Sir Alf – England’s General


Sport. Football. pic: September 1948. Southampton right back Alf Ramsey.

It’s international week and once again England have some make-or-break games to negotiate. So this time we’ve gone with a photo of a man who all England fans owe a debt of gratitude to.

When we think of Sir Alf Ramsey we immediately think of him as the man behind England’s lone international success on the football pitch.

But his legacy stretches back a lot further than that, indeed all the clues were evident in his playing career that this was a man who was very capable of masterminding success from the dugout.

Unlike most images you see of him, our photo of Sir Alf is from his playing days, this one is from 65 years ago when he was at Southampton. Ramsey signed professional forms with The Saints in 1944 and stayed until 1949 before he moved on to Tottenham for £21,000 – a record for a full-back in those days.

At White Hart Lane he established himself as a quality defender who compensated for a lack of genuine pace with excellent positional sense. Ramsey helped the north London club to a Second Division and a First Division title in successive seasons.

Unlike many other players, Ramsey was a keen student of the game and of tactics. His natural leadership (captain of both England and Tottenham) and his influence on the field earned him the nickname of “The General” and he orchestrated Tottenham’s free-kicks in an age where set plays were neither commonplace or considered offensive opportunities.

As with everything, there were lows along with the highs. His regular use of the back-pass to disrupt attacks got him into trouble when, in the FA Cup semi-final of 1951, his stray pass set up Blackpool for a goal that denied Tottenham the opportunity of an early crack at the “Double”.

He also won 32 England caps and was a member of the side that played three games in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, most famously the 0-1 defeat by the USA, then the most surprising defeat in the whole of football. His England playing career ended on something of a sour note, with his last game being the 3-6 defeat at the hands of a Hungary side featuring Ferenc Puskas at Wembley in 1953.  It was England’s first defeat at the national stadium by a foreign side and there were lasting shockwaves, Ramsey found he was a casualty of those despite scoring one of his country’s goals in that match.  That match had a lasting effect on Ramsey and he was not to forget the movement and passing the “Magnificent Magyars” demonstrated that day.


After hanging his boots up he began his managerial career with Ipswich Town in 1955. The Tractor Boys were in the third tier and Ramsey used it as a development ground for his style of playing to dramatic effect. In 1961 Ipswich were promoted to the top flight as Champions of division two and Ramsey’s side wasted no time taking the division by storm and winning the Championship at the first attempt, repeating what he had done as a player at Spurs.

Before that season had begun Ipswich had been tipped by all and sundry to be relegated, making their triumph one of the greatest achievements in top flight history.

The way Ramsey lined his side up with a player “in the hole” behind the strikers and with no real wingers was a blueprint for what the Press would christen his “wingless wonders” of 1966.

The FA appointed Ramsey as England manager in 1962. His claim that “England will win the World Cup” under his stewardship seemed like nothing more than misguided bullishness after they were swept aside 5-2 by France in his first competitive game. However, over the following years, Ramsey confidently went about building a team that would fulfill his prophecy.

Ramsey was a firm but fair manager and a master tactician. He also liked to keep his players on their toes, with one player bidding farewell with a “See you next time, Alf” – only to get the response “Will you..?” from the England boss. Ramsey made sure that no player was confident of a place in the final 22 for the World Cup, which resulted in players performing at their highest level. His decision to appoint a young Bobby Moore as captain also showed Ramsey’s ability to see great potential in young players.

Sir Bobby Robson called Sir Alf “the greatest British football manager ever” and, despite the fact that the two men were never close friends, showed his respect for Ramsey by paying for his medical care towards the end of his life.


by Karl Hofer

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