James Taylor | From Swansea City youth team to Wales Deaf international

23rd March
James Taylor

In just two months' time, former Swansea City Youth player James Taylor will fulfil a lifelong dream of travelling to a major international tournament as part of the Wales set-up; a goal that had looked to be nearly impossible to achieve just 12 months ago.

Taylor's journey to this summer's European Deaf Football Championships started at the age of just two when he was diagnosed profoundly deaf in his left ear after contracting Mumps, but it never stopped him from pursuing his football aspirations. 

He joined up with Ron Walton's youth development side - where clu great Alan Curtis would also be part of the coaching staff - at the Swans in the late 1990s, after the former Swansea caretaker manager scouted 16-year-old Taylor playing at grassroots level.

Now, Taylor - who hails from Port Talbot -  is campaigning to raise money to help fund the squad's journey to Turkey as they get set to take on the continent's best. 

“I started playing when I was eight years of age, and that’s mainly because my father is a big football fan, and a Swans fan at that," said Taylor.

“I was born on a Saturday morning, and my dad went to the Swans at 3pm!  

“From the age of 12 I was at Afan Lido, and I played there until I was 16 where I was among the youth team set-up.

“We played against Swansea City towards the end of our season. We drew 1-1, and I scored our goal. 

“Ron Walton was the Swans youth team manager at the time, and he spoke to my dad at the end of the game, and he basically offered me a trial in pre-season. That was in 1996. 

“I was offered a two-year scholarship after my trial, which was a dream come true, they were the best two years of my life playing for the club I've supported."

Not many knew of Taylor's impaired hearing and, although it would affect commands and play from his left-hand side, he was determined not to let if affect him.

“Back in the 1970s, there weren't advanced hearing tests for young children or babies. But I contracted mumps when I was two and my mum thought something wasn’t right as I wouldn’t respond to certain things she said from my left-hand side," said Taylor.

“I was taken to the doctors, got tested and found out I was completely deaf in my left ear, and I actually have good hearing in my right ear.  

“To be honest, not everyone knew when I was at the Swans. But it’s something I do try to tell people, as I need to twist my head a lot when I speak to make sure I catch everything. 

"I've had to put up with my impairment for over 40 years. It has affected me in everyday life, but I try not to let it because it's part of who I am.

"I've got a hearing device now, it's actually taken a lot to get used to as I've just got by for the last 40 years, but it certainly helps."

Alan Curtis.

Taylor loved his time with the Swans, but misfortune would curtail his time with his hometown club.

Taylor would suffer an ankle injury in his crucial second year as a scholar, which meant the youngster was released from his club.

“I’ve got so much respect for Alan Curtis; he helped me so much in the two years I was at the club. He used to tell me that I reminded him a lot of himself as a player, which is probably the best compliment you could ask for," recalls Taylor.

“Funnily enough, myself and my wife bumped into Alan down Mumbles, and I’m surprised he remembered me! He told me exactly what he said to me in the 1990s, and that felt good to hear.

“I loved working with him and Ron but, In my second year, I was unfortunate to get injured. I had to have an operation on my ankle and by the time I had recovered, the team had really gelled and were doing so well. So, it was hard for me to get my way back in.  

“There were a few managerial changes at all levels at the club at the time with Jan Molby leaving and so on. I was released and went straight back to Afan Lido.

“I then went on to have a career in the Welsh Leagues with Afan Lido and Port Talbot. During my time at Lido, I dislocated my knee and had to have an operation to repair the ACL ligament. 

“I was around 26 at that stage of my life, and I had just met my wife. We had a house, and work had said if I had more time off for football, they would let me go. 

“So, I basically hung up my boots for 16 years. I started coaching my son after school and when I was off work, but I missed playing so much, I missed the buzz of getting on that pitch."

James Taylor - Swansea

Those 16 years had soon passed and James went on to work in TATA Steel, but he was always looking for the opportunity to get back playing the game he loved, and it eventually came around.

“I went to Swansea University Vets and played for them for a couple of games, and my love for playing came straight back and I got that buzz to carry on," he said.

“There was a newly-formed club back in Port Talbot called Afan United, which is where I play locally now."

But the talk among his friends caught his attention when Taylor heard suggestions of a plan to form an international deaf squad.

And an online meeting in February 2023 would pave the way for a remarkable journey to this summer's finals in Turkey.

There has previously been a Wales Deaf futsal team, and there were doubts as to whether there would be enough interest to get a football team off the ground.

But any concerns were soon expelled when more than 25 players reported for an initial training camp 12 months ago.

“Some of my teammates, who also have a hearing impairment, were chatting about training with the Wales Deaf team. It’s something I had been looking for over years and years, but had never found anything," he said.

“I looked online, got in touch with Stuart Denmead, who’s the manager of the Wales Deaf squad, and he invited me along to the next training session. That was just over a year ago now.

“I was hooked straight away, and we train once a month at Dragon Park, which has amazing facilities.  

“Wales Deaf had always had a futsal team, which included some of the boys who now play 11 v 11, and most of them formed the side we have now. 

“Stuart [Denmead], Owain James and our kitman Michael [Thomas] had a Zoom call in February 2023 about forming the 11-a-side team, and 12 months later we’re unbeaten! 

“We used to just train on pitches in the local park, so to have access to some top-class facilities really helps us."

James Taylor

Fast forward to July 2023, just a handful of months on from that meeting, and the squad made history by stepping out as an 11-a-side team for the first time at Llandarcy.

That maiden international friendly was against Scotland, an established deaf team who have been together for seven years, and have major tournament experience under their belts.

Taylor had never thought representing his country on the international stage would happen for him, but he soon etched his name in the record books by opening the scoring inside two minutes, becoming the first goalscorer for the Wales Deaf football team.

“All my family were there. I knew my son Luey had to leave early, so I thought I had to score before he left to go to his school end-of-year party," laughs Taylor.

"I never ever thought I'd wear the Welsh dragon on my chest, because it's something that was never really possible, but it happened and I will cherish that day for the rest of my life.

“In the second minute of the game, I scored, and I am the first goalscorer for Wales in deaf football. 

“It’s quite surreal that we’ve now got our sights set on entering our first major tournament in May."

James Taylor

But, unfortunately, the striker won't be lining up with his teammates in Turkey, and will instead be part of the coaching staff.

To be eligible to play in deaf-specific competitions, players must have a hearing level below 55 decibels (dB) per tone average in their better ear. Internationally, players must remove their hearing aids during matches to ensure fairness for all.

The laws of the game are the same as those in mainstream football, but with just one adaption. Referees have a flag which they raise alongside blowing their whistle - this provides a visual cue for players.

James' audiogram results meant his stint on the international stage had to come to an end. But he wasn't ready to step away from his new-found family. 

“Now, although I still play with Afan United - who are a hearing team - my playing time with the Wales Deaf squad has had to unfortunately come to an end," said Taylor.

“My audiogram was sent off to the organisation and governing body and it failed, due to some rules being changed. In your good ear, you have to be below 55 decibels to pass and mine was above that. 

“I took it on the chin, and the coaching staff were brilliant and they allowed me to return in a coaching role. 

“We’re like a family, we’re all so close. The boys have brought out a different side to me and I couldn’t be more thankful."

Taylor isn't the only figure in the coaching set-up to have a connection to Swansea City. Assistant manager Harry Allen is the brother of Swans midfielder Joe Allen.

The older brother of Joe - who is also an ambassador for Hearing Loss Cymru - lost his hearing aged three due to contracting meningitis, and was a pivotal figure in the Welsh Deaf futsa set-up.

“Harry is a great lad; he’s got so much experience and that shows when he coaches. He's also one of the lads who started out in futsal," said Taylor.

"He's played in the Deaflympics for Great Britain and has been a great role model for Wales Deaf fustal, and he continues to be that role model in training.

“There are boys within the squad who are fully deaf, so that’s when we have the likes of Talina [Jones] who can communicate with them via British Sign Language (BSL).  

“I will be doing some BSL lessons soon so I can start communicating much more with the players and to build a better connection."

James Taylor - Wales

Wales remain unbeaten since their formation in February 2023.

Their results have shocked many, but not those associated with the squad. 

Stuart Denmead - a former semi-professional footballer and a coach with vast experience of coaching in deaf football - was always confident in the ability of the squad, and they have claimed notable results against England and the Republic of Ireland.

To put it into perspective, England have multiple world championship appearances to their name, and the Republic of Ireland side have been established for over 40 years.

And Wales are keen to make an impression on the finals in the summer.

“We’re just over 12-months old now, and to already be heading to a major tournament is incredible," he said. 

"Not many people know we have a team or exist, so to be putting ourselves out there on the international stage is vital.  

“I think we can do well. We have a ‘never say die’ attitude, and we showed that when we came back from 2-1 against England to draw 2-2. 

“We went to Ireland, went 1-0 down and we won 2-1. We never give up. I think we can put the Wales Deaf squad on the map. 

“The year 2016 was an incredible year for Welsh football, and hopefully 2024 can be, too. We didn’t expect Wales to reach the 2016 Euros, let alone get to the semi-finals. 

“The way Wales beat Belgium was inspirational, and we’ve all said to each other that we want to think about being on that level.  

“We’d love to have the whole of Wales behind us, and maybe even get some of the Red Wall out to Turkey. 

“We’d love to inspire younger children, because when I was younger there weren’t many opportunities for deaf children in sport and we want to make sure everyone knows about the possibilities available."

James Taylor

Over 350 fans gathered at Wales' first ever game at Llandarcy last year, and Taylor and the squad hope the Red Wall will continue to grow.

But the principle aim is to inspire young children and footballers as they look to change perceptions of deaf football.

“We’ve had great crowds at Llandarcy and Ebbw Vale in our friendlies, and there were loads of young children asking for autographs, it was quite a surreal experience," added Taylor.

“We only train once a month, and every training session is a little bit different. I take the fitness alongside Lucas French, whereas Harry [Allen] and Sayidd start doing drills and technical skills. 

“All of the boys have their own clubs and jobs, so they keep their fitness up outside of training, and that's something we've encouraged. 

“There’s seven of us involved with Afan United, and even some further afield in Bristol. There’s a mixture of lads playing in deaf and hearing teams. 

“A lot of us play for hearing teams because there’s not many local deaf teams available in Wales, although I know there’s one in Cardiff. 

“I’d only ever played with hearing teams up until I got involved with Wales Deaf. It was a huge eye-opener because most of the lads sign on the pitch to receive the ball. 

“That’s something I’ve never been used to. When I’ve played, I cannot hear anything down my left so I may hold on to the ball for too long! 

James Taylor - Wales

“In deaf football, it’s completely silent. Everyone removes their hearing aids. Everyone communicates via hand gestures on the pitch. 

“Football is its own language, and I think when we get on the pitch, we all understand each other.  

“Overall, we just want more awareness of deaf football in Wales. Wales has a big deaf community, and at the moment our team is made up of mostly players who are from south Wales, and we want to go further and bring people from all areas into the squad.  

“We want to be as big as we possibly can, and we want to be out there. We just need the backing and we could create something really special." 


Donate to James' Crowdfunder HERE

Donate to Wales' Deaf Squad GoFundMe HERE

More information on Wales Deaf Football Association HERE

James Taylor - Wales