Topping the goalscoring charts for the post-1970 era is one surefire way of ensuring your enduring popularity among Cambridge United fans. Another is to conduct yourself with the humility, amiability and wholehearted commitment shown by John Taylor from the moment he joined the U’s in 1988.
Known to fans and teammates alike as Shaggy because of the generous length of his locks when he signed for Chris Turner’s gang of second-chancers, he looked, learned and flourished, honing his all-round play and making the most of his God-given skills.
The goals started on his debut as a trialist – in a post-season Kinsella Cup final at Wisbech – and didn’t stop until he left Newmarket Road for the last time in 2004. In between came 301 full appearances and 109 as sub, those record-breaking 104 goals, two spells as a player and one as an under-resourced and under-appreciated manager.
Not bad for a man who was working as a shipping clerk in Felixstowe and playing for Sudbury Town when Gary Johnson recommended him to United. Like many of his colleagues in the late-80s side assembled by Turner and shaped by John Beck, he appreciated a second chance of a career in football, and grabbed it.
Given a fortnight’s trial in the summer of 1988, he earned a contract after just one pre-season game – in which, naturally, he scored. The aerial ability was obvious, but there was very much more to his game: the wherewithal to go past defenders, awareness and anticipation, the willingness to bring teammates into play, a never-say-die ethos and, of course, that eye for goal.
Making his first-team bow in September, John impressed immediately and, having opened his League goal account three weeks later, never looked back.
Playing up front, in tandem with the likes of Ryan, George Reilly, Gary Bull, Steve Claridge or a promising youngster called Dion Dublin, or even in goal when called upon, John was soon drawing envious glances from wealthier clubs. But before he left the Abbey there was the little matter of two consecutive promotions and two FA Cup quarter-finals to consider.
He put in some outstanding performances in the Cup – who will ever forget that moment at Highbury when he left David O’Leary and Tony Adams floundering? – and contributed fully to some unforgettable League games. None was more memorable than the win over Peterborough in which John snapped up all three goals.
All good things come to an end. He left United for Bristol Rovers in 1992 but, after a peripatetic five years, Shaggy was back in 1997, ready to resume his goalscoring feats. And when a managerial vacancy occurred in 2002, he was installed in the dugout. The appointment was acclaimed by supporters who recognised John Taylor as one of their own.