Sport on TV: Nightmare images of the pyjama game

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The Independent Online
IN THE week a new England football manager was finally appointed, the former incumbent appeared on national television in his pyjamas. There were many scenes in 'An Impossible Job' which might have served as chilling premonitions for Terry Venables, but none more so than the one shot early in the morning in Graham Taylor's Dutch hotel room. This, Mr Venables, is the way it goes, for England managers. You start out in your overcoat at a press reception on the Wembley pitch, waving warmly to the cameras of The Nine O'Clock News. But you end up clad in a set of British Home Stores' nylon best, cleaning your teeth in a Channel 4 documentary.

Much has been made of the access to Taylor that Cutting Edge (C 4, Monday) was granted for its film on his final months - the camera on the touchline, the microphone under the shellsuit. Television has never taken us closer to the game - or made us feel we wanted to be further away from it. Sure, things looked all very chummy where the players were concerned - Barnesy, Platty, Wrighty, Incey, Wincey, Spider . . . No friendly diminutives for the manager, though - no 'Gray', no 'Taylo', no 'Big GT'. Just Graham Taylor. Or Taylor. Or worse.

As it's often said, managing the England football side is one of those jobs (like running British Rail and presenting Film '94) which every one of us imagines we could do better. The unique thing about this in relation to Graham Taylor is, all of us were right. Down there in the dug-out, arms folded, lips pursed, huffing behind his glasses, he looked like someone in an amateur production of Toad of Toad Hall. 'Eh?' he kept saying, 'eh?' - always looking to nudge a response, a man out of place, desperately seeking some kind of confirmation.

But where was that ever going to come from? To his left sat Lawrie McMenemy, whose entire tactical contribution to England's World Cup campaign seemed to boil down to one particularly vigorous 'Ha- way the lads' before the game against Norway. And on his right was Phil Neal, playing the nodding dog. 'Now, this is a test,' said Taylor. 'It's a test' said Neal. 'The crossing's been dreadful,' said Taylor. 'Crossing. Dreadful,' said Neal. Meanwhile, in the background lurked the men from the FA - glimpsed in a deeply depressing board meeting - the men who thought Taylor was up to this and dropped him right in it. No wonder he felt cheated. Taylor came over like the Prime Minister - a man promoted beyond his capacity to cope.

Take his convoluted pre- match pep talk to the team in the final 30 seconds before the game against Holland. I may have missed the gist a bit, but roughly, Taylor's point seemed to be this: there were distinct types of people in life; those who saw opportunities and didn't take them; those who saw them and took them; those who took the ones seen by others but always gave them back afterwards; and those who knew someone who claimed to have seen an opportunity once, and taken it, though they couldn't be entirely sure. After that it got complicated. When England blew it against Holland, most of the side were still trying to decode what Taylor had said to them beforehand.

Heaven help the players if they were looking for guidance during the match, where Taylor modulated between the highly aggrieved 'Can we not knock it?' and the absolutely despairing, 'Quality] Quality]' It didn't seem to get much better in the dressing-room after games. 'We are looking for the win, but we are not looking to be beaten.' It's not that one expects high-class oratory here. Indeed, I suspect you could have sent Martin Luther King in, and still not engaged the imagination of David Seaman. But something slightly up-

lifting, or to the point, or even just grammatically complete might have gone down well.

All through 'An Impossible Job', a sub-plot was developing, a sort of film-within-a-film which we had better refer to as Paul Gascoigne - An Impossible Slob. There he was, wriggling about on the team bus - bored, boorish, boring. We sat down to lunch with some of the others. '117 pastas,' moaned the morose Carlton Palmer. 'I've not had lasagne once.' Opposite, Paul Ince, his face tense like a baby's just before the tears come, was mumbling into a piece of white bread. 'It's not fresh. It's stale.' What would it take to handle these players, these spoiled kids?

There were complaints from viewers about the use in this programme of what Simon Bates calls 'sexual swear words', which were at Raging Bull levels. Even the stereo on the team bus was playing a banned Prince single.

Channel 4 prepared a sanitised early evening version for Friday. Now, there was an impossible job. In the end, they rigged up some blanks and bleeps and one imaginative use of an airhorn. The section where Palmer (what a card]) told Gascoigne, 'you've got a fucked up knee, fucked up brain, fucked up belly' was especially baffling under this new arrangement. In fact, it wasn't the same programme at all, really. The swearing was integral to Taylor's story. Words failed him.