Gary Taylor-Fletcher remembers Lincoln City, Blackpool spells and Keith Alexander’s incredible gesture

The club that launched his career against the club that propelled him to the top of English football.

Understandably, Gary Taylor-Fletcher will have divided loyalties when Lincoln City faces Blackpool on Sunday for the right to play in the Championship next season.

The former striker, now 39, has had an impressive career, starting outside the league and working his way up to the Premier League.

Talent and hard work were behind Taylor-Fletcher’s rise, but his manager at Lincoln – the late Keith Alexander – was also instrumental.

Taylor-Fletcher played under Alexander at Northwich Victoria, non-league.

It was Alexander who ended Taylor-Fletcher’s doom in Leyton Orient and brought him to Lincoln in 2003.

“He’s been a mentor to me,” said Alexander’s Taylor-Fletcher. “Even after we left Northwich, we kept in touch.

“I had two very unhappy years at Leyton Orient. At the start of the third season, I had enough, I needed to play.

“I had started all the preseason games, I had scored a bunch of goals, but for the first game of the season, I wasn’t even on the bench.

“Joining Lincoln was obvious to me. I have known a few guys, like Bails [right-back Mark Bailey], and I had obviously worked with Keith.

“It was the kickoff I needed and Keith was brilliant to play under. He knew exactly what you needed as a player.

“I remember in the first four games I never scored, but I knew I was playing well.

“He called me and his first question to me was’ what would have happened in the last two years [at Orient] what if you had played the first four games and you hadn’t scored? ‘.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher while in Lincoln City

“I said ‘if I had played two games without scoring, I would be back in the reserve!’.

“He said ‘as long as you give me the same effort you will play every game. The goals will come. I know as soon as you get the chance it will be in the back of the net.”

“I think I scored in the next four games after that. He just knew how to give you confidence. I think I scored 21 goals that season. It was an amazing season and unfortunately we lost in the play-off semi-finals to Huddersfield, but we were by far the better team in both games.

There was more pain in the play-off the following season. Imps reached the final at Cardiff for the second time in three seasons, but lost 2-0 to Southend United after extra time.

Taylor-Fletcher’s contract, like many of his teammates, was coming to an end.

Settled in the Lincoln, he was ready to sign a new deal, but Alexander – in an incredible act of selflessness rarely seen in the game today – had other ideas.

“Keith freed me,” he recalls. “There were a lot of rumors that I had been bugged but hadn’t spoken to anyone.

“My wife and I lived in Lincoln, we were totally settled and I enjoyed my football.

“If Keith had put a contract in front of me I would have signed it but he said ‘I’m not going to get in your way, you have to go play at a higher level and take your career forward.’

“I was stunned. We had just lost the final and I knew a lot of other guys had been offered contracts that I would have accepted.

Keith alexander
Keith alexander

“Two or three days later Keith called me and told me he had spoken to Peter Jackson in Huddersfield and Gary Johnson in Yeovil [both clubs were in League One at the time] and that they were going to give me something.

“He was the kind of person he was, he didn’t want to embarrass me. This is one thing I will never forget about her.

Taylor-Fletcher chose Huddersfield and Jackson, the couple having been introduced to each other by Alexander during his time in Northwich.

After two excellent seasons with the Terriers, Taylor-Fletcher joined Blackpool, then in the Championship.

Even after this decision, the Premier League seemed like an unrealistic dream.

“Not in a million years,” he admits. “When I went there, it was about avoiding relegation. That was the talk for the first two years I was there.

“The big thing that changed was the first day Ian Holloway arrived. He said ‘it’s not good enough for me and it shouldn’t be good enough for you. You have shown that you can stay in this division, now you have to improve.

“Why can’t we get into the first half, why can’t we aim for the play-offs? That was the message.

“He gave us a way of playing that suited the players. He gave us a way to go and attack the teams.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher while in Blackpool

“It was one of the biggest turning points for me as a forward. Before that it was all about defensive work but Ian Holloway walked in and said “I don’t want you to defend, I want you to attack”. It was music to my ears.

Against all odds, Holloway led Blackpool to the top flight in 2010 after beating Cardiff City 3-2 in the play-off final.

Although they cannot stay in the Premier League, the Tangerines have provided rich entertainment, becoming a favorite among neutrals with their attacking style of football.

“We got 39 points,” explained Taylor-Fletcher. “In the history of the Premier League, very few teams have been relegated with this number.

“Unfortunately, it was one of those seasons because no one really fell to the bottom.

“We beat Liverpool at home and away, we beat Spurs at home, we realized ourselves really well.”

He has also played for Leicester City, Tranmere Rovers and Accrington Stanley, but considers his stints at Lincoln, Huddersfield and Blackpool as the happiest of his career.

“I will always have a soft spot for Lincoln – that’s where I started and progressed,” said Taylor-Fletcher, who recommended the club to former Blackpool teammate Neal Eardley, a key player as the Imps won the League Two title and the EFL Trophy under the Cowleys.

“Blackpool is where I have had the most success so it will be mixed emotions on Sunday.

“I can’t say that I want one team to win more than the other. I will be wearing makeup whoever comes up.

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