Different eras and approach - but Sir Alf and Southgate share one key trait
- Credit: PA
England boss Gareth Southgate is one win away from emulating Ipswich Town legend Sir Alf Ramsey in leading his country to a major tournament win. Former EADT sports editor Tony Garnett compares the two...
Sir Alf Ramsey will always be remembered as the manager who led England to World Cup glory at Wembley in 1966. Gareth Southgate still needs victory over Italy in the Euros, a lesser competition, before he can be judged.
Football was different 55 years ago. A heavy leather football has been replaced by a beach ball.
Some things have not changed. Both managers have a happy dressing room and both have made tough decisions – Ramsey dropping Jimmy Greaves from the World Cup final and Southgate’s decision to substitute Jack Grealish after the Villa star had been introduced as a sub in the semi-final.
Southgate is comfortable with the media. Ramsey was not. Southgate appears to be a diplomat who, one imagines, would never call the Argentinians “animals”.
Both managers stick to what they believe. Ramsey defied pressure from top brass at the Football Association to drop Nobby Stiles after his bad foul against Frenchman Jacques Simon. Both, it seems, can be obstinate. In football management obstinacy can be a good thing.
Southgate has the problem of handling mega-rich players, some of them millionaires. Ramsey’s lads came from an English League that had abandoned the maximum wage only five years previously.
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Ramsey lived and breathed football while Southgate clearly has wider interests.
Ramsey was given the time to lift third-tier players to the First Division Championship over seven seasons. Promotion from the Third Division (South) was secured at the second attempt. It took four years to win promotion from the Second Division but his position was never in question.
Ramsey’s genius was to adapt his tactics so that players with limited ability played to their strengths. He made a great decision to bring Ted Phillips in from the cold after a season in exile at Stowmarket. Maybe he was fortunate that no rival club knew enough about his cannonball shooting to take a chance.
Perhaps he was lucky that Bill Baxter, a virtually unknown young Scot from Broxburn Athletic, turned out to be so good.
Alf’s best signings were Ray Crawford from Portsmouth and Andy Nelson from West Ham. He also found a special role for Roy Stephenson who had played on the wing for various clubs. He gave Jimmy Leadbetter a new lease of footballing life as a deep-lying winger able to deliver telling passes for the strike force.
England were fortunate. The FA wanted Burnley’s Jimmy Adamson to be manager but he turned them down. Alf, next in line, was never comfortable in his office at Lancaster Gate and had scant respect for top brass like his bete-noire Sir Harold Thompson.
Ramsey never over-reacted. When I published a team change in the EADT because I had seen the dressing room notice board when I trained with the reserves in the afternoon, Alf made it clear that he was unhappy. He said:
“You have picked my team for me.” He never suggested stopping me from having an afternoon workout on the practice pitch with gear provided by trainers Jimmy Forsyth and Charlie Cowie.
I was only given the job of covering Ipswich Town after my sports editor, Alan Everett, had been kept waiting for an interview with Alf in the old wooden hut which served as the club offices. Everett had a short fuse.
Sometimes I would travel with the team by train and stay overnight with the official party in a hotel. On other occasions I would make my own way, at first on a BSA motor bike and then by car.
One of those early matches was an evening match against Derby County at the Baseball Ground. By the time I had phoned my report almost everyone else had left the ground. The lights were out. I found my way into the Derby County club office area, heard voices in the Board Room.
Derby manager Harry Storer was standing at the head of the table with a bottle of whisky in his hand. He was filling up John Cobbold’s glass and offered me one as well. Alf was also there with his glass being topped up with gin.
While Cobbold was drinking, Alf was pouring his gin into a flower vase. There was no way he wanted his players to see him any the worse for wear when he returned to the hotel.
If I had my car up north Alf would suggest that I take a player back to Ipswich with me for company. It was usually Doug Millward whose family lived in Sheffield, where we visited for a meal on the way home.
It may seem strange, but Alf was never a qualified FA coach. Millward, though, attended courses at Lilleshall. On his return Alf would pick his brains especially over free-kick routines.
Once Alf asked for a lift himself. He was keen to get home early from the Midlands. The plan backfired. We had reached the Minden Rose pub on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds when we had a flat tyre.
Neither of us was any good with wheel braces. We took refuge in the pub waiting for an RAC mechanic to arrive. Alf did not get home early as planned. He never travelled with me again!
On my first visit to Villa Park, Ramsey came up to me as we were getting off the team bus and said. “I want to show you something.”
I had no idea what he meant but stayed close to him as he led me onto the pitch some 45 minutes before kick-off. We walked to the edge of penalty area at the Holte End.
He pointed to a piece of turf and said it was the exact spot where he experienced the worst moment in his playing career. He miscued a back pass in the final 15 seconds of the 1953 FA Cup semi-final against Blackpool.
It enabled Jackie Mudie to fire in Blackpool’s winner to set up the Matthews final against Bolton Wanderers.
Why Alf wanted to share this memory with me, I have never been quite sure.
Alf lived and breathed football. He had a photographic memory. Players learned never to question him.
He would move from compartment to compartment on a train journey home. He would talk to each player in turn and point out incidents from which he thought they could learn.
A competition between the players developed to see who could keep Alf off the subject of football for the longest.
They tried talking about cars, horse racing or even the weather. Seventy-five seconds remained the record before football became the topic. Alf was never easily distracted.
Southgate also does not appear as though he is likely to be distracted. He would never have used Alf’s methods. Alf would have struggled with the demands off the field of modern football.