Sir Alfred Ernest Ramsey
Born in Dagenham, England Sir Alfred ‘Alf’ Ramsey is best known for winning the 1966 World Cup with England, the only manager to do so. Many professionals and supporters of the game consider Ramsey one of the greatest British managers of all time.
As well as the England job, Ramsey also enjoyed an eleven-year playing career before embarking on a very successful term as manager of Ipswich Town.
Known as a very proud character that worked his teams hard in training, Ramsey was unlike most managers in that he allowed his players to refer to him as “Alf”.
Alfred Ramsey began his professional playing career with Southampton in 1944. A great reader of the game, Ramsey soon established himself as a capable right-back and caught the attention of Tottenham Hotspur who he made over 250 appearances for between 1949 and 1955, scoring twenty four goals. Most of these came from the penalty spot where he had an excellent record, earning himself the nickname, ‘The General’. As a further reflection of his success, during his playing career, ‘Alf’ earned thirty-two England caps, three of which as captain.
Ramsey hung up his boots in 1955 and took up his first managerial role with Ipswich Town of the Third Division South. In eight years as Ipswich boss, he proved himself to be a shrewd and competent manager, taking the East Anglia minnows to the First Division Championship in 1962 against all the odds.
In a remarkable spell, Ramsey’s Ipswich were transformed from a struggling Third Division side to the leading club team in the country.
It was during his time with Ipswich that Ramsey began to develop a system of tactics that he later applied to the England team of 1966 and achieved great success. When so many managers and teams used natural wingers as an attacking option, Ramsey opted for more defensive minded midfielders who joined the attack not out wide but through the middle of the field. This revolutionary tactic proved to be very effective in both domestic and international football and was a reflection of Ramsey’s managerial capability and tactical astuteness.
After being appointed England manager in 1963, Ramsey’s first act was to predict the winner of the next World Cup in 1966… England. His confidence was not shared by many but Ramsey set about achieving his bold ambition just as he did at Ipswich.
The key to Ramsey’s success was his ability to get the best from his players. He achieved this by adopting a strict regime that did not offer special treatment to any player, regardless of their ability or status within the squad. As a result, in the lead up to the World Cup finals in 1966, Ramsey had 22 players that were performing at their highest level.
World Cup 1966
In preparation for the tournament, Ramsey appointed young defender Bobby Moore as England captain for the World Cup. This proved to be one of Ramsey’s finest decisions and set the tone for the Cup itself.
Ramsey’s England were drawn against Uruguay, Mexico and France in the group stages of the competition. After a disappointing 0-0 draw in the opening game against Uruguay, England were soon on track for Ramsey’s prediction with 2-0 victories against both Mexico and France.
As is usually the way with England though, just when things were looking up for Ramsey and England, injury struck, as influential striker Jimmy Greaves was sidelined. Secondly, Ramsey faced a battle with FIFA, who were calling for Nobby Stiles to be removed from the England squad after a vicious tackle against the French. In a statement of loyalty to his player, Ramsey pledged to quit as England boss if Stiles was removed. Stiles remained with the team and went on to play a key role en route to victory.
After a reasonably comfortable qualification round, England’s next opponents were Argentina. Known for their rough style, the South Americans did not disappoint as captain Antonio Rattin refused to leave the field after being sent off.
It was in this game that Ramsey decided to adopt his ‘wingless’ style and switched from a traditional 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 with Martin Peters and Alan Ball either side of Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles in midfield. It proved to be a masterstroke as it was Peters who set up Greaves’s replacement, Geoff Hurst, for the deciding goal in a 1-0 win. However, as an act of protest against the Argentine style of play, Ramsey did not allow his players to swap shirts after the game.
Having reached the semi-finals, it was becoming clear that Ramsey’s prediction was not as far-fetched as first thought. Despite coming up against the tournament’s top scorer, Portugal’s Eusebio, in the semi-final England triumphed 2-1, setting up a final with West Germany at Wembley.
Arguably England’s finest sporting achievement came on the 30th July 1966. In a thrilling encounter, Ramsey’s team overcame their German opponents 4-2 after extra-time just as he had predicted three years earlier. It was this match that defined Ramsey’s managerial career and demonstrated his tactical astuteness. Playing 4-4-2, Ramsey’s faith in Geoff Hurst paid off, as the West Ham striker scored a hat trick, while Martin Peters, playing in Ramsey’s newly created midfield role, also scored.
No England manager has ever come close to matching the success of Ramsey and it is for that reason that he is considered by many as the greatest England manager of all time.
Ramsey and England were not so successful two years later when they entered the next major championship. Hosts Italy won the European Championship in 1968 while England could only finish third. A semi-final defeat at the hands of Yugoslavia set up a third place play-off with the Soviet Union which England won 2-0 with goals from Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst.
World Cup 1970
Going into the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico, Ramsey’s England team was considered among the favourites for victory. After coming through a tough group stage that included Brazil, England were faced with a rematch of the 1966 World Cup Final. Although many considered the 1970 squad to be stronger than the squad which lifted the trophy four years earlier, England would go no further and there would be no defence of the trophy.
England led 2-0 in the game but, without the safe hands of Gordon Banks (who had pulled off his most memorable save against Brazil earlier in the competition), the Germans hit three goals in the last 20 minutes to knock the holders out. Ramsey received some criticism after the defeat for what was perceived as negative tactics.
This marked a turning point in Ramsey’s career and the fortunes of the England team, as both plunged in the years following the defeat in Mexico. The rot firmly set in when the Germans beat England again in 1972, which knocked Ramsey’s team out of the European Championships in Belgium. It was becoming clear to the supporters and the FA that the success of 1966 could not be matched and, after failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, Ramsey was sacked as England manager.
Ramsey went on to take on a brief caretaker-manager role at Birmingham City between 1977 and 1978.
After suffering from a stroke in his later life, Alf was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which would be the cause of his death in 1999 at the age of 79.
Ramsey’s career was a special one that includes an accolade that no manager of England can match in the World Cup triumph in 1966. This has been reflected in a number of tributes. Made an inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, Portman’s Walk in Ipswich is also known to this day as ‘Sir Alf Ramsey Way’. In 2000, the site saw the erection of a statue of Ramsey. Such tributes reflect the fact that, for 1966 alone, Ramsey’s character, achievements and legacy will never be forgotten.