The Anonymous Hero

SIR ALF RAMSEY 1920 - 1999

The matches towards the end of the season were marked by minutes silences and black armbands for the man who lead this country to itís greatest triumph in international competition. The death of Sir Alf Ramsey was a sad moment for all of England, but additionally for Spurs fans. The left back signed for Tottenham from Southampton in 1949 for £21,000, which was a record for a full-back in those days. He had been picked up by the South Coast club after playing against their reserves for an Army side, based in Hampshire where he was stationed during the War. Originally he played as an inside right, then a centre-half, but was moved into defence in the right-back slot, where he remained for the rest of his career. His move to Tottenham, under the tutelage of Arthur Rowe, was the key to the Push and Run side that had been assembled by the astute Spurs manager. He completely took on board the basics of the style Rowe wanted to play and did it with great accomplishment. His tireless running (you had to be fit to play this way) and his accurate distribution made him a vital part of the side when playing out from the back.

Unlike many other players, Ramsey took a keen interest in the game and tactics. His natural leadership (captain of both England and Tottenham) and his influence on the field earned him the nickname of "The General" and he engineered Tottenhamís free-kicks in an age where set plays were not commonplace. His time at Tottenham saw him hit the playing highs of his career. The Second Division championship in 1950, the First Division championship in 1951, 32 England caps and the reputation of a solid, dependable and cerebral defender. As in all jobs, there were lows along with these successes. His use of the back-pass to disrupt the play of the opposition got him into trouble when, in the FA Cup semi-final of 1951, he tried it and only set up Blackpool for a goal that denied Tottenham the opportunity of an early crack at the "Double". He also was a member of the England team that played three games in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil - most notably the 0-1 defeat by USA, then the most surprising defeat in the whole of football. His England playing career also ended on a sour note, with his last game being the 3-6 defeat by a Hungary side featuring Ferenc Puskas at Wembley in 1953, despite scoring one of his countryís goals in their first defeat at the national stadium by a foreign side. The match was one which had a lasting effect on Ramsey and he was not to forget the movement and passing the Hungarians displayed that day.

Once he felt the ravages of injury weighing on him, he retired from playing to take up the managers role at Ipswich Town in 1955. He began his managerial career in the Third Division, but used it as a testing ground for his way of playing which would earn him such great acclaim in later years. The Second Division title was won in 1961 and his Suffolk side took the First Division by storm the very next season to take the First Division title, when Spurs were looking to go for a successive Double. This would be the equivalent of what Wimbledon did in the 1980ís, but winning the First Division title on top of it. The way his side lined up with a player "in the hole" behind the strikers and with no recognised wingers was a blueprint for what the Press christened his "wingless wonders" of 1966, something they subsequently used to criticise him for destroying Englandís football in the 70ís. Taking control of the national team in 1962, his first match was a 2-5 defeat at the hands of the French in the Nations Cup (now known as the European Championships). However, with three years to go before the side would be hosting the World Cup finals, he confidently set about building a team that would fulfill his announcement that "We would win the World Cup". This may have been seen as arrogant by some, but coming from the seemingly detached Ramsey, you knew that he would be steelily determined to achieve the feat. And as we know, he did just that. Never one for taking the easy option, he made the difficult decision (against the advice of the nation) of dropping scoring sensation Jimmy Greaves from the England team in favour of Geoff Hurst, a raw youngster with little full international experience. The move paid off with important goals in the quarter-final against the Argentinians and his famous (and controversial hat-trick in the Final against West Germany). The Argentina match saw Sir Alf at his most belligerent. The physical and cynical nature of the South Americans play saw the England boss call them "animals", which inflamed feelings so much that he ran onto the pitch to prevent his players swapping shirts (see picture below) and then it spilt over into the tunnel where the visitors kicked at and urinated on the dressing room door. Alfís regard for those who did not always concur with him was guarded. The men in suits at the FA were referred to as "those people" and others who tried to humour him were often given short shrift. On arriving in Glasgow for a match against Scotland, he was greeted with "Welcome to Scotland", to which he replied "Welcome to Scotland? You must be f*****g joking". Even in the throes of his crowning glory, he admonished trainer Harold Shepherdson for jumping up and down with a "sit down and behave yourself". However, the players had the utmost confidence and belief in their manager, who was loyal to them and would do his best to convince them that they were the better of their opponents, by good planning and excellent preparation. He also liked to keep his players on their toes, with one player bidding farewell with a "See you next time, Alf". Only to get the response "Will you?" from the England boss.

His victory over West Germany was to be a standard that he and all future England managers were to be measured by. Four years later, qualifying as winners, England defended their title in Mexico. Again the best preparation was made, but a number of factors conspired to hinder Alf and his side from being able to go all the way this time. The incident in Bogota, which saw captain Bobby Moore arrested for allegedly stealing a bracelet from a jewellers in the Colombian capital; some unfortunate remarks about the host country, which lead to fans making noise outside Englandís hotel until 4 a.m. to keep them awake and the fact that a central location in the city centre did not help; the scorching heat of the Central American sun with many games played at midday or in the early afternoon for television transmission to Europe; the illness suffered by goalkeeper Gordon Banks on the eve of the quarter-final against West Germany, meaning Peter Bonetti playing and being held responsible for the 2-3 defeat. England had been 2-0 up with goals from Mullery and Peters, before the Germans came back into the game with a goal by Beckenbauer and immediately, Alf replaced Bobby Charlton with Colin Bell and Hunter came on for Peters. An equaliser seven minutes from time meant extra-time and the England boys continued to wilt in the heat with Gerd Muller grabbing the winner in the second period to put them through to the semis. The sad thing was that this squad was probably better than the one that won the Jules Rimet trophy four years before, but it was the beginning of the end for Sir Alf. The qualifying games for the 1974 tournament did not go well. A defeat in Poland with Alan Ball being sent off, a home draw with Wales and then the infamous Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski keeping England at bay, while Shilton dived over the one shot he had to save to produce a 1-1 scoreline and an exit from this World Cup. Coming on top of an unconvincing European Nations Cup campaign ending at the quarter-final stage against West Germany (yet again) meant that the knives were out for him. In the summer of 1974 he was effectively sacked as England manger. He went back into club management with Birmingham City, but he had lost some of his love for the game. In later years he said that he rarely watched the game and was glad that he had spent most of his career at the very top of the game. He added that he was pleased he had brought such great joy to his teams and the country. For one who appeared to be a bit of a cold fish, he felt things very deeply.

The foregoing concentrates on the footballing side of the man, but he was a much more complex character. Born a grocerís son in Dagenham, he always tried to hide his roots and even considered taking elocution lessons to hide his Estuary vowels. His thirst for footballing knowledge made him an ideal pupil for Arthur Rowe to instill his principles in. And Alf loved it. The ideas he had could be put into practice and his authority on the field allowed him to develop his man-management skills. He seemed to have very few people close to him in football, but he developed a great friendship with Helmut Schoen, the West German manager over the years. He also seemed happy to hide away from the public eye when he left the game, by retiring to Suffolk and attending the occasional game at Portman Road. His achievements there were dear to his heart and he was always welcomed back by the club, who now plan a statue of him near the ground (as will Wembley). Never one to seek public acclaim, the ultimate picture of him is the one of the England bench as Geoff Hurst has shot home his third goal in the dying minutes of extra-time to give England an unassailable 4-2 lead in the 1966 World Cup Final. The England subs, non-playing squad members and backroom staff are leaping for joy. Amidst all of this Sir Alf Ramsey sits still on the bench. Appearing unmoved by all that was going on around him, he no doubt was content in the knowledge that he had done something that nobody else had and that he had completed his prophecy. Self satisfaction meant a lot more to him than a lot of platitudes from those that he considered knew little about the game.

His approach to the game may not have made him many friends, but he did something unique in English football and brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people. It remains an enigma that for one who was so well-known, he remained a mystery to most of the population.

Tom Maskell

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