Peter Taylor leads England out at the Delle Alpi Stadium in Turin tonight but five years ago his surroundings were far different.

He hopes to start England's rebuilding process against Italy in front of a fanatical 71,000 crowd.

Back in September 1995 he was taking charge of his first match as Dover Athletic manager against Slough Town, witnessed by a near silent 619 spectators at Crabble.

Then he was picking his team from a squad consisting of almost unknown names such as Tony Rogers, Efrem Ebbli and Scott Daniels. Tonight he chooses from a star-studded line-up including David Beckham, Emile Heskey and Gareth Southgate The media spotlight on Taylor since he was announced as England's caretaker manager has been huge. He has done countless interviews and been cross-examined in his role as the top man in English football.

During his days in the Conference backwaters, the only cross-examining he received was in interviews with the likes of me during my time as a 19-year-old reporter for the East Kent Mercury and BBC Radio Kent.

One of the last interviews we did together was four years ago in a Stalybridge teahut after Dover had slumped to a disappointing away defeat in Cheshire.

The home team did not have any proper press facilities, so I had to improvise by broadcasting throughout the afternoon from a phoneline that had been installed on the teahut counter. I had to answer the phone every ten minutes and keep the Kent public updated with the latest developments in Dover's relegation battle as punters queued alongside me for their burgers and chips.

People back in Kent keep reminding me about that day, because Peter and I got soaked as a sudden downpour managed to get through a leaky roof during our post-match interview. My mum still has the recording somewhere, which captures the roll of thunder, crash of lightning and sound of rain getting inside our makeshift studio.

It is hard to believe how quickly he has established himself as one of the country's leading coaches. Back in 1995-96, Dover finished third from bottom in the Conference under his leadership and were only spared relegation to the Dr Martens League because Boston United failed to post their promotion application in time.

However, that final position did not do him justice. He took over from former Norwich City player John Ryan after the club had lost seven of their opening eight Conference matches and been dumped out of the FA Cup by Jack Pearce's Bognor Regis. Dover were in a perilous mess and it would have been fascinating to see Sir Alex Ferguson, Terry Venables or even Sven-Goran Eriksson cope with a shoestring budget, low team morale and two training sessions a week.

When I visited Taylor again last week at Leicester City's training ground, he admitted that season was one of the biggest tests any manager could face.

"That was a difficult job," he confessed. "It wasn't as if there was lots of money to go and buy new players. You had to get on with trying to sign free transfers and then lose players who were on sensible money. Because of the position Dover were in, not every player in the land wanted to go there."

Taylor was combining his job at the Kent non-leaguers with running Southend's Centre of Excellence, a club he managed the previous season before being told to "go on holiday". He saw Dover as a way of re-establishing himself in management, although his critics thought it was a case of another great footballer failing to make a mark in the managerial world.

"I'd known the Dover people and their chairman, John Husk, for quite a few years from when I used to play for and manage teams against them," said Taylor. "Running the Centre of Excellence wasn't enough for me. I needed something else. I enjoyed training and taking charge of a team. Then all of a sudden, I read on Teletext that Dover had sacked John Ryan, so I phoned John Husk and said I didn't mind coming along to try and keep them up."

In fact, Taylor's appointment at Dover was my first-ever back page exclusive. I spotted him with the Dover chairman at Welling on a wet Tuesday evening, put two and two together and ran a story linking him with the post. A week later I was delighted to have been proved right.

Taylor quickly regenerated interest in the club and soon the gate figures were back to a healthy 1,000-plus. The team pulled themselves out of the mire and there appeared little danger of relegation. Although Dover finished in a relegation spot, it was common knowledge at least two months before the season ended that only two would go down.

The England caretaker manager is proud of his record at Dover, despite the final league position. He said: "When I took over, they were going down. They were well adrift at the bottom. It was Mission Impossible. Had we known three would be relegated, the team would have finished higher. We were safe for some while and it was a case of playing out the matches."

Then came the turning point of his managerial career. After years in non-league football with Dartford as player-manager, disappointing spells as assistant-boss of Watford and manager of Southend, as well as Dover, old friend and Spurs team-mate Glenn Hoddle plucked him out of the wilderness.

He was offered the job of England under-21s manager, which was likened at the time to a trolley-pusher at Kwik Save being promoted onto the board of Sainsbury's.

Since then he has done little wrong. Taylor developed and groomed the likes of Emile Heskey, Michael Owen, Lee Bowyer, Jonathan Woodgate, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown during his three highly successful years with the under-21s.

Taylor said: "I had a brilliant time and the football was something I totally understood. It was interesting to see the tactics and way other countries played. It also allowed me the chance to go and watch other coaches and improve my own techniques.

"The position helped me get to know lots of players and make many contacts, so when I eventually left the FA it gave me a good chance to go away and do well again."

His bizarre sacking from the post was well documented. Not regarded as a good club manager, Taylor proved his critics wrong again by leading Gillingham into the First Division for the first time in their history. Already he has seen new club Leicester City to the top of the Premiership and tonight he leads out the brave new England side.

He has selected probably the youngest England squad ever, but Taylor has guts and proved it by ignoring the critics.

"I didn't feel any pressure not to pick a young side," he said. "It's only a friendly and worth experimenting. And with the match being played in Turin, there's going to be a tremendous atmosphere. If none of the lads learn anything I'll be amazed."

Taylor met Tord Grip, Eriksson's No. 2, at Filbert Street on Saturday and spoke to Eriksson over the telephone on Monday. Tonight he meets him face-to-face.

"Some of the papers have said that I've been trying to distance myself from him, which is rubbish," said Taylor. "He knows the score. He's the man the FA have chosen and I'm giving him every backing I can. I'm looking forward to working with him."

The caretaker post came out of the blue. He was linked to the position the moment Kevin Keegan resigned and even called a press conference to admit that he wasn't ready.

"I had millions of messages on my mobile asking if I was interested," he said. "The speculation was so strong, I had to put the record straight. I'd love to become the England manager, but feel there's room for improvement first.

"The plan was always going to be that Bobby Robson would take charge in the caretaker role and myself and Steve McLaren would assist. Then Bobby couldn't do it and here I am today. But I wouldn't change it for the world, it's a great honour to be in charge of your country."

Whatever happens tonight, and whether Taylor does one day manage the national side full-time, he has risen up the ladder beyond all his expectations.

He admitted: "If anyone betted I'd be where I am now four years ago, that person will be very wealthy. You never know or think what's going to happen. All you can do is work hard and hope to get the breaks."