Can We Not Knock Him? – Part Seven. The Ref’s Got me The Sack. Thank Him For me, Won’t You?

Win or Bust

The documentary now reaches its denouement. It was a tv producers dream as footage of the pre-match anthems and crowd reactions overdubbed with Brian Moore’s commentary on how this game was a winner-takes-all, a shootout between two European giants for one place in the World Cup Finals. At the draw both nations would’ve expected to qualify and now the plucky Norwegians had spoiled the party and so both countries were staring down the barrel.

Taylor is heard giving his final team talk telling the players the opportunity was there for them and they should grab it. There’s nothing here of the preparation, the training ground routines and so we’re left with the view this is a bit of ‘hit-and-hope’ where the team is concerned. Can England do it on belief desire alone? Does the team believe enough in itself? They’re up against players of the calibre of Bergkamp, Rijkaard, the brothers Koeman and de Boer, Jan Wouters and Mark Overmars. And they were away from home. The odds were stacked against them.

But to the surprise of many England competed pretty well and caused the Dutch some problems. Although it was the home side which had the first clear chance as Overmars skinned Dorigo down the right and his cross was touched on by Roy for Bergkamp to run onto but the Inter Milan player fired over the bar. A minute later Paul Parker gave the ball away at right back and the other Dutch nippy winger, Bryan Roy surged forward to play it inside for Bergkamp, who then laid it on for Wouters who fired straight at Seaman.

Platt got through on the right of the area but fired his shot straight at de Goey, before Merson turned the Dutch right-back, de Wolf and made his way towards the home penalty area. Twenty yards out he fired a right-foot shot just wide of the post.

During the Poland game Taylor sat in the stands rather than join his management team on the bench, but for this match he was back down on the touchline and miked up as he was in Oslo.

Midway through the first half England are putting together another promising move when Ronald Koeman obstructs Paul Ince just on the right of the area and England are awarded a free-kick. It was a clumsy, cynical challenge from Koeman and given what transpired, he was lucky this didn’t count towards him receiving his marching orders later on. After all the fuss about Pearce being captain for the Poland game, he was injured for this one so Leeds United’s Tony Dorigo came in at left-back and free-kick duties. This one was fired against the foot of the post with de Goey well beaten. From the resulting play, Platt played a lovely ball to Adams in the area and with surprising aplomb, the Arsenal captain clipped his shot over the Dutch keeper from a tight angle and it needed Erwin Koeman to clear it off the line.

Soon after they were all off the bench when Platt had a free header which hit the keeper’s legs, but he was adjudged to be offside. England were definitely competing at this stage, something which had been distinctly lacking in Oslo and Boston.

Five minutes before the break a ball clipped in from the left wing found Rijkaard, who’d timed his run perfectly and he put the ball in the net past the helpless Seaman. Immediately the linesman put his flag up but Rijkaard was clearly onside when the cross came in and the home side were definitely robbed there. He was played on by at least three England defenders.

The first half was goalless and England were still in the hunt with a draw. The Dutch went close early in the second period when Bergkamp’s run and shot was saved by Seaman. Then ten minutes into the half came the one moment everyone remembers.

The Notorious D

Adams intercepts a swift passing move to play the ball up to Shearer who lays it to the right where Sinton hits a first time ball over the defence for Platt to run onto. Ronald Koeman is the last Dutch defender and as Platt gets to the ball first he runs across Koeman and the Dutchman cynically pulls him back. The linesman, who ruled out Rijkaard’s goal in the first half, flagged for a penalty but the referee pointed to the ‘D’. Koeman unashamedly also pointed to the ‘D’ as if to justify why he committed the foul in the first place. No one will ever know why the German referee didn’t send Koeman off for his misdemeanour but he just gave him a yellow. Koeman was the last defender, Platt was through on goal, it was clearly a goalscoring opportunity.  Today the rule is clear and Koeman would’ve gone, but refs could use their discretion back then, so the Dutchman remained.

On the touchline Taylor is now apoplectic with rage, not only at the offence but with the judgement of the referee;

“Is he gonna send him off?  He’s got to send him off, eh? Eh?”

When the yellow card is produced Taylor then begins to berate the FIFA official on the touchline.

“What have they been instructed? Eh? Eh?  You know the rulings…”

He then seeks out the linesman, who soon moves into the Rob Shepherd school of notoriety. (see Part Six)

“Linesman!  Linesman!  What sort of thing is happening here?”

Taylor proceeds to prowl up and down the touchline as the increasingly ineffective FIFA official attempts to calm him down.

“Eh? You know it, don’t you?”, Taylor says to the official. We’re never sure whether he speaks English or chooses not to understand but he certainly doesn’t want to get into a debate over a refereeing decision which he appears not to want to defend either.

“Absolutely, disgraceful”, is Taylor’s conclusion as McMenemy finally realises we didn’t get a penalty.

The free-kick is placed barely inches from the line in a central position. Merson runs over it but as he does Wouters bursts from the wall so when Dorigo hits his shot, the Dutchman is about five yards away and easily blocks the shot. It wasn’t an indirect free-kick so Wouters should’ve remained ten yards from the ball, but this is also missed by the officials.

The nightmare period for England with the officials is not over as within seconds Erwin Koeman attempts to outdo his brother with an astonishingly reckless and stupid challenge on Paul Parker where his foot is so high is connects with the right-back’s thigh. Think Gascoigne on Gary Charles in the ’91 FA Cup Final or Maradona on Batista in World Cup ’82. Yet incredibly there is no card shown.

All the while you can hear Taylor berating;

“Linesman! Linesman!”

Barely four minutes after the Platt/Koeman incident, the Dutch have a promising opportunity as some quick passing on the edge of the area sees Wouters brought down by a combination of Pallister and Adams. Now the Dutch are claiming this is a penalty but once again the referee prefers the less controversial free-kick.

He’s Gonna Flick One

In these days there were two players in Europe who you feared when presented with a free-kick this close, Germany’s Thomas Hassler and Ronald Koeman. We watched in increasing agony as if spectators at a car crash as Koeman stood back ready to pounce. Brian Moore now says what we’ve all worked out at home. Koeman shouldn’t even be on the pitch yet here he is with a golden opportunity to put the Dutch ahead and put England out.

If you been paying attention you’ll remember what happened to Dorigo’s kick at the other end, concerning Wouters. Well this time Ince storms out from the wall and blocks Koeman’s shot in an identical position yet this time the referee determines this to be an offence and orders the kick to be re-taken, booking Ince in the process.

On the touchline the nerves are jangling and Phil Neal has spotted the hypocrisy.

The wall is lined up but Seaman is standing right on his left-hand post and so Koeman takes the opportunity to curl the ball into the top-right hand corner and Seaman cannot get there.

“He’s gonna flick one, he’s gonna flick one”, says Moore as if hoping Seaman has realised. But the Arsenal keeper was helpless and the crowd erupted as Koeman is now mobbed by his teammates as the villain is soon the hero.

Three minutes after going behind England are presented with another free-kick about thirty yards out. This time Merson takes it and agonisingly they hit the post again. England had every right to consider themselves unlucky.

Then the Dutch had a gilt-edged opportunity to add to their lead as Bergkamp combines well with Ronald de Boer and the neat one-touch passing results in Bergkamp curling a shot round Adams where Seaman is at full stretch to palm away, but in comes Rijkaard and just yards from the England keeper on the ground surely he would just clip the ball over him and into the net?  But inexplicably he fireds it straight at the keeper and England were still in the game.

Whilst you may have sympathy for Rijkaard’s first half goal being chalked off, you couldn’t forgive him for missing such an easy chance.

Dorigo then went close with a long range effort and Taylor saw it was time to make a change. Ian Wright, top marksman for Arsenal in the Premier League, had a record of just one goal in his fourteen caps for his country, and so was considered only good enough for the bench. He was now ordered to get ready to replace his Arsenal colleague, Merson.

England travelled to San Marino for their final match with the Dutch visiting Poland, so goal difference could be the decider in the group. The Dutch couldn’t afford to leave it to having to win in Poznan and they had to go for the win here.

After Dorigo fired wide, the resultant goal-kick was headed on for Bergkamp to run at England again.  He swerved past Pallister onto his right foot and fired a low shot from twenty yards along the ground and past Seaman for the killer blow. If England felt cheated for the first goal they could hardly feel Bergkamp hadn’t justified his goal. The man whose brilliant finish denied England the points at Wembley, had now taken the game beyond them in Rotterdam.

You Know We’ve Been Cheated, Don’t You?

With the game gone and his job on the line, Taylor turned his attention back to the linesman.

“You know we’ve been cheated, doncha?”, he says as the linesman is just in front of him trying to concentrate on a game Taylor knows is over for him and his team.

As he is clearly trying to get a reaction out of the official, the FIFA official suddenly becomes concerned Taylor maybe stepping out of his technical area.

“Even if he doesn’t see it as a penalty, he has to go”, Taylor then says to the FIFA official.  “You know that, I know you know it.  And then the fella scores the free-kick.”

“You can’t say anything, I know you can’t say anything, I know that.”, he says standing shoulder to shoulder with the official”

And then Taylor utters the immortal words as he knows his time is up and the officials have no responsibility for their actions.

“You see at the end of the day I get the sack now”, and as the official is not concentrating on where Taylor is standing, the England manager takes the opportunity to quickly chat with the linesman now standing inches from him on the touchline.

He wanders over, puts a hand on his side and says;

“I was just saying to your colleague, the referee’s got me the sack. Thank him ever so much for that, won’t yer?”

And with that the game was over. England were still technically in with a chance but needed Poland to win in Poznan whilst they overturn a seven goal deficit on goal difference. On the same night Norway beat Poland 3-0 in Poznan which didn’t bode well for England.

Turkey then finished their campaign with home wins over Poland and, rather surprisingly, Norway.  Norway had already won the group and the Turkey defeat was their only one from a group they were expected to finish no better than fourth.

All eyes turned to 17th November. England were in Bologna to meet San Marino, knowing they needed to win by at least a seven goal margin and hope Poland beat the Dutch. The Dutch just needed a point.

As if to illustrate the incident packed era of Taylor’s reign the next eight seconds just fitted perfectly into the story. San Marino kicked off, played a couple of quick short passes and as the ball was played to Gualtieri on the right wing, Stuart Pearce got there first and attempted to pass back to Seaman in goal. But his kick was nowhere near hard enough and the San Marino forward got there first and slipped the ball past Seaman to score the fastest goal in World Cup history, and possibly international football. By now, after so many calamities it just seemed something else for England fans to put up with.

England eventually got into their stride as Paul Ince, Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand put them 3-1 at the break. Over in Poznan, Bergkamp had put the Dutch in front but Lesniak had equalised. Unless the Poles could score again it didn’t matter how many more goals England got, but they would need another five just in case.

In the end Ian Wright scored three more in the second half and Ince also grabbed his second as England ran out 7-1 winners. But with Bergkamp and Ronald de Boer scoring to give the Dutch victory then it was all irrelevant. England were out.

From Semi-Finalists in Italia ’90 to non-qualifiers four years later. It was an ignominious end for all concerned.

Six days after the San Marino game Taylor did the honourable thing and resigned. The FA turned to Terry Venables to revive the national team and within two years they were a penalty kick away from the final of Euro ’96.

Next part – Summary and the fall out from the documentary.

About the Author

Pete Spencer
Just turned 50. Been Supporting Liverpool since 1976 (Paisley's first title). Write a lot about football from days gone by. There's so much available online about football today and over the past twenty years but incidents from the past often get forgotten