World Cup Triumph 1966
Manager : 1963-1974
Sir Alf Ramsey will forever be remembered for leading England to their first and so far only World Cup triumph in 1966, and perhaps less so, third place at the 1968 European Championships. Yet after that England began to achieve less, culminating in the failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, the first time England missed out since they first entered in 1950. So hero or villain?
Hungarian LessonRamsey had been an accomplished player at right back for Portsmouth, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, and achieved 32 England caps, three as captain. He was renowned as a skilful reader of the game, with excellent positional awareness that compensated for his lack of speed. His last cap, when he scored a penalty, was the embarrassing 3-6 defeat at Wembley by the Hungarian team led by Ferenc Puskas, and the tactics and skills displayed on that day must have affected him greatly.
Driving a Hard BargainHe moved to management with Ipswich Town after hanging his boots up, taking them from the bottom league to Division One champions in seven years. He was then offered the England manager’s position after Walter Winterbottom retired. But Ramsey didn’t just step into the role, he knew what he needed, which was total control over team matters, particularly selection, just as it had been for decades for many of England’s international rivals. He would not accept the interference of the committee’s that Winterbottom had endured.
Wingless WondersAt Ipswich Ramsey had had great success employing midfielders who could both attack and defend rather than out-and-out wingers. This would lead to the ‘Wingless Wonders’ who would eventually take the World Cup. The first major outing for the national side in this formation was in Spain where the full-backs simply did not know how to handle Ramsey’s system, standing in confusion as the midfielders raced through the middle.
A 2-0 win demonstrated the effectiveness of the system and although Ramsey kept at least one winger in the side in a 4-3-3 formation, at the World Cup itself he finally abandoned wingers completely, going into the quarter-final, and played the rest of the tournament with Alan Ball and Martin Peters in a 4-4-2.
Force of WillRamsey showed his strength throughout that triumph, refusing to allow the FA to make him drop Nobby Stiles after a bad tackle in the last group game against France, and, most famously, sticking with Geoff Hurst rather than reinstating the recovered Jimmy Greaves for the final. Greaves was spectacular, but Hurst was dependable and fitted into Ramsey’s system, so Hurst got the nod, and history was made.
Third Place at Euro 68After the World Cup triumph there was a respectable showing in the 1968 European Championship with third place after narrowly losing the semi-final 1-0 to Yugoslavia, who then went on to lose to Italy in the final. The next competition would be the 1970 World Cup.
West German RevengeAfter an epic battle with Brazil in the group stages, which England lost 0-1, the team, which was arguably better than in 1966, were beaten at the quarter-final stage by West Germany. At 2-1 up, Ramsey had taken Bobby Charlton off, and this allowed Franz Beckenbauer more freedom, with the devastating end result of a 2-3 defeat.
The Tide TurnsThis match crystallised opposition to Ramsey, which had always been there, even during the World Cup success. Critics believed that Ramsey’s team were negative and suppressed play, something that was born out by the majority of their games being won or lost by the single goal. Ramsey was taciturn to the point of rudeness with the press, though supporters claimed that this was born out of shyness rather than arrogance.
Perhaps the truth was that Ramsey’s undoubted tactical brilliance (after all, he had invented a new tactical system, something that no other England manager has done) had lead to undoubted success, but then world football had learnt how to counter it, and Ramsey did not move on with the world. Knowing his own mind was one thing, but refusing to change, and not knowing when to let his previous faithful servants go was another.
West Germany Rub it in AgainIn April 1972 West Germany came to Wembley for the first match of the two leg quarter-final of the 1972 European Championship and won 3-1. The nature of the defeat, with West Germany playing free-flowing attractive football, was hard to take, and Ramsey took stick in particular for keeping faith with Geoff Hurst.
Hugh McIlvaney, writing in the Observer as the team prepared to go out for the return leg a month later, said: “Cautious joyless football was scarcely bearable even while it was bringing victories”. That match, without Geoff Hurst, ended 0-0, so England were out again.
Poland Triumph, England ShameThe following year, it was Bobby Moore’s turn, as he was exposed as no longer quick enough on the ball. He was robbed in his own half by Lubanksi who went on to score the second goal in a 2-0 defeat by Poland, in a 1974 World Cup qualifier. England’s qualification hopes rested on a win in the final match, the return against Poland at Wembley. Moore was dropped but the Polish keeper played a blinder in a 1-1 draw, which was not enough to go through.
An Era EndsRamsey was sacked some months later and was somewhat aggrieved to find that his successor, Don Revie, was paid something in the region of three times more, and that Ramsey’s pension would be a mere £25 per week. This contributed to his feeling, in later life, that he had been let down by the game.
Sir Alf Ramsey died in 1999, nine months after suffering a stroke, and is commemorated by a statue at the junction of Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way, outside the Ipswich Town ground, where he brought such success while laying the ground rules for his World Cup triumph.