Can We Not Knock Him? Part Two

Part Two of Ten – Qualifying for Euro ’92

Graham Taylor had just one friendly, a 1-0 win at home to Hungary, before it was into the meaningful action of qualifying for the European Championships to be held in Sweden in 1992. England had been drawn against Poland, yet again as well as Republic of Ireland and Turkey. The Poles were visitors to Wembley in October 1990 and it was their nemesis from Mexico ’86 which did for them. Lineker and Beardsley, coming off the bench for Steve Bull, scored the goals to get Taylor’s side off and running. A month later they drew in Dublin when the first sign of what might follow was in evidence as he left Gascoigne on the bench in the belief he may not be suited to the physicality of the Irish. He brought in Gordon Cowans, a player he was familiar with at Aston Villa, for his first cap for four years. Missing from the line-up was Chris Waddle who was earning plaudits in France with Marseille. Another Villa player, Tony Daley, was preferred.

After a Lineker brace beat Cameroon at Wembley in February, the Irish were the visitors. Another draw after England scored first as Bryan Robson played one of just three games under Taylor. Lee Sharpe made his debut and Ian Wright replaced Lineker for his second cap. The trip to Turkey in May saw Dennis Wise score the only goal of the game on his debut. Geoff Thomas of Crystal Palace made his debut and Lineker was partnered up front by his former Leicester City team mate, Alan Smith. By now David Seaman was getting a regular place in goal ahead of Chris Woods, which again seemed premature. A year earlier the midfield was Platt, Gascoigne and Waddle and now it was Platt, Wise and Thomas.

The summer saw The FA organise a one-off competition known as The Challenge Cup, with Argentina and USSR invited to take part. Two goals from David Platt helped them beat the Soviets. Four days later they drew with Argentina giving them the trophy.

The season ended with a trip down under to play Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. They were largely disappointing performances as they needed an own goal to see them beat Australia and then two matches against New Zealand saw them win both without impressing. Sheffield Wednesday’s David Hirst scored in only his second appearance. Lineker then scored all four goals when they won in Malaysia. Chris Woods was back in goal and from there on in he became a regular.

By then we had the news Paul Gascoigne would be out for a long while after his injury in the FA Cup Final.

The new season saw Germany as the visitors to Wembley and a Karl-Heinz Riedle goal just before half-time gave Taylor his first taste of defeat. New caps were given to Tony Dorigo, Paul Merson and Paul Stewart with Paul Parker continuing to play as a centre-back. Bryan Robson and Chris Waddle returned for the home game against Turkey where Alan Smith gave them a win. This was the only time Taylor selected Waddle for a starting place and it was the last of his sixty-two caps. In November they travelled to Poland, and although unbeaten in the group, two draws had meant they were still not certain of qualifying. They only needed a draw but went behind in the first half. For such a crucial qualifier it was strange Taylor chose to give three new caps, to Andy Sinton (QPR), Andy Gray (Crystal Palace) and David Rocastle (Arsenal) with Tony Daley finally getting on in the second half. The team had the feeling of being weak but with thirteen minutes to go Gary Lineker scored his forty sixth goal of his international career and England had earned the point they needed to make it to Sweden.

England had been drawn against the hosts, Denmark and France for the European Finals and they met the French in a friendly in February. Twenty-one year old Alan Shearer made his debut and scored, on the only occasion two of England’s finest goalscorers since the War, Shearer and Lineker, appeared on the same scoresheet.

Three away trips saw them draw in Czechoslovakia and Moscow, when up against the Combined Independent States (or what was left of the Soviet Union), and then win in Budapest. Taylor had now introduced Carlton Palmer to his line-up, who was a player who certainly divided opinion. He was a languid, lanky midfield player for Sheffield Wednesday yet many considered him nowhere near good enough for international football.

Footage from Football Focus in 1990 shows cameras following Taylor as he visits players during a break in internationals. We see him chatting to Paul Gascoigne and Taylor asks him about how he likes playing alongside David Platt. Gazza says he’s happy with it, as both players like to go forward. Taylor adds the two of them just need to work out when one o them goes forward, the other needs to stay back. You can tell Gazza isn’t really listening to this advice, and I would imagine Taylor realised he’d need a holding player in midfield to protect the defence. Of course years later a succession of managers had the same dilemma with Gerrard and Scholes, and so Taylor had clearly identified Carlton Palmer as ideal for that role.

May saw the Brazilians arrive at Wembley when David Platt equalised Bebeto’s opener. But the game will be remembered for Gary Lineker missing a penalty which would’ve seen him match Bobby Charlton’s record as England top scorer. Lineker chose to attempt to replicate Antonin Panenka’s famous chip from the spot but failed miserably only for the ball to trickle into Carlos’ hands.

England’s final build up friendly before the Euros was a nightmare. After barely a quarter of an hour John Barnes picked up an injury which would see him miss the tournament. Just after half-time Everton’s Gary Stevens was also injured and suffered the same fate. Taylor now found himself heading for a major tournament without two of the most talented players of the past decade, Paul Gascoigne and John Barnes. It was particularly tough on Barnes who missed most of Liverpool’s season and had only just returned to fitness. The game, against Finland, ended in another draw as again England had to come from behind. By now the clouds were darkening around the manager’s preparation for a major tournament.

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