Book Review: Can We Not Knock It?: A Celebration of ’90s Football by Chris Lambert and Chris Scull

The ‘90s was a decade that changed the course of football in England for ever, with the most significant change that being the creation of the Premier League in 1992. Suddenly there was wall-to-wall television coverage and for the elite few, a game awash with money. This whole new ball game saw the drinking culture of the English players on the way out as continental diets and fitness regimes came in with the players and coaches from abroad.

On the international scene after the highs of Italia’90 for England and Gazza mania, which saw Sir Booby Robson step down as manager, Graham Taylor was given the task of guiding the Three Lions through qualification to the 1994 World Cup in USA. The campaign was to come to define the late Taylor’s England career, as his side finished third in the group and missed the trip across the Atlantic in the summer of ’94. To add insult to injury Channel 4 commissioned a documentary titled An Impossible Job, which followed the England squad and coaching staff during their 10 group fixtures. The programme aired in January 1994 and showed warts and all, the pressure, intense stress and scrutiny Taylor had to endure. It gave rise to many quotes, including the one used for the title of this book, Can We Not Knock It? as Taylor cut a frustrated figure during the qualifier in Poland as the Three Lions limped to a 1-1 draw.

This book by Chris Lambert and Chris Scull though is not a serious analysis of the seismic changes that the Premier League brought to the English game or indeed the failures of the England squad during the decade, but instead as the book’s sub-title states, is A Celebration of ’90s Football.

It is a book that delivers a nostalgic look at the more quirky and unusual side of the decade, told in a cheeky lads-mag tone that undoubtedly will bring a smile to readers faces. Amongst the more unusual topics are articles dedicated to Andy Cole’s Music Career (who knew?), Alan Cork’s Beard and Wotsits Whooshers. For those that remember the period, there are tales of the most famous faces such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, Jack Charlton, Kevin Keegan, Vinny Jones and the like, whilst there were also stories new to this reader such as The Britpop Footballer (incidentally, Paul McGregor) and Every Loser Wins: Barbados v Grenada (honesty you couldn’t make it up!).

The book though has its serious moments for example, as readers discover the reason behind Dennis Bergkamp’s refusal to fly – a flight in 1989 which killed 15 Dutch players on their way to play a friendly, which Bergkamp would have been on but for his club not allowing him to be released for international duty.

Overall though this is a lighter look at a decade that saw the English game change forever and is indeed a celebration of a time when the game was a little more rough around the edges, but no less fun.

(Publisher: Conker Editions Ltd. October 2021. Paperback: 176 pages)



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