Archive | Sir Alf Ramsey

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Alf Ramsey Picks The Team: Budgie’s 1964

Posted on 30 December 2008 by JamesHamilton

The mid-sixties brought a gentlemen’s agreement: Liverpool would do the music, and London would do the football. It might have happened earlier. Most capital cities dominated the football in their respective countries, and London had only missed out because we’d invented the game, and invented it north of Watford Gap.

But by 1964, the English national side, managed by a Londoner, was filling up with men from the south east. Moore, and Greaves were already there. So was Maurice Norman. Johnny Haynes was attempting a comeback from injury. More were to come.

But the World Cup was two years away, and it would bring South American sides with it, and anyway, it was too much to ask even the revitalised ’61 side of ’63 to keep it going until then.

And it was about time for another impact player. Charlton and Greaves were bedded-in, Clough was gone and Haynes going. In later years, it would be Gascoigne, Owen, Rooney who’d re-excite the side.

In 1964, it was a West Ham forward, Johnny “Budgie” Byrne.

Byrne looked like a Londoner. In some photographs, he’s John Terry, but taller, slimmer and faster. He’d started his real career at Crystal Palace, coming to life when Palace switched away from 2-3-5. There, under Arthur Rowe of Spurs “push and run” fame, Byrne would become the only Division Four player to get the England call, albeit into the Under-23s.

Then came West Ham, who provided one of those what-if? moments by offering Geoff Hurst as a makeweight before thinking better of it. They still ended up breaking the British transfer record for him.

Byrne would have some great seasons at Upton Park, but ’63-64 was the one to remember: 33 goals in all competitions, a League Cup semi-final and an FA Cup Winner’s medal. It was only enough to finish 14th in Division One, but it was a year in which only eleven points separated the Champions Liverpool from seventh place Blackburn Rovers.

Ramsey took Byrne on tour with England in the summer of ’63, and played him against Switzerland. It came off well: he scored two, Charlton bagged the match ball and he’d outshone Greaves, who failed to score at all in the 8-1 victory.

He was unfortunate in his next game, against Scotland. Once again, Ramsey brought the best out of Jim Baxter and the wind got the better of Gordon Banks.

But then came the Byrne glory charge through the spring of 1964. He scored two goals against Uruguay at Wembley, and, all-importantly, victory against one of the South American giants. Victory in London, made in London, with Cohen, Moore, Norman and Greaves all there to share it with him.

Then a hat-trick against Eusebio’s Portugal in Lisbon. Five Londoners on the pitch against a European team full of stars.

Greaves, alongside him, wasn’t scoring, but he was bringing the best out of Byrne. Both men would be at their physical late-20s peak come the World Cup, and they’d have eighteen months to bed the partnership down.

It could only get better, and did. Both Greaves and Byrne scored in the comfortable 3-1 win over Northern Ireland. In the summer of 1964 England would tour the Americas, and the Londoners would get their chance against Brazil.

But this is another story about flawed genius. Byrne had a reputation as a drinker by this stage, although, as George Best would later protest, so did most players. Byrne had been one of a group who broke curfew before facing Portugal, but at least he’d performed thereafter. But there were more shenanigans on tour in the Americas.

The tour had begun well, with a comprehensive 10-0 win over the United States in New York. Byrne was left out for that one, but another Londoner, Mike Bailey of Charlton, enjoyed an impressive debut. Like Ken Shellito in 1963, he looked set to continue, then broke his leg. He would not be the last before ’66 came round.

But Brazil was a disaster. Pele destroyed England in the second half, and although Greaves got his goal, 5-1 was about right. The gulf between Brazil and the European game was all too apparent.

Then, defeat against Argentina. And no goal for Byrne.

He was dropped after that, reappearing briefly in the autumn against Wales where he’d see Forest’s Frank Wignall score on his debut. But his conduct, and Ramsey’s doubts about his partnership with Greaves against the very best sides, extended his international exile.

That left West Ham to take a monopoly on all Byrne’s excess energy. At club level, 1964-5 would be his annus mirabilis. He stormed to 25 goals in 33 games, and helped West Ham win the first leg of their European Cup Winners Cup semi-final against Real Zaragoza.

A recall had to come, and it came, with a year to go before the World Cup, against Scotland.

For England, it was a bit more like it, a 2-2 draw despite playing with only nine fit men. For Byrne, it was disaster. When Ray Wilson left the field at half time, he slotted back into defence, and then tore the ligaments in his knee. He played on through intense pain, worsening the damage.

Some say that it was now that his drinking really took hold. But in fact he recovered well – and helped West Ham to another European Cup-Winner’s Cup semi-final. Ramsey named him in the provisional 28-man squad for the World Cup Finals, alongside his strking partner Geoff Hurst.

He didn’t make the cut, and what followed resembles a man falling down unexpected stairs. In 1967, West Ham offloaded him to Crystal Palace, where he had just enough time to score one goal in fourteen games in a failed promotion push. Palace passed him on to Fulham.

After that, and it was another brief, unsuccessful sojourn, Byrne emigrated to South Africa, and found a happy footballing life for himself in Durban. Ron Greenwood had once compared him to Di Stefano. In 1964, Greenwood could have compared him to anyone at all, and not been far away.

Despite Byrne’s departure from the scene, and Greaves’s international decline, England would go on to great things. But they’d never score goals in quite that way again.

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Alf Ramsey Picks The Team: 1963

Posted on 29 December 2008 by JamesHamilton

By 1963, England’s top players would have been well used to foreign travel. They were familiar with the routine and experience of flying, so Ramsey’s first fixture shouldn’t have posed a problem just because it was an away friendly.

But it was an away friendly in Paris, that most unfriendly and unEnglish of cities. It smelt of drains. There were French cars in England of course, but not so many, and not carrying those alien licence plates. And the food, the bathrooms: you can travel a lot further, and feel a lot more familiar.

And the manager was new, and, it soon became clear, quite the xenophobe. He was young, too: nine years before, they’d turfed him out of the England team after that display against the Hungarians. Since then, all he’d done was Ipswich: and, as a look round the dressing room revealed, there were no Ipswich players here. Just the usual blokes, a little louder than usual, sitting a little closer together than usual.

Munich was almost exactly five years ago. Since then, England teams had been drawn from lesser sources than United. Great, gallumphing Wolverhampton Wanderers; ambitious, modern little Burnley; lucky champions Everton. And Spurs, a team of ex-pat Celts plus Smith and Greaves.

Bobby Moore was there, looking like he’d fallen out of a spaghetti western into Duncan Edwards’ boots. He was only 22, and his first England experience had been the 1962 World Cup. He’d been someone Winterbottom had been able to protect from the vagaries of the selection committee. Ramsey had seen him play, well, against Wales in November.

So Moore was in Paris, and it was a disaster, and England lost 5-2. Lose to the French first, said Ramsey’s ghost to the sleeping Capello, and then beat the Germans in a friendly. It’s what Ramsey did, at any rate, but first he got all kinds of things out of his system by losing to the Scots.

Nobby Stiles would say later than Alf Ramsey could get a man to feel like a giant. It was true, but the first player to feel the bad brylcreem roaring through his football veins was Jim Baxter. What was it between Baxter and Ramsey? Slim Jim would always turn it on for Alf, and in Ramsey’s second game, Gordon Banks’s debut, he’d scored twice before half time.

Then came the 1-1 against Brazil, then, as now, a good enough result. But it left England with what amounted to one point out of Ramsey’s first three matches. They’d scored four goals, but let in eight. No one had shone. There was no sign of the “system” of which Ramsey had spoken. Charlton and Greaves, once so prolific,  had done nothing.

England would play six more games before 1963 was out. They’d win them all. Charlton and Greaves would produce every single time. Between May and November, it would be played 6, won 6, for 28, against 8.

What happened? Greaves happened… a run of two goals in eight internationals was followed with one of eight goals in five. It would be his last real burst of scoring for England. He wouldn’t have Bobby Smith to play alongside after that. Smith had scored 13 goals in his fifteen internationals and he and Greaves scored 31 times in their 13 games together.

In the 4-0 win over Wales in October, Bobby Charlton’s goal took him to the all-time England scoring record, overtaking Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney with a total of 31. Greaves was on 25 by then, but although he’d end up with 44, not a single one of the additional goals would make a meaningful difference for England. Charlton’s would kick-start the World Cup, and he’d score more important goals in the ’68 European Championship.

But in November 1963, with only two full years to put together a team for the World Cup, Ramsey’s England was little more than Winterbottom’s, flywheeling on.  No new “system” and few new players. It would all change in  1964. Ramsey had been to watch West Ham, and he’d found a new centre-forward, one good enough to become a legend..

But if it was a matter of repeating the 9-3 heroics of 1961, Ramsey could claim to have fallen only one goal short, ending the year with an 8-3 against Northern Ireland. Will those of you in the Catholic seats clap your hands?

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Alf Ramsey Picks The Team: Prologue

Posted on 21 December 2008 by JamesHamilton

He wasn’t first choice: that was Jimmy Adamson of Burnley. And when the job offer did come, he didn’t agree straightaway. Alf Ramsey had enough about him to negotiate, and, courtesy of those elocution lessons he always denied, the voice to do it with. In 1962, these words were not blindingly obvious:

I think an England manager must make up his mind what players he has and then find a rigid method for them to play to. If any player, no matter how clever an individual is not prepared to accept the discipline of the team’s method then I can see no advantage in selecting him.

The football conundrum is that it is a team game with all the room in the world for individual expression. The weight has to go somewhere. In England, with a traditional dribbling game, it went to the individual. In Scotland, with a traditional passing game, the team was more the thing. Ramsey hated Scots. But he thought like a Scot about England.

To get him, the FA had to change the habits of ninety years. No more selection committees. Ramsey was to be in total charge of tactics and team selection.

That was more than a change in manning and demarcation. It completely altered the cultural place of the England team in the national game. The selection committee, with Walter Winterbottom’s involvement, would try to put together a winning side, true. But an England shirt was also seen as a reward for service. And there was a pork barrel element to it too: committee members would favour players from their own clubs. All this would now stop, and something else take their place.

But Ramsey’s desire to pick the team himself didn’t make the complete sense in 1962 that it makes now. There was still very little football on television, and what there was was insufficient for tactical analysis or judgment of players or the spotting of new talent. The England manager would need a thousand scouting eyes. He’d need to attend matches as often as he could.

In 1962, with the maximum wage only just abolished, football club squads were far larger than they are today – probably at least twice the current size. They would be predominantly English. Furthermore, the retain-and-transfer system, which still had a year to live,  meant that a lot of top talent was trapped in the lower divisions. Picking the best squad from such a throng, let alone the best side, was a formidable task.

By 1962, too, the war babies were coming into England contention. They were the best fed generation before or since, and their crucial street football years had been clear of cars. Hungary aside, the South Americans, who’d sat out 1939-45, dominated post-War football. By 1966, England would have a new group ready to take them on. And what a group it was: between 1966 and 1972, the First Division had enough talent to carry seven different title winners, all of them memorable sides.

What’s more, this group were in receipt of better training and tactics that any previous English players. Ramsey himself had played in both the 1-0 defeat to the USA in 1950 and in the 6-3 Hungarian disaster. He wasn’t the only man in English football to spend the ’50s suffering from and obsessing over these experiences. Joe Mercer and Walter Winterbottom went into the schools to institute Jimmy Hogan-style skills training; Stanley Matthews pioneered modern playing kit; Don Revie brought Hungarian ideas to Manchester City. And the clever Scots, Busby and Shankly, had arrived.

By the end of the 1960s, the culture would have changed, and working class male talent went, successfully but with no track record, into music. But before the decade was out, England would send a team to the top of the world and bring it safely back again. Four times. Once before Ramsey, in 1961, Winterbottom’s last great side with the young Jimmy Greaves. In 1964, the year of Johnny Byrne. In ’66. And – it’s right by my calendar – 1970.

It was done despite a querulous press corps (“What’s it about, Alfie?”) and some spectacular condescension from television and middle class media. It ends, as we’ve seen, in endless remembrance, celebration and a lifetime of receiving lifetime awards.

Ramsey took over in May 1963. 1961 had been great, but better was to come.

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