot. Like I said, it’s all like a family-orientated club, whereas at other clubs I’ve been at, the managers would have their own office and the players would be away from them. At Chester, we’re all together, and banter’s always flying with the managers, so it’s all good.

I can think of at least one of them for this, but who have we got in the dressing room that can be counted on to keep it lively?

We’ve got Simon Grand and Danny Livesey; they’re the two big characters in the team. They’ve obviously been in the League, they’re the older heads of the team, so they look over everything and get everybody ready for games. They’re the ones who get us pumped, other than the managers, obviously.

Back to the Newquay trip in pre-season, Jonno mentioned Gary Stopforth using his speaker on the beach to announce there was a shark in the water, to the delight of the lifeguard and the families! For you personally, what was the whole trip like and how helpful was it?

Yeah, obviously going away with a new team to a pre-season camp might not always be as good as you want it to be; it can be nerve-wracking. In terms of Gary doing stuff like that, it just made me settle in so much easier. Everybody was just themselves, we had a great laugh and it just made me integrate with everybody a lot more, and before you knew it I was part of the team already, within the first two days of me being there.

Was there anything to get you, as new lads, welcomed officially?

Yeah, there was a night where we all just went out, had some food, and obviously as a new lad coming in, you have to do an initiation song. At the time, there was about four or five of us that were new. Everyone’s there bantering, laughing and whatnot, and again, stuff like that just makes you integrate a lot more and makes you comfortable. I sang Mario ‘Let Me Love You’ – that’s the one I always do, because I know all the words to it!

Have we got a team DJ in the dressing room?

Matty Hughes; loves the music, he does. There’s always gonna be a few people not agreeing with the music, but he plays music for everybody.

One song or artist you’d sneak on to the team playlist?

I think I’d go with a Drake one. I wouldn’t know what song, because he’s got a few bangers, but Drake is definitely the artist I’d go for.

Outside of training and playing, what else do you have in your life, in terms of other interests?

I like to stay a bit active, so other than football I go to the gym a lot, quite a few times in the week. We don’t really do that, because a lot of the players still have second jobs as well, so after training they get off to their jobs. I like to stay active, but other than that, I’ll be in my house playing a bit of FIFA. I like to read a lot as well. I’ve read The Secret, so a lot of books like that where it comes to believing in yourself, which can also help me in my career.

Finally, what do you want from these next couple, next few years? Is it ‘give everything to football’, or just enjoy it and see whatever comes?

At the moment, I’m just trying my best to give everything I can to try and get back up to where I would wanna be, i.e. in the League, whether that’s with Chester, or if I go on to elsewhere. I’m very ambitious, and since I was young, football’s been my life, my dream, and hopefully, one day, I can get up to where I wanna be.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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