Alf Ramsey

Sir Alf Ramsey will always be deemed an immortal simply because of his outstanding management in 1966 that brought home the Jules Rimet Trophy but he achieved much more than this in his football life.  He had of course, promised that England would win the World Cup and while a few laughed many accepted him as a man of his word who had already proved his worth as a manager by guiding Ipswich Town to the championship of the First Division.  His incredible success at Ipswich Town is still hailed as one of football's greatest success stories, rivalling Leicester City's achievement in winning the Premier League in 2016.  In 1955 he had been appointed manager of Ipswich, an obscure team wallowing in the Third Division South.  By 1957 they had become its champions. In 1961 they won the Second Division title and, emulating Tottenham, captured the First Division championship the following year. Ramsey had taken the club from oblivion to unimagined glory in six years.   Operating on a shoestring budget with largely superannuated players, his success was based on innovative tactics taken from abroad.  He withdrew his wingers into midfield, forming a hard-working defensive screen that prompted the opposing full-backs to push up, leaving space into which Ipswich poured passes.


Ipswich Town, winners of the Second Division (1961) and First Division (1962)
They were only the 4th club to manage this feat after
Liverpool (1905 & 1906), Everton (1931 & 1932) and Tottenham Hotspur (1950 & 1951)

Back Row (L-R): John Compton, Larry Carberry, Billy Baxter, Roy Bailey, John Elsworthy, Andy Nelson

Front Row (L-R): Roy Stephenson, Doug Moran, Ray Crawford, Ted Phillips, Jimmy Leadbetter

Another record was the 203 goals in 320 League games that Ray Crawford scored for the Suffolk club.

Alfred Ernest Ramsey was born in Dagenham, Essex, on January 22nd 1920. His father was a small-holder who dealt in hay and straw.  Young Alf's first experience of soccer was in kickabouts with his three brothers as they walked to school. He came late to professional football, having pursued his ambition to become a grocer on leaving Becontree Heath School.   He signed amateur forms for Portsmouth before joining Southampton after playing against them while stationed there as a sergeant in an anti-aircraft unit in 1943.  He served briefly in the Middle East, captaining the Palestine Services XI, before returning to The Dell and converting from centre-forward to right back.

Ramsey's playing style reflected his character. Lacking natural advantages of pace or height, he became a deliberate, stubborn player of great intelligence and positional judgment. He thrived on pressure, cultivating an aura of calm that made him a natural choice to take important free-kicks and penalties.  Ramsey won his first international cap in 1948 while still in the Second Division, surprising the senior England player, Stanley Matthews, with shouted instructions on when to hold and release the ball.  He lost his place at Southampton after injury but was snapped up by Tottenham.   He became an integral part of the side whose push-and-run tactics brought them the Second and First Division titles in consecutive years between 1949 and 1951. His influence brought him the nickname “The General”, while he learnt much from the Tottenham manager, Arthur Rowe.  Almost ever present from his debut in August 1949 through to March 1955, Ramsey was one of the true stars of the “Push & Run” side that captivated football.  Not for Alf was the hurried clearance of his contemporaries for everything he did was calm and meticulous, his thinking so advanced he knew what he was going to do with the ball not the next time he got it but the time after that.  He commanded Spurs from the back, taking control of situations and dictating the play.  He knew as well as Arthur Rowe that possession was all-important, simple short passing being the way to retain it.  He developed the ploy of moving into space when goalkeeper, Ted Ditchburn, got the ball, making himself available for a throw rather than leaving Ditchburn to launch the ball forward and probably lose possession.  Even before receiving the ball Ramsey had decided what he was going to do with it and would execute his pass to perfection.  Whether over 5 yards or 25 yards his passes were accurate to the inch and played so carefully that his teammate would always have instant control. Ramsey applied the same philosophy to taking penalties.  Instead of blasting the ball he always placed it just out of the goalkeeper’s reach.  It made him one of the most successful penalty takers of all time. Tottenham had paid out £21,000 to Southampton for Alf, a record for a fullback at the time and he repaid that transfer fee many, many times over the years.

13th August 1951: Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, League Champions of 1950-51

Back Row (L-R): Alf Ramsey, Bill Nicholson, H Clarke, Ted Ditchburn, Len Duquemin, A Willis, W Walters

Front Row (L-R): Castle, Leslie Bennet, R Burgess, E Bailey, L Medley


Ramsey was dedicated to self-improvement, as was later evidenced by the elocution lessons that stranded his vowels halfway to Mayfair, and he never forgot a footballing lesson.  He was born in Dagenham as was Jimmy Greaves but to listen to these two men talk you would think they came from different planets.

He won 32 caps as an England player, three of them as captain in the absence of Billy Wright, and scored three penalties.

As England manager Ramsey quickly made his mark after his appointment on October 25th, 1962 although he did not take on the full-time responsibility until his club, Ipswich Town, were safe from relegation.  He arrived at Lancaster Gate on December 31st 1962 and took full charge in May 1963.  Unlike his only predecessor, Walter Winterbottom, Ramsey was able to insist that he, and not a selection committee, should pick the England team.  He also made a rod for his own back by predicting with characteristic certainty that England would win the forthcoming World Cup.  He was not the first choice and was never to enjoy good relations with the Football Association.  He particularly felt the lack of an appropriate financial reward after his World Cup success in 1966.  When one official approached him during a tour, saying brightly, "Aren't we doing well?", Ramsey snapped, "What do you mean we? The players are doing well. You're just here for the cocktails." It was this mutual dislike that ensured his eventual downfall.

He proceeded to build a team of outstanding footballers bonded by an indomitable camaraderie. Unlike Winterbottom, Ramsey was a team man, with utter loyalty to his players. In return he expected discipline and commanded respect.

He had little time for individuals who indulged themselves on or off the pitch, notably recidivist drinkers like Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore. When seven players broke curfew once on tour, they returned to find their passports on their beds. The threat brought them to heel.  Ramsey made England a side built on defence, and one which was hard to beat. He employed the same tactics he had used successfully as manager of Ipswich, eschewing conventional wingers in favour of a midfield packed with energetic, hard-running players. However, with England this was an expediency forced on him relatively close to the World Cup by an absence of gifted wingers, rather than (as many thought) by a suspicion of attacking footballers. Indeed, his winning side was distinguished by the quality and subtlety of its play in the last third of the field.  Crucially, Ramsey also persuaded Bobby Charlton to move in from his favoured position on the left wing to a more central role, dominating midfield.

As the tournament approached, the press doubted the team's chances after a series of ordinary results. Ramsey was deeply sensitive to criticism, perhaps a legacy of childhood taunts that related his strong, dark looks to gypsy stock. He could appear aloof and graceless, and a fear of betraying his lack of formal education made him a linguistic contortionist in the presence of journalists.

Yet he was unbending when it mattered. His judgment was tested on three vital occasions in the competition itself.  First, when pressured by FIFA to drop Nobby Stiles after a dreadful tackle on Simon in the game against France, Ramsey stood by his toothless workhorse, believing him to be hard but fair.  Ramsey's notorious criticism of later opponents Argentina as "animals" was based less on their hard play than on their spitting at England in the tunnel afterwards.  His faith in Stiles was rewarded when he smothered Eusebio out of the game in the semi-final against Portugal.  Ramsey also had to decide whether to recall popular favourite Jimmy Greaves, now recovered from injury, for the final against West Germany.  He persisted instead with the untried Geoff Hurst, a gamble that would pay out three times.  Lastly, he was faced with a team that believed they had surrendered the initiative when Germany equalised just two minutes from the end. With extra time to play, Ramsey pointed across to where the Germans lay exhausted on the pitch.

Drawing as much on the spirit he had forged as on the tireless running of Alan Ball and George Cohen, he said  "You've won it once - now go and do it again. Look at them. They're finished!" It was a masterpiece of motivation.  As Hurst cantered on to Moore's long pass some spectators ran on to the pitch. As his shot flew up into the net and the final whistle blew, the England bench and the entire nation erupted in joy - except for Ramsey, who remained seated, impassive, feelings in check, his promise kept.

World Cup Final, 1966, Wembley, England, 30th July, 1966
England 4 v West Germany 2, World Champions, England, with the World Cup trophy

Back row (L-R)
Harold Shepherdson (trainer), Nobby Stiles, Roger Hunt, Gordon Banks
Jack Charlton, George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Manager Alf Ramsey

Front row (L-R)
Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore (captain), Alan Ball and Bobby Charlton

After 1966 Ramsey began to lose his touch. As ever, the team found it harder to win abroad than at Wembley, losing a bad-tempered semi-final of the European Nations Cup to Yugoslavia in 1968.  In 1970 the side lost 3-2 to West Germany in the quarter-final of the Mexico World Cup, having been 2-0 up.  Many observers felt the match turned on Ramsey's substitution of the ageing Bobby Charlton, although goalkeeper Bonetti was responsible for two of the goals conceded.  After England lost again to the Germans in the 1972 quarter-final of the European championship, critics began to question Ramsey's tactical acumen and his sentimental loyalty to players.

When England failed to qualify for the World Cup after a match against Poland in which they contrived to miss several dozen chances, Ramsey was summarily sacked by the FA in May 1974.  Despite a superlative record in which he had won 69 of his 113 games in charge, and lost only 17, he was not consulted again in any capacity by the FA. He never fully recovered from this shabby treatment.

Ramsey retired from football to Ipswich, where he concentrated on his golf game and watching his favourite Westerns. He emerged briefly to manage Birmingham City for six months in 1977 before resigning because of ill-health.

Alf Ramsey was knighted for his services to football in 1967.

The modest gravestone of one of Britain's greatest sporting heroes has been revealed.  The tiny memorial marks the last resting place of Sir Alf Ramsey who managed England's World Cup winning side in 1966.  It stands in a quiet corner of the Old Cemetery in Ipswich, Suffolk, surrounded by many other much grander gravestones.  Sir Alf, died aged 79 in 1999 after battling Alzheimer's disease.

But there is no mention of his sporting achievement on the grey gravestone.  Instead there is only a personal tribute from his widow Lady Victoria.

Engraved in gold lettering, it says: 'My dearly loved husband Sir Alfred Ramsey 1920-1999. Although you have gone before me the memories and love we shared will always be with me until we are together again where parting is no more.'

Some quotes from the film about the 1966 success called “Alfie’s Boys” make interesting reading:

Bobby Charlton

You were frightened to death of Alf”.

George Cohen

I was born in 1939 and never saw a chicken until 1955”.  “Alf went to bed wrapped in a Union Jack and wouldn’t find it easy to apologise to any foreigner”.  “Bobby Moore came into the dressing room and said the FA are going to give us £22,000, there was a big intake of breath, and then Bob said, between us”.

Geoff Hurst

The money was going to be split pro rota so Bobby Moore who had played every game would get the most and Norman Hunter who didn’t kick a ball would get nothing”.

Ian Callaghan

Bobby Moore stepped in and said it will be shared equally between the 22 players (£1,000 each)".

Norman Hunter

It was Alf that deserves all the credit, he got us all together”.

Jimmy Greaves

Alf played for Spurs, a very good player.  I used to go to White Hart Lane and watch Alf playing alongside Bill Nicholson”.

Alan Ball’s son Jimmy

My father thought England had 5 world class players.  Gordon Banks, Ray Wilson, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves”.

Franz Beckenbauer

In the 1966 World Cup Bobby Charlton was the best player in the world.  It was very, very difficult to stop him”.

© Soccer Nostalgia

Design: David Ainsworth