Alf Ramsey

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Sir Alf Ramsey
Alf Ramsey (1969).jpg
Ramsey as England manager. (1969)
Personal information
Full name Alfred Ernest Ramsey
Date of birth (1920-01-22)22 January 1920
Place of birth Dagenham, Essex, England
Date of death 28 April 1999(1999-04-28) (aged 79)
Place of death Ipswich, Suffolk, England
Height 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Playing position Right-back
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1943–1949 Southampton 90 (8)
1949–1955 Tottenham Hotspur 226 (24)
Total 316 (32)
National team
1948 England B 1 (0)
1948–1953 England 32 (3)
Teams managed
1955–1963 Ipswich Town
1963–1974 England
1977–1978 Birmingham City
1979–1980 Panathinaikos (Technical director)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

† Appearances (goals)

Sir Alfred Ernest "Alf" Ramsey (22 January 1920 – 28 April 1999) was an English footballer and manager who, as manager of the England national football team from 1963 to 1974, guided England to victory in the 1966 FIFA World Cup. Knighted in 1967 in recognition of England's World Cup win, Ramsey also managed England to third place in the 1968 European Championship and the quarter-finals of the 1970 World Cup and the 1972 European Championship respectively. As a player, Ramsey was a defender and a member of England's 1950 World Cup squad. He is, as of 2015, the only person to have been inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame twice, both as manager and player.

Ramsey was born and raised in Dagenham, which was then a quiet Essex village. He showed sporting promise from an early age and, after serving in the British Army during the Second World War, embarked on a football career, primarily as a right-back for Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur. He was generally considered a rather slow, but accomplished player with a tremendous grasp of the tactical side of the game; nicknamed "The General", he was part of the Tottenham side that won the English League championship in the 1950–51 season. He played for England 32 times between 1948 and 1953, captaining the side three times and scoring three goals, all from penalty kicks.

Ramsey retired from playing in 1955 to become the manager of Ipswich Town, then in the third tier of English football. Ipswich rose through the divisions over the next six years, winning the Third Division (South) in 1956–57 and the Second Division in 1960–61. In the 1961–62 season, Ipswich's first campaign in the top division, Ramsey's team defied expectations to become champions of England at the first attempt. Ramsey took charge of the England team a year later. In a distinct break with common practice of the day, he used a narrow formation that led to his England side being dubbed "The Wingless Wonders". England's World Cup victory at Wembley in 1966 made Ramsey a national hero, though he had his critics, both at the time and since. He lost the England job acrimoniously, following the team's failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.

After briefly managing Birmingham City during the 1977–78 season, then acting in an advisory role at the Greek club Panathinaikos in 1979–80, Ramsey retired to Ipswich, where he led a somewhat reclusive life over the next two decades. He died in Ipswich in 1999, aged 79. Soon after his death, a statue of Ramsey was built outside Ipswich's home ground at Portman Road, and a neighbouring street was named after him. A stand at Portman Road was named after Ramsey in 2012. A second statue of Ramsey was dedicated at the reconstructed Wembley Stadium in 2009, in the players' tunnel. Ramsey was an inaugural inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, in recognition of his achievements as a manager; he was admitted again, as a player, in 2010. He remains widely regarded as one of British football's all-time great managers.

Early life[edit]


The village green in Dagenham, Ramsey's birthplace and childhood home. (2007)

Alfred Ernest Ramsey was born on 22 January 1920 at 6 Parrish Cottages, Halbutt Street in Dagenham, which was then an agrarian village in Essex, about 10 miles (16 km) east of central London.[1] He was the third of five children, four boys and a girl, born to Herbert Ramsey, a manual labourer who worked a smallholding, kept pigs and drove a horse-drawn dustcart, and his wife Florence (née Bixby). Parrish Cottages lacked hot running water and electricity, and had only an outside toilet. This was typical of the Dagenham of Ramsey's infancy, but the street gradually became something of an anachronism as he grew up. From 1921 onwards, London County Council transformed the area into the Becontree estate, a vast urban community that by 1934 was home to 120,000 people and the Ford Dagenham automobile factory. Parrish Cottages remained largely untouched: electricity was not installed until the 1950s, and even then only with the reluctant approval of Ramsey's mother, who, according to a neighbour, was frightened of it.[1] In the recollection of a childhood contemporary, Phil Cairns, the Ramsey house was "little more than a wooden hut".[1]

The young Alf Ramsey was recalled by his friend Fred Tibble as "a very quiet boy who really loved sport".[1] In his 1952 autobiography Talking Football, Ramsey would describe "liv[ing] for the open air from the moment I could toddle",[2] spending hours each day in the meadow behind the family cottage, playing ball games with his brothers. He learned skills such as ball control, kicking and heading with a tennis ball.[1] From the age of five, Ramsey attended Becontree Heath School, which had a roll of about 200 pupils aged from four to 14. He and his brothers had to walk two hours from their house to get there, and passed a ball between each other on the way to break the monotony. Ramsey was not especially popular socially, nor particularly diligent as a student, but he excelled in sports. In addition to football, he played cricket to a high standard, represented the school in the high jump, the long jump, the 100-yard and 200-yard dash, and boxed. Despite his diminutive stature, Ramsey enjoyed boxing until an incident when he was 10 years old, when a much larger opponent—"as wide as I was tall" in Ramsey's recollection—gave him a severe beating in a school tournament.[1] Ramsey carried a noticeable scar above his mouth, a memento of this fight, for the rest of his life.[1]

"He was very withdrawn, almost surly," Cairns recalled, "but he became animated on the football field".[1] Ramsey was selected to play for Becontree Heath School when he was only seven years old, playing at inside-left alongside boys as old as fourteen; his nine-year-old brother Len was at inside-right. Alf's selection for the school occasioned the purchase of his first pair of football boots. Two years later, when Ramsey was nine, he became captain of the school team. By this point he had switched to playing at centre-half—the key position of the "WM" formation then favoured in British football, between the full-backs and the forwards.[1] His main strength was generally perceived to be his extremely accurate passing; his chief shortcoming was a lack of pace, for which Ramsey compensated by learning to read the game and position himself well.[3] Ramsey played for teams representing the schools of Dagenham and Essex County respectively, and trialled unsuccessfully for the London schools team while at Becontree.[3] While he was at school, his brother Albert took him to see his first Football League match, travelling to Upton Park to see their favourite team, West Ham United, play against Arsenal.[4] This was the only senior match Alf would attend before playing in them himself.[3] He later wrote that his main recollection of it was the performance of one of the Arsenal forwards, the Scotland international Alex James.[4]

On leaving school in 1934, the 14-year-old Ramsey tried to get a job at the Ford plant, then told his family he intended to become a greengrocer. To that end he became an apprentice at a local branch of the Co-op, delivering groceries on a bicycle. The manual work helped to bulk up Ramsey's physique,[3] but he found himself unable to play organised football because he had to work on Saturday afternoons. He returned to the game after two years as a centre-half for Five Elms F.C., a newly formed amateur club whose matches on Thursdays fitted with his work schedule.[4] After about a year, during the 1937–38 season, Ramsey was spotted by Ned Liddell, a scout from Portsmouth,[5] then a well-established top-flight club.[6] Liddell offered a contract as an amateur. Rather than signing on the spot, Ramsey asked to take the forms home to examine first; he signed them that night and sent them to Portsmouth by post.[7] Much to Ramsey's disappointment, Portsmouth did not contact him again. He spent the next two years working at the Co-op while playing cricket in the summer and football in the winter.[5][8]

Second World War[edit]

Military service[edit]

An open-topped military vehicle containing soldiers, who point a mortar and a machine gun upwards.
A Universal Carrier Mk I of Ramsey's regiment, with Bren gun mounted for anti-aircraft use (1940)

After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Ramsey was conscripted into the British Army on 24 June 1940.[9] He was assigned to the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and underwent his initial training in Truro, where he and other recruits were housed in a hotel commandeered by the army. Ramsey found the experience a thrilling adventure.[10] "Until I travelled to Cornwall, the longest journey I had undertaken was a trip to Brighton by train," he recalled. "It was the first time I had ever been into a hotel! Even with us sleeping twelve to a room, on straw mattresses, could not end for me the awe of living in a swagger hotel."[11] "That set the tone for Alf's war," Leo McKinstry suggests in his 2010 biography; attached to his regiment's 6th Battalion, Ramsey spent the entire war in Britain on home defence duties.[12] That notwithstanding, the training was physically demanding and, in Ramsey's words, made him "a fitter young fellow than when I reported for duty as a grocery apprentice from Dagenham".[12]

Writing in 1952, Ramsey would call joining the army "one of the greatest things which ever happened to me".[11] "I learnt, in a few weeks, more about life in general that I had picked up in years at home," he wrote.[11] Military life taught Ramsey about discipline and leadership, and improved his social skills: "I have never been very good at mixing with people but you have to in the army or else you are in trouble," the journalist Nigel Clarke recalled him saying.[12] Ramsey rose to be a company quartermaster sergeant in an anti-aircraft unit.[12]

Wartime football[edit]

Military service also allowed Ramsey to play football more regularly, and at a higher standard than he ever had before.[13] In late 1940 he was posted to St Austell, on the south coast of Cornwall, where he manned beach defences and became captain of the battalion football team, playing at centre-half or centre-forward as circumstances dictated. After three years in various seaside postings, Ramsey was, in 1943, moved to Barton Stacey in Hampshire, where he came under the command of a Colonel Fletcher, himself an accomplished footballer. Ramsey became a member of the battalion's football team, which by this time featured players from a number of Football League teams, including the Brentford forward Len Townsend and Arsenal's Cyril Hodges.[13] Ramsey played at centre-half for his battalion team as Southampton defeated them 10–3 at the Dell in a pre-season friendly on 21 August 1943, and a week later played again as the battalion took on Southampton's reserve team. The soldiers won the second match 4–1.[13]

A football match in progress at a modest, traditional British football ground.
Kenilworth Road, Luton Town's ground, where Ramsey first played for Southampton in the wartime Football League South. (1980)

On 8 October 1943, Colonel Fletcher called Ramsey to his office to inform him that Southampton needed a centre-half for their first-team match away to Luton Town the next day, and had enquired about the sergeant's availability. The 23-year-old Ramsey was cautious, saying he lacked experience, but said he would "give it a try" when the colonel suggested that playing might set him on the way to a professional football career.[13] The next day, while en route to Luton by train, Ramsey signed for Southampton as an amateur.[14] The match at Luton's Kenilworth Road ground was in the Football League South, an irregular wartime division of the Football League.[6] Ramsey gave away a penalty kick late on with Southampton 2–1 ahead, allowing Luton to draw level, but Southampton still won 3–2.[15] He played in three more matches during the 1943–44 season before his battalion's posting to County Durham forced his absence from the team. After his unit returned to the south coast at the start of the 1944–45 season, Ramsey played in a trial match at Southampton, and performed well enough that the club offered a professional contract on wages of £2 per match. Ramsey was still uncertain about pursuing a football career; he signed the contract only after Southampton assured him that he could leave at the end of the season if he wished.[15]

Ramsey was injured during the 1944–45 pre-season, ironically while playing against Southampton for his battalion team, so did not make his first appearance as a professional until December. During the match, against Arsenal at White Hart Lane,[n 1] Ramsey played centre-half opposite the formidable Arsenal centre-forward Ted Drake and "had the best game of his career to date", McKinstry writes.[16] Drake scored twice, but Ramsey still felt that he had proven his ability to play League football.[16] On 3 March 1945, against Luton Town at the Dell, Ramsey was switched to inside-left because of injuries elsewhere in the team—he scored four goals in a 12–3 Southampton win.[16][17] "He can certainly hammer a ball," the Southern Daily Echo reporter commented.[16] Ramsey finished the season having made 11 League South appearances.[17]

Ramsey remained in the army during the 1945–46 season, the first campaign after the end of the war. Starting as a centre-forward, he scored two goals in each of the opening two games, then a hat-trick in a 6–2 victory at Newport County on 6 October 1945.[18] He played in 13 League South matches before military commitments again intervened—in December 1945 he was deployed to Mandatory Palestine, where he accepted an invitation to captain a football team representing the British garrison. This side included Arthur Rowley, who later scored hundreds of goals for Leicester City and Shrewsbury Town, and the future Scotland international forward Jimmy Mason.[19] Ramsey returned to England in June 1946 to find himself entertaining overtures from both the new Southampton manager Bill Dodgin and the Dagenham Co-op, the latter of which offered Ramsey his pre-war job back. Ramsey initially turned Southampton down, but accepted after the club offered better terms: £6 per week during the summer, £7 in winter and £8 if he was selected for the League team. He was formally discharged from the army soon after.[20]

Playing career[edit]


The regular Football League restarted in time for the 1946–47 season. Ramsey moved into club-owned lodgings in Southampton with a close friend from the army, Alf Freeman, an inside-forward who had also signed for the club.[21] Ramsey started the season in the reserves, at centre-forward, and scored in each of the first three games.[22] After five matches, Dodgin and the club trainer Sydney Cann made a decision that changed the course of Ramsey's entire playing career—deciding that neither centre-half or centre-forward truly suited him, they moved him to right-back. McKinstry calls this "exactly the right place for Alf", citing Ramsey's tactical knowledge and fine passing.[23] A close master-and-pupil relationship developed between Ramsey and Cann, who had played at full-back for Torquay United, Manchester City and Charlton Athletic, during training sessions and long discussions about tactics and individual techniques. "[Alf] wanted to learn about the game from top to bottom," Cann recalled. "I have never known anyone with the same quickness of learning as Alf Ramsey. He would never accept anything on its face value ... He was the type of player who was a manager's dream because you could talk about a decision and he would accept it and there it was, in his game."[24]

Ramsey made his full League debut on 26 October 1946, in a Second Division match against Plymouth Argyle at the Dell, replacing the injured regular right-back Bill Ellerington.[24] The nervous Ramsey was helped through the match by the calm reassurance and guidance of the experienced Southampton captain Bill Rochford, the team's other full-back.[25] Southampton won 5–1, their biggest win of the 1946–47 season,[26][27] but Ramsey found the pace of the regular peacetime Football League a drastic step up. "Their reactions to moves were so speedy they had completed a pass, for instance, when I was still thinking things over", he later wrote.[25] After one more game, Ellerington was reinstated and Ramsey went back to the reserves.[25] Ramsey was kept out of the first team until January 1947, when Ellerington was injured again shortly before an away match at Newcastle United. Southampton lost 3–1, but Ramsey was generally considered to have acquitted himself well. He kept his place for the rest of the season, gradually growing in confidence. Dodgin praised Ramsey in a February 1947 interview as a "player who thinks football, talks football and lives football".[28]

He had a very, very good football brain. If he hadn't, he would not have played where he did, because he was not the most nimble of players. Not particularly brilliant in the air, because he did not have the stature to jump up. But he was a decent tackler and a great passer. He could read the game so well, that was his big asset. That was why he became such a great manager.

Eric Day, one of Ramsey's Southampton team-mates[29]

A formative experience for Ramsey during his first peacetime season was playing for Southampton against Manchester City in April 1947. Playing at full-back for City was the 38-year-old Sam Barkas, a former England international near the end of his last season. Ramsey was greatly impressed by Barkas's positional sense and accurate passing, later calling it "the most skilful display by any full-back I had seen"; he adopted Barkas as a role model and attempted to mould himself into a similar player.[28] Ramsey spent the 1947 off-season training alone in the meadows behind his parents' home in Dagenham, spending hours every day working on his passing.[30] The following season, 1947–48, Ramsey firmly established himself ahead of Ellerington in the Southampton team, and was the only player at the club to appear in all 42 League matches.[30]

The consensus on Ramsey's playing style among his fellow professionals was that he was rather slow, but possessed an excellent positional sense, read the game better than most, and distributed the ball exceptionally well for a defender.[31][32] Taking after his Southampton captain Bill Rochford, he preferred to play the ball out of defence rather than simply clearing it as quickly as possible.[33][34] He became a specialist penalty taker due to his coolness and ability to anticipate the goalkeeper.[35] Ted Bates, one of Ramsey's Southampton team-mates, described him as "lacking both height and speed", but credited him with a "razor-sharp brain ... he would never get into a situation that exposed him".[36]

Southampton failed to win promotion during the 1947–48 season, finishing third behind Birmingham City and Newcastle United, but it was still a successful campaign for them and by its end Ramsey had become one of the club's main players.[37] He captained the team on occasion.[38] In May 1948 he was selected as part of a 16-man England squad to tour Switzerland and Italy; the flight to Geneva was his first time in an aeroplane.[37] On his return from international duty he flew to São Paulo to join the rest of the Southampton team on a club tour of Brazil. Southampton had lost every game in Brazil so far, and spirits were low.[39] Ramsey restored morale and contributed to a new plan to counter the Brazilian tactics, which were much more fluid than those favoured by English teams of the time. Ramsey suggested that Southampton could use long diagonal passes to exploit the gaps the Brazilian defenders left behind them as they ran upfield to attack. McKinstry notes the similarity of this thinking to some of the tactics Ramsey later used as manager of Ipswich Town.[39] Southampton beat Corinthians 2–1 in their next game before ending the tour with a draw and a defeat.[39] Ramsey was impressed by the South Americans' footballing ability, but not by the conduct of their players, pressmen, administrators or fans; McKinstry considers the experience to have "fed Alf's nascent xenophobia".[n 2]

By the middle of the 1948–49 season Ramsey had made his first appearance for the England national team and played a total of 90 League matches for Southampton, scoring eight goals. He had also made six FA Cup appearances without scoring.[41] He made what turned out to be his final competitive appearance for Southampton on 8 January 1949, in a 2–1 away defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.[42] In a friendly away at Plymouth Argyle a week later, he slipped as he went into a tackle and injured his knee. Dodgin brought Bill Ellerington into the side to replace Ramsey while he recovered, and Ellerington performed strongly as Southampton won eight and drew two of the next 10 matches. Dodgin told Ramsey that given Ellerington's good form it might be difficult for him to regain his place in the team. Ramsey considered this to be poor man-management by Dodgin,[43] and asked Southampton to place him on the transfer list on 7 March 1949.[44] Despite interest from Sheffield Wednesday,[45] on 16 May 1949 Ramsey moved to Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of £21,000, with the Wales international winger Ernie Jones moving to Southampton in part-exchange.[46][47]

Tottenham Hotspur[edit]

Bill Nicholson. Ramsey and Nicholson made an effective partnership when playing together at Tottenham Hotspur. Both went on to manage top flight clubs. (1961)

Ramsey's fee was a record at the time for Tottenham,[48] and he soon became an essential part of the Tottenham team,[47] making the right-back position his own and building a partnership with wing half Bill Nicholson. He was not, however, popular with Tottenham supporters due to his reluctance to pass the ball.[47] Ramsey believed that if you deprived the opposition of the ball, you were "always on the attack".[47] He played a total of 250 games in league and cup for Tottenham, across six seasons,[49] winning two major honours, when the side won the Second Division in 1949–50 and First Division in the following season.[50] In 1952 he published a ghosted, rather selective autobiography, Talking Football.[51] His influence on Tottenham earned him the nickname "The General"[51]—because, according to the future player and manager Harry Redknapp, "he was always in charge".[52]

Tottenham reached the semi-finals of the 1952–53 FA Cup, where they faced Blackpool. The game was finely balanced at 1–1 with just minutes to go when Ramsey made an error, which he was later to describe as "an awful moment in my career".[53] As was his usual style, he had attempted to play the ball out of defence from a free-kick rather than clearing it, when a mistake gave away possession of the ball at Tottenham's end of the pitch, allowing Blackpool's Jackie Mudie to score the winner.[54] Tottenham were out of the competition; Blackpool went on to win what has become known as "The Matthews Final".[53] Ramsey was vilified by fans and the press, and at least one Tottenham director also made a public criticism. Nevertheless, following the departure of Ron Burgess, Ramsey was appointed club captain.[55]

In 1954, Tottenham signed Danny Blanchflower; Ramsey assessed the newcomer and considered himself "finished".[56][clarification needed] The situation was exacerbated: Ramsey missed games through injury and then suffered "a terrible roasting" at the hands of Leicester's Derek Hogg,[citation needed] after which he was not picked for the side again for the rest of the 1954–55 Football League season.[57] When Ramsey was omitted from a post-season tour of Hungary, despite still being club captain, he realised that his time at Tottenham had come to an end.[58]

England international[edit]

When England captain Billy Wright was unavailable due to injury, Ramsey deputised for him on three occasions. (1961)

Ramsey's first taste of playing as an international came when he was selected for England B's 5–1 win against Switzerland B at Stadio Comunale Bellinzona, Bellinzona, Switzerland on 19 May 1948.[59] In his match report for The Times, Geoffrey Green highlighted Ramsey as bearing "the clear stamp of an England player for future international matches".[60] He made his full debut for England in December 1948, against Switzerland in a 6–0 win for England at Highbury.[61][62]

Ramsey was selected for the England squad for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and became the first Tottenham player ever to play in a World Cup.[63] He played in all three of England's games at the tournament, including the surprise 1–0 defeat to the United States at the Estádio Independência in Belo Horizonte.[64][65] In later life, Ramsey was asked by Brian Moore, "Did you play when the USA beat England in the 1950 World Cup?"; Ramsey replied, "I was the only one who did!"[63]

After 29 consecutive appearances for England, Ramsey was left out of the squad for a match against Wales in October 1953.[66] He was reinstated for the following match, against a Rest of Europe XI in October 1953, scoring his second international goal to secure a 4–4 draw; he was subsequently dropped once again.[67]

Ramsey's final international appearance was in the so-called Match of the Century, the 6–3 defeat by Hungary at Wembley Stadium on 25 November 1953, in which he scored a penalty.[68]

In total, Ramsey won 32 caps and scored three goals for England: all three of his England goals were scored from the penalty spot.[69] Ramsey captained his country three times,[70] each time replacing regular captain Billy Wright when he was unavailable due to injury.[71]

Managerial career[edit]

Ipswich Town[edit]

The Football League championship trophy, won by Ramsey's Ipswich Town team in 1962.

Tottenham hoped that Ramsey might stay on as a player or coach,[72][73] but he was determined to leave. He secured the post of manager of Ipswich Town, an "obscure team wallowing in the Third Division South", in August 1955,[51] replacing Scott Duncan, who had been in post for nearly 20 years – and who went on to remain at the club in various positions for the following three years.

Alf Ramsey's appointment led Billy Wright to comment, "In appointing Alf to become their manager Ipswich Town paid a tremendous tribute to intelligent football – and footballers who think!"[74] In his first season at the club, Ramsey guided Ipswich to third place in the league, with his side scoring 106 goals in the 46 league fixtures.[75]

During Ramsey's second season in charge, he led the club to the division title, again scoring in excess of 100 goals.[76] It was Ipswich's second title at that level and it meant promotion to the Second Division,[77] and for the following three seasons, Ipswich managed to achieve mid-table finishes.[78]

In the 1960-61 season, Ramsey guided Ipswich to the Second Division title and into the top flight for the first time in the club's history.[77] The success was built upon the prowess of Ray Crawford, the division's top goalscorer with 39.[79]

The following season, Ramsey led his side to become champions of England in their debut season at the top level.[77] The side had been tipped by many contemporary football pundits and journalists for relegation at the start of the season, making the achievement all the more remarkable.[80][81] Ramsey created a strong side based on a resolute defence and two strikers, Ray Crawford and Ted Phillips who between them scored over sixty goals. The key to the side was considered to be left-winger, Jimmy Leadbetter whom Ramsey moved into a deep-lying, left of centre midfielder.[82]

The following season started poorly for the League champions: Ramsey's former team-mate Bill Nicholson changed the formation of his Spurs team to counter Ipswich in the 1962 FA Charity Shield curtain-raiser to the 1962–63 season, a game which Tottenham won 5–1.[83] The same season, Ramsey oversaw Ipswich's short-lived inaugural European campaign in the 1962–63 European Cup.[77] Despite despatching Maltese club, Floriana, 14–1 on aggregate, Ipswich lost 4–2 on aggregate in the second round to the eventual winners A.C. Milan, although Ipswich had won the home leg 2–1.[77][84] Not long into the season, on 25 October 1962, Ramsey agreed to take charge of the England national team, commencing 1 May 1963.[85] He left Ipswich after eight seasons having guided them from the Third Division (South) to the top of English football.[86] After Ramsey's departure, Ipswich's performances declined and, two years after winning the league title, they dropped back into the Second Division.[87][88]


England had lost to Brazil in the quarter-final of the 1962 World Cup in Chile and, under attack from the British press,[89] manager Walter Winterbottom resigned five months later.[90]

Although Ramsey's position as England manager was confirmed in October 1962, he formally took charge on 1 May 1963.[91] When Ramsey took over as manager, he demanded complete control over squad selections: previously Walter Winterbottom had been manager, but selections and other decisions were often carried out by board committees. Ramsey's appointment and his appropriation of all such responsibilities led to him being referred to as "England's first proper manager".[92]

On appointment, Ramsey immediately caused a stir when he predicted that England would win the next World Cup, which was to be held in England in 1966: "we will win the World Cup".[91] This was a bold statement to make, as England's performance on the international stage had been poor up to that point, but managers will often make such predictions—none will say that their teams will stand no chance. The World Cup had started in 1930 but England had refused to participate until 1950, when, with Ramsey playing at right-back, they suffered an embarrassing 1–0 defeat at the hands of the United States.[65] One of Ramsey's first actions as England manager was to name the West Ham United captain Bobby Moore as captain of the national team.[93] Moore came from working-class roots in the East End of London, not unlike Ramsey.[94] England had never had a captain so young—Moore was only 22 years and 47 days old when he captained the side for the first time away against Czechoslovakia on 29 May 1963. England won 4–2.[93]

1964 European Championship[edit]

Ramsey's first competitive match as England coach was a preliminary qualification round for the 1964 European Nations' Cup. England, along with many other national teams, had declined to participate in the inaugural 1960 competition. They had been drawn against France for a two-legged knockout fixture to progress to the last sixteen qualifiers. The home leg, played under Winterbottom, had been drawn 1–1 at Hillsborough.[95] Ramsey insisted that he pick the team himself and included seven players who would go on to win the World Cup in 1966. He took charge for the away leg in Paris at the Parc des Princes, which they lost 5–2. 3–0 down at half-time, Bobby Tambling and Bobby Smith scored for England before France scored two more.[95] England were therefore eliminated from the competition in Ramsey's very first game in charge.[95]

1966 World Cup[edit]

As hosts, England automatically qualified for the 1966 World Cup.[96]

The first group game, on 11 July 1966, was against Uruguay and despite attacking talent, including Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt, playing against a disciplined Uruguayan defence, England were held to a 0–0 draw. This was the first England game since 1945 where they had failed to score.[97] Ramsey's statement made three years earlier was looking in doubt now, but he remained calm and continued experimenting when his side faced Mexico in the next game. Ramsey was using the 4–3–3 system and for each of the group games used a winger; John Connelly against Uruguay, Terry Paine against Mexico and Ian Callaghan against France.

Jimmy Greaves (left) and Bobby Charlton. It was an injury to Greaves that brought Geoff Hurst into the England team. (1964)

Ramsey dropped Alan Ball and John Connelly and brought in Terry Paine and Martin Peters, whose advanced style of play as a midfielder matched the qualities Ramsey looked for in his system. England beat Mexico 2–0.[98] Ramsey replaced Terry Paine with Ian Callaghan for their final group match, against France. England won 2–0, securing qualification to the knockout rounds. Two difficult situations arose from the final group match, however. After making a vicious tackle and being cautioned, midfielder Nobby Stiles came under fire from senior FIFA officials, who called for Ramsey to drop him from the side. Ramsey was having none of it, and firmly told the FA to inform FIFA that either Stiles would remain in his team or Ramsey himself would resign. Another bad tackle was committed during that match, resulting in Tottenham striker (and one of England's most prolific goal-scorers) Jimmy Greaves being injured and sidelined for the next few matches. Despite having more experienced strikers in his squad, Ramsey selected young Geoff Hurst as Greaves's replacement, once again seeing potential in the young West Ham forward. The France match also marked Ramsey's final game with a winger. After it, he dropped Ian Callaghan from his side and brought back Alan Ball to strengthen the midfield.

Argentina's Antonio Rattín (striped shirt, left) is sent off during the 1966 World Cup quarter-final against Ramsey's England

For the knockout stages, England's first opponents were Argentina. Ramsey again showed his tactical awareness, and, now he was no longer using wingers, he decided to switch from 4–3–3 to 4–4–2. With Ball and Peters operating on the flanks, the midfield now boasted Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton in the centre. After a violent quarter-final (where the Argentine captain Antonio Rattín refused to leave the field after being sent off), England won 1–0 thanks to Geoff Hurst latching onto a cross from Martin Peters and heading home a goal. Ramsey came under fire when he stopped his players swapping shirts with the Argentinians in protest at their play and was then reported to have described Argentinian players as "animals"; "It seemed a pity so much Argentinian talent is wasted. Our best football will come against the right type of opposition—a team who come to play football, and not act as animals."[86] Jimmy Greaves in his 2009 autobiography, "Greavsie", claims that Ramsey had said "I've been a little disappointed that the behaviour of some players in this competition reminded me of animals". The belieft that he had referred directly to the Argentinians as animals damaged Ramsey's reputation and made successive England teams unpopular abroad, particularly in South America.[99]

In the semi-final, England faced a fluent and skilful Portuguese side containing the tournament's top goal-scorer Eusébio. However, England won a 2–1 victory in a memorable match which saw them concede their first goal of the competition from the penalty spot.[100] Ramsey had found the perfect defensive formula that went unchanged throughout the entire tournament.

On 30 July 1966, Ramsey's promise was fulfilled as England became the World Champions by beating West Germany in a thrilling final.[101] A lot of Ramsey's tactics and decisions proved their worth in this final. Ramsey came under pressure to restore the fit-again Jimmy Greaves to the side,[102] but his philosophy was "never change a winning team".[86] He stuck to his guns and kept faith with Greaves's replacement, Geoff Hurst, who vindicated Ramsey's judgement by scoring a hat-trick in a 4–2 win (after extra time) at Wembley. Filling his side with a good balance of experience and youth proved vital when the gruelling final went to extra time. The youth in the team powered England through extra time. A particular example of this was Alan Ball who, at 21, was the youngest player in the England side. Even in extra time, he never showed signs of tiredness and never stopped running—famously setting up Hurst's controversial second goal, as well as having a few chances himself. Even as the match ended with Geoff Hurst scoring England's fourth goal, Ball was still running down the pitch in case Hurst needed assistance. Rather than a cross from Hurst, Ball was greeted by a number of England fans running onto the pitch who, thinking that the game was already over, had already started celebrating England's victory.[103]

Hurst recalled that at the end of 90 minutes, Ramsey forbade his players from lying down on the pitch to rest, as their opponents were doing. "Look at them," Ramsey told the England team, pointing towards the Germans; "They're finished. They're flat out on their backs."[104] Ramsey said to his players: "You've won it once. Now you'll have to go out there and win it again."[91][n 3]

Queen Elizabeth II presents the World Cup to the captain of Ramsey's England team, Bobby Moore.

Ramsey remained his usual self during the celebrations: not joining in, but rather opting to let his players soak up their achievement.[105] With his boldly made promise now fulfilled, Ramsey had proved that the 4–4–2 system could work and had assembled an England team that could compete on the highest level due to physical fitness and good tactics. He remains an example to this day and is the only England manager ever to have won the World Cup.

Bobby Charlton praised Ramsey and his approach to managing the England team to World Cup victory: "He was professional to his fingertips and as popular with the players as any manager I've ever seen. He was a winner and without Alf Ramsey England would not have won the World Cup in 1966. He gave us our proudest moment."[106] Nobby Stiles agreed: "You did it, Alf, we'd have been nothing without you."[61]

1968 European Championship[edit]

In 1967, a year after England won the World Cup under his management, Ramsey received a knighthood—the first given to a football manager or player.[107]

England reached the last eight of the 1968 European Championships by amassing the best aggregate record of the four Home Nations over the 1966–67 and 1967–68 seasons (despite a loss to Scotland 3–2 at home in 1967). They subsequently defeated Spain home and away to become one of four teams to progress to the finals in Italy. There England suffered a 1–0 defeat by Yugoslavia in a bad tempered semi-final:[108] Alan Mullery was dismissed for kicking an opponent in the groin. Mullery subsequently reported that Ramsey had said to him "I'm glad somebody retaliated against those bastards" and paid Mullery's £50 fine levied by the Football Association.[109]

England had to settle for third place after beating the Soviet Union.[109] This remains England's best ever position in a major international tournament apart from the 1966 World Cup.

1970 World Cup[edit]

Ramsey blamed the goalkeeper Peter Bonetti (centre, holding ball) for England's defeat to West Germany in 1970.

England qualified automatically as defending champions for the 1970 World Cup, held in Mexico. They entered the tournament as one of the favourites and many people thought their squad superior to that of 1966. Ramsey's preparations for the tournament had been disrupted by the arrest of Bobby Moore in the Bogotá Bracelet incident with the England squad being labelled "thieves and drunks" by the Mexican press.[110]

In the first round, two 1–0 victories over Romania and Czechoslovakia enabled England to progress, despite a loss by the same scoreline to ultimate champions Brazil (a match which also featured a famous save by Gordon Banks from Pelé's header).[110] In the quarter-final, however, they lost to West Germany 3–2, after having been in the lead 2–0 with only twenty minutes remaining.[110] At 2–0 Ramsey had substituted Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters, supposedly to rest them for the semi-final, is what was considered a tactical blunder.[110][111] The blame for the defeat was partly placed on Ramsey's cautious tactics and substitutions in searing Mexican heat and partly on the stand-in goalkeeper, Chelsea's Peter Bonetti. At 2–0 up Bonetti who was only playing as regular keeper Gordon Banks had been taken ill, had let an innocuous shot by Franz Beckenbauer slip under his body and was then caught out of position by a looping shot by Uwe Seeler. Gerd Müller scored a third in the 108th minute to knock England out. Ramsey blamed Bonetti and his mistakes but his own tactics were not beyond reproach.[69][111]

1972 European Championship[edit]

England reached the last eight of the 1972 European championship by topping a qualification group also containing Switzerland, Greece and Malta. They dropped only one point in the qualification, in a 1–1 home draw with Switzerland.[112] England then faced West Germany again in a home-and-away knockout match to determine who would progress to the finals (which featured only four teams). A 3–1 home defeat at Wembley, followed by a scoreless draw in Berlin, meant that England were eliminated. The football played by England against West Germany was described by journalist Hugh McIlvanney as "cautious, joyless football" and as an indicator that the England era under Ramsey had run its course.[113] West Germany went on to win the competition by beating USSR 3–0 in the final.[114]

1974 World Cup[edit]

Jan Tomaszewski (centre)—dismissed by Brian Clough as a "clown"—whose goalkeeping for Poland helped to prevent England from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.

England's qualification group for the 1974 World Cup, consisted of just Poland and Wales.[115][116] However the Poles, who had not qualified for a World Cup finals since 1938, were a massively improved team who would go on to finish third in the tournament.[117][118] A home draw with Wales, followed by a defeat in Katowice, meant that England had to win their final match against Poland at Wembley in October 1973. Ramsey had asked for the Football League games to be postponed on the weekend before the game. This request was refused by Football League chairman, Alan Hardaker who said: "It is a football match, not a war".[119]

Before the qualifier with Poland at Wembley Stadium, Brian Clough described Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski as a "circus clown in gloves".[120] Errors by Norman Hunter and goalkeeper Peter Shilton and an inspired goalkeeping performance by Tomaszewski, who made many crucial saves, meant that the match finished 1–1. Ramsey, always uncomfortable with the substitute rule, was blamed for waiting until the 85th minute before bringing on forward, Kevin Keegan.[115][121] The draw meant that England had tried and failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in the national team's history (England did not compete in the three pre-War World Cups, but that was because of a boycott of FIFA by the English FA).


It was the most devastating half-hour of my life. I stood in a room almost full of staring committee men. It was just like I was on trial. I thought I was going to be hanged.


England, having won the World Cup in 1966, were now perceived to have failed in three successive tournaments. The disappointments of quarter final exits from major tournaments in 1970 and 1972, had been followed by failing even to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. A few months after the draw with Poland which had meant failure to progress, Ramsey was sacked by the FA.

It seems that some of the FA's officials had long held grudges against Ramsey. The British journalist and author Leo McKinstry said "England's most successful manager would have had a legacy fit for a hero had it not been for the malevolence of the FA chief Harold Thompson".[122][123] Alan Ball described the treatment of Ramsey as "the most incredible thing that ever happened in English football".[122]

After England[edit]

Ramsey returned to league management in September 1977 with Birmingham City until March 1978 before resigning, citing ill-health.[50][51] Former Birmingham City player, Pat Van Den Hauwe recalled in his 2012 autobiography "Psycho Pat – The Autobiography of Pat Van den Hauwe: Legend or Madman" that Ramsey had recommended to the Birmingham City board of directors, the transfer of fans' favourites, Trevor Francis and Joe Gallagher. With the board fearing disapproval from supporters, Ramsey left the club instead.[124] Francis was sold less than a year later, in what became known as the first million pound transfer.[125]

Although his time with Birmingham was short, he did mastermind a notable victory, 3–2 away at Anfield against the reigning League and European Champions, Liverpool on 21 January 1978, a match deemed one of Birmingham's "30 great games" by the Birmingham Mail.[126] They won 10 of the games he was in charge for, drawing 4 and losing 12.[127]

Aged 58 when he left Birmingham, this was Ramsey's last full managerial job, although he did also work as a technical adviser at Greek side Panathinaikos, during 1979–80.[128][129]

Managerial style[edit]

During his time at Ipswich, Ramsey began experimenting with a new style of play that would eventually lead to success in the World Cup and led to his England team being styled, "The Wingless Wonders". As natural wingers were not always known for their defensive qualities, Ramsey started dropping them in favour of attacking midfielders who could also drop back into defensive roles. This system proved revolutionary as it often baffled opposing fullbacks, who would naturally expect to see a winger coming down the flank at them once the ball was kicked off: instead, the attacking midfielders and strikers were taking the ball through the middle of the defence and scoring. This style of play proved successful at Ipswich, but really showed its worth when England travelled to Spain to play a friendly with them before the World Cup. As Bobby Charlton remarked, "The Spanish fullbacks were just looking at each other while we were going in droves through the middle". To win in Spain, who were the reigning European Champions, was rare for an English team and was evidence that Ramsey's techniques were working.[130]

A firm but fair manager, Ramsey was often regarded as difficult by the press. He ran a strict regime with his players and made sure that no-one felt that they enjoyed special status, star player or not. In May 1964, after a number of players failed to show up for a meeting in a hotel about a forthcoming tour, amongst them Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton, they eventually returned to their rooms to discover their passports left on their beds. His strict regime didn't suit everyone but the players with real talent and respect for the game responded well to them and had great respect for Ramsey. Very few of those who played for Ramsey spoke ill of him. In the preparations for the 1966 World Cup, Ramsey made sure that no player was confident of a place in the final 22, which resulted in players performing at their highest level. His decision to appoint a young Bobby Moore as captain also showed Ramsey's ability to see great potential in young players. Another one of his abilities was as a master tactician: a quality that he had first shown with his reading of the game as a player. When it came to tactics, Ramsey had revolutionary ideas.[citation needed]

Ramsey earned the respect of his players. He strongly supported Nobby Stiles when the FA leaned on Ramsey to drop Stiles from the 1966 World Cup quarter-final following a tackle on Frenchman Jacky Simon in the previous game.[131] After the final, at the banquet, with the players in one room and their wives forced to sit in an adjoining room, he excused his players early from the banquet to allow the players to join their wives after nearly four weeks apart.[132] In his manner with the players, he was "usually equable", but when his 1978 Birmingham City team produced a poor defensive display, "he blew his top"; the next game was a "historic victory".[126]

Retirement and death[edit]

"He retired to live in Ipswich, where he lived a reclusive life with occasional forays into journalism."[61] "He concentrated on his golf game and watching his Westerns."[51] "A quiet retirement followed. He remained a regular visitor to Wembley for major occasions and in 1991 he was reunited with some of his World Cup-winning team before the FA Cup Final."[133]

Ramsey suffered a stroke on 9 June 1998, during the 1998 World Cup.[134] Suffering from Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer, Ramsey spent three months in a general ward in Ipswich Hospital.[135] He died less than a year later, in a nursing home, on 28 April 1999, at the age of 79 from a heart attack. He was buried in a private ceremony at Old Ipswich Cemetery on 7 May 1999.[136][137] The location of the funeral in Ipswich rather than in London was regarded as a snub to the Football Association whose members Ramsey had never forgiven for his sacking from the England's manager post in 1974.[138]

Following his death Ramsey's widow Lady Victoria continued to live in their modest three-bedroom home in Ipswich.[139]

Personal life[edit]

Ramsey was very sensitive about his personal background. He strove to mask his working-class Essex origins and to present himself as erudite and worldly, going so far as to adopt a speaking accent that the journalist Brian Glanville would call "sergeant-major posh".[94] A widely held perception that Ramsey's accent had become more upper-class during his time as England manager fuelled speculation that he had received elocution lessons, and prompted constant joking from members of the England team who came from similar Essex or East London backgrounds, such as Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves.[94] Rodney Marsh, a forward from the East End who played in Ramsey's England team from 1971 to 1973, later said:

Alf tended to speak in a very poncey plum-in-the-mouth way. It was all "Oh hello Rodney and how are you?". To me it was all complete bollocks.[140]

It was rumoured that Ramsey had Romany (or "gypsy") ancestors—Ramsey was sensitive about the connection and, according to one anecdote, seethed with fury when Moore saw some Romany caravans and joked that the manager should "drop in to see his relatives".[94] The football journalist Ken Jones would relate that on one occasion, when Ramsey perceived Moore and Greaves to be mocking his accent on the team bus, he said he would "win the World Cup without those two bastards".[94]

Throughout his career as a professional footballer and for years afterwards, Ramsey claimed to be two years younger than he really was. This began when Ramsey first turned professional with Southampton during the Second World War. He told Southampton he was born in 1922 rather than 1920, reasoning that this might improve his career prospects and compensate for the years he had lost to the hostilities. He would propagate this false age for over two decades, including in his 1952 autobiography Talking Football, numerous press articles and Who's Who. Only after his knighthood in 1967 did Ramsey reveal his true age, deciding that he could not lie to Debrett's.[141]

Ramsey married Vicky Answorth in 1951, while he was a player for Tottenham Hotspur and England.[51] They had one adopted daughter, Tania.[61] He was a Freemason of Waltham Abbey Lodge from 1953 until 1981, when he resigned.[142]


Statue of Ramsey at Portman Road. The southern stand at the ground is named in his honour.

Ramsey was made an inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 in recognition of his impact on the English game as a manager. He became the only person to be inducted twice when, in 2010, he was included in the Hall of Fame as a player as well as a manager.[69]

Sir Alf Ramsey Way, formerly Portman's Walk, is a street in Ipswich that was named after Ramsey shortly after his death in honour of his achievements as Ipswich Town manager. In 2000, a statue of Ramsey was erected on the corner of the street named after him and Portman Road, at the North Stand/Cobbold Stand corner of the stadium. The statue was commissioned by the Ipswich Town Supporters' Club after an initial idea by local fan Seán Salter. On 31 March 2012, the South Stand at Portman Road was renamed to the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.[143]

In 2009, Fabio Capello inaugurated a statue, sculpted by Philip Jackson, of Ramsey at Wembley.[144] It is situated in the player's tunnel and, according to George Cohen, "it will remind every player to give their best out on the pitch."[145]

Ramsey was listed in the top ten best British managers ever in The Independent.[146] He is widely regarded as one of British football's all-time great managers.[137][147][148] Nonetheless, not everyone reveres Ramsey's managerial style. According to historian Frank McLynn "he was a humourless bore and stifling tactician whose reputation rests on a single undeserved triumph".[149]


As a player[edit]

Tottenham Hotspur

As a manager[edit]

Ipswich Town


Playing statistics[edit]



Appearances and goals by club, season and competition
Club Season League FA Cup Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Southampton 1946–47 Second Division 23 1 1 0 24 1
1947–48 Second Division 42 5 4 0 46 5
1948–49 Second Division 25 2 1 0 26 2
Total 90 8 6 0 96 8
Tottenham Hotspur 1949–50 Second Division 41 4 3 0 44 4
1950–51 First Division 40 4 1 0 41 4
1951–52 First Division 38 5 2 0 40 5
1952–53 First Division 37 6 9 0 46 6
1953–54 First Division 37 2 6 0 43 2
1954–55 First Division 33 3 3 0 36 3
Total 226 24 24 0 250 24
Career total 316 32 30 0 346 32



Appearances and goals by national team and year
National team Year Apps Goals
England 1948 1 0
1949 1 0
1950 9 0
1951 7 1
1952 7 0
1953 7 2
Total 32 3

International goals[edit]

England score listed first, score column indicates score after each Ramsey goal.[70]
International goals by date, venue, opponent, score, result and competition
No. Date Venue Opponent Score Result Competition Notes
1 28 November 1951 Wembley Stadium, London, England  Austria 1–1 2–2 Friendly Penalty
2 21 October 1953 Wembley Stadium, London, England Rest of Europe 4–4 4–4 Friendly Penalty
3 25 November 1953 Wembley Stadium, London, England  Hungary 3–6 3–6 Friendly Penalty

Managerial statistics[edit]

Managerial record by team and tenure
Team From To Record Ref
P W D L Win %
Ipswich Town August 1955 April 1963 369 176 75 118 47.7 [153]
England May 1963 May 1974 113 69 27 17 61.1 [154]
Birmingham City September 1977 March 1978 28 11 4 13 39.3 [155]
Total 510 256 106 148 50.2

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Arsenal played at White Hart Lane during the war because Highbury was bombed in the Blitz.[16]
  2. ^ Ramsey arrived in Rio de Janeiro to find no-one at the airport to meet him, and wandered around in bewilderment for two hours before a local football official told him Southampton were in São Paulo and helped arrange a flight.[39] Ramsey recalled that before the game against Corinthians, "radio commentators, dragging microphones on to the field, rushed up to us and demanded—yes, demanded!—our views."[39] A riot threatened to break out during that match after one of the home players was sent off. Ramsey wrote in 1952: "Our officials were treated very badly by some spectators, and just when I thought things had quietened down, some wild-eyed negroes climbed over the wire fencing surrounding the pitch and things again looked dangerous ... Outside our dressing-room they demonstrated—because we had won!—for over an hour."[40] At a dinner after the game, Ramsey found himself seated next to the player who had been sent off. "I tried to speak to him and in return received only a fixed glare," Ramsey wrote in Talking Football. "There was something hypnotic in the way this negro stared at us. He certainly ranks as the most unpleasant man I've ever met on or off the football field."[40]
  3. ^ The exact wording differs slightly between sources. In Sir Geoff Hurst's autobiography, published in 2001, it is stated that Ramsey "told us that we'd won it once. 'Now go and win it again,' he said."[104]
  4. ^ At the time of the 1966 World Cup only the players on the pitch at the end of the final received medals. Ramsey, his non-playing staff and 11 out of the 22 England squad members thus did not get medals at the time. In June 2009, after FIFA retrospectively revised its medals policy, winners' medals were formally presented to the 1966 England coaching staff and those players who had not finished the final by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street. George Cohen, one of the team's defenders, received Ramsey's medal on behalf of the former manager's family.[151]


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  • Ramsey, Alf (1952). Talking Football (First ed.). London: Stanley Paul. OCLC 9136896. 

External links[edit]