Bob Lethaby on a popular, if unlucky, national coach whose recent passing shocked us all. 

Poor old Graham Taylor will always be remembered by my generation as one of the worst ever England managers, a man who only made matters even worse by foolishly allowing himself to be part of a fly on the wall documentary on Channel 4.

Quotes such as ‘Do I not like that’ and ‘Carlton (Palmer), can you not knock it?’ stuck like shit to blanket and I can clearly remember joining in with a chorus of ‘Do I not like that….do I not like that!’ (to the tune of ‘Where’s your Mama Gone’) every time a Wolves player made an error against Reading when Taylor managed them (Wolves) shortly after.

However, football is a game of fine margins that can be euphoric and devastating in equal manner. On the positive side, there was David Platt and ‘England have done it….in the last minute of extra time’ when they had been outclassed by Belgium and Enzo Scifo in 1990. There were the Lineker penalties v Cameroon, Beckham’s last ditch free kick vs Greece, and a Gascoigne wonder goal just seconds after the Scots had missed a penalty in Euro 96.

However, perhaps most significantly but also most forgotten, was an England crossbar shuddering under the floodlights after a late ferocious Polish effort in the autumn of 1989. It was a shot that if it had dipped inches lower, would have meant Italia ’90 would never have happened for England.

On the negative side there was Waddle’s shot in extra time versus Germany in 1990 that cannoned of the post, Gascoigne’s outstretched leg in Euro 96, and Darren Anderton hitting the post in the same game. Then of course, there is the long history of painful penalty shoot-outs…Italy, Argentina, Germany (twice) and Portugal (twice) all condemning England to heartbreak after heartbreak as sporting composure collapsed into beleaguered panic stations that made an episode of Dad’s Army look serene.

And then there was Holland in 1993…Taylor and England’s worst hour. Both teams had faltered badly in qualifying, with Norway (yes Norway) comfortable group winners. Taylor was struggling with international management but was not helped by the retirement of our long term saviour, Lineker, and the faltering Gascoigne, stricken by injury and the early signs of the chaos that was to unfold in his tragic personal life.

The England side was littered with genuine lack of talent but the Dutch were also under-achieving and nervous. Then, the moment came, the moment that changes sporting lives. A hopeful punt by Andy Sinton (see what I mean by lack of talent) allowed Koeman to hesitate and Platt to break free, clear on goal.

Koeman pulled him down, a penalty for England and a red card for Koeman, advantage The Three Lions.

Incredibly it was neither. The referee caved in, offering just a free-kick and yellow card, much to the fury of England fans management and players. To rub salt into the wound, Koeman scored for the Dutch and they went on to win 2-0. It was an awful evening way back at a time when the majority of football fans still supported England first, then their club side second.

The World Cup the following summer in America was unspectacular, even more so as a fan pretending to support Jack Charlton’s Ireland but not really giving a toss. Taylor drifted back into club management but was never the same man. Like Bobby Robson before him, despite his ineptitude at the highest level, he cared like any supporter, his failure hurt him deeply.

Taylor was not a good international manager but it should also be remembered that on that fateful sporting night in Rotterdam, he was an incredibly unlucky one.

Rotterdam 1993…did I not like that!

Read more of Bob’s writing here