This season the London Olympians have added to their coaching line-up by signing former London Monarch Allan Taitt as receivers coach. So what’s Coach Al’s football story?
Like many of his fellow coaches, Taitt fell for the sport in its early days in this country. He saw the game as a teenager watching the TV show World of Sport, which had a feature on the game in 1985:
“When I saw it, I just thought it was the best thing ever.”
He started training with his local team, the London Lasers, the very next week, signing up the minute he was old enough to play and establishing himself as a wide receiver and kicker.
The Lasers eventually became the Gators after merging with the Ealing Eagles. He and fellow Gator RB, Stephen Hutchinson, attracted attention for the playing ability and when the NFL created its World League in 1991, they both got a try-out. They were even promised roster spots at a US college, but the arrangement never materialised. Taitt felt ready to step up a level and planned to join London’s biggest team, the Olympians, but initially it was not be. Along with running back Ian Gerald, known to his teammates as “Herschel”, Taitt went to an Olympians training session one day in 1992:
“It was breathtaking,”
“Their training was at another level. We said it was exactly what we needed.”
They planned to go again, but one morning Taitt received the tragic news that Gerald had died suddenly in the night. Taitt decided to stay on at his old club for another season, which the Gators dedicated to the memory of their friend.
In 1993 he did move, to the London Rockets, a team packed with up-and-coming young talent (including future Olympians coaches Neil Edwards and Mike Dunson) and coached by former Olympian, Tyrone Lyndsey. Joining him there was Hutchinson. After one season, the pair moved on to the Olympians, by now the reigning British and European champions.
Taitt settled into his new team straight away.
“For me it was phenomenal. I’d read about guys like WR Leeroy Innis, RBs Richard Dunkley and Tony Scarlett in First Down [the football newspaper]. In the football world, these guys were the household names, and now they were my teammates. You always expect guys like that who have achieved so much to be aloof but they were nothing like that. The receiving corps welcomed me with open arms: Innis, Wes Frost, Wes Garth. There was so much camaraderie there, we played as a unit. The QB, Leonard Valentine [an American who had played at LSU], had a cannon for a shoulder. But the thing I remember is that we had classroom sessions with him and I realised I could answer the questions he was asking about coverages and adjustments and that gave me a lot of confidence – I knew that I could do this.”
Taitt enjoyed a successful first season as an Olympian as the team repeated as Eurobowl champions, defeating the Bergamo Lions in the final.
With the World League’s London Monarchs re-forming in 1995 after a two-year hiatus, Taitt was invited to attend the trials for one of seven spots for national players on the pro team’s roster. Not hearing back, he assumed he had been unsuccessful until Olympian coach Riq Ayub tracked him down at work: the league had been trying to find him but had been using his old contact details. He thought it as a wind-up:
“I was in shock. I went to the league office and found out I had actually been selected.”
So he signed to play professionally as a kicker, alongside fellow Olympians Hutchinson, DB Rowelle Blenham and TE Gerry Anderson.
Playing for the Monarchs was an eye-opener.
“Just watching how they did their two-a-day practices, talking to the guys who had played US Division I college football, it was all very different.”
Unfortunately, for Taitt, however, he tore his groin in preseason and his Monarchs career ended prematurely. Needing to concentrate on his full-time career and support his young family, he turned away from NFL Europe and back to the domestic game. After a second season at the Olympians he moved out of London and joined his nearest team, the Cambridge Cats. Following a chance meeting with Lyndsey he didn’t need much persuading to join his old coach at the Milton Keynes Pioneers in 1997. There, they narrowly missed becoming National Champions in a thrilling final against the O’s. After another spell at the Cats he went on to play for the Milton Keynes Pathfinders and Essex Spartans.
His first dive into coaching came with the London Warriors juniors in 2006 and then he played one more stint in Milton Keynes before hanging up his boots for good.
In 2017, newly appointed Olympians coach Neil Edwards approached him and told him about his dream of taking the Olympians back to the top of Britball. Edwards asked Taitt to come and be the receivers coach. Unable to commit to coming week-in week-out, Taitt declined. But asked again a year later, he couldn’t resist accepting at least a part-time role.
Taitt’s interest is in passing on his experience and helping players improve, finding the right drills that will help different players with different things.
“If I can help one guy get better at one thing, then that’s what its about,”
“It’s building blocks to help players move along the chain. It’s about giving guys that confidence, that understanding – helping to get the best out of them so they can fulfil their potential.”
He recognises the young receiving talent on the team.
“Some of these young men have the natural ability, the potential. It’s about teaching them to focus, to drill down, and to want to be as good as they can be. I want our receivers to get to the point where they do things instinctively, no hesitation – just wanting the ball all the time, like the way I played!”
Believing in your coaches is crucial, Taitt says. He recalls the Olympians’ 1994 Eurobowl semi-final against East City Giants in Helsinki, Finland:
“We were three scores down with 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and players were saying ‘This game is over’ and had mentally given up. But I remember Coach Andy Cox yelling ‘it ain’t over till it’s over’, and with that we rallied back to win the game 22-20.”
The Olympians progressed to their second consecutive Eurobowl final and the rest, as they say, is history…