Making a Matchday – Daniel Taylor

I barely need to introduce him, do I?

In the era of social media and the shifting tide of journalism, investigative journalists who seek out the tough stories and provide the world with professionally sourced and detailed breaking news becomes harder and harder to find. One such man who certainly fits that bill is The Athletic’s Daniel Taylor.

A football fan first, Taylor is a die-hard Forest fan who has been reporting on both the sport and our club for over 20 years, in which time he has covered a wide variety of stories, from famously unearthing a wide-spread sexual abuse scandal across English clubs, from which over 500 footballing victims came forward in lieu of Taylor’s groundbreaking interview with former Crewe player Andy Woodward, to tracking down the creator of Nottingham Forest’s badge-creator, David Lewis, and enabling him to bring his wonderful story to the light after almost 50 years.

In the latest edition of my “Making a Matchday” series, I sat down with Daniel to discuss his time as a journalist and the ups and downs of his career. And, of course, Nottingham Forest!

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Daniel Taylor and I’m the Senior Football Writer for The Athletic, the sports media app/website owned by the New York Times – and, before that, the chief football writer for the Guardian.

I’m also a home-and-away Forest fan for more years than I can even remember. I was too young for the proper glory years (though it didn’t stop me writing I Believe in Miracles) but old enough to remember Cloughie’s magic, Frank Clark’s European tours, Stan Collymore, Lars Bohinen, Bryan Roy … and then, of course, the wilderness years.

It’s a huge part of my life. Relationships have been lost, bank balances shredded, passports stamped. I’m now living in Manchester where I have to ask for a barm cake – for fuck’s sake – rather than a cob and my son was brainwashed a long time ago to ignore City and United, Champions League glories and all that razzamatazz for a life of Mull of Kintrye. He tells me he’s happy but, frankly, he has no choice.

How did your career in journalism begin?

Straight from school at the Newark and South Notts Advertiser, my local paper. I was lucky on two fronts.

First, my mum came through one day and chucked that week’s Advertiser at me. It was 2pm, if I remember correctly, and I was in bed, which probably tells you a lot about my life at the age of 18. She had seen an advert for a ‘club reporter’ in the job pages – perfect!

And, secondly, it turned out the sports editor, Don Wright, was a big Forest fan. His eyes lit up when I mentioned Forest in my job interview and that was my first big break because, out of the 80 or so job applicants, I doubt I had the best grades. I’d back myself for writing ability, news sense etc etc, but Don didn’t know that at the time.

He went on to become Forest’s historian and I always tell him that, if it wasn’t for our shared love of Forest, God knows where I would have ended up. I think me and my mates were ‘door knocking’ at the time, ie bunking off school to sell dusters and washing-up liquid (the shame) in Coventry, Nuneaton, and all these weird places, then spending all the money we earned on going out: Venus, Madchester, Flowered Up … and, of course, wherever Forest were playing. Good times. But, yeah, thank you, Don, I owe you a lot.

How did you get your breakthrough moment?

It helped that when I applied for a job in Manchester, for a  freelance press agency called Teamwork, they gave me a trial game – Sheffield United v Port Vale – and it just so happened that, an hour or so after the match, the pissed-up dad of Dane Whitehouse stormed on to the Port Vale bus to try to throttle Gareth Ainsworth.

Whitehouse had been seriously hurt the previous year in a tackle with Ainsworth. His dad had been stewing on it in the pub and decided to make his point with violence, the old-fashioned way. He didn’t get to Ainsworth because all the other Port Vale players jumped in the way. But in the commotion he did headbutt John Rudge, their manager. Properly slapped the nut on him.

I was standing six feet away, the only journalist to witness the whole thing, because everyone else had buggered off. You need a bit of luck, don’t you? I rang it through to every national newspaper in the country and headed home knowing that I had got my job.

What has been your best or favourite story you have ever covered?

I’d have to say it was uncovering the sexual-abuse scandal, simply because of the size of the story. Trust me, there’s a lot of job satisfaction to be had from sitting in court and seeing Barry Bennell get 36 years in prison. I’ve lost count now of the number of people who have been sent down. The FA’s chairman at the time, Greg Clarke, described it as a ‘tidal wave’ and ‘the biggest crisis in the history of the sport’. So, yeah, that was a bit different from writing about hamstring injuries or VAR decisions. And the good guys won ultimately: a lot of Bennell’s victims, or players from some of the other cases, are good mates of mine now.

Some people think it’s strange, but I’m actually just as proud of exposing the FA for trying to cover up Mark Sampson making racial comments to two of the England women’s players. I had the FA on my case, big-time. Legal letters, various threats, briefing the other newspapers against me. So it was a sweet moment to take my seat in the government hearing, opposite the Houses of Parliament, when they caved in and apologised publicly. I’m still amazed the relevant people kept their jobs.

I’m straying a bit from Forest, aren’t I? OK, one of my favourites since I joined The Athletic was finding David Lewis, the guy who designed the Forest badge and introducing him properly to the fanbase.

I had spent years trying to track him down and, if I’m honest, I’d given up. I didn’t even know he was still alive, bearing in mind my only info was the badge competition being in 1973 and that he was working in Nottingham at the time as a graphic designer.

Then I got a stroke of luck via someone I follow on Twitter and, all of a sudden, I’m outside David’s house in Staffordshire, knocking on his door and – ‘er, hello …’ – hoping he might be good enough to speak to me, a complete stranger holding up my son’s Forest shirt.

I think I floated back to Manchester that night! I loved writing that story and, again, I’ve grown very fond of him (he’s a lovely guy). I was so chuffed when Forest asked me to be the go-between and brought him in last season to say thank you properly and let him feel the love.

Another Forest one: my first article for The Athletic was telling the story of Craig Bromfield, the lad who was pretty much rescued from the streets and ended up living with Cloughie for years, without hardly anyone outside the family knowing. Sometimes you just know it’s going to be a biggie. Put it this way: it was no surprise it was turned into a book and that film companies are interested.

I can remember Alan Hinton, the ex-Derby player, saying that it couldn’t possibly be true because he knew BC and he had never heard anything about it. Sorry, Alan! There’s a lot of enjoyment from telling people a story of that nature, a story that people have never heard before, something they will find moving and maybe even a bit emotional. So yeah, that was a nice one, too.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?

Hmm. Interesting question. Every job has challenges, I guess. It’s a skill, writing. And having a news sense, understanding what works as a story, is another skill, I guess. But let’s not over-blow it. It’s not saving people’s lives, is it? It’s not open heart surgery, or working for the emergency services, or being a nurse or doctor during Covid.

I’m just lucky to be doing what I love, to be honest. I’ve done six World Cups, six European Championships, travelled the world, Champions League finals, 500-plus grounds, 60-odd countries and written five books, including two on Forest. I can’t complain because this is exactly what I wanted to do.

But challenges? Of course there are. It’s not ideal having to work every weekend. The long drives after night matches up and down motorways, the late-night diversions, eating crap out of service stations, always being on the go. Yes, get that violin out …

As weird as it sounds, sometimes you can have too much info. You get told stuff off-the-record that you can’t report and that can be frustrating in its own way. In fact, I’d say I report probably 5% of what I hear. Less, if anything, Trust me, sometimes it’s better people don’t know, too.

And sometimes people don’t want to know the news, do they? I mean, they want good news, transfer stories, all the nice, fluffy, man-likes-man stuff. But do they want the bad news? That’s a very different reaction.

Try telling Manchester United’s fans that Wayne Rooney has put in a transfer request. Or tweeting to Liverpool’s fans that, yes, Luis Suarez did say what was alleged and, no, Patrice Evra was not the bad guy here. Because football fans don’t like that kind of news.

People treat their football club like a family and, if you say something even mildly critical, they react as if you are insulting a family member. Only on social media, though. Nobody is anything but delightful in real life, which is a strange dynamic.

As for other challenges, I guess it’s not so easy these days to get close to the players. This means you tend to speak to people around them, their agents, PR people, family members, friends (I’m on the phone all day, basically). but it’s not quite the same.

Also: the amount of time you have to spend checking out all the silliness on social media because Johnny Fuckwit from is saying we are after Player X and – without anybody checking it – it’s getting the copy-and-paste treatment and suddenly becoming a ‘thing.’ The weirdest thing is that there are hundreds of people, thousands even, who swallow it. But it isn’t journalism. It’s .. well, let’s call it what it is… it’s time-wasting bollocks.

Have you ever had a bad experience with a manager or player?

Haha! Where do I start? I mean, what do you think it was like covering Alex Ferguson’s press conferences in the years before it was all filmed and he could act, on his turf, exactly as he liked?

Seriously, I can’t even describe some of those Friday lunchtime sessions or that man’s temper. And then, the next minute, he would be cracking jokes. It was amazing the way he could turn the rage on and off, like a tap.

I doubt it was always a bed of roses for the journalists who used to cling on to Cloughie’s coat-tails too. I’ve heard all the stories. But they all remember those days with great fondness. And the Manchester press pack will say the same about Fergie. Far better that way, and far more interesting, than the sanitised, beige, controlled press conferences you see these days. It’s football – of course there are going to be rows and fallouts.

I did get road-raged by Roy Keane once. Clearly, I was far too cowardly to tell him this … but it was entirely his fault, his made-up grievance, him losing the plot, classic Roy (laughing)! I love Keane. I’ve been there for his debut, the World Cup in 2002, the break-up with Ferguson … he’s brilliant. He has some amusing stories, too, about when he came back with Martin O’Neill, however brief it was, and some of the people they encountered.

Overall, though, the whole media-football relationship is very different now. Football exists in this faux PR world. Everything is behind this veneer of window dressing, using a small army of spin doctors, almost government-esque. So that’s where the conflict can be with some clubs, rather than with the managers/players.

It’s up to people like me to tell the fans what is really happening, and then the fans can do as they wish with that information: take it on board, ignore it, whatever. I think the fans of all the clubs I cover know, on the whole, I get good info and can back it up.

Who is your favourite Forest player of all time?

Oh man. Hard question! For two years, I fell in love with Stan Collymore. We all did, didn’t we? Fucking hell, he was good. The closest I’ve ever seen to the Brazilian Ronaldo. It pains me that some people don’t believe it, or think that it’s an exaggeration. He had magic in his feet, that guy.

But that was two years. Stuart Pearce, Des, Nigel, those guys were heroes of mine for a decade … and still are, in one sense. Nigel was such a player, our record postwar goal-scorer. And Psycho! His salute, every game. I still remember him waving to the Kop all nicey-nicey, then going mental towards our end, face contorted, fists pumping, the old punk rocker. He loved it! Hahaha!

Others, too. I always had a soft spot for Johnny Metgod as a kid because of his free-kicks. Lars Bohinen was brief but special. Always liked Colin Cooper, too. Neil Webb was a favourite. And then I got to know the Miracle Men and I’m lucky enough to be able to think of some of them as friends. Ian Bowyer, what a guy. Robbo … the most charismatic man you could ever meet. Colin Barrett, Garry Birtles, Frank Clark, such great blokes. Ian Storey-Moore, from even further back. What a club.

What are your thoughts on Forest’s chances next season?

Tough question, as we speak, in the first week of July before the transfer business starts kicking in. It’s a bit slow at the moment and, though it will pick up, I wouldn’t expect massive deals and huge money being spent. All the expenditure in the last few years – some good deals and some not such good deals – it all catches up, in a financial sense. And Forest, to their credit, have always kept within the FFP boundaries. It’s just tough when the wage bill has rocketed and the stadium, in the chairman’s own words, is not fit for purpose to help more with revenue etc. Hence the season-ticket and ticket-membership price hikes.

What I will say is that the most important thing is the relationship between Marinakis and Cooper, especially when it could be a difficult start to the season (those away fixtures look pretty daunting, let’s be honest). I think we need some extra quality in midfield, in particular. But I’m hoping the quality down the bottom is not as high as it was last season when there really wasn’t a truly terrible team in the division.

Where will we finish? I’m on one WhatsApp group where quite a few people were saying tenth. I’d love that to be the case. Realistically, though, that’s a 14-point improvement from last season and would mean finishing above one of Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle, Arsenal, Spurs, Brighton, Chelsea, Liverpool, Villa, Brentford (not to mention Fulham and West Ham).

I’d be happy with anything from 11th to 16th, to be honest. Let’s hope a) Aston Villa don’t come in with big money – because it would take big money – for Brennan Johnson and b) we are clever in the market. On that front, I’ve heard lots of positive stories so far about Ross Wilson’s impact behind the scenes. So there are grounds to be optimistic, however hard it is moving out players right now. Consolidate, improve, establish ourselves as a proven Premier League team and then we can start looking at that third star on the shirt in the next three to five years…

*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).

*Main image @TheAthleticFC Daniel Taylor (right) interviewing former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic.

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