Gerry Taggart

Former Player Remembers: Gerry Taggart

Earlier this month, former Northern Ireland centre-back Gerry Taggart spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about playing for Leicester City and Stoke City between 1998 and 2006.
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He made a combined total of 198 games for both clubs out of a career total of well over 500 games. Among other things, he also spoke about coaching at Stoke and Leicester, as well as starring for Northern Ireland on 51 occasions. 

Gerry started by explaining how he came to sign for Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City in July 1998 at a time when the Foxes were in the top half of the Premier League table. Prior to arriving at Filbert Street, he had played in Manchester City’s Youth Cup Final in 1989, become a Northern Ireland international at Barnsley in 1990, and won promotion to the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers in 1997.  

“My contract had run out at Bolton and they’d just been relegated,” Gerry began. “The Bosman Ruling had come out about a year or so before. Two or three clubs were interested in me, but they were in the London area, and I didn’t really fancy that. Also Neil Lennon (who Gerry knew from Manchester City and Northern Ireland) was at Leicester.”

Gerry made his City debut as a substitute in the season’s opening fixture at Old Trafford: “I broke my little toe in that first game and that set me back about six weeks. It took me a while to get back and I never really got going in that first season. I played in the League Cup Final against Spurs though. I played because Martin decided to leave Frank Sinclair out of the side. We should have won that game. They were down to 10 men after Justin Edinburgh was sent off but they beat us with a very late goal. It was my first time playing at Wembley though and that was a great experience.

“The following season (1999/2000), I managed to keep myself fit. Nothing seemed to go wrong for me that year. I played the majority of games and managed to win the Player of the Season. We went back to Wembley again to win the League Cup which was fantastic. We qualified for Europe again. I scored seven goals, six in the league and one in the cup, and we finished eighth in the Premier League. I also captained Northern Ireland. It was just really good season for me.”  

That summer, Martin O’Neill left Filbert Street to manage Celtic.

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Gerry Taggart

Gerry Taggart scored for City in a UEFA Cup tie against Red Star.

“That was a blow for everybody,” Gerry reflected. “I’ve spoken to Martin since and he said if it had been any other club but Celtic, he probably wouldn’t have left.”

Peter Taylor became the new Manager in June 2000. Early in the season, the Foxes played Red Star Belgrade in the UEFA Cup. Reflecting on this, Gerry continued: “Playing against Red Star was my first experience playing in Europe. It was a great occasion at Filbert Street. The Red Star fans let off smoke bombs and flares and they scored through the smoke in the first few seconds. We played well. At the back end of the first half, I managed to get an equaliser with a really good header and the tie finished 1-1.

“The return leg was in Vienna because of the war in Yugoslavia. The crowd was so hostile. It was a strange kind of atmosphere in the ground as well. I think it was 1-1 at half-time and then, in the second half, Red Star showed a bit of class and they were easy winners in the end.

“I wasn’t affected by the hostile atmosphere in the stadium but, in 2000, we weren’t expecting people to be like that. You would’ve thought that whoever was in charge would have sorted it out.”

The team were third in the Premier League table by Christmas and were still fourth as late as March 2001 after defeating Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield. Then the season collapsed. An FA Cup home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers was followed by eight successive Premier League defeats, in a run of nine defeats in 10 matches up until the end of the season, with the Club finishing 13th in the table.

On the season, Gerry continued: “In essence, it started to go wrong with the players who Peter Taylor brought in. I was playing with an injury for most of the season and then just after the Wycombe game, I had another injury and that was me done. I just couldn’t play anymore. I ended up being out injured for just over a year.”

The following season (2001/02), Leicester City were relegated. Gerry’s injury caused him to miss every game until he came on as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur in the 76th minute in the last-ever game at Filbert Street on the final day of the season.

“I’d had two operations on the same knee,” Gerry recalled. “I had to have my patellar tendon reconstructed and was out for five months and then and I had to have an operation on my kneecap because the bone had worn away. I was devastated.

“I remember coming on in the last game at Filbert Street after all that and the fans were absolutely brilliant. We won 2-1 against Spurs with Matt Piper scoring the winner, the last goal ever at Filbert Street. Obviously, the team had been relegated by then but, for me personally, it was just great to be back after people had said that I might not play again.”

I wasn’t affected by the hostile atmosphere in the stadium but, in 2000, we weren’t expecting people to be like that. You would’ve thought that whoever was in charge would have sorted it out.

Gerry Taggart

The following season was the first season at the new stadium. It was also the season that the Club went into administration. Despite this, Leicester, with Micky Adams as Manager, were promoted at the first attempt back into the Premier League, coming second to Portsmouth.

Despite his history of injuries, Gerry was a regular in the First Team, making 37 league appearances.

“I definitely wasn’t the same player,” Gerry remembered. “Fitness-wise I was fine, but I’d lost a bit of power and pace. I just had to manage myself in a different way on the pitch.

“That season, the Club was in turmoil. Due to administration, we had to take a wage deferral, to help save the Club from going out of existence. The only way we were going to get our money back was to get promoted and we used that to motivate us even more.

“That was my last full season at Leicester. The next season (2003/04), back in the Premier League, Micky’s attitude changed regarding the fitness levels he was looking for and, with my injury history, I couldn’t respond to that. I wasn’t in the side and I told Micky that I was 33 and I needed to play football. He understood that.

“Meanwhile, Stoke had been trying to persuade me to go there. I’d told them I wanted to get back into Leicester’s team, but I went there in December 2003, initially on loan. Tony Pulis was the manager. When Micky recalled me, I told him that Tony Pulis had let me train just twice a week so that I could play and that seemed to be working for me, but Micky just wouldn’t have this, so again, we just fell out. There was nowhere left for me to turn other than to leave Leicester permanently. I didn’t want to leave but I had no other choice. I moved to Stoke permanently (in February 2004) and played regularly there.

“I had a good couple of years there, playing alongside Michael Duberry. I’d gone there to help save them from relegation from the First Division (now the Championship), which I did. Then there was a lot of chopping and changing at Stoke with the ownership. The team was struggling. Tony Pulis left and they brought in a Dutch guy called Johan Boskamp, who was pretty big in Belgium. He made me his assistant at the back end of my last season (2005/06). At the time, I was thinking of retiring from playing so I went down the coaching route.”

During his playing career, Gerry won 51 caps and scored seven goals for Northern Ireland between 1990 and 2003.

When asked about his international career, Gerry said: “I made my international debut against Norway. Playing for Northern Ireland, I came up against some great players like Jürgen Klinsmann, Hugo Sánchez, Carlos Valderrama, Alessandro Del Piero and Paulo Maldini, just to name a few. When I got my 50th cap, also against Norway, I captained the side but towards the end, my injuries meant I couldn’t play back-to-back internationals due to the travelling and my knee, so unfortunately, I had to call it a day for Northern Ireland and concentrate on my club football. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t afford to worsen my injury.”

Boskamp left Stoke in May 2006 and, in 2007, Gerry briefly joined Gary Mills at Tamworth, only to be named soon afterwards as Gary Megson’s coach after he’d been appointed Leicester City’s Manager in September 2007.

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Gerry Taggart

Injury hampered the impact Gerry Taggart could make at Leicester in his final years at the Club.

“I’d played with Gary at Manchester City back in the 1980s,” Gerry continued. “But he was Leicester’s Manager for only six weeks. When he left, I was thrust into the driving seat for four games working with Frank Burrows, a wise old friend. We did what we could, but the Club wasn’t in a good place. That season, we had three permanent Managers and 40 players appeared in the First Team.”

The next Manager, appointed in November 2007, was Ian Holloway. At the end of the season, Leicester City were relegated to League 1 for the only time in their history.

Gerry added: “Holloway retained me as a coach, and I’d also go and watch games and players. I wasn’t at the last game of the season at Stoke when they were promoted to the Premier League and Leicester City were relegated to League 1.”

Holloway was replaced as Manager by Nigel Pearson in the summer of 2008.  

“Nigel kept me on as reserve team coach,” he explained. “It was great for me working with Nigel but then the football pyramid was restructured with academies and under-23 leagues and there wasn’t a reserve league so I was organising reserve games with other football clubs around the region.

“Nigel wanted to keep me on but he left (in June 2010). My contract had run out, so I became Paul Dickov’s number two at Oldham, but they had financial troubles, and I didn’t really enjoy it there so I took a step back from coaching. Then a job in player recruitment came up at Doncaster Rovers, where Paul Dickov had become manager and I enjoyed that, but then Paul got the sack, although I carried on there for two or three months.”

Since then, Gerry has developed his media work: “I’d done media work when I was playing. It’s something that I’m interested in and it’s a great opportunity now to work with Leicester City on Foxes Hub as well as working with other aspects of the Club including trips abroad.”

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