Wellington Phoenix defender Steven Taylor has announced his retirement from professional football - putting an end to a storied playing career that began at Newcastle United and finished with a fantastic run with the Wellington Phoenix.
I want to say a massive thank you to all the Kiwis for their support, the ‘Nix fans, the Yellow Fever - I hope they saw in the games I’ve played that I gave my all for the Phoenix shirt and I left everything on the pitch.
After an illustrious professional career spanning 18 years and nearly 500 matches played in the top leagues around the world, Taylor will today farewell the Phoenix squad he has called home for the past three seasons, before returning to England to reunite with family.
35-year-old Taylor’s career with the Phoenix spanned 61 matches across three seasons, with his 2019/20 campaign – in which he captained his side to the Club’s best-ever regular-season finish – standing as one of his greatest highlights. After a stint with Oshida last season, he returned to the Club in March 2021 and helped guide the squad to a record-setting 11-match unbeaten streak to help finish the campaign on a positive note.
Prior to his Phoenix career, Taylor starred in the Premier League for Newcastle United for 13 seasons, also making 58 appearances for England’s national setup, before joining the Portland Timbers in the US-based MLS competition in 2016. After returning to England to play for Ipswich Town and Peterborough United in the Championship and League One respectively, he joined the ‘Nix for the 2018/19 season.
Taylor says that he leaves Wellington with a heavy heart, but also with great memories of his time in Wellington with the players and the fans.
“I want to say a massive thank you to all the Kiwis for their support, the ‘Nix fans, the Yellow Fever - I hope they saw in the games I’ve played that I gave my all for the Phoenix shirt and I left everything on the pitch,” says Taylor.
“Coming back to New Zealand at the end of last season, the atmosphere was phenomenal – and you want to play in big atmospheres, you want to play in front of the Yellow Fever so I’m really going to miss that. To play my final games in front of Phoenix fans in both Wellington and Auckland was something special, two moments that I’ll never forget.
“But I think now is the right time to leave, and this way I’m able to leave on my terms.
“I’ve had so many great times here with the Phoenix, it’s been something I’ve loved and I want to thank the lads young and old I’ve played with here too; I wish David Ball and Gary Hooper all the best and know they’ll be pushing along the youth with their experience.”
Taylor says that as much as he enjoyed his time with the Phoenix, the challenges that Covid has forced on him and the Phoenix took its toll – with a return home to his family now becoming an even greater need for him as a result.
“Last season [with the re-location to Wollongong] was tough; but the lads got on with it and I take my hat off to them because they made a bad situation a good one and got through it – we missed out by a point and had that 11-match unbeaten streak to finish the season.
“The thought of having to re-locate and hub again – I got caught in a lockdown at the end of last season and then again [in Wellington] one day after I got out of managed isolation – it’s feels like it’s followed me everywhere. I haven’t had any type of a normal life for some time.
“There’s only so much of that I can take and I haven’t seen my family [in the UK] in a long time; as a professional footballer in the UK I’ve always had my dad watching my games – from when I first started with Newcastle United and having him watch me from the Terraces at St James’ Park– so it’s come to that period of my life where family is more important than football and I’m excited for the next chapter and to see my family back home in the UK.”
Reflecting back on his playing career with the Phoenix, Taylor appreciates the opportunity the Club provided to him to re-invigorate his career in another country.
“I remember the first day I came out here, I saw it as a challenge, something exciting - at the time [the Phoenix] had that underdog tag and I thrived on it; that first year we were like a bunch of misfits put together, who delivered and it was an incredible first season for me.
“And that kind of kick-started the Phoenix into believing, and then [next season] Uffie came in and the plan he put in place helped take us to the next level.
“Looking back, I got to play for my hometown club at Newcastle United and live the dream until I was 30; I wanted to keep playing after the injuries I had back then – a snapped Achilles, bicep tendon snapped, two dislocated shoulders – and I remember people at the time thinking ‘this warhorse, we’re going to need to put him down’.
“But I wanted to keep going and I got my chance with the Phoenix, it was a great platform, something exciting and new – and I don’t think my family expected me to fall in love with Wellington as much as I have so it’s a credit to everyone at the Phoenix, the Wellingtonians and the Kiwis who made it feel like a second home to me.”
Wellington Phoenix General Manager, David Dome says that Taylor will leave behind an enduring legacy for the Club long after his departure.
“Steven has been a solid leader for us over the past three seasons, and so – in addition to thanking him for his effort on the field - we thank him sincerely for that leadership and the positive values he has helped instill on our younger players in the squad,” says Dome.
“Covid has been tough on this Club, its players and staff over the past two years; especially for Steven with six stints in quarantine – that’s three months alone in a hotel room – over the past two-odd years; that kind of thing takes a toll on a person.
“We have the upmost respect for Steven and wish him all the best for his post-playing career; we know he’ll approach this next phase of his life with the same courage and determination as he did his Phoenix playing career.”
Wellington Phoenix Head Coach Ufuk Talay hopes that Taylor can take a welcome break from the rigours of professional football life as he phases into the next stage of his career.
“We’re disappointed that we’re losing a great human being first, and then also a great footballer; his impact at Wellington Phoenix has been immense and he will be dearly missed by everybody,” says Talay.
“At the end of the day we wish him the best with his future endeavours and thank him for his contributions.”
In turn, Taylor has high praise for Coach Talay and the Club.
“As a manager I put him [Uffie] in high regard, he’s one of the best managers I’ve played under and I’ve learnt a lot from working alongside him on a day-to-day basis.
“His setup, his experience as a player and his promoting of the youth; to do what he’s done in such a short space of time has been fantastic for the Club - I just hope the Phoenix now can keep that momentum, crack on, focus on the playoffs next season and do well.
“We’ve got some tremendous young kiwi kids coming through the ranks now which is good for New Zealand football and I think there’s an exciting future ahead.”