Graham Taylor and the impossible job

It all seemed the clear pre-text for Steve Barron’s 2001 film, Mike Bassett: England Manager.

After all, both Bassett and Taylor had lower-league playing careers, pathetic assistants (with Lonnie Urquart’s three cheers for Ramirez mirrorring Lawrie McMenemy’s praise of Jostein Flo), garish tracksuits and oversized glasses. Phil Jupitus mimicked the boisterous and self-righteous thorn in Taylor’s side: journalist Rob Sheppard. The lovable and patriotic, but desperate and flawed hero,  Kevin ‘Tonka’ Tonkinson, was the embodiment of Paul Gascoigne. And, of course, the selection of Benson and Hedges lampooned Taylor’s use of the likes of Carlton Palmer, Gordon Cowans, Mark Walters, David White, Steve McMahon, Stuart Ripley and Andy Gray. However, there was one crucial difference: Bassett had the near-Hollywood ending, leading England to the World Cup semi-final, while Taylor suffered the indignity of becoming the first English manager since Don Revie, in 1978, to not lead England to a World Cup.

Graham Taylor was born in Worksop in Nottinghamshire on 15 September, 1944. Privately educated, at Henderson Avenue Junior School and then Scunthorpe Grammar School, Taylor emerged as a promising full-back who played for the English Grammar Schools’ team. Taylor’s footballing potential was the main reason why he dropped out of school in 1961, aged seventeen, having previously obtained six O-Levels. His decision was met with widespread condemnation by his teachers, but he was soon snapped up by Bill Shankly’s Grimsby Town in 1962. Taylor began his career in the Third Division and even after a move to Lincoln City in 1968, the Third Division was the highest level that Taylor played at. Admittedly, this was in part due to Taylor’s premature retirement in 1971 because of a serious hip injury, but even by then, the 27 year old was already thinking about a career in management.

The two biggest influences  of Taylor’s early coaching career were somewhat unorthodox, given his old-school tutelage under Shankly and Ron Gray, and these were Victor Maslov and Charles Reep. Maslov, who notably managed at FC Torpedo Moscow (1942-48, 1957-61 and 1971-73) and Dynamo Kiev (1964-70), was an incredibly innovative coach who was one of the first managers to highlight the importance of player nutrition, through diets and scientific tests, and from this, better player fitness to allow for his unprecedented implementation of pressing. Before Maslov, the use of substitutions and better player fitness, teams were allowed incredible amounts of time on the ball, in a sort of informal gentleman’s agreement, and pressing would soon prove to be Taylor’s ultimate hallmark.

Reep is one inspiration that Taylor would never openly acknowledge, but there is clear evidence that Taylor shared Reep’s belief that the most successful way of scoring goals was through three passes or fewer, that is, playing a high-tempo style of football that was centered around reachers (a barrage of Hail Mary long balls) and in-swinging set-pieces. Such was the ‘proven’ effectiveness of Reep’s theory, his Match Analysis colleague, Charles Hughes, would go on to take reachers one step further with Positions of Maximum Opportunity (POMO) and would later implement this philosophy as the director of coaching for the FA. Hughes’ beliefs would be outlined in the Official FA Guide to Basic Team Coaching, now derided but incredibly influential in the 1980s, and was soon to be embedded in the DNA of English international football in the years after: the long, nervous and  aimless diagonal into orbit within seconds after kick-off.

Lincoln had had three different managers (Gray, Bert Loxley and David Herd) between 1970 and December, 1972. Taylor, though, represented a new option: becoming the youngest ever registered FA coach at the age of 27 and becoming Lincoln’s youngest ever manager in their history, by a distance, at the age of 28. Added to that, was the fact that Taylor was the youngest manager in the Football League and was recommended by the influential Gray, who, like Taylor, previously played for Lincoln too. It took Taylor time to adjust to the rigours of management and to earn the players’ respect, but he managed Lincoln from a flagging mid-table side to Fourth Division Champions , with an impressive 72 points (era before three-point wins) and just four defeats, within just three and a half seasons.  By 1977, following survival in the Third Division, Taylor was one of the hottest managerial properties in England, with First Division West Brom interested, but Taylor surprisingly turned them down to join Elton John’s revolution at Fourth Division Watford.

Taylor then did the near-unthinkable: winning four promotions in just five seasons. This was all the more remarkable given that Taylor’s squad was assembled with a group of determined and dogged youth products: Kenny Jackett, Steve Terry, Richard Jobson, Neil Price, Charlie Palmer, Paul Franklin, Nigel Callaghan, John Barnes, Luther Blissett and Jimmy Gilligan. Still, regardless of the different surroundings, Reep’s influence remained and from this, 93.4% of the 76 league goals that helped earn Watford’s promotion to the First Division in 1981/1982 originated in three passes or fewer. This coincided with Taylor’s employment of Reep’s protégée, Stuart Hartley, as an adviser and this ‘cynical’ style of football served Taylor brilliantly in the top-flight. After all, following promotion, Watford finished 2nd behind Liverpool in the First Division in 1982/1983 and few teams knew how to deal with the relentless energy of Taylor’s Watford. It therefore led to many hammerings, such as the 8-0 win over Sunderland, and memorable victories occurred against the likes of Arsenal (2), Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool in 1982/1983. From this, the club qualified for the UEFA Cup (era of Champions being only side to qualify for European Cup), where Taylor would suffer a lasting tactical problem.

It has only been in recent years, with the expansion of the Champions League, that English clubs have truly realised the importance of possession retention. English football is one of the most high octane leagues in the world, but to play in such a gung-ho way in Europe has proven to be near-impossible. Taylor found this out the hard way in the 3rd round of the 1983/1984 UEFA Cup. Watford had been relatively lucky in the previous two rounds, with narrow 4-3 and 4-2 (after extra-time) aggregate wins over Kaiserslauten and Levski Sofia respectively, but their openess was brutally exposed in the 7-2 aggregate defeat to Sparta Prague. Prague were by no means European giants, eventually going out in the quarter-final to Hadjuk Split, but they knew how to stop Watford: retain possession, frustrate and counter-press. It should have taught Taylor a valuable lesson, not least in the limitations of his style of football in the humidity of continental Europe (lost 3-1 to Kaiserslauten, drew 1-1 with Levski and lost 4-0 to Sparta).

From this, English clubs began to realise the defects of Taylor’s Watford, with Everton defeating the Hornets 2-0 in the 1984 FA Cup final due to quality use of possession and Tottenham followed suit in the 1987 FA Cup semi-finals, and Watford gradually began to slide down the league table: finishing 11thin 1983/1984, 11th in 1984/1985, 12th in 1985/1986 and 9th in 1986/1987. Taylor, though, remained respected in some circles, while still rarely admired for his philosophy, and was headhunted by newly-relegated Aston Villa, who had won the European Cup only five years earlier in 1982, to replace Billy McNeill. Using a similar blueprint to the one that he used at Watford, Taylor would prove a success with Villa: leading them to immediate promotion in 1987/1988, safety in 1988/1989 and a brilliant second-place finish in 1989/1990. Watford, on the other hand, badly struggled after Taylor’s departure and were relegated, admittedly in part also due to the exodus of players such as Barnes and Blissett, and would not seriously challenge for promotion again until 1994/1995 under Glenn Roeder.

Taylor’s success with Aston Villa would prove to be remarkable and showed that his period with Watford was no fluke. He again moulded a team centered around young and hungry players, including Dwight Yorke (19), Ian Olney (21), Daley (23) and Platt (24), but also rejuvenated cheap veteran signings like Stuart Gray (30), Chris Price (30), Paul McGrath (31), Nigel Spink (32), Gordon Cowans (32) and Steve Sims (33). Somewhat ironically, though, it was Villa’s lack of (title-winning) experience that proved their undoing in what should have been their title, having led for most of the season, and they were overhauled in the final weeks by an experienced Liverpool outfit. However, Taylor had performed beyond expectations and Cowans, in particular, showed how Taylor had tweaked his philosophy ever so slightly, with the deft playmaker a key retainer of possession who could also hit Taylor’s favoured diagonals or reachers, and there was not as much of a cynical emphasis on the long ball as there was at Watford.

From Taylor’s career performance, not to mention his ‘suit’ persona (always had good relations with club hierarchy), it was, perhaps , despite Taylor’s impressive feats never resulting in a trophy and the widespread snobbery among the elite and press that Taylor was a poor footballer so therefore could never be a brilliant manager, no surprise that England came calling with a £150,000 per year contract. With Bobby Robson departing for PSV, having surprisingly and brilliantly led England to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup amidst a barrage of press criticism, expectations had rocketed. It was, wrongly, believed that England now had the peak-aged foundations for a sustained period of progression into the last four of major tournaments.

The real golden generation?

After all, the stars of England’s tournament, Stuart Pearce, Des Walker, Mark Wright, David Platt, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker, were entering decisive moments of their respective careers. Pearce, at 30, took time to recover from his reoccurring nightmares about his decisive penalty shootout miss against Germany. Walker was soon to bravely sign for Sampdoria, deeming himself ready to leave the invaluable tutelage of Brian Clough, and never adapted to Italian football. Mark Wright struggled with injuries and the shadow of Alan Hansen, when he joined Liverpool in 1991. Platt was soon to have a barren year at Juventus, at his theoretical peak 26 year age, in 1992/1993. Lineker, at 31 when Taylor took over, was soon to enter the twilight of his career. And the man who should have been Taylor’s talisman, Gascoigne, was ruled out of action for a combined 21 months after two brutal knee injuries from May, 1991.

Taylor, though, remained bullish and even though his unveiling press conference was clearly well-rehearsed and full of regurgitation, traits that were to be found in most of Taylor’s organised dealings with the media as England manager in the future, he was quick to distance himself from being the cosy antithesis to the volatile Brian Clough – who despised FA officials:

It is my intention to be the most track-suited manager England have ever had.

From this, Taylor’s selection of his backroom staff would prove key, as the influence of Don Howe on England’s and Robson’s upturn in fortunes at Italia ’90 proved. Unfortunately for Taylor, in hindsight, he got it incredibly wrong. Firstly, there was Phil Neal. Despite being an incredibly well-respected footballer, who won everything in the game numerous times with Liverpool and then went on to perform admirably as a manager with Bolton, Neal’s performance as Taylor’s assistant left a lot to be desired. It was clear he was brought it as a ‘trust medium’ between Taylor and the players, with the old-school and out of touch Lawrie McMenemy brought it as a consultant,  but even still, in Channel 4’s The Impossible Job, which focused on the 1994 World Cup qualification campaign, Neal came across, at best, as inept and parrot-like when it came to his views on players, tactics and making substitutions.

After all, Neal did nothing but rephrase or regurgitate Taylor’s tactical statements – which made his role completely pointless. While it may be unfair to judge Neal based only on the documentary, as it was clear that the role of non-individual thinker did not suit him, an episode as Manchester City manager in December, 1996 showed what a bizarre character he was. Neal was to be interviewed by City’s fanzine in his office but after the interviewer asked him about his time as Taylor’s assistant, Neal told him to get out and do the interview again. It led to the interviewer exiting the office and knocking again, to which Neal even queried, “who is it?”

Still, not all the blame can be attached to Neal and Taylor’s appointment of John Gardner as team ‘psychologist’ would prove to be even more bizarre. Gardner’s team exercises, that showed the importance of squad members being both introvert and extrovert, were incredibly revealing but others, such as making Lee Sharpe do keepy-uppys with his back to the squad and counting aloud in multiples of five, were, at best, needless. Then again, though, Taylor wanted to pioneer his own footballing hallmark, like Maslov had with pressing, however bizarre it was and had previously made his Watford players visit an Asian hypnotist.

Despite all of the scepticism, Taylor’s eccentric methods and inept backroom team, on paper, his reign began very promisingly: England lost just one (0-1 friendly defeat to Germany at Wembley in September, 1991) of their opening 23 matches. However, qualification for Euro ’92 would sound a serious warning about Taylor’s caution and England’s failure to dominate teams. In Group Seven, alongside the Republic of Ireland, Poland and Turkey, England managed to win just three of their six games and drew their remaining three. Coupled with this, was the fact that England scored just seven goals, yet still conceded three, which paled in comparison to what even Ireland (13) and Poland (8) scored. Still, though, Taylor became the first ever England manager to qualify for a tournament in his first attempt and fans clung on to this in the hope that England would peak for Euro ’92 – regardless of the Three Lions’ poor style of football.

Of course, Taylor had a tough job to win round the media but his handling of his players, particularly gifted mavericks, left a lot to be desired. While Taylor was ultimately hindered by the media hype and cult status of Gascoigne, the fact that his talisman was one of a bare handful of skilful players available to him, yet only appeared in 10 of Taylor’s 35 games due to injury, increased the pressure on Taylor to select him – regardless of Gascoigne’s flagging fitness and consistency. Therefore, Taylor’s decision to drop Gascoigne in favour of Cowans for the Euro ’92 qualifier against Ireland in Dublin, due to Taylor’s fear that Gazza “would lose his head”, proved to be his first serious error. Arsenal’s Ian Wright, too, was an exciting option and had won the 1991/1992 Golden Boot but when Taylor repeatedly refused to start him ahead of the out of form Lineker, even on the 1991 summer tour of Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, the 28 year old Wright declared:

F*** that, I’m not used to sitting on benches.

From this, Wright would not be called-up again by Taylor for some eighteen months and, like the injured Gascoigne, missed Euro ’92. Taylor’s tinkering, including shifts from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1 and the use of a whooping 59 different footballers before naming his Euro ’92 squad, accentuated the fact that this England squad was very much in transition. Taylor certainly was not helped by the retirements of  the influential, yet past their peak, Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher and Bryan Robson, but he still refused to call-up Tony Adams (before the 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign), Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley. Yet, among those called-up for the tournament in Sweden included Keith Curle, Carlton Palmer, Andy Sinton and an out of form Tony Daley. Admittedly, injuries to Mark Wright, Rob Jones, Lee Dixon and John Barnes left Taylor short of options but England’s performance at the tournament was terribly disappointing in a winnable Group A with Sweden, France and Denmark. Yes, there were bright spots, Platt constantly got himself into goalscoring positions against Denmark and Pearce agonisingly hit the post with a trademark free-kick against France, but the second-half of the 2-1 defeat to Sweden was telling.

England had led the hosts 1-0 through their captain, Lineker, and before halt-time, Daley wasted a glorious opportunity to set up Lineker to make it 2-0. Sweden, buoyed by the home support, being only one goal down and Taylor’s bizarre use of David Batty at right back, began to put pressure on England and were rewarded with goals from Jan Eriksson and Tomas Brolin on 52’ and 81’ respectively. Taylor’s substitution of Lineker, who was just one goal off Bobby Charlton’s all-time record of 49, for the blunt hold-up forward Alan Smith signalled yet another bad move by Taylor. At 32 years of age, it signalled the end of Lineker’s international career and played a big part in him deciding to uproot to Nagoya Grampus Eight after the tournament.

Lineker was the media darling, in a much different way to Gascoigne as he had the ‘bring home to your mother’ likeability about him, and his clean-cut appearance reflected the good spirit he played the game. Therefore, the media took it personally and the Sun sought to incessantly lampoon Taylor with his face superimposed onto a turnip with the headline, Sweden 2 -1 Turnips, and called him a “Spanish onion” when England lost 0-1 to Spain at Wembley in their first friendly after the tournament. Taylor was hurt, particularly with the Sun, and decided drastic action was needed: Crysalis Sports’ The Impossible Job documentary. Taylor thought that by wearing a microphone during matches and giving the film crew unprecedented access, he would show his methods, philosophy and backroom staff in a positive light and most importantly, declared:

I thought it was important that people saw the reality and, of course, I felt sure we would qualify.

The infamous ‘Hit Les’ monologue against  Norway on 2 June, 1993 : “Go Les! Hit Les! Hit Les over the top! Farcking hell! Les, demand it! Tell em Les! That’s well, you tell ’em! They perhaps can’t see ya! Farcking let em know!”

So sure was Taylor, he even took the brave, but ultimately disastrous step, of allowing Crysalis to sell the documentary to a television station if England failed to qualify. While the coaching staff were well aware of the cameras, with McMenemy furious at not being paid for his ‘work’ and with Taylor for allowing cameras into private situations, only some of the players were. Platt was given a script (‘emotional’ handing over of captaincy to Pearce in 1993 was staged), but Palmer, Ferdinand and Wright had no knowledge of the documentary. As well as the brutal consequence of capturing the diastrous 1994 World Cup qualification campaign on tape forever, the documentary was also groundbreaking in the fact that it broke the expletive record, despite Taylor seeming to be one of football’s great gentlemen, with 38 f*****, two s**** and one w***** in the final one-hour documentary.

England’s qualifying group for the 1994 World Cup featured the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Turkey and San Marino but the Three Lions were still expected to finish at least 2nd. To be fair, Norway were enjoying one of the best spells of their competitive history, under Egil Olsen, but England’s opening 1-1 draw with them at Wembley on 14 October, 1992 was still a disappointment. Taylor made conscious changes to England’s line-up for this match: bringing in Adams, Dixon, Paul Ince, David Batty, Wright and Alan Shearer. However, Gascoigne, again their talisman, was as unpredictable as ever and his “f*** off Norway!” ‘tongue-in-cheek’ outburst on the eve of the game certainly riled a Norwegian outfit who had just defeated the Netherlands 2-1. Platt gave England the lead on 55’ and while Kjetil Rekdal’s 20 yard finish on 77’ was somewhat against the run of play, England again showed their toothlessness – even with Wright and Shearer in the team.

England emphatically bounced back, though, against Turkey on 18 November and an inspirational Gascoigne played his best game for England for years. Pearce and Shearer, too, were proving their worth but both sustained season-ending injuries before England’s next match: a 6-0 win over San Marino at Wembley on 17 February, 1993. On paper, the San Marino game was a relative success, but the poor performance of Barnes led to near-unprecedented jeers from his own fans and the fact that England scored their last four goals in the final twenty minutes summed up a flaccid performance. Even Palmer, who had sneaked back into the fold and was unnecessarily used as a holding midfielder against San Marino, was blamed by Taylor for letting loose and arriving into the box to score England’s fourth goal on 78’. It was clear that England were struggling, but as long as they had Gascoigne and Platt in form, they got by: beating Turkey 0-2 in their first away match of the group, in Izmir, on 31 March.

Then came the first real test: a home match against the Netherlands on 28 April.  It was far from a vintage Dutch outfit, who were in the midst of transition with the likes of Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit complementing Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars. Still, in fairness to England, the first 25 minutes of this match was probably the best they had played in the Taylor era: their high-tempo game, somehow, catching the Dutch by surprise and Barnes and Platt put England 2-0 up on 1’ and 24’ respectively. Bergkamp brilliantly pulled one back on 34’, but the turning point of the game was Gascoigne’s cheekbone injury on 46’. Having been accidentally elbowed by Jan Wouters, Gascoigne had to be rushed to hospital and an already unsettled England effectively had their hopes of a positive result extinguished from that moment on. Duly, Walker produced what was, at the time, an uncharacteristic error, after being worryingly outpaced by Overmars in the box, and Peter van Vossen converted the penalty on 86’.

While still unbeaten, England were already lagging behind Norway and the Netherlands, and badly needed a result against Poland in Chorzów on 29 May. This game perfectly encapsulated the flaws and chaos of the Taylor regime. Firstly, the FA clearly did not do the necessary homework and England trained, initially, in an overgrown training pitch that was open to 500 spectators. Then, Taylor refused to drop Walker, believing that the Netherlands mistake was out of the ordinary, and stated, which did not give Walker a whole lot of confidence, that he “could count the recent mistakes Des has made on one hand.” There was a predictable circus around Gascoigne, too, accentuated with his Phantom of the Opera-like mask, and he produced a terrible performance, with poor set-piece deliveries, that was curtailed after a shin injury, in the second-half, that required five stitches.

Taylor had warned his team of Poland’s high tempo, but England were still shocked: Dariusz Adamczuk putting Poland up on 36’, following a series of quick breaks, and the game turned scrappy. Ironically, Taylor called on England to “not knock it” and had his infamous rhetoric refrain of “do I not like like that!” England did manage to find an equaliser, though, through Wright, who came on for Palmer while Platt moved deeper into midfield, on 84’. Poland had been seen as a winnable game so Taylor was under immense pressure to get a result in Oslo, with England still somehow unbeaten after winning just three out of their six matches. Taylor’s desperation, strange way of looking at qualifying and a lack of command of his players was summed up in his dressing-room address to the players after the Poland match:

If at all possible, win the game {against Norway} and the two-game series.

Yet again, Taylor’s preparations were as desperate as ever: sacking England’s Norwegian liaison officer, making tactless comments about Gascoigne and Paul Merson’s alcohol “refuelling”, and deciding to switch to 3-5-2 with little preparation in training. Taylor sought to go like-for-like, philosophy wise, against the long ball favouring Olsen, but his game plan was undone when instead of starting Jostein Flo on the right wing, with Walker as pre-planned marker, Olsen switched Flo to the left against the rigid and less mobile Gary Pallister. Taylor was in trouble, having used Sharpe as an unnatural left wing-back, and the episode was akin to when Ernst Happel and Hamburg outsmarted Giovanni Trapattoni’s and Juventus’ rigid man-marking system in the 1983 European Cup final. The Hamburg forward, Horst Hrubesch, usually had Lars Bastrup on his left side alongside him up front, which suited Claudio Gentile perfectly for marking and would allow Antonio Cabrini to maraud down the left flank ala Giacinto Facchetti under Helenio Herrera for Internazionale in the ‘60s. Realising this, Happel put Bastrup to Hrubesch’s right, neutralising the asymmetric limitations of Trapattoni’s system, and midfielder Marco Tardelli was left as the covering man. This reversed the fortunes, with Hamburg now having an ‘extra man’ in the floating Felix Magath and fatefully, it was Magath who netted the only goal of the game on 8’.

Similarly, the towering Flo proved a constant nuisance and Norway ran out deserved 2-0 winners, with England hopelessly punting long balls in the hope that Les Ferdinand could peal off, and Øyvind Leonhardsen and Lars Bonihen scored on 42’ and 47’ respectively. Walker was again guilty of mistakes: beaten for quickness of thought for the first goal and then pace for the second. Taylor failed to rally his troops: providing directionless instructions to Nigel Clough, who came on in the second-half, and “losing the dressing-room” in the words of Adams after asking the players to mark themselves out of ten after the match. The Sun ran with a Norse Manure headline and Taylor’s reign then reached an all-time low with a 2-0 defeat to the U.S.A in the U.S Cup in the summer of 1993. Although Taylor went on to lead his team to a 1-1 draw with Brazil and a narrow 2-1 defeat to Germany in the same tournament, confidence was long lost. Still, though, Taylor fought back, complaining about the presses’ obsession with needing a new article about him everyday:

Must be awful when people use your paper for fish and chips or to wipe their backside with.

Three games remained and Taylor needed three wins. The first was against Poland at Wembley on 8 September and Taylor had the rare luxury of a fully fit squad. The players’ arrival was telling: everyone arrived in separate suits, with only Taylor and McImeney arriving in FA blazers, with Ince in broad pinstripes and Gascoigne not even bothering with a blazer – instead wearing just a waistcoat. Walker was dropped, but even though Taylor had access to one of the best backlines the Premier League would ever see, with David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Martin Keown/Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, Taylor, who was sitting in the stands with FA officials, only started Seaman and Adams for this match. England cruised to victory, though, which made the previous 1-1 draw in May all the more disappointing, and Ferdinand, Gascoigne and Pearce fired England to a 3-0 victory. However, there was one sour note: Gascoigne earning an automatic suspension for the match against the Netherlands after a reckless tackle.

Merson would step up, but again, preparations were far from ideal. Taylor allowed the press to stay in the team hotel and personally intervened to allow Crysalis to film at Rotterdam after they were initially, and smartly, banned by the FA for the game. It was the final nail in the coffin for Taylor: England controversially, despite Rijkaard having a goal wrongly disallowed, losing 2-0 with the referee, Karl Josef Assenmacher, allowing Ronald Koeman a free-kick retake, that Tony Dorigo was not afforded in a previous identical situation,  and not giving England a penalty after Koeman cynically pulled Platt back. Taylor was dumbfounded, addressing the fourth official:

What sort of thing is happening here? You know it. LINESMAN! At the end of the day, I get the sack now…referee’s got me the sack. Thanks ever so much for that.

Remarkably, England still had a chance of qualifying, if the Netherlands lost to Poland and England won by a seven-goal margin away to San Marino. While the U.S episode was embarrassing, at least they were a professional team, and when San Marino went ahead on 8 seconds, the fastest ever international goal, through Walter Gualteri, Taylor’s fate was sealed. England did go on to win 7-1 but the Netherlands defeated Poland 1-3 and Taylor resigned. He would go on to sell his story to the News of the World and made a decent amount from the Impossible Job documentary. Charles Hughes, though, refused to resign – despite calls from the Chief Executive of the PFA, Gordon Taylor. For Graham Taylor, though, the relief of life after England was palpable:

I’d wake up in the morning with my pyjamas wet. As soon as I resigned, it stopped

Taylor went on to lead Wolves to the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1993/1994, but struggled to cope with the demands of top-flight football in 1994/1995 and even attempted a citizen’s arrest on a Sheffield United fan who spat at him at Bramall Lane on 22 April, 1995. He then returned to Watford and managed them to back-to-back promotions, despite a life-threatening abscess, to the First Division in 1997/1998 and the Premier League in 1998/1999. Taylor, though,having managed past the 1,000 English league game mark, had lost his early hallmarks of consistencyand motivation, and Watford were immediately relegated in 1999/2000 and slumped to 9th in the First Division in 2000/2001. Still, he briefly returned with Aston Villa from February until the end of the season in 2002/2003 and narrowly kept Villa in the division.

Graham Taylor’s reign at England will be looked back on with immense bemusement and condemnation, with Taylor selecting an incredible six captains in two years, but regardless of his unpopularity and eccentric methods, Taylor is one of the great self-made, following a lower-league playing career, managerial success stories. Starting off as a 27 year old and one of the few football managers at the time to have not had a greatly successful playing career, Taylor innovated his own brilliantly effective game and rose to one of the highest footballing positions in the world.

If Taylor’s time at England taught the football world anything, particular in hindsight of Terry Venables’ post-Taylor success and Fabio Capello’s recent fall-out, it was that unless one has the backing of the media, a strong backroom staff and the tactical expertise to deal with a variety of international playing styles, managing England really is the impossible job.

The Author

Ciaran Kelly

Sports writer and author of José Mourinho: The Rise of the Translator, featuring exclusive interviews with key figures not synonymous with the traditional Mourinho narrative and Johan Cruyff: The Total Voetballer, an ebook which peaked in the Top 40 of Amazon's top 100 Sports Books' chart. I have also written for Britain best selling football magazine, FourFourTwo and other British publications. I am a fully qualified reporter with an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism and a Masters degree in Sports Journalism from St. Mary's University, London.

6 thoughts on “Graham Taylor and the impossible job

  1. Just one error…Graham Taylor was spat at by a Sheff Utd fan sitting behind the dugout at Bramall Lane, not a Wolves fan.
    He attempted to perform a citizen’s arrest.

  2. Interesting comparison with England’s three centre backs against Norway 1993 with the European Cup Final of Juventus v Hamburg 10 years earlier.

    But don’t agree completely.

  3. Interesting comparison with England’s three centre backs against Norway 1993 with the European Cup Final of Juventus v Hamburg 10 years earlier.

    But don’t agree completely.

    Also, he could’ve it England to the second round of the 1994 World Cup.
    – Where we would go out to Ireland or Sweeden (again).

  4. Well written and very interesting article, but a few little slips: e.g. it was Platt who scored against Sweden (from a Lineker cross) and Nigel Spink wasn’t a Taylor signing – he was at Villa for about 20 years.

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