We were extremely sorry to learn yesterday of the death of former England manager Graham Taylor at the age of 72.
Graham Taylor enjoyed great success as a club manager with Lincoln City, Watford and Aston Villa – winning a total of seven promotions and coming close with the latter two clubs to becoming champions of England . His career included giving the first chance in professional football to such a talent as John Barnes. He was widely regarded as a nice man who made time to help people. And his co-commentaries for matches on BBC Radio 5 Live were enjoyed by many. And yet for some people, all that he would be remembered for was his three years managing England and writing him off as a downright failure because of it. Browsing one discussion forum yesterday , the first reply to a post about Taylor’s death was someone pointing out what an awful England manager Taylor was. No “but he seemed a nice man” or “but he did very well at club level”. Just bitterness and remembering ‘Turnip’ as a catastrophic failure when in charge of his country.
Sadly, of course, Taylor failed to steer England to the 1994 World Cup – the only time they’ve not qualified for the tournament since 1978. Mistakes were made along the way including the tactical approach in certain games and some dubious team selections, as well as some of the old guard such as Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle appearing to be sacrificed prematurely. Substituting Gary Lineker in the crunch defeat by Sweden during Euro ’92 attracted criticism from press and public, while Taylor would not enjoy the same rapport with Paul Gascoigne as either his predecessor or successor. There were much-criticised losses to Norway and the USA within days in June 1993. And the infamous fly-on-the-wall documentary about the World Cup qualifying campaign would do Taylor’s reputation few favours. Did he not like that indeed?
But his reign wasn’t quite the all-out nightmare it is often portrayed as. Taylor didn’t lose a match in his first year at charge and his side were beaten just once prior to Euro ’92. England qualified unbeaten for that tournament and during his reign they only lost once on home soil. Taylor could forever claim the controversial refereeing display during defeat to the Netherlands cost him both qualification and – as he told the linesman – his job. For all their disappointments in that campaign, England would probably have still got to the USA had Norway not suddenly emerged as a force.
Four years earlier England had qualified for the World Cup by just the width of the crossbar against Poland in the decisive qualifier, Bobby Robson going on to depart a hero after reaching the semi-finals. Taylor would rue how things went against him that night in Rotterdam, plus the late equaliser conceded in the home meeting. It’s a game of fine margins and he knew once his side failed to make it to the USA that he would never get a chance to turn things around. Taylor might also have felt expectations were inflated to unrealistic levels when he took the job amid the post-Italia ’90 euphoria.
The Impossible Job documentary about the qualifying campaign would lead to more mocking of Taylor, but the perception of him as a foul-mouthed individual was unfair. Yes the evidence was there that he used a lot of expletives, but it has to be put into the context of a man under great pressure and in an environment where “industrial language” is applied to get through to many players (if Gazza’s autobiography was anything to go by, then even Sir Bobby Robson frequently spoke in such a way when in a football environment). So many people who met Taylor say what a nice man he was, while his reign at Watford saw him work to achieve more than just success on the field. In an era when crowd trouble was rife, Watford were the ultimate family club – the staff putting on productions for young fans to enjoy and families happily flocking to games and sitting in the safety and comfort of a dedicated enclosure. He was also an early champion of black players, men such as Barnes and Luther Blissett thriving under him at Watford. As England boss he would also give a number of black players their chance at international level.
That spell at Watford really brought Taylor to national attention, following an almost-invincible Fourth Division title success at Lincoln City. But as Watford rose from the Fourth Division to runners-up in the top-flight in just six seasons, not all the publicity was positive. His direct style attracted critics, Taylor being at pains to defend the approach. “I hate sophisticated football,” he told John Motson in one interview – and he could say with justification that the old-school directness worked well.
But that criticism would seem gentle compared to what he had to endure, particularly from The Sun, in the second half of his England reign. ‘Swedes 2, Tunips 1’ was a witty headline. But much of what happened subsequently was anything but. The ‘Turniphead’ images became a nasty and tired joke, merely intensifying some people’s hatred of the man. Even when he resigned as manager there was a spiteful front page. It’s little surprise Taylor later rejected the chance to present a retirement gift to the responsible sub-editor. The son of a sports journalist, Taylor would have good reason to resent some of the individuals within the industry.
After the public humiliation with England the easy option for Taylor would have been to go abroad for a well-paid, low-pressure job. But it was to his immense credit that Taylor would within months take the manager’s job at Wolverhampton Wanderers, becoming the first ex-England manager to manage again at club level on home soil (excluding Sir Alf Ramsey’s caretaker stint at Birmingham City). Although the Molineux reign was perhaps not as successful as hoped, Taylor did lead the side to the First Division play-offs.
But it was a return to his spiritual home of Watford where he would really re-establish himself, the old Vicarage Road magic – with old mate Elton John again at the helm – resurfacing as successive promotions were achieved to take the Hornets to the Premier League. Although relegation was suffered the next season, Taylor could take pride in what he had achieved and feel he had proved some of his critics wrong. Even though he ‘retired’ in 2001, there was clearly still hunger there as he would the following year again take charge at Aston Villa.
After all the flack he took as England manager, one might have thought the last people he would want for company were the English press. But his role as a radio summariser would regularly see him in their company, many sports journalists having tweeted what a nice man he was and how much he will be missed. Taylor’s assessments of matches were enjoyed by many. Former BBC TV commentator Barry Davies pondered in his autobiography that, having heard Taylor’s analysis and read his thoughtful columns, if things might have worked out differently for the manager if his chance with England had come later. With the benefit of hindsight he would almost certainly have done some things differently.
Taylor was a patriot, pointing out that he was a fan at club level of Scunthorpe United and he grew up with England as his “big team”. He found it hard to grasp why others could not view the national team as such a priority. Tony Dorigo, who played under Taylor, tweeted last night that “there wasn’t a more committed Englishman and for that he had my admiration”. Like Bobby Robson before him, Taylor really longed to succeed with his country. It didn’t work out as hoped, but the man’s overall career and other qualities in life were appreciated by many. The many tributes paid in the last 24 hours are full evidence of that.
RIP Graham, a good, honest man who will be sadly missed.
Lawrie McMenemy has recently turned 80 and penned his autobiography. While the book may primarily appeal to fans of Southampton, where he enjoyed great success as manager, one chapter will be of particular interest to followers of England. From 1990 to 1993 McMenemy assisted Graham Taylor during his turbulent reign in charge of England. He has his say in the book about the regime…
When Lawrie McMenemy was asked by Graham Taylor in 1990 to assist him with England, it came as a surprise. McMenemy had been out of football management for three years since an unhappy spell at Sunderland ended. He and Taylor were not old mates or colleagues, although they had been opposing managers during a few encounters between Southampton and Wafford in the first half of the 1980s. But Taylor was happy to hand McMenemy his route back into the game. However, McMenemy was to soon get his first hints of the slightly bemusing regime that lay ahead when he discovered he would be ‘assistant to the manager’ rather than ‘assistant manager’. It all seemed rather like David Brent and Gareth Keenan in The Office and unfortunately the next three years would be remembered as farcically by some. McMenemy was responsible for the B and under-21 teams, but unfortunately for him he would mostly be associated with the failings of the seniors.
The Taylor years sit awkwardly between the highs of semi-final places at Italia ’90 under Bobby Robson and Euro ’96 under Terry Venables. The regime is remembered as a low point despite being unbeaten in its first year at the helm. As McMenemy would write about Taylor: “Out of 38 matches he only lost seven but three of those really mattered.” And perhaps that really sums up how most people remember the Taylor years – the crucial defeats by Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.
McMenemy does offer some sympathy for Taylor and defends him over the style of football used with England, as well as writing that “those of us who know him well tend to support him against all comers”. But the book suggests otherwise. There are several passages where he believes Taylor made mistakes he would not have committed, with McMenemy not afraid to criticise him for it. You won’t find much evidence of McMenemy blaming himself for what went wrong.
He believes there were warning signs from early on that problems lay ahead. Bryan Robson wrote in his autobiography that he felt cliques were appearing in the camp around this time. That view might have been dismissed as a player on his way out no longer feeling at home in the set-up, but McMenemy was concerned to see the same thing. He writes: “Cliques had emerged, with the same groups of players eating together and who stuck together without embracing the sprint of the camp. That is something that should have no place in any squad at any level.” There seems a lasting frustration for McMenemy that he could not tackle such problems head-on, instead simply raising concerns with Taylor – who he felt did not share or act upon his concern.
Relations between Lawrie McMenemy and Graham Taylor cooled during their time working together.
Big Mac would also be unimpressed by the attitude of certain players towards Taylor, a man established internationals did not seem to take to as much as Bobby Robson. Some sections of the media had been unimpressed with Taylor’s appointment and McMenemy felt this attitude was filtering down to the players. “There was an insolence among some that disturbed me,” he wrote. “They were part of the pack that didn’t see him as right for the job. It was not open war but there was a tension obvious to me from the likes of Gary Lineker that Graham could have done without.”
But McMenemy was left baffled as he saw Taylor substitute retirement-bound Lineker during the decisive Euro ’92 defeat by Sweden when England needed to score. “It was quite simply the wrong decision,” McMenemy writes. “I could not believe what Graham had done, how a manager of his experience would not see to the danger to himself, if nothing else, from the decision.” The moment served as the turning point in Taylor’s reign, heading into the ill-fated qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup with the press now increasingly against him.
During the campaign McMenemy felt his relationship with Taylor begin to decline. He was wary of the manager appointing a spin doctor in David Teasdale, but the real damage was done by the infamous fly-on-the-wall documentary being made about Taylor and England during the qualifying series. McMenemy claims he only became aware it was being made in June 1993 in Norway. He voiced his concerns to the manager, but again Taylor would not change his mind.
Things go wrong for Taylor and McMenemy in Rotterdam in 1993.
McMenemy felt particular sympathy for fellow coaching staff member Phil Neal over the way he was portrayed in the documentary and remains unhappy about Taylor pursuing the project behind their backs. “We should have been warned of Graham’s decision on the documentary,” he writes. “I will not go further than to say it was selfish of him to sanction a documentary that worked against a staff that wished no harm. The full impact of what he had done took some time to emerge.” By the time the documentary aired early in 1994 both Taylor and McMenemy had moved on. The latter would later read in Graham Kelly’s memoirs that Taylor said he would only step down if McMenemy didn’t take his job. It’s fairly clear things had gone sour between the pair. McMenemy has since served the FA again in an ambassadorial role, while also being an international manager for a short time with Northern Ireland.
For McMenemy, the England assistant years represent a mere fraction of his life in football. Despite never making a professional appearance as a player, he would go on to lead both Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town to the Fourth Division title. But it was in his long spell in charge of Southampton that he really made his name and led them to success including winning the FA Cup in 1976, recalling in his autobiography manging England stars at The Dell – most notably Kevin Keegan, who he signed in a transfer coup in 1980.
Less happily, he looks back at the feud with fellow Saints legend Terry Paine – a member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad – and also reflects on his dressing room fracas with young defender Mark Wright early in the 1983-84 season. McMenemy offered to resign but he stayed at the helm, leading the side to a club best second place in the First Division with Wright soon to earn his first England cap. The pair would work together again when McMenemy joined the England set-up.
This book is not a thriller but McMenemy’s footballing life story is one that deserved telling, from turning down the chance to manage Manchester United to his friendship with Brian Clough and his years as a BBC pundit. But Taylor may once more be left uttering “do I not like that?” if he reads McMenemy’s memoirs of their time working together.
- Lawrie McMenemy: A Lifetime’s Obsession is published by Trinity Mirror Sport Media, with a cover price of £18.99.
In the coming days, Wayne Rooney could become England’s record goalscorer. He needs just one goal to equal Bobby Charlton’s tally of 49 and two to claim the outright record. We today recall the previous time a player knew just a solitary goal would bring him level with Charlton – but it just wouldn’t happen for the previously prolific Gary Lineker.
1992 seemed to be a year where so many saw their dreams suddenly slip away with the end in sight: Labour in the General Election; England in the Cricket World Cup; Manchester United in the First Division title race; Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final; Jimmy White at the Crucible; Colin Jackson in the Olympics. And so on. But perhaps topping the bill was Gary Lineker, England’s captain and eternal goalscorer. From looking a certainty to become the first man to make it to 50 England goals, he cut a frustrated figure as the record slipped away from him. He would no doubt join Her Majesty in viewing 1992 as an annus horribilis.
On November 13, 1991, Lineker scored a priceless late equaliser away to Poland to take England through to the Euro ’92 finals. It was his 46th England goal, leaving him just three strikes behind Charlton. Over the winter, Lineker made the surprising announcement that from the 1992-93 season he would be playing for Japanese club Grampus Eight and his international career would end after the European Championship. The hope was he would end with a flourish, inspiring England to Euro glory having become the nation’s record goalscorer. The former hope was possible rather than probable but the latter looked odds on.
The first hint that Lineker’s final England year may not go entirely to plan came when they played their opening friendly of 1992 in February against France. Manager Graham Taylor made the rather surprising decision to drop captain Lineker to the bench, as Alan Shearer made his debut in attack. But Lineker came off the bench to seal a 2-0 win against a side who they were due to face in the Euro finals.
Gary Lineker scores his 47th England goal against France in February 1992.
Lineker was again on the bench the following month as England struggled to sparkle in a 2-2 draw with Czechoslovakia, this time not getting on the scoresheet after coming on. But in April he was back in the starting line-up away to the CIS (previously USSR) and headed in an excellent cross from Tony Daley to give England an early lead in another 2-2 draw. Towards end of the contest, Lineker saw a shot saved by Dmitri Kharine as he bore down on goal and then was unable to hook the rebound in. That meant he would have to wait to equal the record, but it was seemingly just a matter of time.
Before England’s next game in Hungary on May 12, Lineker had signed off from English club football by scoring for Tottenham Hotspur in a defeat to Manchester United. The predatory instincts still seemed to remain, but then deserted him in Budapest. Set free by Paul Merson in the first half, he was presented with an opportunity just inside the box but fired wide. As with the miss against the CIS, it wasn’t like squandering an open goal but a forward of Lineker’s calibre was expected to make more of such chances. It was his one real opportunity all night in a forgettable game, but he did cross for Neil Webb to score the only goal in England’s 1-0 win.
Paying the penalty
Five days after the match in Hungary there was a golden opportunity squandered in Lineker’s bid to break the record. Brazil’s visit was attractive enough, but for Lineker the match was particularly special as it would be his final appearance at Wembley. He had scored in his first game there against the Republic of Ireland in 1985 and it would seem fitting if he equalled – or even broke – the record in his farewell to the stadium. The omens seemed good, given Lineker had scored in each of his two previous games against Brazil.
With the game just 10 minutes old, he was handed the perfect chance when he was fouled in the area. What followed next has passed into infamy. He went to chip goalkeeper Carlos but with embarrassing consequences, the ball getting no weight behind it and landing apologetically in front of a grateful Brazilian keeper (who was so surprised that he almost inadvertently turned it into the net). The best opportunity to equal the record had passed and Lineker never got another sniff during the afternoon, as England drew 1-1. It was their only other regular source of goals, David Platt, who salvaged a draw. Lineker dismissed Taylor’s suggestion the record played on his mind as he stepped up for the penalty, saying: “I saw the goalkeeper commit himself early and tried to lift the ball over him… but I scuffed up some grass as I shot and couldn’t get any height.”
“You could argue that we played Brazil with 10 men,” said Graham Taylor rather controversially after Gary Lineker’s performance against Brazil.
It was here the relationship between Taylor and Lineker began to unravel. A few days after the game, Taylor was quite damning when he told The Observer: “It’s almost as if Gary is a national institution who cannot be touched. You could argue that we played Brazil with 10 men – but you’re not allowed to.” Although there was some speculation that Lineker could lose his place for the finals, realistically he would keep it. He had not been in prolific form for England going into either the 1986 or 1990 World Cup, but he managed a total of 10 goals in those two tournaments (finishing tournament top scorer in 1986).
Despite the Brazil setback, the record still seemed to remain a case of when and not if. “I want it out of the way as soon as possible,” said Taylor, as a good opportunity appeared on the horizon. England’s last match before the finals was away to Finland, against the side with the weakest track record they would face while Lineker was chasing the record. But again his luck was out, striking the bar from close range in a 2-1 win with Platt again the saviour.
Fate seemed to be against Lineker and he would now go into the finals with potentially just three matches to get the record. Suddenly, it didn’t look so certain he would achieve it. Lineker’s cause was not being helped by a continual changing of strike partner or at times having no other recognised strikers up front with him, with Taylor continually experimenting and struggling to settle on his preferred line-up.
Yugoslavia’s late expulsion meant England were starting in the finals against Denmark, a side not expected to achieve much after being called up to participate just days beforehand. Again it was a frustrating night for Lineker and co, playing out a rather forgettable 0-0 draw in which England could easily have lost after their opponents struck the woodwork. As we recalled last week, Taylor now turned his attentions to Jimmy Hill over criticisms the BBC pundit aired afterwards. The mood in the camp was clearly not good with Taylor appearing increasingly tetchy towards the media.
Three days later there was more of the same, a goalless and sterile stalemate against France. In a taste of things to come for their future Match of the Day years, Lineker and Shearer were partnered together. But they found chances at a premium in a dull draw, which left English hopes in the balance. Euro ’92 was the last major tournament which operated a two points for a win system, with the entertainment value low in England’s matches. “He contributed in exactly the way I thought he would,” said Taylor rather cryptically about Lineker after the France game, with the forward now potentially 90 minutes away from the end of his England career. Few would have anticipated it would be even less than that…
An anti-climatic ending
Lineker is hauled off against Sweden and it proves a sad end to his England career.
To be sure of going through to the semi-finals, England had to beat hosts Sweden and at the very least they had to score and avoid defeat to stand a chance. Lineker was back to being the only recognised striker in the side but his former club manager Terry Venables, in his capacity as BBC pundit, said he was backing him to find the net. England started superbly, Lineker crossing for Platt to give them an early lead. They played well until half-time and led at the break, leaving them top of the group with 45 minutes left.
But where they were excellent in the first half, they were wretched and outplayed in the second. From the moment Jan Eriksson headed in an equaliser they were up against it and as the hour mark passed Taylor knew he had to change things. You could hear the surprise in the voice of BBC commentator Barry Davies as he said Lineker was the player coming off, as Alan Smith took his place. “If England don’t make it to the semi-finals, what an unhappy end we are witnessing to Gary Lineker’s England career,” said Davies, sensing there may be no way back for Taylor’s men. Even co-commentator Trevor Brooking got vaguely opinionated, describing it as a “brave decision” and expressing his view that it would have been better to play two in attack (Lineker and Smith had forged a good pairing at Leicester City a few years earlier).
The body blow duly came eight minutes from time, Tomas Brolin’s scoring an excellent goal to delight the hosts. With Denmark beating France 2-1, England knew an equaliser would see lots drawn to decide if they or the Danes progressed. But there was no realistic hope of them scoring again and ‘Swedes 2, Turnips 1’ would be the most memorable headline the following morning. Lineker’s dream was gone and Charlton, working in Sweden as a BBC pundit, unexpectedly retained his record. Perversely, Lineker scored 10 goals in two World Cup tournaments but none in either European Championship he played in (it later transpired he had hepatitis in 1988).
England limped out of Euro ’92 after a very unsatisfactory tournament that saw the tide turn against Taylor. A combination of international retirements, injuries and certain players not fitting into Taylor’s plans meant of the side that faced Sweden, only Lineker, Platt, Stuart Pearce and Des Walker had played in the World Cup semi-final against West Germany just two years earlier. In several cases the old guard had been replaced by inferior players who would never feature again after Taylor’s reign. There was very little in the way of creativity in the side without players such as John Barnes, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne. Where Italia ’90 had been an emotional rollercoaster that was never to be forgotten by the English public, Euro ’92 was a damp squib so far as England were concerned. Only at the point they exited the competition did it suddenly spring into life following several cagey matches, the Danes surprisingly going on to win the tournament.
The half-century curse
It is surprising that, for a few more days at least, no England player has so far reached 50 goals with several before Rooney having looked set to make it but then just failing to do so. Charlton may have the record but he would probably have loved to make it to the nice round figure of 50, failing to score during his international swansong of the 1970 World Cup. Like Lineker, he was infamously substituted in his final game and watched on as the side slipped out of the tournament. After scoring four against Norway in May 1966 to leave him on 43 goals, Jimmy Greaves would have seemed certain to go on and reach the half-century. But fortune would not be on his side and he finished with just one more. Michael Owen’s potency as a young striker left him on course for the record, but he was frozen out after Fabio Capello took over in 2008 and left with 40 goals.
And as we’ve seen, Lineker saw the target slip rough his fingers with that penalty miss against Brazil and substitution in Sweden forever recalled. It would be disappointment for Lineker, but there was plenty to put it into perspective for him. A few months earlier his baby son George had been diagnosed with leukaemia and undergone chemotherapy as the family feared for his life. Mercifully he pulled through. George’s illness had been a genuine worry for his father, not scoring goals for England by comparison was only football.