On this day in 1993: Graham Taylor’s England were mugged in Rotterdam

Ollie Irish

13th, October 2020

It’s no disgrace to lose 2-0 away to a Dutch side containing Ronald Koeman, the De Boer brothers, Frank Rijkaard, Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp. But, speaking as an England fan, the manner of this infamous defeat is still rage-inducing, 23 years on.

No matter that the Dutch had better players than us, nor that Rijlkaard had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside when the score was 0-0. It was the gross injustice of Koeman, one of the least likeable players in football history, staying on the pitch after one of the most obvious red cards you could ever see (he should have been booked earlier for a blatant body-check on Paul Ince), and then – of course – scoring the nauseatingly cute free-kick that killed us. To rub salt in, the crucial second Dutch goal should not have stood, as Bergkamp used his arm to bring the ball down.

It’s worth noting that England were without captain Stuart Pearce (injury) and talisman Paul Gascoigne (suspension) that evening. They were key absences, although Pearce’s replacement Tony Dorigo had a good game. Would Pearce and Gazza have changed the course of English football history? We’ll never know. *Sighs*.

“If you say ‘Holland’ to me, to this day I see David Platt running through on goal. I can’t help it. When things don’t go well as an England manager, it sticks with you for the rest of your life.” – the scars from Rotterdam never healed for England manager Graham Taylor

You couldn’t blame the hosts for any of this – they too were desperate to qualify for USA 94. It was all the fault of German referee Karl-Josef Assenmacher, who had the shocker to end all shockers. If it’s any consolation (it’s not), this was the last international he ever took charge of. FIFA ditched him after his abysmal performance.

If you thought things were spicy on the pitch, they were more feverish in the stands, as Justin Walley’s brilliant account of his away trip to Rotterdam recalls. Even watching the highlights on YouTube in dodgy quality, you can feel a certain heaviness in the smoky air.

The only enjoyable part of scratching this scab one more time is listening to the wonderful commentary of Brian Moore (with excellent support from Ron Atkinson). Moore was electric here, calling events before they happened. Was he a mite biased? Absolutely, but not in a way that marred his broadcast. No English commentator since has got near him.