My word, it was hard to be an England fan after the heights of Italia 90.
Bobby Robson was gone, Gazza had his knee implanted in Gary Charles, the lack of European football in the late 80s was beginning to show in the style of football and training levels in the Premier League.
When Graham Taylor got the job, you couldn’t beat his record – great work had been done at Watford and Aston Villa and he had to be credited for the rise of John Barnes and David Platt. You could probably knock on his style of football, a date that felt like a step away from the continental approach England (eventually) took in Italy as they qualified for the World Cup semi-finals .
Would Venables, Kendall or Pleat have been a better option? Aesthetically, of course.
Did any of them end up losing 2-0 away to USA in the early 90s? You hope not.
We return to June 9, 1993 – the day before the Sun released the unforgettable title “Yanks 2 Planks 0”.
And, as much as I hate to say it, they were right.
The second US Cup (what do you mean by that you missed the first?!), oh-so-cleverly called US 93, was a dress rehearsal for the World Cup in the summer following, the first to be held in North America in a country that still had no real football league after the demise of the NASL.
Thanks to the United States, they brought in three other big names and tested things for them. England lined up with Brazil and Germany, as well as the hosts.
Big name, yes – good team, not so much. England were in a bit of a bind for World Cup qualification after being beaten 2-0 by Norway a week earlier, a result that most fans felt was impossible to go any lower than in the immediate future.
Regardless, they had a friendly start to this tournament – after all, they could have faced Germany or Brazil first. A nice little confidence-building win against the American mob would be just what Graham Taylor needed to mend a few bridges – no need to put pressure on it, just pick a good team and let nature take its course, n isn’t that Graham?
“Anyway, we would have been looking for a win here, but if we had won last week it wouldn’t have been considered essential. It is now. Whether we like it or not, people expect us to beat America, and there’s definitely more intensity in this game because of our performance in the last one.
Oh, well – a must-win. They are doing well for England.
Well, at least that meant he’d send in his first-choice XI and put the relentless tinkering aside for at least one game. Did you know that Taylor managed to select 59 different players during his three years in the hot seat? He wouldn’t joke now with such an emphasis on winning at all costs.
The back four were Lee Dixon, Gary Pallister, Carlton Palmer and Tony Dorigo. It’s not getting any better, I can assure you. David Batty and Paul Ince were in midfield with Lee Sharpe – Nigel Clough was given a free role behind a strike couple from Les Ferdinand and John Barnes. I know, I can’t determine the shape of the midfield either.
Chris Woods was in goal, hoping his knees weren’t going to collapse under the close shots.
The United States had six players in their starting lineup who were not under contract with a club. It’s true, they didn’t have a team. Nobody wanted it. They also had John Harkes and Roy Wegerle from Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City, as well as European players like Thomas Dooley from German side Kaiserslautern and Eric Wynalda from Saarbrücken. Tab Ramos was on the books for La Liga side Real Betis.
Even this dilapidated, names chosen from a selection of hats by Taylor would suffice, surely?
Yet when you look deeper, you have to remember that Clough didn’t enjoy his first season at Liverpool, having been signed post-relegation from Nottingham Forest. Barnes was barely firing on all cylinders in an England shirt, booed at Wembley a few months before. Pallister had endured a nightmare against Norway and Palmer was quickly becoming the pin-up of the anti-Taylor squad.
It was, however, a momentous occasion for the Guv’nor – Ince was the game’s captain, becoming the first black player to wear the armband for England.
England did not start well – with the ground being blamed for their inability to clear their way with precision. USA sensed weakness and grew in the game, Wegerle, a charming player, ran the show.
Clough had a chance to put England ahead for no reason, but he fired wide.
No one could complain when America took the lead. Ramos picked up an overhand pass, pulled it back and found Dooley who scored with a diving header. The United States scored a good goal at halftime.
England were a bit less of a draw in the second half – goalkeeper Tony Meola had to earn his match bonus by saving Ian Wright and twice Clough.
And then it was two. Substitute and Catweasel-looking Alexis Lalas won a header from a corner and buried it in the net. His maniacal celebration was boring but understandable and the United States had their icon for the next World Cup.
Taylor felt that England hadn’t been that bad and another day would have won the game. Yes, Graham – maybe one day when you weren’t in charge?
The press was unimpressed and prepared to kill. They had decided they wanted Taylor out and pressure was mounting on the FA to change.
Still, England weren’t terrible in the next two games – Platt’s header earned them a draw against Brazil and they played well enough in the loss to Germany. Platt had scored again before Barnes got a rare assist in an England shirt – sadly setting up Jurgen Klinsmann for the German winner.
Could this be the spark to turn England around and take them to the World Cup?
Of course it wasn’t. It all ended with a loss to the Netherlands in Rotterdam and Taylor being replaced by El Tel in hopes that we wouldn’t completely embarrass ourselves at Euro 96 on home soil.
I loved Taylor as a man, really. I even liked him as a club manager. But as England manager? It killed too many of my teenage years. Sorry Graham.