Since Andy Taylor tore his cruciate ligament last season, the training ground has become his classroom, passing on information and experiences to players he once shared a dressing room with. This morning, though, he put his whistle to one side and slipped his boots back on – a moment that brought back the unparalleled joy of having a ball back between his feet. “I’ve got the bug for it again now,” he chuckled, while readjusting to a more comfortable position ahead of the interview.

For the past 12 months, the experienced full-back has not only been working through a knee rehabilitation programme in the gym, but also dealing with the psychological impact that a career-ending injury can have.

From the outside looking in, it has been a seamless transition for the 35-year-old, moving into a multi-dimensional role which sees him support the coaching and performance analysis departments at Mill Farm Stadium. For a short period, he even stood alongside Nick Chadwick as interim assistant manager, while Jim Bentley took time off for heart surgery.

Here, ‘Tayls’ opens up on a subject he has rarely discussed – coping with the transition from player to coach and the injury that initiated it. He talks candidly about how the overnight career change materialised; the challenges that he’s had to overcome and his future ambitions in coaching.


Going back to the cruciate ligament injury you suffered against Notts County at the beginning of 2020, did you know straight away that it was serious?

Yes, I knew immediately what I had done as it was your stereotypical cruciate injury where you are planted and you twist. The best way I can describe the feeling is a little bit like a typewriter – my knee slid from side to side and then collapsed.

When I had the same injury in my left knee in 2010 while playing for Sheffield United, I didn’t actually think I’d done anything majorly wrong because of the mechanism. My leg was swinging in mid-air on that occasion – it wasn’t planted and twisting. I got hit hard in a tackle, fell to the ground and my leg locked up. It didn’t really hurt that much, so when I got the scan results four or five days later, it was a real shock. I broke down and found it difficult. On this one, though, I knew instantly, and I also knew the implications of it.


Did your previous experience of recovering from a long-term cruciate ligament injury help you through that initial period?

No, not really, because when I did my other knee I was only 24. Even when I got the scan results, never at any point in my mind did I contemplate that I might not play again. It was just a case of getting my head down, concentrating on my rehab, so that I can come back fitter and stronger. I still had 18 months left on my contract, was at a good club who I knew would look after me, so never at any point did I think: ‘this could retire me’.

Whereas, this one, straight away I was worried. I was obviously at a National League club on a month-to-month contract; I was 34, so straight away I knew the implications of the injury. A cruciate ligament injury is a difficult injury to come back from at the best of times, but when you’re 34 and it’s the second one, I sort of knew that that might be it – which, to be honest, is still a bit hard for me to say.


So, when you got the news back that confirmed your worst fears, was that what ran through your mind – that you’d played your last game?

I didn’t even need to wait for the results, I knew as soon as I’d done it. I was lying on the pitch, and I waved the stretcher off because I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting stretchered off and leaving that as my last action on a football pitch – no chance’. I waved them off, picked myself up and hobbled off. I knew exactly what had just happened and how difficult it was going to be to come back, so I had all these thoughts racing round my mind as soon as I had done it. It might not be the last time I ever go on a pitch, but there’s every chance it will be.


You now find yourself in a coaching role, while gaining experience in other areas such as sports science and performance analysis, talk us through how that came about?

Once the injury was confirmed, I was in a situation where my season was done and I was waiting for my operation. I’m the type of person who likes to be proactive and keep myself engaged, so I spoke to the gaffer and said, ’look, rather than me sitting at home sulking, would you mind if I tried to use this as an opportunity to shadow you to get an insight into the coaching and management side.’ It gave me the chance to look towards making the next step, because I’d always imagined myself stepping into the coaching world at some stage. There was nothing I could do about my situation, but my mentality was to try and turn it into a positive and use it as an opportunity to gain experience elsewhere. The gaffer was good as gold, he said he would support me and help keep me involved.

As it happened, the season was curtailed around three weeks later so that disrupted things a little bit. But from that conversation, the gaffer knew that I was looking to get into coaching and that I had my A licence badges. Jonty then rang me that summer and explained that the club was having a reshuffle and that there would be a position there for me. Straight away I jumped at it, as it was the perfect opportunity for me to dip my toe in different areas. I never knew what path I wanted to go down back then, so this experience has allowed me to narrow that pathway down, which was a huge selling point when I had that initial conversation with Jonty.


It must be strange coaching players that you once shared a dressing room with?

It’s not been easy, but it’s also helped in a way. I know the environment really well and I know some of the players that have been kept on from last season, so that side of it has been helpful. But on the other hand, it’s been difficult adapting to the shift in relationship. I’m now seen as a more authoritative figure, whereas before I was known as a teammate.

It has been a challenge but in all honesty, I had no expectations when I came into the role, so my outlook is that it is a huge learning curve and I’m grateful of the experience that I’ve been able to build so far.


You are around Jim Bentley and Nick Chadwick every day, two individuals with vast experience – what would you say you have learned most from spending time with those?

The gaffer is a natural man-manager, so to see how he deals with players and brings his personality into the workplace every single day – observing how that rubs off on the players and injects energy into the environment. Chaddy is clearly a very very good coach, who, even though he’s only a few years older than me, has been in the coaching world a long time. He’s got tonnes of coaching experience, which you can tell – he’s just a natural on the grass.

The biggest thing, though, is understanding the process of how it all works. It’s been a huge eye-opener to see what is involved. As a player, you turn up, train, get told what the sessions are and then you go home. But obviously, for that to happen, there’s loads of preparation and planning that goes on behind the scenes. So, I’d say that has been the biggest learning curve for me – how to actually go through a process of planning a session, performing a session and evaluating a session afterwards. What worked well?; What didn’t work so well?; What can we do better next time?; and then tailoring the session towards the needs of a group, or an individual, or an opponent. In the midst of the season you have all the match day preparation, so previews, analysis, debriefs. There’s all these things to think about. Every single day I’ve been learning and doing something different.

I’ve always said that the best way to learn is to be thrown in at the deep end; being exposed and put in situations outside of your comfort zone; that’s something that I’ve tried to do – get a taste for everything. All credit to the gaffer because he’s been brilliant with me from day one, allowing me to make mistakes and learn from them.


As you continue to garner experience in your new role, what would you say your ambitions are now?

I’ve always been a very ambitious person, wanting to play at the highest level I possibly could. I’ve always done that and been really focused on what I want to do and what it takes to get there. As I mentioned earlier, I approached this not knowing what path I want to go down, so this experience has made my mind up as to what path I am best suited to, which I think is coaching.

So, to answer that question, I’d say it’s similar to my playing career in that I want to reach the highest level I possibly can as a coach. Whether that leads to management I don’t know; I cant say I’ve even thought about that. My focus is on working my way up the ladder – possibly coaching in the EFL or Premier League even, who knows!