In the pantheon of Everton greats, the elegant, moustachioed figure of Jack Taylor stands tall if not slight underappreciated. Just six men – Neville Southall, Brian Labone, Dave Watson, Ted Sagar, Kevin Ratcliffe and Mick Lyons – have worn the blue of Everton more times than him, and were it not for the club’s perennial underachievement at the start of the twentieth century, his medal cabinet would almost certainly be fuller than most of his successors. Three times – in 1902, 1905 and 1909 – he was a league runner up, and twice – in 1897 and 1907 – an FA Cup runner up too. In retirement he could, nevertheless, reflect on the fact that he was in 1906, as Everton captain, the first man to bring the FA Cup back to Liverpool.
Taylor was one of Goodison’s early heroes, revered by Evertonians for epitomising all the qualities found in a traditional sporting gentleman. Willing to adapt to any position in order to benefit the good of the team, Taylor played in a variety of roles during an Everton career that lasted for 14 years.
Another son of that prolific Scottish town of Dumbarton – the burgh that bore Dickie Boyle, John Bell, Alex Latta and Graeme Sharp - Taylor joined Everton in 1896 from St Mirren. He had started out at Dumbarton and already had five Scotland caps to his name, a tally that was, astonishingly, never added to. His first days at Goodison were played at inside forward and on the right wing, and it was here that he partook in the 1897 FA Cup Final, which Everton were unlucky to lose to League Champions Aston Villa.
With his fellow Dumbarton, John Bell, Taylor formed one of the finest wing partnerships the club has witnessed. He was as revered off the field as he was on it, and Everton’s first historian, Thomas Keates, who was a director at this time, wrote: ‘He played anywhere readily and played well everywhere, and had a fine record during 13 years service… No Everton players has left Evertonians with a more fragrant memory…’ The influence of the ‘three Jacks’ [Bell and Sharp] on the dressing room was immense, believed Keates, and ‘their high standard code of life, mentality and lingual purity had a most beneficial influence on the habits and tone of their players and the influence did not cease with their exit.’
For the 1898/99 season Taylor was made captain and reverted to half back, where his cool and accomplished play and eye for attacking move were instrumental to Everton’s progress. It was telling that when he shifted to the wing late in the season that he was sorely missed. A run of seven games without a win cost Everton the title and they finished fourth.
Taylor continued to split his time between the Everton back line and positions in its attack. He gave up the captaincy for the first five years of the new century to Jimmy Settle then Tom Booth, but took it triumphantly back for the 1905/06 campaign. The league season was mediocre, but in the FA Cup Everton seemed destined to win the trophy. He captained Everton all the way to Crystal Palace, and had a decisive impact in the final against Newcastle United. With thirteen minutes remaining Taylor – sole survivor of Everton’s last final – found Sharp with a searching pass. He evaded the Newcastle left back Carr, who had not previously given the Everton wideman an inch, before sending a beautifully centred cross which Young slotted home for Everton’s winner.
Although Everton had previously won the League Championship in 1891, the 1906 FA Cup win was without doubt the biggest occasion in the first thirty years of the club’s history. The scenes that greeted them in Liverpool were incredible. It was ‘the most remarkable popular demonstration that has ever taken place within the city boundaries,’ wrote Keates, and it was Taylor who led the celebrations.
‘Arriving at Central Station, a thunderstorm of cheering greeted Jack Taylor, Cup in hand, and his victorious comrades as they stepped from a saloon carriage. After a preliminary reception, on the platform, by the Lord Mayor, surrounded by football directors of Liverpool as well as Everton, a host of officials of other clubs and local notables, the Lord Mayor ascended a gorgeously carpeted truck, and delivered a neat congratulatory oration that would have swelled the heads of ordinary mortals. But Jack and his comrades were not ordinaries. Conscious, however, that they were having the time of their lives, they were compelled to keep smiling, couldn’t help it, if they could. From the station on a four-in-hand (the players outside), Jack Taylor, on the driver’s seat, proudly waved the Cup to the cheering thousands that lined the route to Goodison Park, via Church Street, Whitechapel, Byrom Street and Scotland Road. The enclosure was crammed with enthusiasts. The team (escorted by mounted police) had a great reception. More ceremony, more speeches. Refreshments, a lull; fatigue, dispersal; followed by a welcome rest after a prolonged hour of glorious life.’
The players were deified for their achievement. At the club’s AGM a month later, the chairman, George Mahon, paid tribute to the Everton captain. ‘With regard to the players who brought that honour, to them; the duties of the captaincy fell upon the old and well tried comrade Jack D. Taylor,’ he said to a round of applause. ‘Never had a club had a more loyal and hard-working servant or one who was ever doing the utmost for his team and club.’ Taylor returned to Crystal Palace with Everton twelve months later, but the final against Sheffield Wednesday was a damp squib, and they fell to a 2-1 defeat.
By now in the veteran stage of his career he reverted to centre half and with Jack Sharp the captain, he pushed for his first League. By Christmas in the 1908/09 campaign and boosted by Bert Freeman’s goals, Everton were way ahead. But they faltered in the second half of the campaign and the perennial nearly men ended a place and seven points behind champions Newcastle.
Still Taylor played on, and although injuries had started to take their toll, another stab at glory seemed to be on the cards. Everton reached the 1910 FA Cup semi final against second Division Barnsley. After a hard fought goalless draw at Elland Road, the teams met at Old Trafford for the replay five days later. But the match was a disaster for Everton and Taylor.
Just ten minutes Taylor was struck in the throat and collapsed to the ground. ‘Few of those on the grand stand really saw what happened,’ reported the Liverpool Courier. ‘The fact is that Taylor received a kick in the throat. At first the impression was that he had swallowed something, for the doctor and the trainer seemed to be directing their attention to his throat. He was obviously suffering, and after Dr. Baxter and Dr Whitford had examined him in the dressing room it was seen that he would be unable to take any further part of the match. His larynx had been injured, and it was with difficulty that he could speak.’ With ten men Everton missed two first half penalties, then their goalkeeper, Billy Scott, was also badly injured. Barnsley won 3-0.
This was not only the end of Taylor’s hopes for another trophy, but so severe was the injury that it was the end of his top class career. He returned a couple of years later, playing for South Liverpool as a fortysomething, but his best years had lain in the north of the city. Taylor remained on Merseyside after the end of his career and was regularly seen at the club he had helped make great throughout this time. He died in a car accident on the Wirral in 1949.