LYLE Taylor takes a certain enjoyment in proving people wrong – particularly those people who suggested he was not good enough to make it in football.
And he will take equal pleasure in proving Hibernian wrong this afternoon, if they show the slightest sign of presuming Falkirk are not good enough to make it into the Scottish Cup final.
It is four years since the striker, now 23, was told by Millwall manager Kenny Jackett that he was being released. Having grown up in that part of London, Taylor had hoped to become a hometown hero, but instead had to carry on his footballing apprenticeship in non-league football.
He returned to the Football League with Bournemouth, but had another setback when they released him last summer. Since then, however, his career has been on an upward trajectory, and in his first season with Falkirk he has averaged close to a goal a game.
Looking back on his days with Millwall, Taylor understands that thousands of young players are released every year, and that Jackett was in no way singling him out for unjust treatment. Even so, he still has a hunger to show that assessment might have been right at the time, but should not be considered a lasting verdict on his ability.
“To be fair, he had the conversation with me himself,” he says of that day in 2009 when Jackett released him. “I remember after being told going out in the car park of the training ground, and I called my stepmum straight away.
“All the first-team players were walking past, and I was fighting back tears. My stepmum just said: ‘You go again, you keep going’.
“I accepted Kenny’s decision – let’s face it, he wasn’t going to change it. It was his club: what’s the point moaning. I went back to my parents and said ‘I will prove him wrong’. I have not ever spoken to him since. Never had any contact.
“He made the decision for his football club. If no-one was ever released, or everyone had their contract renewed, there would be no jobs. It’s part and parcel of football. At that time I was not ready, and not good enough.
“I had moments when I didn’t know if I should be playing football, if it was the right thing to be doing. But I always had my family around me. And I am stubborn. I just really wanted to prove him [Jackett] wrong, and I still do – and I haven’t finished and won’t finish doing that until I get to the highest level I can possibly play at.
“It’s not at the front of my mind, but it is one of my reasons and something that drives me. It’s not just him; it’s everyone who has said ‘No, you are not good enough; no, you are not strong enough’. It’s everyone.
“That’s where the desire comes from. If you don’t have that desire, even something as small as wanting to prove someone wrong, then you shouldn’t be playing football.”
Taylor showed pretty quickly he was good enough for Falkirk, scoring a hat-trick on his debut in a friendly against Middlesbrough. But this is by far the largest stage he will have played on, dwarfing his previous showpiece game, a Rymans North play-off final with Concord Rangers.
So will he freeze on the big occasion, finding an unfamiliar environment too unsettling? He thinks not. Although he has never been to Hampden before, he feels at home with Falkirk, and even sees similarities between his current club and the old days at Millwall, where after being released from the playing staff he worked as a community coach for a time.
“Millwall is home; New Cross is home. Everyone says that it’s a rough part of London, but nowhere is rough if you’ve grown up there. It’s home. I know people there, even if I don’t know them to say hello to in the streets. It was not a problem. The kids in the schools knew who I was, because they were Millwall fans.
“It turned into a good job, though it was horrible in the middle of winter when it was cold. We were in tracksuits in the freezing cold coaching kids, and nine times out of ten they were kids who didn’t want to be there anyway.
“It’s the same here. The gaffer has to stand around freezing his nuts off when he’s coaching.”
In other words, whatever the temperature this afternoon, Taylor has no intention of standing around and getting cold. He will enjoy the physical battle with the Hibs defence, and believes the pressure is all on Pat Fenlon’s side.
“From what I have seen and from what we have been told, we are the underdogs,” he says.”We have nothing to fear and nothing to lose.”
Teams set for half-full Hampden
THIS weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-finals are set to be played out in front of a half-empty Hampden both today and tomorrow.
Tickets will remain available right up until kick-off on both days, with the portable cabins behind the east and west stands open for business from 10am. Hibs will take a support of 17,500 through to Glasgow, while Falkirk fans have snapped up a more modest 5,000.
In tomorrow’s semi-final, Celtic supporters hoping for a league and cup double are set to outnumber Dundee United’s backing by two to one, with sales figures at close of business yesterday indicating Celtic had sold around 17,000 and United 8,000.
Meanwhile, Falkirk fans attending today’s semi-final will be given first call on tickets should their team pull off a shock and make it through to next month’s final. A spokesman said: “In the event of Falkirk making the final, fans should keep their semi-final ticket stubs and they will have the chance to purchase tickets before a general sale.”