New Exeter City manager Matt Taylor faces a host of challenges this season. In addition to being the most inexperienced and the second-youngest manager in League Two, he has the small task of replacing the departed Paul Tisdale after twelve momentous years at St James’ Park. Furthermore, he is charged with taking the club forward after two unsuccessful play-off finals. He is also yet another manager in League Two with a Lincoln City connection, of which more later.
Although unknown as a manager, Matt Taylor has enjoyed an interesting and varied career as a player including a rare positional change and a range of promotions, play-off campaigns and cup wins. Starting as a goalkeeper with Preston North End Boys and the Everton Academy, Taylor dropped into non-league football with Northern Premier League Burscough in 2000. In three eventful seasons in which the Lancashire club regularly punched above its weight, Burscough reached the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup every year and in 2003 became the smallest club ever to win the FA Trophy as 400-1 outsiders. At that point, Taylor had a trial for Lincoln in July 2003 but was released after a pre-season friendly against Boston Town. He continued his career in non-league football with a quick succession of clubs in the north midlands as he studied for a degree at Hallam University. After short spells at Rossendale, Matlock, Hucknall, Halifax and Guiseley, there came a change in career path in a very unusual way.
Established goalkeeper Taylor had also been appearing as a defender for a number of college teams, and had maintained this dual existence for a number of years. Whilst playing in goal for Guiseley in 2005, he was called up to the British Universities team as a centre-half, and so began the permanent conversion to defence. The British Universities coach was a certain Paul Tisdale, starting a connection that would continue over a number of years. Tisdale was also the manager of Southern League Premier side Team Bath, the sports brand of the University of Bath, and in the summer of 2006 Tisdale invited Taylor to join on a sports scholarship. However, Taylor never had the opportunity to play under Tisdale for Team Bath, as the coach departed for Exeter City a few weeks later. His final game for Guiseley at the end of the 2005-06 season – a 2-1 home defeat by Lincoln United – proved to be the last time he appeared as a goalkeeper.
Despite his departure for Exeter, Tisdale kept tabs on the new centre-half as Team Bath just failed to reach Conference South in 2006-07. Having lost the play-off final 1-0 to Maidenhead, Tisdale made his move and Taylor signed for then-Conference Premier Exeter in June 2007. He scored on his Exeter debut in a 4-1 opening day win at Altrincham and went on to contribute an excellent nine goals as Exeter won promotion back to the Football League with a play-off final win over Cambridge. The success kept on coming as Exeter went straight through League Two to win automatic promotion at the first attempt. After narrowly missing the League One play-offs by a single point in 2010-11, Taylor signed a two-year deal with League One rivals Charlton. The promotion bug bit again, appearing in almost every game as Charlton won the League One title with a record 101 points in his first season. He featured less regularly in the Championship and moved back to League One with newly-promoted Bradford in the summer of 2013.
His stay at Bradford lasted just one season, and after a short loan spell at Colchester, he signed for League Two strugglers Cheltenham Town in July 2014. Although made captain, his stay was an unhappy one as Cheltenham were relegated from the Football League at the end of his first season. Although on a two-year deal at Whaddon Road, he departed for League Two Newport in the summer of 2015. With his career nearing its end, he made only a handful more appearances before accepting a role as player-coach at National League South side Bath City in February 2016. There followed a short spell as Senior Football Manager at Hartpury Sports Academy in Gloucester between August 2016 and January 2017, where he had been studying part-time for an MSc in Coaching Science whilst playing for Cheltenham. In December 2016 he was brought back to Exeter by Paul Tisdale as first-team coach and U23 manager, initially on a voluntary basis. Following Tisdale’s departure for Milton Keynes Dons at the end of May, Exeter opted for immediate continuity and appointed Taylor to the manager’s role on 1 June 2018.
Currently holding the UEFA A Licence, Taylor intends to complete the Pro Licence in due course. In spite of his lack of experience in a managerial capacity, Taylor has already stated his intention to be his own man as he seeks to fill the significant void left by Tisdale. Having studied for a Diploma in Fitness Excellence during his stay at the University of Bath, we can expect Exeter to be one of the fitter sides in League Two this season. Furthermore, he has employed specialist strength and conditioning coach Andrew Wiseman as part of his backroom staff. Experienced former Preston, Blackburn and Carlisle coach Eric Kinder has been brought in as Taylor’s assistant, completing the circle back to Taylor’s earliest days at Preston – Kinder was his youth team coach there.
Unlike League Two rivals Grimsby Town, who have taken the unusual step of appointing a very inexperienced assistant manager and coach to support their inexperienced manager, Exeter appear to have done things the right way. Matt Taylor has all the technical knowledge he needs from his extensive studies in sport to hit the ground running in August, and he has the added benefit of that experienced management team behind him. But the question is: will it be enough to replace Exeter’s most successful manager of all time?
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and playoffs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 17, 2018