To celebrate the life of the late Graham Taylor, TFN editor Hugo Greenhalgh reflects on the documentary that cemented his legacy as a genuine and honest football man…
In the early 1990s, Channel 4 began filming a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary about the England football team’s qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup.
The film was unique, offering unprecedented access inside the England camp that would be almost unimaginable today. Yet it also left a comedy legacy seen in characters like David Brent, Alan Partridge and most potently, Mike Bassett. This is the story of Do I Not Like That and it is one of the most understatedly brilliant in sport.
The tragic protagonist of the film is England manager Graham Taylor. After successful spells at the helm of Watford and Aston Villa, Taylor took the job in 1990, after Sir Bobby Robson had taken the Three Lions to the semi-finals. However, England’s early exit at Euro 1992 saw press criticism mount, particularly from The Sun who gave Taylor the flattering nickname of ‘Turnip’.
Yet Taylor comes across as a likeable man, and the film does much to arouse sympathy for the former incumbent of ‘The Impossible Job’. He confides in us the real stress of his position; “I sweat a lot. I’m waking up with the usual pyjamas wet through”. Not the most attractive image, but we get the true sense of the mantle Taylor held.
We join England in the midst of their campaign for USA 1994. Results began promisingly, with England picking up wins against Turkey (home and away) and San Marino. This success did not last though, as the team threw away a 2-0 lead at home to Holland to draw 2-2. It is interesting to see future Arsenal stars Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars at the centre of England’s problems, a chemistry they had honed together at the Ajax academy.
The England squad was rife with characters too, many of whom are still in the public eye today for both right and wrong reasons. The punditry gang is out in full force; Alan Shearer, Lee Dixon and Paul Merson all feature.
There are the ‘Chuckle Brothers’, Paul Gascoigne and Carlton Palmer, one a highly skilled and integral squad member and the other a hapless midfielder considered one of England’s worst ever players. We also see the pretty boy of the group, David Platt, who at this point was enjoying an adventure abroad himself, first with Bari, then Juventus and Sampdoria.
Of course it is Taylor himself who steals the show. He is the master of the cumbersome catchphrase; he voices his dismay at England’s performances by asking, “What sort of a thing is going on here?”.
Then there is the timeless title quote, ‘Do I not like that’, a beautiful colloquialism that sums up England’s catastrophic failure. It’s practically something out of Steve Coogan’s Alan Patridge series, the likeness to Norfolk’s favourite breakfast DJ is uncanny.
Yet despite the comedic elements to Taylor’s character, he is a figure who commands respect from his dressing room. There is a real human element to his team and a sense of camaraderie that seems unthinkable in the times we live in.
Players from different clubs and backgrounds were united by the Three Lions. One particularly endearing scene shows the whole team huddled together in a post-Soviet Polish football dugout, hanging off Taylor’s every word as he goes through tactics for their upcoming matches.
The documentary is also a reminder of how times have changed in football. This was an age of loveable rogues. The 90s had Gazza, Psycho and Wrighty. Characters are few and far between in the current England dressing room and new manager Gareth Southgate has a straight-laced demeanour too.
The tactics of 20 years ago almost seem neanderthal by today’s emphasis on formation and style. Long ball is still the favoured system and there is a strong emphasis on set pieces.
On face value, ‘Do I Not Like That’ will always have a sad ending for England fans. It brings back memories of more national failure and unfulfilled potential. However, it is important to watch the film in less clear cut terms.
Taylor did fail in his duties but this does not make him a bad or incompetent person. The raised expectations after Italia ’90, injuries to key players and poor refereeing decisions made the ‘impossible job’ even harder.
For all Taylor’s passion, which is evident throughout, there is a sense that as soon as the cameras start rolling, his tale will end badly. And as the documentary fades out to scenes of England conceding to San Marino in less than 10 seconds of play, even the most ardent Three Lions supporter would struggle not to chuckle to himself.