This continues an appreciation of Answered Prayers, a new book by Duncan Hamilton about England’s only World Cup football triumph, in 1966. You can read Part 1 here.
ON January 2, 1963, Alf Ramsey drove through a blizzard from Ipswich to London, to keep a promise. He had told the BBC broadcaster Peter Dimmock that he would give an interview for the Sportsview programme about his new post as manager of the England football team.
Harry Carpenter asked Ramsey whether England could win the World Cup after 16 years of failure under his predecessor Walter Winterbottom.
‘Most certainly,’ was the reply. ‘I think with all sincerity that we will win the World Cup.’ Just to make things clear, he added: ‘England will win the World Cup in London in 1966.’
Over the next few months, this statement was regularly thrown back at Ramsey. When a journalist suggested he had ‘stuck his neck out a bit’, he angrily responded: ‘It is what I believe. I couldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think we could win.’
This, says Duncan Hamilton, was a bluff. ‘He confessed later, “I don’t think I really meant it when I said it. The pressure at that time was enormous. It was probably a case of saying the first thing that came into my mind, something I don’t normally do”.’
By this time the £20-a-week maximum wage in England had been abolished after the Professional Footballers’ Association, led by spokesman Jimmy Hill, threatened to go on strike. Ramsey fully supported the pay rises for his stars, believing the increased financial security made them better players.
At Fulham, the brilliant inside forward Johnny Haynes became the first £100-a-week footballer, although injuries suffered in a car accident were to put the kibosh on his England career. Clubmate George Cohen asked for £50 a week and was given £40. He described this as a ‘staggering amount of money’ and bought a £4,000 house on a 75 per cent mortgage, describing it as his ‘suburban castle’. At Tottenham, Jimmy Greaves was paid £60 a week.
Greaves, the greatest goalscorer of his generation, proved a thorn in Ramsey’s side. The manager acknowledged Jimmy’s huge talent but questioned his work rate on the pitch and in training. ‘After one game,’ says Hamilton, ‘Ramsey, incensed with Greaves’s laissez-faire attitude, said privately that he needed “fuckin’ stranglin’” for insubordination.’
Much more to Ramsey’s liking were the two Bobbys, Charlton and Moore, who he thought were two of the ‘three world-class players’ he needed to win the World Cup. Of Charlton, he said: ‘I knew, even years before the World Cup, that he would have the number nine on his back.’ Bobby’s elder brother Jack, a lanky defender, also found favour although he and the boss did not get on.
‘Jack admitted that he found him to be “a strange bloke . . . I’m never really comfortable chatting to him”. When he rashly questioned Ramsey’s methods, he found himself in a brief and brutally uncompromising exchange: AR: “Do it my way or else”. JC: “What does that mean?” AR: “Or you’re out”. On another occasion, Jack blurted out on the training pitch, “Alf, you’re talking shit”. Ramsey folded his arms and cast him the kind of look that James Bond villains cultivate. “That’s as may be, Jack, but of course you will do as I ask”.’
Ramsey had an equally uncompromising relationship with the gentlemen of the press. Reporter: ‘Everyone fit and well?’ Ramsey: ‘If everyone was not fit and well I wouldn’t be doing my job, would I? Are you telling me I’m not doing my job?’
Faced with an awkward question which he struggled to answer, Ramsey would ask the journalist: ‘How many caps have you won?’
A foreign reporter asked if Ramsey remembered him, he replied: ‘Yes, I do. You’re a fuckin’ pest.’
After a difficult honeymoon period, Ramsey gradually assembled a team with the three qualities he demanded – ‘technique, supreme physical fitness and adaptability’. In December 1965, England played the European champions, Spain, at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium, using Ramsey’s favoured 4-3-3 formation. They won 2-0 but could have scored six, bedazzling the home fans who shouted ‘olé’ with each successful England pass. Asked how he rated his team’s performance, Ramsey replied: ‘I feel we can play better.’
He had used 43 players up to and including the Spain match. Before the World Cup began the following summer he picked five more, including Bobby Moore’s West Ham team-mates Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.
Hurst would mark his World Cup debut with the only goal against Argentina in the quarter-final, a brutal match in which the South Americans constantly tried to provoke England into retaliation: ‘the kidney punches, the ankle taps, the hair-pulling, the treading on someone’s foot, the ear-twisting, the pokes in the eye, the elbows in the ribs, the kicks on the shin, the slaps on the head and the perpetual, pathetic spitting. No one in the World Cup could spit as far or as accurately as the Argentinians; for them, spitting was a sport within a sport. No England player escaped. According to [Nobby] Stiles, you got spittle on your face, down the back of your neck and across the front of your shirt’.
At full time, one Argentinian ripped the shirt of West German referee Rudolf Kreitlein. ‘Another kicked him in the calf. A third grabbed Kreitlein by the throat. Ramsey was spat on. A chair was hurled at the door of England’s dressing room. The Argentinians pounded on that door, attempting to goad England into a fist fight. Some of them even pissed against the dressing room wall.’
Ramsey would later describe the Argentinians as ‘animals’, which was a little harsh on the animal kingdom.
Before England’s 2-1 semi-final victory over Portugal, who were led by the brilliant Eusebio, Ramsey took Nobby Stiles on one side and told him: ‘I want you to take out Eusebio.’ He replied: ‘Just for this game or for life?’
After West Germany equalised in the last second of normal play in the final at Wembley, leading to extra time, Ramsey walked on to the pitch to find some of his exhausted players sitting on the turf while many of the Germans were lying on their backs. ‘Get off your arses,’ he told his men. ‘They’ll think you’re knackered. Look at them. They are knackered.’
At the instant Geoff Hurst’s third goal went in, making it 4-2 to the hosts, a photographer got a shot of the England bench. His colleagues are in uproar but Ramsey’s expression betrays nothing. ‘There is no smile, no facial movement whatsoever. He is about to utter the two sentences that count as the least celebratory in the history of the game. “Sit down, you silly bastards. I can’t see”.’
At the subsequent press conference, one correspondent told Ramsey that he and his colleagues had never doubted England would win the World Cup. ‘Ramsey sniffed, looked coldly at him and asked, “Are you taking the piss?”.’
The England players were paid less for winning the World Cup than Pickles the dog got for finding the trophy in the street four months earlier after it had been stolen from an exhibition. His owner received a £5,000 reward while the black-and-white collie cross got a year’s supply of dog food. The FA gave the 22-man squad £22,000, which they shared equally.
Pickles and his master were also invited to a victory banquet at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, while the players’ wives were relegated to the Chophouse, on a different floor. ‘Each wife received the kind of curious gift from the FA that you’d pass on to someone else at Christmas – a pair of scissors in a cardboard box.’
During the banquet, Ramsey was called to the telephone. It was the sports editor of the News of the World, offering him £10,000 for a conversation lasting no more than ten minutes. The answer: ‘No!’
Sir Alf – he was knighted in 1967 – saw his popularity plummet after England’s defeat by West Germany in the 1970 World Cup. He was criticised for not picking crowd pleasers such as Frank Worthington, Tony Currie, Charlie George and Rodney Marsh. His response: ‘When people ask me why I don’t play so-and-so or so-and-so, the answer is because the player concerned never quite satisfied me.’
He was sacked in 1973 after England failed to qualify for the next year’s World Cup, managing only a draw against Poland at Wembley, as Stuart Major described here yesterday.
The following year, on the eighth anniversary of the 1966 triumph, a testimonial dinner was held at the Café Royal raising £10,000 to supplement Ramsey’s FA payoff of £8,000 plus an annual pension of £1,200 to start in 1985. He kicked off his speech by saying: ‘This is an evening I shall never remember . . . sorry, forget.’ Many thought it was a deliberate mistake.
Sir Alf, who spent a reclusive retirement in Ipswich, died on the eve of the 1998 World Cup at the age of 79. His funeral was held in the town rather than in London, as a snub to the Football Association. In the words of one of the heroes of ’66, George Cohen, ‘at heart he was a simple, rather shy man who didn’t expect too much from life beyond the achieving of a little respect and the acceptance that he had always done what he could’.
One incident from the book which stays with me is how in the last year of his life Ramsey, who had Alzheimer’s, was given a picture of the 1966 England team in an attempt to jog his failing memory. ‘He took the photo and looked at it perplexedly for a minute or two. He then pointed at a face in the front row. “That’s Alf Ramsey,” he said.’
Old jokes’ home
Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl going to the loo? Because the P is silent.
A PS from PG
The voice of Love seemed to call to me, but it was a wrong number.
PG Wodehouse: Very Good, Jeeves!