Stuart Moriarty-Patten looks at a one-off who brought the nation its defining sporting moment yet remains distant in our affections.
Sir Alf Ramsey is probably best remembered for leading England to victory in the 1966 World Cup. Before management he had been a fine player with Spurs where he learned much from the Spurs’ legendary manager Arthur Rowe who managed the team to consecutive Second and First Division titles with an innovative push and run style. Ramsey was also capped 32 times for England, an amount that would probably have been greater but for the intervention of the Second World War at the beginning of his career.
However despite all his achievements his most remarkable success was during his time with Ipswich Town who he took from the Third Division to being Champions of England in seven seasons including emulating Arthur Rowe’s achievements at Spurs by winning successive Second Division and First Division titles in 1961 and 1962. They became only the fourth team to achieve this, but uniquely they become the first side to win the league in their very first season in the top division since Preston in the inaugural season of the Football League.
Before Ramsey took over Ipswich had hardly set the football world alight. They had been elected to the Football League in 1938 and, except for one season, had only ever played in the old Third Division South. Ramsey had guided them to third place in his first season, the next season however they began their climb up the divisions when he took them to the Third Division title and promotion. In the Second Division it took three seasons of consolidation and mid-table finishes before they won the Divison in 1961 to enter the top division for the first time in the club’s history.
In that first season Ipswich were tipped by almost everyone to spend their first season in the top flight fighting relegation, instead they astounded the critics by actually winning the title. This is possibly one of the most remarkable victories in Football League history bearing in the mind the limited finances and lack of star names they achieved this with. The team had cost a mere £30,000 to build, with £12,000 of that having been spent on bringing inside forward Dougie Moran from Falkirk. The side that won the Championship in 1962 contained just one player with international caps, forward Ray Crawford who played for England twice that year, and five players, Roy Bailey, Larry Carberry, John Elsworthy, Ted Phillips and Jimmy Leadbetter had been with Ipswich in the Third Division. One of those players typifies what Ramsey had achieved in taking a squad of solid but not outstanding footballers and shaping them into a team capable of winning the league. Jimmy Leadbetter was a winger who had spent his most of his career outside the top division, but alongside the other winger Roy Stephenson they were converted into wide midfield men who were expected to perform defensive duties. With Ramsey’s guidance they took to their new roles and proved supremely effective at moving the ball quickly into space for forwards Ray Crawford and Ted Phillips to capitalise on. Dispensing with wingers was the secret to Ramsey’s success with Ipswich. Suddenly teams were faced with being attacked through the middle of the pitch instead of via the wings, as had been the traditional method over the last few years, and it left the full backs struggling to know what position to adopt on the pitch. It was these tactics that Ramsey would take with him to use with the national side and see his 1966 World Cup team being dubbed the ‘Wingless Wonders’.
Another Ramsey trait was that he insisted on his players training hard and he was a strict manager, although unusually, even by today’s standards, he would allow his players to address him as Alf, but he would not tolerate any indiscipline or rudeness. In fact Ramsey had a public image as a humourless, dour man, and his poor relationship with the media, who he did not like or trust, probably led to the furtherance of this. Privately though he was said to be a shy man and was never comfortable in the spotlight. While he was stoical under the media glare, away from it he could display emotion and John Cobbold, the Ipswich chairman who had a great relationship with Ramsey, tells how he found his manager sitting alone in the stand after winning the title, only for him to remove his jacket and run his own lap of honour in front of the highly amused chairman.
Indeed players who have come under his tutelage only seem to have good to say about him, and explain how he had a deep understanding of the needs of every individual player and he knew how to get the best out of them and how most successfully to motivate them. Ray Crawford, whose 33 goals were instrumental in Ipswich Town winning the title, has said, “Alf was a fantastic man – a one off. He always used to get the best out of everybody,” and he described how he would do this without shouting, but quietly get his point across and leaving the players thinking about what they were doing. Crawford also made the point that such was the interest in the game that Ramsey generated the players would voluntarily spend extra time in training sessions working on points that Ramsey had raised. Crawford’s goal-scoring partner was Ted Phillips and between them in the 82 games they played together during the consecutive title winning seasons they netted a combined 131 league goals. Phillips has described Ramsey simply as, “a joy to work with.”
At international level it is difficult to find a bad word said about him too. He had a famous relationship with England captain Bobby Moore that was akin to that between father and son. George Cohen, a right-back for England in 1966, has said, “He was possibly the best manager I have ever played for; Alan Mullery, a midfielder in the 1970 World Cup campaign, has gone on record as saying, “He was the best manager England have ever had. He was such a nice man and I don’t think we will see another like him. When he said something, he said it quietly but you listened.”
Sir Alf Ramsey died in 1999 at the age of 79 having suffered a period of ill-health. His name still echoes around Ipswich Town Football Club the team he left in 1963 to take England to their greatest triumph. Portman’s Walk outside Ipswich’s ground was renamed Sir Alf Ramsey Way shortly after his death and later a statue of Ramsey was erected on the corner of the street and Portman Road. On 31 March 2012, the South Stand at Portman Road was renamed to the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand ensuring that the name of the man who took Ipswich Town from obscurity to the very top of the domestic game will always be deservedly prominent at the club.