Steven Taylor reveals why he reluctantly turned down a new deal at Newcastle United

Things were different at Newcastle United when a young Steven Taylor caught the eye of Sir Bobby Robson.

The club was ambitious, and, fittingly and memorably, Taylor made his debut in a European game. Then came Mike Ashley – and everything changed.

Taylor saw it all in his time at his boyhood club, and now, having hung up his boots, he’s been reflecting on a playing career that took him around the world.

It was the right time to call it a day, though it wasn’t injuries that led to his retirement. Instead, Taylor called it a day following a series of quarantines and lockdowns on the other side of the globe.

Steven Taylor celebrates scoring against Celta Vigo in 2006.

The defender – who had been captaining Wellington Phoenix – was facing another season playing out of Australia away from his New Zealand home.

It would also have been another season without seeing his family due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

“I signed for the Phoenix to play in Wellington, and once again the club’s had to go and play in Australia, and be based there,” said Taylor, who was back on St James’s Park for last week’s Newcastle United Foundation United As One dinner.

“That was kind of the frustrating part of it. I’ve done six quarantines. This would have been my seventh, had the team had to quarantine again. I don’t know how many lockdowns I’ve had – it’s all I’ve had since I left India and came back to Australia.

Steven Taylor speaks to host Gaby Logan at the Newcastle United Foundation United As One dinner at St James's Park.

“It’s been the hardest thing for me. I loved it at Wellington. I loved the home games there. That was probably the hardest decision for me. I haven’t been able to get back and see the family at all.”

Taylor – who is now working with athletes at the Elite Sports Performance centre in Dubai – caught up with family and friends on his visit to Tyneside.

The 35-year-old’s also caught up with the news from his old club following a momentous few weeks.

Ashley’s 14-year tenure as owner finally came to an end last month when the club was taken over by an ambitious and powerful consortium led by Amanda Staveley.

Demba Ba celebrates scoring against Stoke City in 2011 with Steven Taylor.

“It’s about time – it’s long overdue,” said Taylor. “Now fans can get excited again.

“When Rafa (Benitez) was there, it was probably the best feeling we’d had since the Bobby Robson era. I think the atmosphere’s back. Hopefully, they can kick on and make sure they survive and kick on.”

The club, under Ashley, was very different to the one which Taylor first served as a player during Sir Bobby’s memorable time as manager.

Taylor was handed his debut in a UEFA Cup game against Real Mallorca by Robson in 2004, and the defender was fortunate to play for the club at a time when its ambition was more than just Premier League survival.

England players Jermain Defoe, Steven Caulker, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Taylor in action during a training session at St Georges Park in 2013.

“I’ve thought back to leaving school aged 16, and starting in the reserves,” said Taylor. “I went straight into the reserves, then playing against the likes of Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy every day. That was the biggest help I had.

"Bobby Robson gave me the chance to go to Wycombe Wanderers on loan, which toughens you up.

“I got my opportunity against Real Mallorca. After that, I never looked back. I think about the good times I had there, the European nights. I’ve had some amazing nights there. I was very fortunate to be given that chance.

“You’ve got to look at when I first broke into the team, you had the likes of Shearer and Craig Bellamy, Gary Speed and Jonathan Woodgate as well.

"Then there was Yohan Cabaye and Ben Arfa. The one year we finished fifth (in 2011/12), I wished the club had invested that year and kept our best players. I think we could have had a right go. When you let your best players go, it’s always going to be difficult.

“We had some top players, like Nobby Solano and Laurent Robert, players that fans loved. We were getting linked with these top names. I think it’s something the fans have missed. It was something to get excited about – fans had that hope.”

Papiss Cisse celebrates a goal against Anzhi Makhachkala in 2012 with Steven Taylor.

If those European nights were the highs, the lows were the two relegations the club suffered under Ashley’s ownership along with a series of long-term injuries.

“The first relegation (was the lowlight), but it was probably a good thing in a way,” said Taylor, whose post-Newcastle career also took him to Portland Timbers, Peterborough United, Ipswich Town and Odisha.

“You get rid of the players who didn’t want to be there. I think the football club needed it at the time.

“We bounced back with Chris Hughton. We got the good times back for the fans. We got to the quarter-finals against Benfica. You look at some of the nights we’ve had. As a young kid, I’ve always wanted those European nights. Relegation will always be a low point, but I look at the positives all the time.

“My dream was to do what I loved doing for a living for my hometown. The European nights, the big games, were the best feeling. I’ve been very lucky, travelling and playing in Major League Soccer, India and the A-League.”

Taylor’s longevity might have surprised some given the succession of serious injuries he had to overcome on Tyneside.

“I’ve prolonged my career, and probably a lot of people in the Newcastle medical department might have thought I’d not get past 31, as I had two snapped Achilles, two dislocated shoulders, bicep tendon snapped,” said Taylor.

“They were all surprised I carried on after 30, but that was my way. I wasn’t going to go out injured. I looked after myself, looked after my body. I know what works for us. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, and I’ll tell you what, I’ve enjoyed the ride.”

Taylor left following the club’s second relegation, and his 268th and final appearance came in a 5-1 home win over Tottenham Hotspur. The club had offered Taylor another year, but he knew he wouldn’t be playing every week.

“I was going to be 30-years-old,” said Taylor. “It was kind of more of a rotation system, and I wanted to be greedy and play every game. I’ve seen in my career people just happy to sit on the bench. I had to play. That’s why I went to Portland."

Taylor had had big offers to leave Newcastle earlier in his career – Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton made their interest known – but money wasn’t his primary motivation.

“I had a lot of opportunities to leave the club,” said Taylor. “At the start of my career, there were times when I had agents trying to convince me to move.

“There was all that kind of talk, and going abroad as well. It would have been good for agents at the time, but, for me, I was enjoying my football at Newcastle. I was playing in Europe, and enjoying my football. It wasn’t about the money at the time.”

Taylor captained England at Under-21 level, but never won a senior cap.

“I had a couple of call-ups with Steve McClaren and Roy Hodgson,” said Taylor. “You’ve got to remember it was the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ with the likes of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Jamie Carragher.

“I remember in the first half of the relegation season people saying ‘you’re not going to be in the England squad if you’re in the Championship’. That was the sacrifice I picked.

"For me, I’ve lived my dream at Newcastle.”

Now the club’s under new ownership, United fans, among them Taylor, can dream again.

Steven Taylor of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal against Burnley in 2015.