CM – Different eras and approaches – but Sir Alf and Southgate share an important trait


Gareth Southgate, right, can emulate Sir Alf Ramsey if he can lead England to victory against Italy in the European Championship final tonight
– Credit: PA

England coach Gareth Southgate is just one win away from emulating the Ipswich Town legend Sir Alf Ramsey and leading his country to a major tournament victory. Former EADT sports editor Tony Garnett compares the two …

Sir Alf Ramsey will always be remembered as the coach who led England to the 1966 World Cup at Wembley. Gareth Southgate still needs a win over Italy in the European Championship, a smaller competition, before he can be judged.

Football was different 55 years ago. A heavy leather soccer ball has been replaced by a beach ball.

Some things haven’t changed. Both managers have a happy dressing room and both made tough decisions – Ramsey dropped Jimmy Greaves from the World Cup final and Southgate’s decision to replace Jack Grealish after the Villa star was introduced as a substitute in the semi-finals.

Gareth Southgate shares, according to Tony Garnett. an important trait with Sir Alf Ramsey
– Credit: PA

Southgate is familiar with the media. It wasn’t Ramsey. Southgate appears to be a diplomat who one imagines would never call the Argentines « animals ».

Both managers stick to what they believe. Ramsey defied the pressure of the top team of the football association and dropped Nobby Stiles after his bad foul against the French Jacques Simon. Both, it seems, can be persistent. In football management, tenacity can be good.

Southgate has the problem dealing with mega-rich players, some of whom are millionaires. Ramsey’s boys came from an English league that had only given up top wages five years earlier.

Sir Alf Ramsey on the phone while serving as chief of Ipswich Town
– Credit: PA Archives / PA Pictures

Ramsey was given time to promote third division players to the First Division Championship over seven seasons. The promotion from the 3rd division (South) was secured in the second attempt. It took him four years to advance to the second division, but his position was never in doubt.

Ramsey’s genius was to adapt his tactics so that players with limited abilities could play to their strengths. He made a great decision to get Ted Phillips out of the cold after a season in exile in Stowmarket. Maybe he was lucky that no rival club knew enough about their cannonballing to take a risk.

Maybe he was lucky that Bill Baxter, a virtually unknown young Scotsman from Broxburn Athletic, was so good.

Alf’s best new 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 footballing life as a low-lying winger who was able to deliver meaningful passes for hitting power.

Team manager Alf Ramsey and trainer Harold Sheperdson (standing) watch England win over Germany at the 1966 World Cup
– Credit: PA

England was lucky. The FA wanted Burnley’s Jimmy Adamson to be manager, but it refused. Alf, next in line, was never comfortable in his Lancaster Gate office and had little respect for top people like his bete-noire Sir Harold Thompson.

Ramsey never overreacted. When I published a team change in EADT because I had seen the notice board in the locker room during training with the reserves in the afternoon, Alf made it clear that he was dissatisfied. He said: « You have chosen my team for me. » He never suggested stopping me from doing afternoon practice on the practice range with equipment from trainers Jimmy Forsyth and Charlie Cowie.

I was given the assignment to cover Ipswich Town only after my sports editor Alan Everett in the old wooden hut that served as the club’s office had been waiting for an interview with Alf. Everett had a brief backup.

England captain Bobby Moore is congratulated by coach Alf Ramsey when Nobby Stiles kisses the trophy after beating Germany in the 1966 World Cup.
– Credit: PA

Sometimes I took the train with the team and stayed in a hotel with the official party. On other occasions I made my own way, first on a BSA motorcycle and then in a car.

One of those early games was an evening game against Derby County at the Baseball Ground. When I called my report, almost everyone else had left the floor. The lights were out. I found my way into the Derby County Club office area and heard voices in the boardroom.

Derby manager Harry Storer stood at the head of the table with a bottle of whiskey in hand. He was filling up John Cobbold’s glass and offering me one too. Alf was there too, his glass was filled with gin.

While Cobbold was drinking, Alf poured his gin into a flower vase. There was no way he wanted his players to see him worse when he returned to the hotel.

If I had my car in the north, Alf would suggest that I take a player to Ipswich for company. Usually it was Doug Millward, whose family lived in Sheffield, where we stopped for dinner on the way home.

It may seem strange, but Alf was never a qualified FA coach. However, Millward attended courses at Lilleshall. On his return, Alf would mainly worry about free-kick routines.

Once Alf asked for a lift himself. He really wanted to get home from the Midlands early. The plan backfired. We had reached the Minden Rose Pub on the outskirts of Bury St. Edmunds when we had a flat tire.

Neither of us were good with wheel supports. We took refuge in the pub and waited for a RAC mechanic to arrive. Alf didn’t come home earlier as planned. He never traveled with me again!

On my first visit to Villa Park, Ramsey came up to me when we got off the team bus and said. « I want to show you something. »

I had no idea what he meant, but stayed close when he led me onto the pitch 45 minutes before kick-off. We ran to the edge of the penalty area at Holte End.

He pointed to a piece of grass and said it was exactly where he had experienced the worst moment of his playing career. He missed a back pass in the last 15 seconds of the 1953 FA Cup semi-final against Blackpool.

It enabled Jackie Mudie to shoot in the Blackpool winner to prepare for the Matthews final against the Bolton Wanderers.

EADT chief sports reporter Tony Garnett in the Derby County press box on the last day of the 2002/03 season – his last game over Ipswich Town in more than 40 years

Alf lived and breathed soccer. He had a photographic memory. The players have learned never to question him.

On the journey home by train, he went from compartment to compartment. He took turns talking to each player and pointing out incidents that he thought they could learn from.

A competition developed between the players to see who could keep Alf away from football the longest.

They tried to talk about cars, horse racing, or even the weather. Seventy-five seconds remained the record before football became an issue. Alf was never easily distracted.

Southgate doesn’t seem distracted either. He would never have used Alf’s methods. Alf would have had to struggle with the requirements outside of modern football.

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