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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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The End of England

Posted on 02 July 2006 by JamesHamilton

Before I start my post-mortem, spare a moment for the British press.

  • They didn’t want Owen Hargreaves. Will any of them now admit their error, or will they fall back on saying that he’s “won over the fans”?
  • They didn’t want Crouch. And no other manager besides Sven would ever have picked him. Or stuck by him. Will any of them now admit their error, or will they fall back on saying that he’s “won over the fans”?

I could go on, but I won’t.

No team has a right to win any tournament, nor do omens count. Luck has a major part to play, as Argentina will attest. Here are the reasons for England’s defeat last night:

  • It’s not that the central midfield – Lampard and Gerrard – failed to play together; they failed to play at all. Hargreaves – allegedly in the holding position – took on the Portuguese last night; his team mates didn’t, and haven’t all the way through. Gerrard’s very obvious angling for the glory goal in the last part of the match instead of finding a better-placed team mate said everything about why he’s considered such a hero: it’s Flashman heroism. Lampard simply fell short altogether – I suspect both mentally and physically very tired after two quite astonishing seasons. Every man has his limits. That Gerrard and Lampard fluffed their penalties isn’t really to do with anything else, but was of a type with everything else that they’d come up with. I agree with Sven – two such good players should be able to work it out between themselves. So, ego on the one hand, exhaustion on the other.
  • The injuries to Rooney and Owen were decisive. It’s something of a myth that there are scores of international-ready strikers whom Sven might have taken, and I feel that the criticism he took on this account was harsh. This is especially so when you consider Crouch, of whom more anon. The most obvious candidate, Jermaine Defoe, is not a team player, and not necessarily someone you want in your camp over the course of a tournament – the same consideration, allegedly, that did for Robbie Fowler. But Fowler had a good international scoring record; Defoe’s is some way short of Crouch’s, and of the two it’s clear who has the big match temperament. So, injuries to Rooney and Owen were always going to be catastrophic. Imagine Brazil without Ronaldo (who, overweight, still outperformed every other Brazilian in the end) or Ronaldinho, or, in England’s case, both. I feel that the referee handlied the Rooney thing badly – failing to whistle at all during the long physical assault on Rooney by three Portuguese players, then applying the law to what might have been an accidental stamp in the most draconian way. He’d also failed to give England a cast-iron penalty – but otherwise, I felt he had as good a night as might be expected in such a difficult match.
  • The draw didn’t suit England – just as Brazil’s relatively straightforward one didn’t suit them. “Easy paths” just aren’t for us – I felt sick when I saw who we’d been given in the first round. England respond to challenges – we are better off by far in a group of death. As it was, we arrived at Portugal having – as someone wisely said – played four meaningless friendlies. After Rooney’s sending-off, suddenly the challenge rose to the team’s level, and, with the exception of Lampard and Gerrard, we played.

Before the game, Jose Mourinho said that whoever lost could go home knowing that they’d lost to a good side. That was kind, but in all truth Portugal were very lucky last night – only Simao showed any real endeavour, and for all the passing around our penalty area late on, it was very apparent that no one in the Portugal team had any idea what to do with the possession they were receiving. Penalties were a minefield for us, but they were Portugal’s best hope.

England’s Players of the Tournament

  • Owen Hargreaves. I wonder how many of the wise men of the press will issue mea culpas today? I suspect none – they’ll act as though it was only a matter of the fans not seeing what they’d seen all along (and mysteriously not written about..) He put Lampard and Gerrard to shame. Without a fixed place in the side, he performed well every time, making a mockery of the more famous midfield pairing’s behaviour.
  • Peter Crouch. No other manager would have picked him, let alone taken him over and above Defoe. I doubt he’ll play much for England in future. But he was magnificent when called upon – one glaring miss, that was played up because his name wasn’t Owen, but otherwise an excellent goals-to games ratio, huge contribution to the team, and forty minutes last night that rose above even that.
  • David Beckham. It’s now clear that nothing he can do will win him back the press, but given the press’s “success” at predicting the performance of my first two players of the tournament, that can’t really be a problem any more. Remind me of Lampard and Gerrard’s joint goals-and-assists total, then place it next to Beckham’s.

In the context of history

Sven will now be a villain in English football history. The man who squandered the golden generation. It’ll be nonsense – and as we pass from the recent era of relative optimism to four or more years of real mediocrity rather than the imagined kind, there’ll be the odd member of the press pack who’ll look back.

This will be a time of might-have-beens. With more luck, and we have not been lucky, we might now be looking at two World Cups and one European Championship. Without the luck, but with a bit more from the centre of the park, we might have been looking at two World Cups and one European Championship.

The consistency with previous failures is there – the failure to push up, to defend too deeply, is still, infuriatingly, there, and it’s been there for the whole of my adult life. And the failure of great players to get a grip – something Hargreaves’ second coming last night illustrated all too well. If he can do it.. but that question won’t be answered now.

We’ve gone out of the best World Cup of the modern era, thank heavens. That deserves to be remembered.

What Now?

You have your English coach now. Not the one you wanted – the English coach you preferred was Scolari, or O’Neill, of course, or failing that, Mr. Tomlinson. But may you enjoy the extra patriotism that we had under Keegan, under Taylor, under Robson when we failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship, under Hoddle in the early stages of the Euro 2000 qualifiers… no doubt that will prove the missing part of the jigsaw.

You can also look forward to the end of selection consistency and the appropriate promotion of players to the international scene. Here is the team who played Germany in Munich in 2001:

Seaman: Neville Campbell Ferdinand Cole: Barmby Gerrard Scholes Beckham: Heskey Owen

Now here’s the “ideal” England lineup that we never quite achieved at this tournament:

Robinson: Nevill Terry Ferdinand Cole: Cole Gerrard Lampard Beckham: Rooney Owen

The changes can be accounted for thus: Seaman retired; Campbell, in the squad but form affected; Barmby, effectively retired (chose to play for Hull City for personal reasons); Scholes retired, and injured for much of the season anyway; Heskey, form.

In short, one change over five years because of form. Compare that to “English” managers Revie and Taylor.

You can look forward no more to the early introduction to the international scene of players who are young but good enough. Compare Hoddle’s treatment of Michael Owen to Erickson’s treatment of Ashley Cole, Rooney, Joe Cole, Stewart Downing, Aaron Lennon and now Theo Walcott.

It’s back to being the underdog again. It’s what the press secretly prefer. With a few exceptions – the usual ones (the names Henry Winter, Jim White and Simon Barnes spring to mind, although not Patrick Barclay this time) – the press just don’t seem intelligent enough to handle our team being front-runners. Where, incidentally, were the “brave substitutions” from Scolari last night that were going to turn the game? Sven’s were better, weren’t they? Well?
All this is rather sour, and I’d prefer to end on a different note. This is still a magnificent World Cup – and the match between France and Brazil last night worthy of any. I feared that Domenech was committing suicide for his excellent side with crazy substitutions, but France pulled through regardless. It’s a magnificent World Cup, and there are still 4 games to look forward to.

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World Cup 2006: The Press Have Got It Wrong

Posted on 31 May 2006 by JamesHamilton

Judging by some of the press reports – well summarised by Football365 as “Panic Mode” – on England’s 3-1 victory over Hungary last night, we can more or less forget about our winning in Germany this year. It’s for all the usual “reasons”, most of which I think are bunk:

  1. “Eriksson is an over-cautious manager who doesn’t bring the best out of the players at his disposal.” There’s a lot to say about this, but let’s just look at the cautious manager who is the first in living memory not to ignore our most skilful players because of their lack of work rate, who introduced Rooney at the age of 17 and brought in Ashley Cole after a mere handful of Premiership appearances. The same one who beat Argentina in a competitive World Cup Finals match with a team lacking Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard, any kind of proper left-sided player at all, plus injury-hobbled versions of Owen and Beckham.
  2. “Eriksson’s substitutions aren’t daring enough to win matches”. This makes the assumption that there are coaches out there who are doing exactly that on a regular basis. Apparently, Scolari did this against England and won the match – “boldly” substituting Figo because, “unlike Eriksson”, he “isn’t afraid of big-name players”. No, Scolari “won” the match with a deal of good fortune – namely, a good disallowed goal, the loss of Rooney, and penalties. Frankly, there’s only so much a coach can do with substitutions – he can’t guarantee that the player he sends on will do what he wants, he can’t account for what the other coach will do, and there are only so many replacements he can make. Shouting from the touchline is tricky, too, for all that our journos put such importance upon it. For one thing – you just can’t be heard above the crowd. Players who aren’t close to you have to take what you’re saying from other players – ever heard of Chinese Whispers? – and, of course, they have to understand you.
  3. “With only one more practice game before the World Cup, we’re still looking for answers”. Actually, most World Cup winners continue to do this long into the tournament itself. I’m going to devote the rest of this piece to some examples of what I mean:
  • Geoff Hurst made his debut for England in February 1966. He played in the Quarter Final against Argentina because of an injury to Jimmy Greaves. Hurst scored in that game, but it was goals from midfield in the next match against Portugal – a brace by Bobby Charlton – that got England to the Final.
  • Italy last won the World Cup in 1982, famously due to the goals of Paolo Rossi, who had been recalled to the team late in the day after two years out of football. Italy drew all three of their group matches, reaching the next round only on goal difference. Rossi didn’t score in any of those games.
  • Germany’s second World Cup win came when they last hosted the tournament in 1974. In their group matches, they were well beaten by East Germany, and struggled to beat both Australia and Chile. The German training camp, a virtual fortress owing to threats from terrorist groups, was riven by disputes over money and at one point the manager, Helmut Schon, threatened to send the entire squad home and play with a second string side.
  • Argentina – winners in 1986 – played only three teams of any quality to lift the trophy, and possessed only one world class player in Maradona. Against Italy in the group stages, they could only draw 1-1; against England, they failed to score until halfway through the second half and even then only through the most famous non-goal in the tournament’s history. Even in the Final itself, against Germany, they let go a 2-0 lead (and let’s hope this year’s Final is anywhere near as good as that one).
  • I don’t need to point this out, but Brazil in 2002 were poor, and were lucky to meet England’s string-and-sellotape side in the heat of the day. The other sides they met in that tournament included Turkey, twice (who were unlucky to lose, twice!) China, Costa Rica, and Belgium. Compare England’s fortune in facing Sweden, Nigeria, Argentina and, of course, Brazil. In terms of the quality of teams at that tournament, it’s arguable that without the match against England, Brazil would have had no proper test at all, and you might well regard that game as the tournament’s true Final.
  • France, in 1998, had a superb team, coming into its own, but a coach who the press didn’t trust with the job. And indeed, after cruising their group games (in spite of Zidane’s red card against Saudi Arabia) France squeezed through only on penalties against Italy, and came through – just! 2-1 against Croatia, not really having had the best of the game in any sense.
  • In 1994, the story is all about Italy, losers on penalties in the worst World Cup Final ever. In their group, they finished THIRD, having lost to the Republic of Ireland and only drawn against Mexico. Only a late Baggio goal got them past Spain; in the semi-final, they might have been pleased to meet Stoichov’s Bulgaria, but after running up an early lead (shades of England-Portugal in Euro 2000) spent most of the game under siege.

The point I’m making here is that teams never cruise World Cups – and the winners never go into them with everything neatly planned out. The tournament is always a chapter of accidents, and the new, longer-format tournaments even more so.

I can see no teams who are coming into these Finals in better shape, or with things more settled. Even Brazil. Their astonishing forward line is there right enough, but once you get past them, the remaining five outfield players are deeply inferior to their English counterparts.

The press have it wrong. We won last night, with ease, and Crouch scored a first-class goal to go with that other first-out-of-the-balloon candidate, Beckham, who was fantastic. This might still be our year.

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