There are some people who have never watched Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job. For those people, this top 10 perhaps isn’t for you. Or perhaps it’s exactly for you.
For two years – as England toiled through Poland (always Poland), San Marino (actually Bologna, but carry on), Norway, Turkey and the Netherlands to try and make it to the World Cup in 1994 – manager Graham Taylor for some reason agreed to be the subject of a Cutting Edge fly-on-the-wall documentary.
It appears and disappears from YouTube every now and then, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to own a copy. There isn’t a cat in hell’s chance that an England manager would agree to do it now – nor would he even be asked.
But it remains a stunning snapshot of what it meant to be England manager in those dark days between Italia ‘90 and Euro ‘96 – when the royalty of Peter Shilton, Bryan Robson and Gary Lineker gave way to the next generation of Chris Woods, Carlton Palmer and Andy Sinton.
To make sense of it all, it seems right to put the highlights of An Impossible Job into some sort of logical order. A top 10. Graham, it’s over to you.
“Cameras are ‘ere. Cameras are ‘ere.”
10) WENT TO FOOKIN’ SLEEP
Assistant manager Phil Neal – already long established as a bizarre, obsequious figure throughout the film – exists in the narrative of An Impossible Job purely to salvage an iota of authority for Taylor. He occasionally abandons his otherwise reliable gimmick of simply repeating whatever the manager says with the odd rhetorical question – “how many more times?” he asks here, as Norway go 1-0 up in Oslo.
Here, though, the joy is purely non-verbal. As the Norwegian fans rattle the fence behind the plexiglass of the England bench and Taylor gets in a one-way question of his own (plus his trademark “eh?”), he and Neal share a moment of perfect harmony.
What is Vine as a modern media platform if it’s not to endlessly loop footage of Graham Taylor and Phil Neal crossing their arms at exactly the same time as England go a goal down in a crucial 1994 World Cup qualifier?
9) THANK HIM EVER SO MUCH FOR ME
“Just saying to your colleague: the referee’s got me the sack…”
Of all the supporting characters in An Impossible Job, German official Markus Merk – only appointed as a FIFA referee the year before – has the most thankless task. A dentist by trade, bullied in his youth for having a squeaky voice, Merk* is the fourth official in Rotterdam, tasked with keeping your Taylors, your Neals and your McMenemys in check on the touchline.
Taylor has led him a merry dance all night, repeatedly ignoring pleas of “sit down, please sit down” in his funk of injustice, and Merk has finally lost the will to live. Taylor seizes the chance and wanders in for a little chat with the linesman. He’s not there to harangue the poor guy – the little pat on the back confirms that, even though the linesman doesn’t really grasp Taylor’s existential crisis. The final flourish of weary sarcasm is even more lost on our poor flag-waving friend.
“…thank him ever so much for that, won’t you?”
Taylor retreats, hands politely tucked behind him, having found some semblance of closure.
(*It would be 13 years before Rio Ferdinand would popularise the verb “to merk” with his 2006 career highlight Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups, in which he pranked several of his Manchester United and England colleagues. But it feels appropriate here.)
One of the lesser-known Laws of the Game is that match officials will never acknowledge you without being addressed at least twice in quick succession. If that doesn’t make appealing against their decisions futile enough for beleaguered managers, only being able to shout their job title at these anonymous robots makes things downright pointless.
Four straight days of increasingly tangential Googling reveals that the moustachioed bank manager (both linesmen that night had moustaches, by the way, just to make at least two lives more difficult in 1993 and 2016) was either a Mr Bernd Kuhn or a Mr Egbert Engler. Without the luxury of that information, but determined to enquire about why professional fouler Ronald Koeman is still on the pitch, Taylor is forced to simply shout “LINESMAN!” into the autumn evening air to absolutely no response at all. Then, after briefly looking around for some assistance, Taylor remembers that aforementioned little-known law.
7) LINESMAN (Reprise)
A blur of black shorts, pale thigh and fluorescent Battenberg offside flag flash into view in the foreground. Taylor spots his prey for another attack.
Good old Phil Neal gets up to offer the covering fire of a “HEY!” but the in-demand linesman – Kuhn, Engler, whoever – is well on his way down the line. Worth another go, though.
“LIINESMAAN! THAT’S DISG-”
Taylor and Neal are interrupted by the fourth official and, with almost comical obedience, shut up and sit down. It’s 1-0 Markus Merk, but has he scored too early?
6) DO I NOT LIKE THAT
If the entire documentary was Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, this is surely its “Wonderwall” hit single. Parroted so much that the original is almost redundant, familiar to within the margins of contempt, and casting a disproportionate shadow over the rest of the work. “Do I Not Like That” even became the de facto title of the documentary in place of the rather more sober An Impossible Job.
Have you ever wondered what it is that, rhetorically, Taylor asks himself that he doesn’t like? Specifically, it was the “ball from Des to Barnesy and then Barnesy…” that led fairly directly to Poland’s opening goal in Chorzow.
As Dariusz Adamczuk eats up a 10-yard deficit on the supposedly unbeatable Des Walker – which we can presume Graham does also not like – the edit cuts back to Taylor’s giant wire-frame spectacles.
“Is that a goal?”
5) I’M A METRE
Having abandoned any hope of discussing, appealing and reversing the decision not to send Koeman off, Taylor can muster only a tone of resignation on his next encounter with linesman Mr Kuhn/Engler.
“You know we’ve been cheated, don’t ya?” probes Taylor, while Kuhn/Engler visibly ignores him in favour of doing his job with total diligence. Taylor’s snuck away from the fourth official for this one-way conversation, albeit for a moment: Merk’s soon back on his case but the England manager knows the diplomatic immunity afforded him by the technical area.
“I’M A METRE, I’M A METRE!”
One hundred crucial centimetres – Taylor physically pointing it out is the icing on the cake here – is the difference between his current indignity and the total, terminal, crushing indignity of being sent to the stands of your gleeful opponents’ stadium. Taylor’s a metre, Taylor’s a metre, you can’t touch him.
4) FACKING PAUL
Paul Gascoigne is – you may be astonished to learn – a constant background presence in An Impossible Job, either when it’s shouting “WE HATE SKY” behind a live Sky News reporter or pretend-crying when told by Carlton Palmer that he’s “got a fucked-up knee, a fucked-up brain and a fucked-up belly.”
Taylor, to his eternal credit, spends much of England’s qualifying campaign either defending Gascoigne in public or despairing of him in private. By the time of England’s not-quite-must-win-but-please-god-don’t-lose trip to Norway, it’s a bit of both.
“13 stone or 10 stone,” declares Taylor of the only world-class performer at his disposal, “the Norwegian players are in awe of him.” The documentary’s editor steps up to the plate.
It’s merely an inability to clear the first man with his free-kicks against Norway that earns Gascoigne the excellent admonishment of “FACKING PAUL”, but it really applies to any time of his career between 1991 and 1996.
3) HIT LES
“HIT LES”. Early 1990s English football in two words.
But Taylor fancied mixing it with the continental thinkers. Second-guessing Norway’s wily Egil Olsen, England lined up in Oslo with an untried three-man defence, throwing bodies forward, with the expectation from Taylor of “causing them a lot of problems”.
“GO LES” – Les Ferdinand has gone.
“HIT LES” – Les Ferdinand has gone, and should be hit, from distance.
“HIT LES OVER THE TOP” – Les Ferdinand is beyond the defence, that is where Les Ferdinand is.
“FUCKIN ‘ELL” – Les Ferdinand has not been successfully hit.
2) CAN WE NOT KNOCK IT
The “Don’t Look Back in Anger” to DO I NOT LIKE THAT’s “Wonderwall”. The chorus of “CAN WE NOT KNOCK IT” will be no stranger to your eyes or ears, but the extended album version is a far richer experience.
Phil Neal kicks things off from the bench with an impenetrable prompt of “bigger, bigger!” as QPR’s David Bardsley marks his second and final international cap with a simple hoof up to Teddy Sheringham who, in turn, tries and fails to nod the ball down for Carlton Palmer. English football may never have seen a sadder passage of play. Taylor cracks.
“We’ve DONE that – facking…! CAN WE NOT KNOCK IT”
A question mark on the end there feels almost unnecessary. What a selection of words that is. Total syntax. For England cannot knock it. Or, rather, knocking it is exactly what Bardsley has just done. What other way is there?
Perhaps what Taylor is referring to here is the anti-English art of “knocking it around”, which no team of ours has been able to do since about 1970. Tellingly, football purists have noted that, say, Argentina’s 26-pass move against Serbia in 2006 did not contain a) David Bardsley lofting the ball upfield or b) Carlton Palmer.
From No.10 through to No.2 in this countdown of a meltdown, we have witnessed Indignant Graham, Despairing Graham, On-the-Cusp-of-Self-Combustion Graham and Phil Neal. Whatever the number one is, it really ought to try and capture as many of those things as possible at the same time. Something that sums up England’s hopes, failures and crushing ineptitude in trying to qualify for USA ‘94.
“Hold it, just hold it Alan.”
It’s goalless in Rotterdam, but England have started quite well. They’re in control. Paul Merson has shot just wide, a Tony Dorigo free-kick has struck a Dutch post, Frank Rijkaard’s had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside, everything’s OK. David Platt’s got the ball now. Good old Platty.
“Steady David, don’t…”
Taylor sits on the bench on Rotterdam, looks around for his tether and finds that, yes, he is now at the end of it.
“…get round! NO DON’T…”
It’s unclear what David is or isn’t doing but the faint cheer of some nearby Dutchmen suggests an overhit cross delivered from a disadvantageous position, sailing out for a goal-kick. Taylor’s fist slams into the side of Phil Neal, who lets out a little “oh!”
Taylor has almost nothing left…
A truly impossible job.