|International friendly: Netherlands v England|
|Venue: Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam Date: Friday, 23 March Time: 19:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, online, tablets, mobiles and BBC Sport app. Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.|
England in the Netherlands. For an entire generation of fans, the very mention of the fixture brings on a shudder, a cold sweat. A reflex impulse to berate a linesman.
Friday night’s friendly in Amsterdam may be an important piece in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup jigsaw, as well as a big night for new Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman, who takes charge of his country for the first time.
But a turbulent night in Rotterdam 25 years ago ended hopes for another England team.
Koeman, then his country’s captain, was a central figure in a match that had it all, along with David Platt, Brian Moore – and, of course, Graham Taylor.
England’s then-manager would find his time in charge forever bound up by Dutch defeat – an unjust one, in his eyes at least.
It was a drama played out on both a national and a human scale, as a warts-and-all documentary broadcast on Channel 4 a year later carried images of Taylor’s touchline fury and exasperation into the memories of England fans forever.
When he died last year, Taylor was a much-loved, much-respected manager and pundit.
But in the aftermath of his failure to reach the World Cup finals of 1994, he was vilified, felt “cheated” and almost left the country.
This is the story of that match, the documentary, and how it affected Taylor.
‘It sticks with you for life’
“If you say ‘Holland’ to me, to this day I see David Platt running through on goal. I can’t help it. When things don’t go well as an England manager, it sticks with you for the rest of your life.”
Wednesday, 13 October, 1993 was a date lodged firmly in the mind of Taylor when we spoke on the 20th anniversary of that fateful night.
Three years into the job, three years after Bobby Robson, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker had captured the nation’s hearts by reaching the semi-finals of Italia 90, the unthinkable happened.
But how had it got to that point?
|Taylor produced some memorable lines in ‘The Impossible Job’:|
|“Can we not knock it?”|
|“Do I not like that…”|
|“It’s got to go, son. It’s got to go big. It’s got to go big!”|
|“Go Les! Hit Les! Hit Les over the top!”|
|“Wrighty? It’s made for Wrighty to come on and score, isn’t it?”|
|“The referee’s got me the sack. Thank him ever so much for that won’t you?”|
After a poor Euro 92, which saw England eliminated in the group stages after scoring just once in three games, Taylor’s maiden World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a bad start.
Leads at home to Norway and then the Netherlands were squandered, putting qualification in doubt.
“We played very well in both of those games and if we had won just one, which we deserved to, we would have been OK,” Taylor remembered.
The away double-header in May and June of 1993 did not go well either.
A draw in Poland and defeat away to leaders Norway in the space of four days left Taylor’s side up against it. However, after an impressive 3-0 win over Poland at Wembley, England’s fate was in their own hands going into the penultimate fixture in Rotterdam.
“We were a point above the Netherlands, with two games to go,” said Taylor. “A draw would have been enough for us to qualify and we were as confident as we could expect to be.”
No Gazza, no problem
With captain Stuart Pearce injured and Lazio midfielder Gascoigne suspended, Taylor made five changes to his side.
Off the pitch, he was called on to help smuggle in the documentary crew who would film so many of his famous moments after they were denied access by the Dutch FA. The crew donned England tracksuits and carried their film equipment into the stadium in team kitbags.
Once the match kicked off, Leeds full-back Tony Dorigo – standing in for Pearce – smashed a long-range free-kick against the post, while Frank Rijkaard had an effort for the hosts disallowed in a goalless first half.
So far, so good.
The Koeman incident
The match, England’s hopes and Taylor’s career were all transformed by a two-minute spell around the hour mark. Andy Sinton – on at half-time in place of Carlton Palmer – hit a long ball over the top for Platt to run on to.
The England skipper was hauled to the ground by Koeman, but referee Karl-Josef Assenmacher decided to only show the Barcelona man a yellow card, rather than red.
The documentary was to show Taylor imploring the German official to send Koeman off, memorably asking fourth official Markus Merk: “What sort of thing is happening here?”
Even 20 years later, Taylor was incensed by the decision.
“I could not believe what I was seeing. It was a goalscoring opportunity and Koeman should have gone,” he said. “Fifa had made a very strong point in the weeks before the game that the denial of a goalscoring opportunity was to be a straight red card.
“He should have been sent off, absolutely.”
After the game, Koeman admitted he had expected to be dismissed. Instead, Dorigo’s free-kick was blocked by the advancing Dutch wall and two minutes later the home side were given a free-kick at the other end.
To heighten England’s sense of injustice, it was Koeman who stepped up to score.
His first effort was charged down by Paul Ince, but he made no mistake second time around. ITV commentator Moore’s prophecy of “he’s going to flick one, he’s going to flick one” proved accurate as the future Southampton and Everton manager curled the ball into the top corner.
“That was when I lost it,” Taylor said. “I honestly felt that we were being cheated. The referee was favouring the home side, I really felt that, as the free-kick we had blocked was exactly the same.
“The only other occasion in my career I felt like that was when I was in charge of Lincoln and we had a terrible penalty awarded at Birmingham. But this was obviously worse.
“I lost the plot because I honestly and truthfully felt that England were being cheated in a vital game for the country.
“That was the worst I’ve ever been on a touchline. I’d never been like that before. But that is the one time I end up on film, so that’s what people remember.”
Paul Merson hit the post again but a second goal for the Netherlands followed, with Dennis Bergkamp scoring.
“The referee’s got me the sack,” Taylor told the linesman in the closing minutes. “Thank him ever so much for that won’t you?”
Taylor concluded his reign with a futile 7-1 win in San Marino in November 1993, as the Netherlands secured qualification by beating Poland. Taylor resigned six days later.
“I try not to think about what would have happened next if Koeman had been sent off,” Taylor said. “I’m sure we would have qualified for the World Cup and I probably keep my job. But that’s life.”
‘An honest piece of film-making’
Taylor’s documentary is legendary. Film-maker Ken McGill and his team had been recording Taylor and his team throughout the qualifiers, with access that could only be dreamed of now. Taylor had agreed to take part in the programme as he hoped it would show the differences between club and international management.
But as results turned for the worse, the focus shifted to Taylor himself – the man in the ‘Impossible Job’, the title of the film that more than six million people tuned in to watch.
“I didn’t ever expect that we wouldn’t qualify; I was arrogant enough to think that,” admitted Taylor.
“So I was keen to show the problems of being England manager. Then, as the results went on and we didn’t qualify, I became more central to the documentary, quite rightly.
“You’re the country’s number one villain.”
Taylor thought about cancelling filming before the trip to Norway in June 1993, but knew that the written press – who were already hostile towards him – would seize on it as an admission that England might not qualify.
“One positive which came out of it is that people saw I was passionate about the job,” Taylor said in 2013. “But I can’t watch it. I put a little bit of the documentary on my computer recently but I couldn’t watch it.
“I said to myself: ‘Don’t watch it Graham, because for the next week you’ll be down.'”
In the aftermath of his resignation – and being labelled a ‘turnip’ by the Sun newspaper – Taylor considered leaving the country. Instead he stayed and rebuilt his club career, taking Watford back to the top flight.
The documentary was a hit. But McGill, who has also made films with Gascoigne, Lennox Lewis and Ian Botham, had mixed feelings 20 years on.
Taylor may have been able to return to work, but his assistant Phil Neal was criticised for being ‘a yes man’ after the documentary was broadcast. At the time, he was England’s most decorated player, yet his managerial career never recovered, with a brief spell in charge of Manchester City in 1996 his last job as a coach.
“At the time I felt terrible,” McGill admitted in 2013, “not only for Graham but I also feel responsible for Phil not being able to earn a living in football any more.
“If it wasn’t for Graham’s help, we would not have been able to film in Rotterdam. We would have missed all of that drama.
“I found it hard to take the consequences of the film. But there is nothing I would change. It is a piece of honest film-making.”
A version of this feature was published on 8 October, 2013