Do I Not Like That (1994) & Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001) – The Impossible Job…

Football caught me at an impressionable age – I was twelve when England lost on penalties to Germany at Italia ’90.  Before the tournament, I’d never kicked a ball or even thought about football.  I was into Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and writing – football existed on a different wavelength to me.

The moment that caught me forever was not the shootout defeat, or Paul Gascoigne’s famous tears, or arch-goalhanger Gary Lineker’s two nerveless penalties against Cameroon in the quarters.  It was David Platt’s late, late hooked volley in the last-minute against mighty Belgium that sold me on the nerve-shredding wonders of football.

I’d never watched football, I’d never been abroad before, and those glowing images coming out of Turin on that fateful night against Germany looked so romantic, with a soundtrack of Pavarotti, that they looked like signals from a distant planet.

What followed was twenty-two years of failure, and now as England fans steel themselves for their two-yearly dose of humiliation and heartache, it’s easy to think back to another penalty shootout defeat to Germany at Euro ’96.

The country was bouncing throughout the first tournament on home turf since England’s only major competition win in 1966.  The official anthem was Three Lions, a song that tapped into the average England fan’s combination of longing and disenchantment.

“Football’s coming home.” we all chanted, while the lyrics swung between cynicism and optimism – “Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before” to “Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming.”

Another sixteen years of hurt has stopped all but the most blue-sky England fan dreaming of glory.  Euro 2012 is upon us, new manager Roy Hodgson has picked his 23 man squad, and the nation braces itself.

My twenty two years of hurt has witnessed a tragi-comic litany of penalty shootout heartbreak, dubious disallowed goals, red-carded star players, unfortunate injuries and the tabloid pillorying of every manager brave/stupid enough to take on what has become “The Impossible Job”.

Off the field, England’s failure can be attributed to many things, including – an imperialistic arrogance – “We gave football to the world…”; an unfounded sense of entitlement fluffed up by heroic defeats in ’90 & ’96: a deep-seated conservatism in tactics; a Lilliputan governing body out of touch with the modern game; an antiquated coaching system; and millionaire footballers psyched out by the pressure of pulling on an England shirt.

That’s before you even start talking about the media, which Do I Not Like That & Mike Bassett: England Manager investigate in intimate detail.

Do I Not Like That is a very good fly-on-the-wall documentary following the final months of Graham Taylor’s doomed USA ’94 qualification campaign.  Subsequent managerial appointments have in many ways been more disastrous, but no era pricks the England fan’s sense of gallows humour more than Taylor’s ill-fated era.

The punchline came in the match against  San Marino.  England needed a favour elsewhere to qualify after a disastrous set of results; to stand a chance anyway, they needed to run up a cricket score against the part timers.  And so proceeded to concede the fastest goal in World Cup history, 8.3 seconds.

Taylor was ruthlessly hounded by the press, and it is easy to dismiss him as a combination of Alan Partridge and Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army.  His unusual grammatical choices made him an easy target – “Do I Not Like That” and the lesser used “Can We Not Knock It?” gives him more catchphrases than the average gameshow host.

After an undistinguished playing career, Taylor earned astonishing success at unfashionable Watford.  For several years, the club punched way above their weight, achieving some remarkably goal-heavy results against more affluent sides.

Watford also reached the FA Cup Final in 1984, a 2-0 defeat against Everton, which featured chairman Elton John weeping in a cowboy hat.  If he’d chosen to write a gushy lament about his football club before he turned his attention to Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, he could have called it Pissing in the Wind.

Taylor was aided by two useless assistant managers, loveable makeweight Lawrie McMenemy, last seen doing anything worthwhile in football during the Eighties, and brainless yes man Phil Neal.

At the time, I was stung to tears by England’s failure to qualify that I lapped up the tabloid’s cruel lampooning of Taylor.  The Sun‘s long running hate campaign began with Taylor’s face super imposed onto a picture of a turnip – the headline after England’s defeat to Sweden in Euro ’92 ran – “Swedes 2 Turnips 1”.

Nowadays, I love hearing Graham Taylor commentating on football.  Deeply unfashionable, but Taylor is an honest, fair, knowledgeable football man, still in love with the game despite the misery heaped upon him during his time as England manager.  Every now and then, a story crops up of how Taylor will delay an interview to finish his conversation with a young footie fan – a gentleman.

It’s easy to laugh at Taylor in full body language sync with Phil Neal in Do I Not Like That, but there’s less obvious highlights.  Taylor’s firm but dignified handling of the media during press conferences; Taylor politely telling a fourth official that their “boss” just lost him his job; and a truly touching, fatherly motivational speech to his players in the dugout which comes to nothing.

Mike Bassett: England Manager is an averagely amusing comedy that casts it’s net far too far and wide in an attempt to draw some laughs.  It covers the rise to prominence of an old school football manager thrust into the England job, his incompetent qualifying campaign for a World Cup in Brazil, and their improbable journey to a semi final defeat against the hosts.

In the process, there are some jokes so obvious a twelve-year-old football fan might have scripted; on the subject of Bassett’s father, Bassett’s response is: “He was like a father figure to me.”  and some clubfooted satire that mostly blazes over the bar.

In a messy, disorganized script, everything is a target.  An opening news bulletin trumpets “If you didn’t know Mike Bassett won the Mr Clutch Trophy for Norwich at Wembley on Saturday, then you just couldn’t have been in East Anglia.”

Other jokes include a disinterested FA – Bassett’s boss repeatedly suggests sliding any suggestions under the door – “Here’s one from Ron Greenwood…” [England Manager 1977-1982], to the burgeoning Sky Sports box of tricks – an elaborate computer graphic measures how far a missed penalty kick travels beyond the goal.

Despite the film’s scattergun approach, Taylor’s regime is the most obvious point of reference – Bassett and Taylor were both journeymen players who made their name managing unfashionable, provincial teams.  Bassett is more old fashioned than Taylor – his habit of jotting his team selection on the back of a cigarette packet leads to the inadvertent international call ups for two lower division players, Benson & Hedges.

Bassett has a simple-minded, sycophantic yes-man assistant, David Dodds (Bradley Allen), a direct nod to Taylor’s sidekick Phil Neal.  He is constantly attacked by the press and knowledgeable fans for trying to shoehorn his motley crew of players into the prosaic 4-4-2 formation, and some of the headlines echo the tabloid’s punishment of Taylor – “Brussels 2 Sprouts 1”

Bassett also has an inspirational speech in him – after a boozy bartop dance ends in disaster, the embattled Manager faces a furious press gang, sharpening their knives, and launches into a moving recital of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”.

In the lead role, Ricky Tomlinson puts in an earnest, heartfelt performance – it’s a shame that he wasn’t given a less flippant screenplay to work with.

Released in 2001, some scenes ricochet nicely off our view of the modern game.  A repeated criticism of the inflexible 4-4-2 is even more pertinent now than it was then. The stereotyped England Captain Gary Wackett, probably based on hard-tackling Stuart “Psycho” Pearce at the time, brings to mind current shameless thug John Terry.

Others are more nostalgic – Bassett’s idiot savant is Kevin Tonkinson, aka “Tonka”, clearly based on Gazza, England’s most gifted player for a couple of generations – mesmerizing on the pitch, but with an unfortunate penchant for tears, booze, fake boobs and silly jokes.

A wobbly satellite link between the studio in England and Bassett incongruously sipping a pina colada on Copacabana beach simply wouldn’t happen these days, but entertainingly recalls the day when a picture beamed from the other side of the world was unpredictable and exotic.

Neither film is the best ever made about football – that accolade must surely go to the Zimbalist’s electrifying The Two Escobars – but will make a perfect double bill for an England fan working themselves up for the opening game of Euro 2012.  Or for any philanthropists with an interest in bumbling, institutionalized failure.

Or you could make it a hat-trick and lighten the mood afterwards with 2010’s more straightforward doc covering England’s glorious defeat in Italy – One Night in Turin.  Come on, England!

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 22/05/2012, in D, Documentary, Film, M, Movies, Sport, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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