Football's greatest fairy tale - Town changed the game 60 years ago today
- Credit: Archant
Six years ago, Leicester City upset the monopoly of money, mega-spending and the usual suspects to win the Premier League against all the odds.
38 years before that, the charismatic and controversial Brian Clough led Nottingham Forest to a very unlikely First Division title, the year after they'd been promoted as the third-placed team in the second tier.
Football fairy tales, both. But the original - and perhaps best - was penned 60 years ago today at Portman Road.
Alf Ramsey's unheralded Ipswich Town side, a collection of has-beens and cast-offs universally tipped for relegation, beat Aston Villa 2-0 in Suffolk and, with results elsewhere going in their favour, they lifted the First Division title.
Like Forest 16 years later, Town were champions the year after being promoted from the Second Division. But, unlike Forest, that Town side changed the face of football forever.
Before all that though, let's go back to the start. In 1957, Ramsey's side won the Third Division (South) title, a fine achievement, but one which went pretty much unnoticed outside of Suffolk.
It was here, though, that the first chapters of that incredible Town tale were written.
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Ramsey had taken over as manager two years earlier, and was building a side consisting mostly of free transfers and unwanted players, mixed with some home-grown talent.
Five of the regulars in the 1956-57 title winning team were goalkeeper Roy Bailey, full-back Larry Carberry, left-half John Elsworthy, winger Jimmy “Sticks’’ Leadbetter, and striker Ted Phillips, who grew up near Leiston.
Those five were still stalwarts four years later, when Ipswich made it into the First Division for the first time in the club’s history. By now, they had been joined by the likes of Scottish defender Bill Baxter, winger Roy “Rocky’’ Stephenson, inside forward Doug Moran and, most crucially, a young centre-forward called Ray Crawford, from Portsmouth.
Andy Nelson, Ramsey's skipper and centre-back, recalled: "Where he was enormously successful was that he was able to bring in the right players at the right time. Roy Bailey was a strong character, Ray Crawford was, Ted Phillips was, I think I was.
“When we went up from the Second Division he brought in Dougie Moran and Billy Baxter – two Scottish lads who were only 5ft 8in, but tough as nails.
"The difference it made was massive. We never had any worries about going to Manchester or Arsenal because of the people we had in our dressing room.
“I don’t know how he found me because I was in the army when I signed. He obviously had somebody that was looking when we won the Army Cup – and that was before the days of all the scouting networks people have now.”
Despite their success, Town were expected to flounder in the top tier. Instead, they took the division by storm. Twin strikers Phillips and Crawford scored 73 goals between them in all competitions.
Crawford would often say that Phillips – famous for having the hardest shot in football – would simply blast the ball at the goal, and Ray would pick up the rebounds from the shell-shocked stoppers.
But the real genius was Ramsey. For decades, teams had set up with two wingers, and the opposition’s physical, burly full-backs would spend their time trying to kick 'their man' up in the air and stop him playing.
Ramsey’s masterstroke was to withdraw his number seven, Stephenson, and number 11, the ageing Leadbetter, into deep positions.
That totally flummoxed the opposition. The full-backs had no-one to man mark/kick, and Leadbetter and Stephenson were able to supply the prolific Crawford and Phillips.
Before the rest of the league knew what was happening, Alf's 'wingless wonders' were on their way to the title.
Nelson said: "We look back now and realise that many of the things he did – tactically and recruitment – were way ahead of his time. It’s what the Premier League clubs are doing now.
“He was a strange man in many respects. He didn’t have an up-to-date car, he had this derelict Mondeo or something, and he had no social conversation – it was just football, football, football.
"If you said ‘did you see that film on the television last night?’ then he was gone out the room. He couldn’t understand why we played cards on the train to games.
"As far as he was concerned we were supposed to be talking about football the whole time. He could bore you stiff talking about it, but that’s what made him great.”
Though Ramsey would later win the World Cup with England using similar tactics, his Town side were still expected to fade away in the chase for the title back in '61-'62.
Kenneth Wolstenholme, the BBC commentator who would go on to utter the immortal words "they think it's all over..." as Ramsey's England conquered the football world in 1966, was one of Ipswich's greatest doubters.
While Gary Lineker would famously promise to present Match of the Day in his pants should Leicester City win the title - a vow he duly delivered upon - things were a little more refined back in 1962.
Wolstenholme, a fan of Town's star-studded rivals Spurs, simply opined he didn't think the Blues were good enough to win it all - and promised that he'd buy the club 12 bottles of champagne, should he be proved wrong. How very civilised.
Crawford, who led Town with 33 goals that season - all while earning just £30 a week (£560 in today's money) and taking the bus to games - recalled: "We were a bunch of nobodies who had never been in the top division. Everyone wrote us off.
"They said we didn’t have enough experience, they said we were lucky to win the Second Division and they said we were favourites to go straight back down. We didn’t have a single international until I was capped (just twice) towards the end of that season.
"None of us thought we would win the league, right up until the very last game. It was never even discussed by Sir Alf or the players.
"Wolstenholme was a Tottenham supporter and he said they had far more quality. He said that if Ipswich won it he would buy us a dozen bottles of champagne – and he did!
"As you can imagine, with John Cobbold the chairman, they were gratefully received!”
For Crawford, Town's win remains the ultimate football achievement.
"Leicester’s is an unbelievable story because it’s come in an era which, sadly, is dominated by money,” he explained back in 2016. “I still think ours was a bigger achievement then theirs though."
Not that you'd have got that from Ramsey. Standing on the Portman Road pitch back on April 28, 1962, with his unheralded side champions of England, Sir Alf - never one for hyperbole - was asked how he was feeling.
"I feel fine," came the understated reply. "I'm delighted, I'm delighted for everyone."
When it was later put to him that he'd done "a tremendous thing for football" by winning the title against all the odds, Ramsey responded: "I suppose when one looks at it, we've done a wonderful job - we have, I can't do this alone.
"I like to feel that I work hard, and I'm certain that the players have worked equally as hard as I have."
Away from the cameras though, Ramsey did allow himself to let his hair down a little on that famous day, as Tony Garnett, former East Anglian Daily Times sports editor, recalled.
He said: "After the Championship-winning euphoria at Portman Road had died down and spectators and players had gone home Alf said to Mr John (Cobbold) 'Please take your regular seat in the directors’ box.'
"He then removed his jacket and completed a solo lap round Portman Road especially for his chairman."
How times have changed, both at Town and in football. But, 60 years ago today, Ipswich Town ruled England.
Football's greatest fairy tale. Imagine that.