Having seen that he has recently joined Twitter, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch up with Gillingham legend Robert ‘Super Bob‘ Taylor for a chat about his time at the club.
He talks openly about early fitness issues, five goals in a game, Wembley heartache, Manchester City frustrations (more than once) and ex team mates…..
GITB: You arrived for what was quite a large fee of around £500,000 back in the summer of 1998. Did that sum of money mean there was any additional pressure on you to succeed almost immediately?
Super Bob shortly after arriving at Gills.
Robert: The fee in all honesty didn’t bother me in the slightest. My fitness was a lot more of an issue because I had missed the club’s pre-season programme and was some way behind everyone else and having to play catch up.
GITB: After failing to score in your first few games and being labelled by some as an overweight flop, did you at any point think you had made the wrong choice joining the Gills?
Robert: As I have already said, I was unfit when I arrived, and I made no secret of that fact. Tony Pulis saw this and made sure I was in the gym every single day so that my fitness reached the required levels as soon as possible.
GITB: THAT day at Turf Moor in early 1999 rightly has a place in the heart of all Gillingham fans, but what was it like for you? Could you actually believe it was happening as goal after goal kept going in, and then getting a standing ovation from even the Burnley fans as you left the field? How did things change afterwards, especially as it was in the days prior to social media?
Five star: Bob after his record breaking scoring spree at Burnley.
Robert: To be honest the whole day was actually all rather surreal. At the interval I was sat in the changing room wondering who had scored four goals because I couldn’t really believe what I had done. To get the standing ovation from both sets of fans was brilliant, and Sky Sports were after me at 9am on the Sunday morning for the full low down. A great day.
GITB: Your first season at the club culminated in you and Carl Asaba scoring at Wembley and putting us within touching distance of the second tier. To this day can you put your finger on why we collapsed so dramatically in injury time, and what was it like in the dressing room in the immediate aftermath of that shoot out loss?
Robert: Quite simply that day was and still is the most gut wrenching of my entire career. We had it in the bag at 2-0 and City simply got lucky. The first goal they get the break as the ball falls to their lad after a great defensive tackle from us, and then Dickov’s shot took a deflection to beat Vince (Bartram) for the leveller. I won’t go into the amount of added time that was played, but the sun was definitely shining on City that afternoon.
Dickov’s deflected efforts puts ‘lucky’ City on their way.
GITB: Talking of Carl Asaba, your partnership with him during 1998-99 yielded 44 goals. Obviously you would have worked hard on the training ground, but was playing alongside him just a case of everything clicking at the same time?
Robert: We were lucky because as well as obviously playing well as a partnership, we got on really well away from the pitch. I think our pairing was so successful because we complimented each other with our contrasting styles and different strengths and attributes.
Strike partner: Carl Asaba and Bob were prolific during their full season together.
GITB: Still talking about Mr Asaba, in an interview I did with Guy Butters he stated that Carl and yourself were given preferential treatment by Tony Pulis. Any truth to this at all, or just harmless banter from Guy?
Robert: Haha, I cannot deny that one. Myself and Carl used to arrive for training at 10am, do an hour of finishing drills and then go for a shower and head back home. The back four and the midfielders were all in for 11am and would train for two to three hours. At the time there was lots of banter flying around about it, because Tony (Pulis) used to call us two the ‘cream’ and all the others were the ‘eggers’. Don’t ask me why though haha.
GITB: Talking of Tony Pulis, you played under him and then Peter Taylor with great success. How did the two of them differ in terms of their approach to management?
Robert: As with any manager or coach, each of them had their own way of doing certain things, but the bottom line is both of them were great for me and also the football club. I would say Tony was more of a motivational gaffer, whereas Peter was more about the tactical side of things. Both great coaches though.
GITB: You hit two trebles in the space of three games during the autumn of 1999, one versus Wrexham and the other against Bristol City. For me the better of the two was the second purely because you only entered the fray at half time and also due to that final free kick where you really had no right to score it where you did. However, which was the more pleasing from your personal perspective?
Robert: Both were very pleasing for me simply because I loved scoring goals, and we won both games too. Bottom line is, whether you win 1-0, 5-0 or 10-9 you still only earn your side three points.
GITB: You hit 18 goals in your final 15 appearances before Manchester City came calling. Scoring at over a goal a game wasn’t something that was really common at the time, despite now being standard among all the top world players. How proud are you of that run, and was it down to any extra hard work behind closed doors or just a case of everything you hit going in?
City Life: Short but sweet for Bob.
Robert: Like with anything there was plenty of hard work and practise that went into it, but I was very lucky to be playing in such a good side. The bunch of lads at that time were superb which meant it was easy to enjoy my football, and if you enjoy it you invariably play better. Top players.
GITB: How pleased were you to see the club go back to Wembley and gain promotion in May of 2000? Despite having left the club by then, your goals had played a huge part in the side reaching the promised land, and you obviously still had team mates and friends at the club?
Robert: I was made up for everyone concerned because all those people connected to the club deserved to go up after what we had been through 12 months previously.
GITB: Your City career started pretty well, with 5 goals in your first 12 games for them, but you were then shipped out to Wolves at the beginning of the 2000-01 campaign. Do you feel you never got a fair crack of the whip with them, or was it more simple than that?
Robert: I absolutely loved my time at Manchester City, having helped them gain promotion to the Premier League so soon after arriving. I had started all of the pre-season games leading into the 2000-01 campaign and felt in great nick , but my family sadly couldn’t settle in the North. I spoke to my boss Joe Royle, and he reluctantly agreed to let me go if a suitable offer came in. Wolves happened to be that club, as simple as that.
GITB: Having left Manchester after a relatively short spell, your career never really seemed to reach the same heights. Can you put your finger on why things never really worked out after leaving Gillingham, and was that a regret when you look back at your career now?
Robert: After arriving at Wolves I started having issues with my calves, and it got to the point where I was pretty much constantly cramping up during matches. In one fixture I came down with the problem after 15 minutes and it took the physio over half an hour to stop them. That lead to an operation on both of them about three months later, but sadly it never really cleared up and I still suffer with it now.
GITB: Back to Gillingham, you returned to us for a loan spell during 2001-02 but failed to register a single goal. With the benefit of hindsight, was it perhaps the wrong choice going back to where you had previously set the standards so high?
Robert: It wasn’t the wrong choice no, because I needed games to try and regain my fitness after the operation on my calves. Unfortunately I could not get in the side immediately, and when I finally did get a start I was shunted out to the right wing which I couldn’t understand.
GITB: Right, some more light hearted ones to finish up…. In an interview your ex Gills team mate Nicky Southall, he said you possessed the hardest side foot he ever came across in the game. Was there any secret to this, or was it just something that came naturally?
Robert: Haha, cheers Nicky. To be honest it was something that just came naturally. As a kid I used to spend hours hitting a ball against a brick wall in the back garden, and it all came from there. I would draw circles on the wall and challenge myself to shoot into the middle of my homemade targets.
GITB: Who was the best player you lined up alongside during your time with the Gills?
Robert: In all honesty I couldn’t sit here and single out just one individual. They were all top players – each with their own strengths – in their own right. We simply were always in it as one, win lose or draw.
GITB: Which team mate from your time at the club would be best equipped to be successful in the modern game?
Robert: I think that is tricky to say because the game has moved on quite a lot since we were all at our peak, but on the other hand I would hope that all of us would do alright.
In it together: The Gills’ squad photo, summer 1998. *Taylor and Asaba not pictured.
GITB: Right, final one before I let you go….You left us for £1.5 million in 1999, but how much would a Robert Taylor in his prime be worth in today’s transfer market?
Robert: I cannot answer that one, so I will leave that up to you and the other Gillingham supporters.
*upon being pressed for a self valuation, Robert – somewhat sarcastically I am sure – replied £1.6 million*
GITB: Haha, that is a massive cop out, but a massive thank you for taking the time to chat.
Robert: Haha, no problem.
UP THE GILLS!!