Manager: 1990 - 1993
One day in the early Nineties an outgoing England manager said of the next man to take the job: “I just hope the press are kinder to him than they were to me.” It could so easily have been Graham Taylor speaking, but it wasn’t. It was Bobby Robson, leaving the post after a great effort at Italia ’90, talking about Graham Taylor, who was already lined up to succeed him. His hopes were to prove in vain, as the press set about vilifying Taylor and destroying his England career.
FA-Friendly TacticsGraham Taylor’s main qualification for the post was that he had not annoyed the FA, in fact he had been slowing building his stock with them ready for the moment that the England manager’s post became vacant. Perhaps one of the reasons that the press were so against him was that they had all expected Terry Venables to get the job, but the FA’s reluctance to deal with a man whose shady business dealings were about to unravel played into Taylor’s hands.
Young Successful ManagerTaylor did have management pedigree, having moved into management after a hip injury ended his playing career in the lower reaches of the league. He became the youngest person to pass the FA’s coaching qualification at 27, then the youngest manager in the league at 28, when he took control of Lincoln City. Promotion success there led to Elton John recruiting him to manage Watford, and Taylor took them from the lowest league to the First Division in only five years, with an FA cup final appearance to boot.
He then moved to just relegated Aston Villa, took them back up at the first attempt, then came second then in the league two years later. On the face of it, there was some cracking achievement, but it was all in the English Leagues, playing long-ball football to devastating effect.
Long-Ball LoverDespite misgivings that top international teams would eat long-ball football for breakfast, Taylor started with a twelve match unbeaten run which included a 2-2 draw with Argentina in a friendly at Wembley. Two draws against the Republic of Ireland, in the 1992 European Championship qualifying campaign, made the process more difficult than it needed to be, however.
Taylor had initially stuck largely with the team and layout that Bobby Robson had left him, and why not, as they had just concluded the most successful World Cup campaign since the 1966 win. His PR-friendly manner and readiness to chat to the press whenever necessary had initially gone down well with them too. But the decision to leave Paul Gascoigne out of the first Republic of Ireland match had raised eyebrows, since his creativity might have been enough to unlock Jack Charlton’s unforgiving defence.
Gazza Horror InjuryThis problem became academic, however, as Gazza’s horrific lunge on Gary Charles at the 1991 FA Cup final ruptured his cruciate ligaments, and it would be eighteen months before he would play for England again. The search began for a new midfield heartbeat, Taylor giving comebacks to Gordon Cowans, Steve Hodge and Bryan Robson, and new caps to Geoff Thomas and Nigel Clough in the attempt. Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley were given the odd chance but discarded because they didn’t put the work rate in that Taylor wanted to see.
Finest PerformanceThe finest performance of Taylor’s initial run was a 2-0 defeat of France, ending a nineteen match unbeaten run. Alan Shearer scored, on his debut, as did Gary Lineker, who had just announced that he would retire after Euro 92. But the teams were constantly changing, with new caps being dished out like confetti, and the press started speculating as to whether Taylor actually knew what his core team and formation should be.
More Injury WoesAs the tournament approached though, John Barnes and Garry Stevens were injured in a friendly, and worse was to come. Before the first match at the tournament proper, central defender Mark Wright was injured and UEFA refused Taylor’s request to allow Tony Adams to come out as a replacement.
England drew 0-0 against Denmark and then again against France, the team England had dominated so completely only a few months earlier. The long-ball tactics were being questioned and it all came crashing down in the last group match, with England needing a win against tournament hosts Sweden.
Swede AnguishIt started well with David Platt scoring in the first five minutes, but Tony Daley missed two chances that would have made it harder for the Swedes. At half time Sweden made tactical changes and equalised soon after the kick-off. Gaining confidence, the makeshift England defence was bamboozled by the tactical shift, Taylor wasn’t able to counter it with his own changes, and Sweden scored the winner seven minutes from time.
Taylor Annoys the PressWhat really annoyed England though, was Taylor taking Gary Lineker off in his last England match, one goal short of Bobby Charlton’s England goal-scoring record. Taylor was frustrated because Lineker wasn’t holding the ball up, but then he wasn’t getting decent service either. Even the substitute Alan Smith thought he was going on to partner him, not replace him.
Turnips Make First AppearanceThe press laid into Taylor without mercy, the Sun printing his face superimposed on a turnip, and stories emerged in the aftermath that captain Lineker and manager Taylor’s serious disagreements had damaged team spirit.
World Cup QualificationWith disquiet rumbling in all departments, the Taylor machine rumbled into a doomed attempt to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. It started poorly with a draw at home against Norway, which at least marked Gazza’s much needed return to the side, then 4-0 and 2-0 wins against Turkey and 6-0 against San Marino settled the nerves.
But Holland and Poland were in England’s group too. After going 2-0 up in the home leg, England allowed Holland back in after Gascoigne limped off and it ended 2-2. Desperately needing a win in Poland, Taylor had to rely on Ian Wright’s first England goal in the eighty-third minute to scrape a 1-1 draw. On to Norway for the return match there, and an attempt to play a sweeper system with three defenders at the back back-fired disastrously as confusion at the back let Norway win by two goals to nil.
Vegetables Thrown AgainPress savagery reached new heights with further vegetable allusions for the beleaguered manager as England went on a morale-boosting summer break to the USA. They were humiliated by a US side before scraping a draw against Brazil and then the familiar defeat by Germany. Startlingly, the attacks on Taylor in the press actually got worse, something that Taylor had not thought possible: “I was made to feel like Public Enemy Number One” he later said.
Returning to England and the qualification problem, Taylor received a shot in the arm with a 3-0 defeat of Poland at Wembley, helped by return to form by Paul Gascoigne and a dispirited Polish side who were already out. All England now had to do was beat the Dutch in Holland to secure a place for the following summer.