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Before The England Manager

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 13 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss

As pressure builds on Steve McLaren to show that he’s his own man rather than just a continuation of the Eriksson era under a new name it’s easy to assume that the England football manager’s role has always been at the hub of the international team. But that isn’t the case, and in fact the manager’s role is a relatively new development for England.

First International

When football internationals first started, in 1872 with Scotland v England, the team was selected from trials held before the game. The Football Association had formed in London in 1863 to standardise rules and Charles Alcock, one of the leading lights of the game and instigator of the FA Cup competition, arranged the first game and advertised trials for team members. He would also have been the England captain were it not for injury, so he umpired instead.

Selection Committee Instigated

This method of team selection continued until 1887, when Alcock became overwhelmed with the trials process as over ninety people were turning up to each session. Coupled with this, international matches were becoming more frequent, with Ireland and Wales joining in, so Alcock decided to form and lead the FA International Selection Committee. They monitored league games up and down the country and decided amongst themselves who would play in each game and who would captain the side.

England Dominant

This method of team selection carried on until well after the Second World War, as there seemed to be no real need to change it. England, although not invincible, still dominated an international scene which only really existed in the British Isles as there was no appreciable opposition anywhere else in the world, and international travel was still time consuming and expensive. The Home Championship was the only tournament and England would not play a team from outside the British Isles until their first European Tour in 1908, when four friendly matches were comfortably won against Austria (twice), Hungary and Bohemia.

As neither the World Cup nor the European Championships existed, friendlies were properly fought competitive matches. The Olympics featured football, initially as a demonstration sport, then officially from 1908, but they had to be contested by amateur teams so the English had to field one separate from the FA's England team.

The Gap Narrows

After the First World War football began to expand and the matches began to get closer. England’s first loss to a side outside the Home Nations was to Spain, losing 3-2 in Madrid. English coaches such as Jimmy Hogan were having a big impact on Continental teams, and Hogan’s Austrian side held England to a scoreless draw in Vienna in 1930, then nearly beat them at Stamford Bridge, England eventually scraping home with a 4-3 win.

Battle of Highbury

England did not compete in the first few World Cup tournaments because of disagreements with FIFA over amateurism, but in 1934 the FA invited Italy, the newly crowned World Cup winners, to England for a bruising encounter known as the ‘Battle of Highbury’, which England narrowly won. The Italians were already showing the way forward: they were selected, coached and managed by one man, Vittorio Pozzo, a tactical wizard who concentrated on making the defence secure and then launching attacks from that base, a proactive side rather than a reactive one.

Chapman’s Arsenal

This mirrored the work that had been done, albeit at club level, by Herbert Chapman, who, by taking sole charge of team affairs, had turned Arsenal into the dominant force of the Thirties. Chapman was also involved in the England set up and had taken charge of the team on a tour to Hungary and seen at first hand how the game was changing, but the FA would not change their methods easily.

Walter Winterbottom

After the Second World War, the FA were prevailed upon to appoint their first national team manager, Sir Walter Winterbottom, in 1946. But, crucially, he was hamstung by having to work under the jurisdiction of a selection committee, although he could make recommendations to them. Winterbottom was a sound coach and established the national coaching scheme as well as setting up youth and under-23 teams to develop the new talent that England would need.

The Importance of the Captain

One of Winterbottom’s early changes had been to appoint a consistent team captain. The position of captain had previously been a largely ceremonial appointment shared around the players, but Winterbottom appointed Billy Wright, the Wolves right-half and centre-half who would go on to captain England on 90 occasions, a record finally overhauled by his successor, Bobby Moore.

World Cup

The FA had decided to enter the World Cup for 1950, the first one held after the war, but did not appear to put a great deal of importance on the competition and came home after defeats in the group stages by Spain and, inexplicably, the USA, to continue the staple diet of Home Championship matches and friendlies. In 1953 one of those friendlies had a profound effect. The visit of Hungary to Wembley by Ferenc Puskas and his ‘Magnificent Magyars’ was the first home defeat by a team from outside the British Isles and the shock was enormous. However, action took a little longer to take effect.

Serial World Cup Misery

However, nothing could be done in time for the next World Cup, 1954 in Switzerland, although the performance was a little better, with an exit at the quarter-final stage after defeat by Uruguay. Four years later, in Sweden, England failed to get through the group stage, but the team had been decimated by the loss of five regulars in the Munich Air Disaster. In 1962, in Chile, England got through to the quarter-finals where Brazil beat them 3-1, and a year later, Walter Winterbottom stepped down.

The First Full Manager

The new manager had been one of the full backs playing in that 1953 Hungarian humiliation, his name: Alf Ramsey. He drove a hard bargain with the FA, demanding full control over all team matters, finishing the job that Winterbottom had been niggling at all the way through his 16 year tenure.

Ramsey had taken un-fancied Ipswich from the Third Division (South) to the First Division in five years, without spending a great deal on the squad. He had focussed on team spirit, motivation and tactics, and wasn’t very interested in prima donnas, expecting complete commitment from his players in return for his loyalty to them. He brought this to the England set-up and began to build for 1966.

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