Not only is this Wednesday’s friendly against Rochdale the first meeting between the two clubs, it will also be goalkeeper Danny Taberner’s first time playing against the club where it all started. Taberner is Rochdale’s youngest ever goalkeeper. Born in 1993, the stopper made his debut in 2009 against Luton Town in an FA Cup replay, an injury crisis at Spotland saw then Manager Keith Hill give the young lad from Bolton the nod.
Ahead of Wednesday’s friendly we sat down with Taberner and talked about playing in the FA Cup at just 16, his time at Rochdale more generally, and how he eventually became the Collieries’ number one. ‘I had always played at a junior, amateur level. When I was 15 Liverpool came in for me, and I had a six-week trial there. Obviously, I didn’t sign on and they mentioned to me that Rochdale needed a goalkeeper. So I went down to Rochdale, and when I was 16, I was offered a Youth Team Scholarship. And that’s how it all happened, I signed my scholarship and the journey started there.’
At just 16 Taberner had to balance his football commitments with taking his GCSEs, granted the stopper admits to paying more attention to the former than the latter. ‘I remember getting took out of school once a week to train with the Youth Team. When I was 16, I also had a session with the first team as well. That was a good experience at the time. To be quite honest, anyone that knows me knows I am not the brightest lad in the world. I just loved football really, I’d get back into school and all I could think about is when I would next be back at training. That was probably the wrong mentality to have, but that was exactly how I felt at the time. It was certainly a strange period.’
The 2009/10 season was one of Rochdale’s most successful as Keith Hill led 'Dale out of League 2. Taberner looks back at that season with fondness and admits it will most likely be one of the biggest in his career. ‘I was still 16, and I went into pre-season for the 2009/10 season as a YTS. Obviously still with the Youth Team, at that time I was playing and doing well. Keith Hill came to me and said that he wanted me to train with the First Team. I was shocked. It was a big jump for a 16-year-old to take. I went to train with the First Team and Kenny Arthur was the goalkeeper at the time; watching them train was unbelievable – I thought I was nowhere near that level. I just kept training and training, Kenny said to me that I had potential to do well here as along as I kept working hard. From then, I was just in the First Team all the way through, working with that team all the time. Keith Hill and Dave Flitcroft loved me; it was a great experience.’
Little did Taberner know that come November he would be donning the yellow of Rochdale’s goalkeeper strip and making his professional debut. ‘I was still 16, which is madness looking back at it now. I was in the squad when we travelled down to Luton in the FA Cup. I think we drew 3-3, and after the game Kenny thought he had slipped a disk in his back; he couldn’t move. I was just thinking to myself that Keith would bring somebody in to cover. The second-choice keeper was injured as well, and then when we got home he said to me that I might be starting in the replay, depending on how Kenny is. That just stayed in my head all the time, just thinking what this is going to be like. On the Tuesday Keith brought me into his office and said that I would be starting, and that the game would be shown live on ITV 4. Again, I was shocked and just thought ‘what is going on here?’. It was mind-blowing.’
At just 16 years old Taberner was about to make history at Spotland, to this day he remains Rochdale’s youngest ever goalkeeper. ‘To be honest, it wasn’t too bad ahead of the game because I had been training with the First Team that season. I was travelling up and down the country with them; Bournemouth away, for example – all that travel and staying over with the lads. I remember walking down the tunnel ahead of the game, seeing the cameras in my face and the floodlights and all of a sudden I felt nervous. But as soon as I got on the pitch, with all the fans clapping I was absolutely buzzing, ready for it.’
Unfortunately, though, like so many in the non-league game, it was an injury that brought Taberner’s time at Spotland to an end. ‘I played well in that Luton game, but we were second in the league at the time and Keith Hill was pushing for promotion. He brought in Tom Heaton and in training on the Friday after that we were doing some fast cones and I heard a little crack in my knee. I did my ACL and that ruined me, I was out for nine months. It was heart-breaking, to be honest.’ Beyond the football league, though, and as we know so well, there was a whole world of non-league football waiting to welcome Taberner with open arms, ‘I was at Salford, and Stockport Sports had just started as a club having built a good squad. They asked me to come over, they were expecting big things: promotion. Obviously, I like getting involved in clubs pushing for the best. It didn’t quite work out there, unfortunately. That’s when Cleggy got in touch and I signed for Colls.’
A brief spell away from the black and whites saw the stopper sign for Northwich Victoria, there Taberner was just a semi-final penalty heartbreak away from an FA Vase final appearance at Wembley. However, after a change in management at the Skuna the stopper returned for a second spell between the sticks. ‘Brad brought me back in in January and I was getting good game time. Obviously, the COVID-19 outbreak brought a halt to all of that. We’ve come back now for pre-season.’
There is no question, playing in a game that big so early on in your career would have an impact on how you play and what you do. The question is, though, is that impact a help, or a hindrance? ‘It has probably helped me in a way, with my confidence especially. That’s the biggest game I have ever played in my life. After that game, though, there was a bit of a downfall in my career, they weren’t the best of times. But it has, when the bigger games do crop up, helped me to keep my head down and just crack on.’
Now 27, Taberner is looking forward to playing football again following an enforced four-month break. ‘I personally feel fit, confident and ready for the season to start. The Northern Premier League is a very tough division, but we are working hard and ready to see where the season takes us.’
Whilst dreams of the professional game are long behind him, Taberner has certainly made his mark between the sticks at the Skuna Stadium. The Atherton faithful see him as staple to any Colls success, and he is certainly proud to be so.
Atherton Collieries take on Rochdale on Wednesday 19th August at the Skuna Stadium. Following current Government and FA advice, this game will be played behind closed doors. Supporters can, however, stream the game live for just £6; details on how this can be done will be released shortly.
By Zach Pierce
Photography by David Featherstone