Right through the F.A. books and courses taught this method of coaching and believe me it was really based on statistics studied of many years and hundreds of games. Words like POMO (position-of-maximum-opportunity) were spoke about and many managers, coaches and players got swept along on this carpet ride of eighties neck aching style. Maybe they thought it was a short cut to success by minimising mistakes, but they really lost the plot as to what the beautiful game is all about. I saw managers and coaches who either played in footballing teams or were quality footballers themselves change overnight. I saw players who could pass and think, change into micro-chip ‘androids’ and I saw youngsters trying their best to play an alien form so they wouldn’t fall from favour.
I was once told by Phil Holder that although I was against this style I played long balls more than anyone else and my reply was simple. I said that mine was a long pass not a long ball and there is the difference. Answering him back infront of a changing room full of players and embarrassing him certainly wont pencil you in for the next game but I was now on a bigger mission and couldn’t care less.
Matches you played in were becoming increasingly boring with the match ball taking 2 ‘aspirin’ before kick-off. The worst was at Abbey Stadium one evening against Cambridge. John Beck was there manager and renowned for his uncompromising ‘Larry Lumpit’ style. Even before the game he had his forwards warming up in our half receiving long balls from defenders. Also there were signs strategically placed around the touch line that you had to aim for in given situations. I was in centre-midfield with Keith Jones, not the biggest of midfields, and they had two six-footers marking us. This definitely wasn’t football as I knew it and I touched the ball six or seven times the whole game and half of those were set pieces. The two ‘nuggets’ in midfield were just there as ‘stoppers’ and the number 8 would take every throw-in over the half-way line and launch it as far as he could. With about ten minutes to go he went to take one and pulled a muscle in his shoulder which just about summed it all up for me. It is so easy to destroy anything creative and their creation was based on destroying. I just wasn’t enjoying it and I couldn’t understand players resorting to these tactics. As far as managers were concerned I do not know how they put together and watched their team week in and week out play this ‘Mogadon’ style. Didn’t they want to be entertained? After games was a bigger joke when players were being told how well they had played for kicking balls out of play near the corner-flags because that area is the hardest position to escape from. Lads thought they had a good game for actually lumping the ball into row Z. Keepers weren’t allowed to throw the ball out to full-backs and defenders couldn’t lay short balls into midfield, even if you were in acres of space and screaming for possession.
Meanwhile back at HQ where Charles “never heard of him” Hughes and Graham “do I not like that” Taylor were drafting new chapters in British football, people were returning from Bisham Abbey or Lilleshall having gone for their full coaching badge with horror stories of how coaching methods were based around the sad ‘computerised’ thinking of these ‘statistical sticklers’. Right throughout the game at all levels everyone was starting to preach ‘THE METHOD’ as if they had been indoctrinated into a ‘CULT’ with guru’s Hughes and Taylor conducting the brainwashing. But, just around the corner English football was just about to reap its rewards.
For whatever reason Graham Taylor was manufactured into the position of England manager and now the game had to change. We watched England fail for World Cup Qualification and have a very poor European Championship. I saw him in one interview when Paul Gascoigne was struggling to get over an injury, have the cheek to say that he was short of quality midfield players. He obviously couldn’t see the connection between his coaching methods and the production and cultivating of quality midfielders over the past 6 or 7 years. A whole generation had been bred out of football and Mr Taylor has to take his fair share of responsibility. He was now at the top level and the one position you need desperately is midfield thinkers. When you are playing in World Cups or European Championships it’s always in the summer in hot climates and possession needs to be retained and the pace of the game controlled. It might take one great through-ball to unlock the tightest of defences and win you the game at the top-level so all the best countries had great midfielders. Can you imagine England playing his Watford style on the World stage (although I would have had more respect if he had stuck to his principles)?
So when he needed the real class it wasn’t there and in the long run it cost him his job. A classic case of reaping what you had sewn, but what a price so many paid. Failure in both competitions was the best thing that happened to English football for years because Mr Taylor resigned and now we could concentrate finding and rebuilding the ‘LOST BOYS’. Fortunately we have better and more midfielders to choose from now and the future looks healthy with youngsters coming through with real quality to learn from. Kids with ability are flourishing again and football is a pleasure to watch. I dedicate this chapter to the ‘LOST BOYS’ of a generation who are out there and will never be forgotten.