Lenny Taylor was part of United’s famous ‘Class of ’92’ and even shared digs with David Beckham, but by the time his former team-mates completed a treble in 1999 he was working on a production line in a metal coating factory and drifting out of football.
A talented full-back described as honest, strong, quick and who had once earned comparisons to Paul Parker. Taylor had hoped he had done enough to earn a professional contract but was released in the weeks following the club’s 1992 FA Youth Cup win due to fierce competition for places and just a few years later was playing Sunday league in his native Birmingham.
Spotted by United’s scout for the Midlands Geoff Watson whilst playing for Birmingham’s famous CCC’s under the tutelage of Peter Gibb, the club snatched him from under the noses of Port Vale following a trial game watched by Sir Alex Ferguson himself. Lenny signed for United on schoolboy terms in 1989 before being offered a two-year YTS deal and moving to Manchester in the summer of 1990 where he found himself sharing digs with none other than David Beckham, but not before an incident that forced the club to re-think the housing arrangements:
“I was in digs at a lady called Brenda Gosling’s house at first with a great group of lads. There was Colin Telford, Robbie Savage, Andy Rammell, Jules Maiorana, Jonathan Stanger, Roger Sallis, Colin McKee and Stevie Carter all there. It was two houses really but they were adjoined and trust me there was some wild times there. It was a madhouse.
“I ended up getting moved due to some mischief I got up to when I got back late after a night out. I couldn’t get in the door because I didn’t have a key so I decided it would be a good idea to climb up the drainpipe and through the bedroom window.
“I had to knock on the window for one of the lads to open it and let me in. The landlady must have heard a bit of a commotion and the noise of me scampering up the pipe because by the time I’d climbed through she’d come upstairs to tell me to get out. I just got straight into bed and went to sleep!
“It was silly, but we do crazy things when we’re young. It carried on in my new digs which I shared with Becks, John O’Kane and Raphael Burke. We would always trash each other’s rooms when one of us wasn’t there. There would be beds up in the air, sheets everywhere and aftershaves and shoes all over the place. It would look like a bomb had gone off and meant you were always on edge because you didn’t want it to happen to your room and you’d make sure you got them back if it did.
“We often used to sit on the toilet with the door open which gave you the perfect view of the landing so you could see if anyone was trying to sneak into your room and if they did you’d be up and after them whether you were finished or not! I remember being sat there with my kecks down and David Beckham’s dad catching me as he came upstairs to go into his sons room. He just looked at me and started laughing. He remembered it when I saw him years later.”
His misdemeanour in digs had brought him to the attention of the gaffer, but Lenny otherwise enjoyed a good relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson during his time at the club: “I had a lot of respect for him but I wasn’t starstruck like a lot of the others. We’d sometimes go to his house and play snooker because we got on well with Darren and I got to know his other sons Jason and Mark. His wife Cathy is a beautiful person and a lovely lady too.
“He was great with the youngsters and wanted the best for us. He always used to try and trip me up or give me a playful little clout round the back of the head so he must have liked me. He was great for a laugh and a joke but if he lost his temper, you knew about it. You’d hear him first but I never had a major issue with him, although I was hiding upstairs at the house party at Lee Sharpe’s that always gets talked about when he turned up. My heart was literally pounding through my chest and I was praying that he didn’t come upstairs.
“I remember him coming to watch one of our games at Everton for the ‘A’ team, the winger I was marking was one of their first team players coming back from injury. The gaffer told me he liked to cross from the outside and whip the ball round you so he told me to set myself up so he had to cross from the inside of me and it worked.”
Taylor settled into life playing for the club’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams on a Saturday morning. He remembers the level of talent and fierce competition for places in every position and how his lack of height saw him converted into an industrious full-back: “I was quite innocent to the game and just didn’t think of anything else when I played apart from doing my job which was stopping the opposition putting the ball in the back of the net. I’d been a sweeper or centre-half as a young player but because I was never tall when I went to United they shifted me over to full-back. My size didn’t bother me though and I just did a job.
“I played quite a lot of games in the ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams and felt that I could have maybe snook in and done a job in the reserves but with the amount of quality players there it was so hard. It was ridiculous and maybe if I was there a couple of years later it might have been different. In every position there was at least five players at the club who were all outstanding.
“It can be strange how things work out as well because there were lads there who didn’t go on to have careers in the game but looked nailed on at the time. Raphael Burke was one and I also played a few games with Adrian Doherty. What an amazing player he was – absolutely phenomenal.
“We’d interact with the first team around the Cliff and sometimes trained with them. I remember scoring past Schmeichel and him going mental. I also gave Ryan Giggs the scar he has just above his top lip when I caught him with a high boot, he was a good-looking lad so wasn’t happy about needing a couple of stitches and didn’t let me forget about it in a hurry. He used to say he hated playing against me because I was everywhere and I felt that I was as quick as he was.”
The second year of Lenny’s apprenticeship saw him pushing for a place in United’s side for the FA Youth Cup alongside the likes of Gary Neville, David Beckham and Nicky Butt. He made the squad in the latter stages of the competition, coming off the bench in the semi-final at Spurs as United went on to win the trophy to give rise to the Class of ’92:
“Thinking about being part of that team still sends shivers down my spine because we had so much confidence, belief and understanding. It was an absolute pleasure. I’m proud to have been part of that group and I’m proud of the lads who went on to play in the first team and win titles. It was great to see.
“I was on the fringes of the team and those were the games you wanted to play in but the coaches had two teams worth of players to choose from, Gary Neville and John O’Kane were ahead of me so it was difficult to even get a look-in never mind hold down a regular spot.
“The Spurs game down at White Hart Lane was a really tough night away from home and they had Nick Barmby and Sol Campbell playing for them. Darren Caskey was very highly rated at the time too. Sat on the bench watching it the lads battled so hard to win it 2-1 and get us in the final. Simon Davies had a great game as did a lot of the other lads who put in a hell of a shift.
“With a few minutes to go Eric Harrison said he thought it was about time I got myself on, he actually apologised for putting me on so late in the game. I came on for Ben Thornley on the left wing which wasn’t my natural position at all but he just told me to get out there and enjoy it. I didn’t think twice and we saw it out.
“I was in the squad for the first leg of the final too at Crystal Palace but didn’t get on. In the latter stages me and a few others were really pushing for a spot. If I’d have started pushing a bit earlier maybe things would have been different but if it’s not meant to be it’s not meant to be. I’ve still got my medal and it’s one of my most prized possessions.”
Winning the FA Youth Cup for first time since the days of George Best signalled the start of something big at United but while some of his team-mates continued their progress towards the first team and superstardom, Lenny was let go in the weeks following the triumph: “I’d worked my arse off in my second year and hoped there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and that they’d give me a year’s pro contract but deep down you always know. I’d sort of accepted it before it happened so by the time the gaffer confirmed they were letting me go it wasn’t as much of a kick in the teeth. It hurt though because I wanted to be there.
“The gaffer just said that there were so many players and he couldn’t keep everybody. United let quite a lot of players go around that time, some very talented lads too. They did try and do right by us though because I remember me and Andy Noone being sent for a trial at Hull City which came to nothing and I think there was talk of Peter Reid being interested in taking me to Manchester City but nothing materialised there either.”
Unsuccessful trials at Port Vale and Walsall followed before Lenny went to play non-league for Solihull Borough – now Solihull Moors. He took a job on a production line in a metal coating facility before moving to work in a double-glazing factory, then as a courier and electrical labourer and drifted out of the game:
“The gaffer put me in touch with Walsall’s manager Kenny Hibbitt so I went there for a while and must have impressed because they offered me another year’s YTS which I was still eligible for due to my late birthday. I wanted a year’s pro though after doing my apprenticeship at United and wanted to progress.
“I moved back to Birmingham a bit despondent because I wasn’t getting anywhere. I ended up going to play non-league for Solihull Borough and was there for a few years where I played a lot for the reserves and flitted in and out of the first team. I played in a cup final which we won but didn’t quite establish myself because they had some ex-pros from the likes of Birmingham City and West Brom, Robert Hopkins and a few others were there at the time and I stayed for about four years before it fizzled out.
“I carried on playing Sunday league until I was about 28 but your priorities change, you have to work and earn a living and football wasn’t giving me that anymore, so I drifted out of it. It took its toll after a while because you’d be trying to swap shifts so you could play or going home getting into bed after a night game knowing you had to start work at six the next morning.”
Now working as a part carer for his partners son, Lenny is still in touch with some of his former team-mates and featured in the Class of ’92 film that was released in 2013: “I enjoyed it for the sole purpose that it was a chance to catch up with the lads although there were a few who weren’t there. It was good to spend some time with them after so many years.
“My daughter managed to get a couple of pictures taken with Becks which was nice. He was really good with her and was saying how much he missed his own daughter because I think they’re a similar age. I finally managed to get one with him at the premiere. My partner Tina is a Birmingham City fan so she made sure she got one with Robbie Savage!
“I still keep in touch with a few of them but sadly it’s difficult to get near the six lads who went on to be superstars. I feel sorry for them in a way because they just don’t have the freedom to talk openly because their lives have been so scrutinised with people trying to hang onto them or sell stories to the papers. I don’t want them to think I’m after anything it would just be great to share a couple of pints together or a phone call and laugh about old times because back in the day we were just a big bunch of crazy people together.”
His time at United may not have made him a multi-millionaire but Lenny is happy and content in his life, remembering his time at the club and in Manchester with a lot of fondness: “I look back on it all now as a once in a lifetime experience which helps me appreciate what I’ve had and what I’ve got without taking anything for granted.
“At the time I just wanted to play football and it’s one of those things where you have to go through it to understand it. You’re young, away from home for the first time and consumed by the bright lights and extra-curricular activities. Maybe if I’d applied myself better at times I could have gone further but I see a different perspective to it now.
“Manchester has always been home to me in a way. I was born and bred in Birmingham but when you grow up and come of age somewhere it sticks with you. I love going back because I have so many great memories there. The people, the way of life and the atmosphere is just different. Don’t get me wrong Birmingham is a lovely place but my time in Manchester at United was crucial in me growing up as a person.
“If I win the lottery I might become a multi-millionaire like Becks and the lads from our group who went on to have amazing careers but until then I’ll live life as is and do what I need to do. My family and friends appreciate what I did which I take pride in and my little girl Cyann will understand as she gets older so I’m happy.
“I was compared to Paul Parker and I was very proud of that. It was mentioned to me a while ago by a massive United fan and it brought a smile to my face. People might not know Lenny Taylor but I know I was there and so do the lads who made it. That’s enough for me.”
He may not be a household name like some of his former team-mates but Lenny is still remembered at Manchester United, at least in one sense. At a reunion at Old Trafford in 2017 when United played Crystal Palace, Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to recall his drainpipe escapade over a quarter of a century since it took place:
“Which one of you climbed up the drainpipe?”
“Yeah that was me gaffer.”
“Of course it was!”