Celebrating 50 years since Sir Alf Ramsey’s England team won the 1966 World Cup
- Credit: PAa
On the 50th anniversary of his greatest triumph, we are today celebrating Sir Alf Ramsey, the man who inspired both Ipswich Town and England to extraordinary levels of success and glory.
Today marks 50 years since Ramsey’s England team won the World Cup. Four years earlier, the same revolutionary tactics had seen unsung Ipswich win the First Division title in their debut season.
No-one has matched those achievements – either before or since.
Today we reflect on Sir Alf, the enigmatic man who was a soccer genius - and we also look back at life in Ipswich in that glorious summer of 1966.
Editor in Chief, Terry Hunt remembers how Sir Alf dressed like a 1960s bank manager and adopted the clipped tones of a BBC announcer. He was awkward and aloof in public. But Alf Ramsey was also a footballing genius, as his triumphs with England and Ipswich Town demonstrate. Here he shares his memories.
You may also want to watch:
Alf Ramsey was the man who inspired two football teams – Ipswich Town and England – to unimaginable heights. In 1962, unfashionable Ipswich staggered the footballing world by capturing the First Division title in their debut top-flight season. That feat has never been matched.
Four years later, Ramsey’s England lifted the World Cup for the first (and so far only) time in the nation’s history. Who can forget the scenes at Wembley as England skipper Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy after Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick defeated West Germany?
- 1 Flooding leaves main route through town 'impassable'
- 2 Man arrested after car crashes into supermarket sign
- 3 A14 reopens after serious crash leaves road closed for several hours
- 4 New online booking system for Suffolk recycling centres
- 5 Fuller Flavour: Can we sign Bonne permanently, please?
- 6 Emotional moment as family decides to cease farming in-hand
- 7 Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries in A14 crash
- 8 Winners and Losers: The boss, two commendations, absent friends and remaining winless wonders
- 9 5 roadworks to be aware of in Suffolk this week
- 10 'We are sorry' - Council apologises for letting SEND children in Suffolk down
As we mark the 50th anniversary of that World Cup victory, I’ve tried to unravel what you might call the Great Ramsey Riddle. How did this man, who looked, dressed and spoke just like an archetypal bank manager from the 1960s, motivate footballers to play out of their skins?
How did Ramsey, who appeared, in public at least, to be rather aloof, distant and, yes, rather awkward, lead not one but two football teams to their greatest triumphs?
Surely the person to solve that conundrum is Pat Godbold, the Ipswich Town legend who worked for nine managers, from Ramsey’s predecessor, Scott Duncan, all the way through to George Burley.
I sat down with Pat at Portman Road, where she still works one day a week, more than 60 years after she first joined the club, taking a pay rise when she moved from Reavells. She was warned by Scott Duncan: “Watch out for the players – the married ones are the worst.’’
Alf became manager of Ipswich Town about a year later. Pat’s first impressions? “He was immaculately dressed, and well spoken. But he was not an easy man to get to know. He didn’t make friends easily.’’
So Alf’s transformation from working-class Dagenham boy to smartly-dressed, well-spoken gent had already taken place by the time he arrived at Ipswich in 1955. He had tried to consign his roots to history. Alf’s father, let’s remember, was a council dustman, and young Alf’s first job was as an errand boy for the local Co-op store in Dagenham.
Did he really have elocution lessons to help him on that journey? Pat Godbold isn’t sure. “I think he taught himself. He gradually acquired that cultured voice and never lost it.’’ Just occasionally, though, the Dagenham boy showed through, such as the time he told a waiter: “No, I don’t want no peas.’’
Pat Godbold, of course, worked for the two greatest Ipswich Town managers, both of them going on to manage the national team, and both of them being knighted by the Queen. But there the similarities end between Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson.
It shows in the way Pat talks about them. When speaking of Ramsey, there is respect, but little warmth. With Robson, or “Mr R” as Pat always refers to him, there is genuine affection. She reflects the public’s feelings for these two great footballing figures.
Pat recalls the great outpouring of grief, nationwide, when Sir Bobby died. Nothing like that happened when Ramsey’s death was announced in 1999.
She says: “Alf really kept himself to himself. He never showed his emotion. I wonder if he was shy. We had a good working relationship. He was very considerate. He knew I left work at 5pm, and if he had to dictate a letter at 4.45pm, then he would be really apologetic.’’
But Pat admits that, despite working closely with Ramsey for eight years, she never really got to know this private man.
His ability to keep his emotions in check was never more obvious than at the moments of his greatest triumphs. After Town’s extraordinary title victory in 1962, there is a delicious film of the man from the BBC waxing lyrical about the team, and giving Alf huge amounts of credit. He then asks the manager how he feels. After that big build-up, Alf’s rather underwhelming response is simply: “I feel fine.’’
Equally, as the final whistle sounds at the end of the 1966 World Cup Final, there are famous photos of the squad players and coaching staff celebrating. Only one man remains seated, displaying absolutely no emotion whatsoever. Yes, Alf, of course.
He also had a notoriously difficult relationship with Bobby Robson, his successor with both Ipswich and England. Ironically, the men lived only a few hundred yards apart in Ipswich: Ramsey in Valley Road and Robson in Constitution Hill. But there was certainly no question of one popping round the other’s for a chat about football over a cup of tea or a beer.
There are famous stories about how difficult Ramsey was with Robson, especially when it came to comparing notes on Mexico, where Ramsey’s England had played in the 1970 World Cup. Robson was preparing to take his national team to the same country for the tournament 16 years later.
Pat says: “Mr R wanted Alf’s help, so he wrote a letter to him, which I put through Alf’s door, so I know he got it. No reply. So, a few months later, Mr R bumped into Alf after an England game at Wembley. Alf had travelled by train, and Mr R had his car. He said to Alf: ‘Why don’t we both go back in my car? I’m going past your front door.’ Alf just said: ‘I came by train and I shall return by train,’ and walked away.”
Some people believe Ramsey’s coldness towards Robson stemmed from bitterness over the way he felt treated by the Football Association, not just his sacking in 1974 but also the frankly pitiful wage he received while England manager. Robson’s rather more generous salary was widely publicised and perhaps was the reason for Ramsey’s awkwardness with him.
But all the above doesn’t answer the question. How did Ramsey, a man who seemed socially awkward and so taciturn, inspire the footballers of England and Ipswich Town to success way beyond anyone’s wildest expectations?
Pat Godbold, despite working alongside Ramsey for eight years, admits she doesn’t know – she only saw the public face – but her words are telling: “My stories are from my side of the dressing room door. I don’t know what went on in the dressing room. What I do know is that all the players had the greatest respect for him. He was a great manager.’’
That, surely, is the key. The Alf we saw wasn’t the same man the players saw. He can’t have been. Otherwise, why would Sir Bobby Charlton – surely England’s greatest ever player, end his new book, which tells the story of 1966, with these words of Ramsey: “He remains the great hero of the story I have been proud to tell. He is still the diamond shining in the leaves.”
After Alf’s memorial service, in Ipswich in 1999, Ted Phillips, a hero of Ramsey’s 1962 Ipswich triumph, summed it up: “At Alf’s memorial service, I couldn’t speak. There were tears rolling down my cheeks. Alf meant so much to me. He was a superb guy. He was unique. Under him at Ipswich, we were like a big family.’’ (Quote from Leo McKinstry’s biography, Sir Alf).
This, remember, was Ted Phillips, whose constant practical jokes drove Ramsey to distraction on a regular basis. All of his old Ipswich players, and his England squad, will tell you the same. They absolutely adored Ramsey – would run through brick walls if he told them to.
The players, and the team, were everything to him. What the media, and the public, thought was not a priority for him.
That devotion and loyalty to his players, allied to his tactical genius, made him the manager he was. Remember, Ramsey experimented with “Wingless wonders’’ with Ipswich years before doing the same with England in 1966.
There must have been so much more to Ramsey than the cold fish he presented in public. No-one can be that icy. A favourite story of former Ipswich chairman John Cobbold – “Mr John’’ to Portman Road staff – showed a glimpse of the man behind the buttoned-up exterior.
After Ipswich had won the League Championship, after all the celebrations, and after the crowd had gone home, two men remained in the stadium: John Cobbold and Alf Ramsey. According to “Mr John,’’ at that point Ramsey removed his jacket and completed his own, private lap of honour of the stadium. It was, it seems, the only way he knew of showing how proud and elated he felt. But no-one was there to witness it, and to celebrate with him.
To me, that story sums up Alf Ramsey. Undoubtedly a complex man, perhaps haunted by insecurities from his humble past, he never allowed the public to see behind the public persona he created.
He remained intensely private. He lived in Ipswich for 44 years, but kept a very low profile. He very rarely made public appearances, preferring to spend time at Rushmere Golf Club with close friends.
We have never celebrated this extraordinary man nearly enough. Maybe that’s the way he liked it. But whatever his personality traits, one thing is beyond argument. He was a great footballing man who inspired undying loyalty from his players. And, that way, he led two teams – Ipswich Town and England – to unparalleled heights.
Alf Ramsey was a footballing giant, among so many pygmies. We are proud to call him an adopted son of Suffolk.