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Walter Winterbotton

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 23 Mar 2013 | comments*Discuss

Manager : 1946-1962

In the days of an England manager’s reign apparently lasting four years at the most, the idea of not having a manager at all seems odd, to say the least. But the appointment of the first manager was one of the biggest changes made to the England international setup for over seventy years, breaking with the tradition of selecting the team and captains by committee.

The Selection Committee

While this approach had worked in the limited world of the Home Championship, England were beginning to experience problems playing teams from abroad, and it had not escaped attention that the teams causing difficulty were often managed and coached by one person, and treating the national side in the same way as a club side.

Sir Walter Winterbottom was the first person employed by the FA to control the affairs of the England team. His promising career in Manchester United’s midfield had been brought to an early end by spinal problems in 1938. After a stint in the RAF during the war, the FA appointed him, initially as Director of Coaching, then as manager of the national amateur and professional teams a year later. However, crucially, he was not given sole control over the selection process. The committee still selected the squad and the team, although he could influence the process, more so toward the end of his tenure.

Stiff Upper Lip

Winterbottom attracted criticism as he hadn’t previously been a manager, and some weren’t even aware of his Manchester United career, but it is true to say that his selection was more political than sporting, in that he was very much a ‘stiff upper lip’ type of chap, who would fit in well with the old boy’s club that was the FA of the time. He was a very good coach and enhanced coaching for England players of the future by establishing the FA’s youth and under-23 setups.

Winterbottom took a talented group of individuals to England’s first World Cup in 1950, but the World Cup wasn’t really taken seriously until 1966. This was indicated by all the jobs on Winterbottom’s plate along with the managing and coaching, such as arrangements for accommodation, meals and travel! However, a look at the team sheets for the matches in between Winterbottom’s arrival and the world Cup at least shows a consistent team arising. Prior to that, players would suddenly become unavailable and last minute substitutes employed, sometimes of dubious quality, and occasionally, in real emergencies, even from the wrong country. Under Winterbottom the idea of a squad and a first team emerged.

1950 World Cup

Some excellent results preceded the 1950 World Cup, such as a 10-0 victory over Portugal (admittedly small-fry at the time), and a 4-0 defeat of Italy in Turin in 1948, then World Cup holders. But it all fell apart at the World Cup itself, with a 2-0 win against Chile being followed by an utterly bizarre 1-0 defeat by the USA and another 1-0 defeat by Spain. The selection committee had decided against playing Stanley Matthews, but even so, with such greats as Stan Mortensen, Tom Finney and Billy Wright available, it was clear that England were no longer making the running in world football.

The Mighty Magyars

And as if that wasn’t disappointing enough, it was hammered home three years later when the Hungarian team led by Ferenc Puskas became the first team from outside the British Isles to defeat England at home. The scoreline, 6-3, only told part of the story; the style, skill and tactics employed simply put England to shame. "I came away wondering to myself what we had been doing all these years," said Tom Finney, unfortunately a spectator on the day.

The lessons from that day were not learned quickly; England went to the World Cup again a year later and went out at the quarter-final stage against Uruguay.

Munich Air Disaster

Four years later in Sweden, the team had been decimated by the crash of the aircraft carrying the Manchester United team back from a European Cup match against Red star Belgrade, which claimed the lives of many England players including Duncan Edwards, who many people believe would have been one of the finest ever England players. As a result, they couldn’t get past the group stage, although there was a creditable 0-0 draw with eventual winners Brazil. The other matches, draws against the USSR and Austria, weren’t enough to take England straight through and they lost a play-off with the USSR 1-0.

Winterbottom’s last chance for glory was at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, but after a good start with a 3-1 defeat against Argentina, they lost to Hungary (2-1) and then Brazil (3-1) who went on to win the tournament. By this time Winterbottom’s influence over team selection was at its highest, but it would be his successor who would sweep the committee away for good.

End of an Era

Winterbottom retired in 1962 to be succeeded by Alf Ramsey and died in 2002, and is remembered as a better coach than a tactician. He was the youngest England manager, at 33, and the longest serving, at 16 years. He only lost 28 of the 139 matches under his charge, but three of them, the USA match, the Hungarian defeat, and the return match the following year in Hungary, where the 7-1 defeat is still the worst ever suffered by an England team, shows that lessons on the field had not been learnt.

Indeed, he often said to others that he considered his coaching role the more important than the managerial post, and that probably led to his more enduring legacy, the setup and promotion of the FA’s coaching initiatives that led to the development of the 1966 side.

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