(Warning: Bristol City hat-trick not included)
When I am old and grey, my face as wrinkled as Andy Hessenthaler’s is now, my grandchildren will ask me what I had done with my life.
“Well, not much,” I will answer. “I didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. I didn’t read the entire works of Shakespeare. I didn’t see the sun rise in Easter Island or the sun set over the Serengeti”
“Did you do nothing exciting then, Grandad?” they will enquire. “Nothing at all?”
“Oh, there was one thing,” I will smile.
“What? What is it?”
“I did see Bob Taylor play for Gillingham.”
And the amazing thing is he looked so graceless. Running as though his knees needed to be loosened with a spanner, Bob Taylor forever looked as if he was five pre-seasons’ worth of training behind full fitness. He had an expression of world-weary ennui permanently contorting his face, like he couldn’t believe he had been cursed with this footballing genius and was blackmailed into giving up his dream job cleaning toilets. I’ll never forget his last home match against Darlington in the FA Cup. Sure, his heart already belonged to Joe Royle, but though Bob scored twice in the match, he exerted roughly the same amount of energy that a snail does retreating into its shell.
But when Van Gogh painted Sunflowers, did it matter how he held his paintbrush? When Bob scored all five goals at Burnley, did we refuse to celebrate madly and drunkenly because he looked so inelegant?
The trouble is, how do I list his strengths without this write-up blasting through the word-limit and taking up BMH of the season? He could hold up the ball so effectively Godzilla couldn’t have wrestled the ball from him. No striker since Cascarino was deadlier in the air. His touch was so deft he could trap a ping-pong ball without denting it. And only when Halley’s Comet collides with the Sun will this galaxy witness anything more spectacular than Bob Taylor scoring from 25 yards out. Just as winning promotion to Division One makes the long-term Gill question whether football will provide as intense a thrill again, so watching Bob Taylor left you with the unsettling feeling that no striker will ever be as good again. Not even Guy Ipoua.
But listen to me! I already sound like a dusty-brained Grandad stuck in a cosily nostalgic time-warp. But Bob’s memory turns us all into masters of melodrama. There will be times, once we’ve sunk back Division 2, when your mind will float back to the autumn of 1999, and Bob’s frightening brilliance will transport you away from Gigg Lane or Boundary Park and into a footballing paradise. But there will be darker times, too, when his memory won’t lead to recuperative escapism but simply bring the inadequacy of the team into sharper focus.
Show this article to a Man City or Wolves fan, and they’ll sniff dismissively. But that just deepens our bond with Bob. Brentford fans clearly acknowledge his ability, but it is only us Gills who know its full extent. We’re a privileged cult among the disbelievers, evangelical in our conviction of Bob’s greatness.
69 apps, 39 goals