Can We Not Knock Him? Part Six: Poles and Rob Shepherd Taken Apart

The documentary, “An Impossible Job” or “Do I Not Like That”, as it has become known as, missed out the US Cup, which was probably for the best, and so we watch as Graham Taylor drives over to Spain to tell David Platt he’s being relieved of his captaincy of the team as Taylor decided to bring back Stuart Pearce and make him captain.

Before the next crucial game against Poland, Taylor is seen in one or two assignments which make up his overall role as England manager.  This includes a visit to a prison to talk to the inmates.  During this period Taylor is now extremely defensive, suggesting people expect England to win every game and this is unrealistic. But of course this misses the point of the expectations of England fans who naturally want their team to do well, but more importantly they want them to compete and losing against sides such as Norway or US was seen as a failure and Taylor should not expect the fans to accept it. We want to compete with Germany, Netherlands, Brazil etc and fully expect they wouldn’t accept losing to countries considered minnows. Once you accept it, it is almost resigning yourself to sitting in the pack of international sides rather than up with the leaders. Taylor always seemed to concentrate on trying to get people to accept the reality rather than get them to believe in what they might be capable of. This was never more evident than when his successor took over and suddenly we had someone we could believe in.

England were now six games without a win when Poland arrived at Wembley in September. Taylor mixed things up again by selecting David Seaman and Rob Jones for their first World Cup matches and recalling Stuart Pearce as captain. Gascoigne was also back in midfield.

Ferdinand put the home side in front after just five minutes. Ferdinand was involved in England’s second too. He leapt above the defence to flick on a free-kick and Gascoigne fired the ball home, four minutes into the second half. Then four minutes later Stuart Pearce rolled back the years with a trademark free-kick fired in from thirty yards out. A 3-0 win was exactly what was needed with the only downside being another yellow card for Gascoigne which ruled him out of the critical Dutch match a month later.

This is where the documentary becomes sympathetic to the England manager. Footage of the goals is interspersed with clips of Taylor on the training ground with the players seemingly plan each goal in advance, including the free-kick routine where Ince passes the ball to Gascoigne who puts his foot on it, allowing Pearce to fire it over the wall. Perhaps a more revered manager would be lauded for his foresight and tactical nous? The camera focuses on the new England captain saluting his manager in the crowd for a rehearsal routine which came off on the night.

As the players come off the pitch Taylor is there at the dressing room door to welcome each one and the viewer is allowed to believe maybe the squad and the manager are as one?

At the end of the month Norway also beat Poland with the Dutch putting seven past San Marino.  Norway were three points clear at the top with Netherlands and England level on points. The Norweigans had all but qualified as the English and Dutch couldn’t both overhaul them given they still had to play each other. England now had a goal difference three goals poorer than the Dutch although they still had to take on San Marino.  All roads lead to Rotterdam in October to decide the second team to go to the Finals.

During the build up to the game in Rotterdam we are then treated to another iconic moment in the documentary. This is a particularly spiky press conference where some journalists accuse Taylor of sucking the good mood out of the public with his selections. Taylor was still adamant England could qualify but others were less certain. Rob Shepherd almost became as famous through this part of the documentary as he ever did with his articles. Joe Lovejoy is also highlighted as Taylor singles him out as being too down about the prospects for the team.

This is where Taylor is now finding his generally negative and defensive undertones are coming back to bite him at a time when he needs people onside. Taylor is desperately trying to rally the press to get them to cheerlead for the team, but as I mentioned after the US game, they’d long since tired of him.

He then returns to Shepherd with the memorable line;

“Oh Rob, Rob. I can’t continue giving a……..Rob, Rob, I can’t have……Listen Rob.  I cannot have faces like yours around about me. Now I’ll continue…….. I can’t, I can’t….No I can’t Rob.  Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob. I’ll tell you this now. If you was(sic) one of my players with a face like that, I’d f*****g kick you out. You’d never had a chance, son. Get yourself up, man. Put a smile on your face. We’re here for business, come on Rob.”

The room now fills with laughter at the exchange and the idea Taylor doesn’t like Shepherd’s face.  Taylor continues to try and get Shepherd to smile and reluctantly the journalist utters;

“I hope I’m smiling tomorrow, I really do. But I just worry”

To which Taylor responds;

“You worry, Rob. You go and worry. But don’t make the rest of us worry, you go and worry on your own.”

Taylor looked like he was enjoying the ridicule and perhaps a chance to get his own back, but it was noticeable he picked on Shepherd rather than one of the more erudite wordsmiths in the room who were likely to take the manager to task on the page the next day.

What couldn’t be masked what this game coming up would undoubtedly decide Taylor’s future in charge. Win it and England would be virtually on the plane to America. Lose it and he would have to start reading the situations vacant pages. By now, though, he was in such a corner even a win might not convince everyone as any profit he might hold in the bank had long since gone.

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