This summer, we're featuring some of the players who have appeared in our academy Young Gun section of the match day programme in 2020/21. Next, we have central defender, Taylor Foran.
For any youngster coming through at Arsenal, making your debut for the U-23s is a really special moment. But my debut was different to most...
Let’s take things back to October. We had a big game coming up against Manchester City and I’d recently been training with the U-23s more and more, so I was hoping to get a chance at some point down the line. Anyway, we travelled up to Manchester and because of a number of circumstances, we had to go with just one keeper in our squad, so Steve came up to me on the morning of the game and said that if worst comes to worst, he wants me to go in goal. I’ve always been the type to just throw myself into any situation, so I said yes, expecting nothing to come of it. I told the boys about it and they were taking the mick with the coaches saying can you imagine if you actually had to go in goal! I only turned 17 the week before too.
Anyway, the game kicks off and I’m sat there on the bench watching closely because I wanted to be ready in case they gave me a run out in the second half, or if someone picks up a sudden injury. You’ve got to be ready for any situation, but I don’t think anyone could prepare for what happened next...
We went 1-0 up through Nikolaj Moller in the sixth minute, but almost instantly after a ball was played over the top of our defence and Karl Hein knocked Felix Nmecha straight to the floor. He was given a straight red card! At this point, Paul, our U-23s kitman, turned around to me and said ‘Come on, Taylor! Let’s go!’ And I was thinking ‘Oh my god, what have I let myself in for.’ But to be fair to the lads, they were brilliant to me and I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever. I just told myself that this situation is crazy and like nothing else I’ll probably ever experience again, so I might as well be confident and try to enjoy it.
Corners and set-pieces were definitely scary, though. I had no clue what I was doing and yet here I was barking orders and telling my wall to move left or right. Whenever crosses or shots were coming at my feet, I decided that it was smarter to just use my feet and clear the ball, rather than try to catch it. I know I’m good at clearing the ball and that’s when I’m comfortable, but if I forced myself to start catching and diving too much, that’s when I’d start to make silly errors. I was loving it out there, I was having a great time.
I’ll never forget the reception all the lads gave me after the game too. I walked into the dressing room a little later than most because I had to do some running and Steve was in the middle of his team talk. That’s when he pointed me out and said ‘If it wasn’t for this man today, it could have been so much worse’ and then I got a big round of applause from everyone. That meant a lot to me because it wasn’t how I planned to make my debut!
To be completely honest, my dad was gutted when he first saw because he wanted me to make my debut outfield, like anyone would. But once he saw the respect I was getting online and understood the situation, he loved it. The funniest thing about it is that for the next couple of weeks I actually had some of the best stats for a keeper in the Premier League 2!
It’s a funny story that will stick with me forever, but I think it says something about the way I am as a person and as a player too. I’m that defender who is willing to put his body on the line and block literally anything coming at goal, so I think that’s why they trusted me. I’ll do anything to win and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, even if that challenge involves going in goal!
I’m not your typical modern-day centre back, I’m a bit more old school. I really don’t feel like there’s many defenders like me in academy football these days because my mentality is defend first and deal with everything else later. I’m extremely vocal on the pitch and I’m the kind of player who will do absolutely anything to win the ball back or keep a clean sheet. I’ve always been like that, it’s just the way I love playing the game. It feels weird to me not talking or organising the team out on the pitch! There’s a quote about defending that says you have to worry about what’s around you, not the ball. In possession is when you’re most at risk, so organising counter-attacks and organising behind the ball is so important, and it’s something that’s always come naturally to me.
Going forward, I just want to keep working hard on those strengths of mine and hopefully get more opportunities with the under-23s – just maybe not in goal again!
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