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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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