Ron Greenwood

Decent, deep-thinking manager of West Ham and England


Ronald Greenwood, footballer and football manager: born Worsthorne, Lancashire 11 November 1921; played for Chelsea 1940-45, Bradford Park Avenue 1945-49, Brentford 1949-52, Chelsea 1952-55, Fulham 1955, Walthamstow Avenue 1955-57; manager, Eastbourne United 1957, Arsenal (assistant) 1958-61, West Ham United 1961-74 (general manager 1974-77), England 1977-82; CBE 1981; married (one son, one daughter); died Sudbury, Suffolk 8 February 2006.

'I wanted to see pleasure on the pitch and pleasure on the terraces. . . football is a battle of wits or nothing at all." The words are those of Ron Greenwood and they sum up, with characteristic simplicity, the sporting creed of one of the most imaginative, idealistic and downright decent men to have made their living as a manager in English soccer since the Second World War.

True, he lacked the ruthlessness of more fêted contemporaries with whom his success rate, in terms of winning trophies, did not compare. But his West Ham United team of the mid-1960s had its own moments of heady triumph and, crucially, was invariably easy on the eye even in defeat. Later, when he guided the fortunes of the England national side, Greenwood remained faithful to his belief that footballers must set out to create rather than to destroy. It must be admitted, however, that results were largely disappointing in view of the outstanding players - the likes of Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Glenn Hoddle and Bryan Robson - he had at his disposal.

The son of a painter and decorator, Greenwood was born in the Lancashire village of Worsthorne, becoming an adoptive Londoner at the age of 10 when his family moved south. After school, where he impressed as a footballer, he became a signwriter, often working at Wembley stadium. He joined Chelsea as a teenage centre-half, making his début in 1940 in the wartime league. There followed intermittent appearances during the conflict, sandwiched between service with the RAF mobile radio unit in France.

However, on the resumption of peace he could not win a regular place at Stamford Bridge and, with his wife and young daughter having evacuated to Yorkshire during the bombing of London, he was happy to sign for Bradford Park Avenue - costing the Second Division club £3,500. He became skipper - starring in a rousing FA Cup victory over the League champions-elect Arsenal in 1948. A year later he returned to the capital but remained in the second flight, a £9,000 fee taking him to Brentford, with whom he reached his playing peak.

A cool, constructive defender and a natural leader of men, he became skipper there too and in 1952 won an England "B" cap against Holland in Amsterdam. It was to be the only time he represented his country as a player. Greenwood's splendid form for the Bees precipitated a £16,000 move back to Chelsea in October 1952, and in 1954/55 he helped the Pensioners lift the League Championship, playing for half the season and qualifying for a medal before switching to Fulham in the February.

By now he was 33 and captivated by coaching. He had fallen under the spell of the England chief Walter Winterbottom and already he had instructed several teams, including Oxford University and Walthamstow Avenue. Both men were profoundly influenced by the magnificent Hungarian side of that era, being enchanted by their deceptively simple short-passing game.

As he was past his best as a footballer, it seemed that Greenwood's next natural step would be into management. There was a suggestion that he might take over at Fulham, but in 1956 he became boss of non-League Eastbourne United, as well as assuming responsibility for the England youth side.

A return to the soccer mainstream was only a matter of time, and it came in December 1957 as coach of Arsenal, a job he was to combine with the supervision of the England under-23 team. Greenwood proved a stimulating influence on a Gunners side undergoing radical reconstruction and he was considered for the manager's chair when Jack Crayston left in 1958. However, he was judged too inexperienced and the job went to George Swindin, a man who held a less scientific soccer philosophy than the young coach. Gradually it became apparent that the two could not work together and in April 1961 Greenwood accepted an invitation to manage their First Division rivals West Ham United.

Now began the most productive phase of his career. Immediately he felt rapport with this most wholesome of clubs, which had a close-knit family atmosphere, a comforting bedrock of east London support and a playing staff oozing with potential. Greenwood set about moulding the Hammers into a formidable, if somewhat inconsistent force. That entailed a little shrewd dealing on the transfer market but, more importantly, making the most of the talent already at his disposal.

He did so to sensational effect, converting Geoff Hurst from stodgy wing-half to prolific goal-scorer, moving Bobby Moore from wing-half to central defence and bringing the best out of the young and versatile Martin Peters. Those three, plus the creative centre-forward Johnny Byrne, formed the basis of the side which won the FA Cup in 1964 (Peters was missing from that particular triumph) and the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1965. Then there was the little matter of the trio's conclusive contribution to England's World Cup victory in 1966, in which their perfection of Greenwood's refined near-post cross ploy proved so devastating.

The FA Cup win over Preston North End was exhilarating enough, but it was the European conquest of Munich 1860 which thrilled their manager the most. That night at Wembley his Hammers were irresistible, sophisticated, mature, expressing themselves expansively against top-class continental opposition.

Thereafter, though Greenwood's creation remained attractive, there was less to cheer. There were runs to the Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final and the League Cup Final in 1966, but lean years followed and many fans were upset by the sale of Peters to Spurs - a deal which saw an ageing Jimmy Greaves join West Ham. There was some erosion of the old West Ham ethos, too, with Greenwood suspending Moore, Greaves and two others for nightclubbing on the eve of a cup defeat. His relationship with the England skipper was to remain strained for the rest of their association.

However, Greenwood stayed in charge until the spring of 1974 when, relegation having been avoided only narrowly, he moved "upstairs" to become general manager, allowing his protégé John Lyall to take over team affairs. For three and a half years Greenwood occupied his executive role, becoming increasingly glum at his non-involvement in day-to-day football, when he was rescued by the controversial resignation of the England manager Don Revie. The former Leeds man had left his country in dire straits, facing almost certain elimination from the World Cup, and the Football Association needed a caretaker at short notice. Greenwood, with his pedigree, was ideal and he did so well during a trial three-match period - including a stirring win over Italy - that he was given the job on a permanent basis.

When 1978 World Cup qualification became mathematically impossible, Greenwood faced up to the challenge of the 1980 European Championships, for which England were among the favourites. But an injury to the star forward Trevor Francis upset team balance and they disappointed hugely in a desperately dull tournament, failing to win any of their three matches. Greenwood was criticised roundly for not building his team around the exquisitely gifted schemer Glenn Hoddle, but the manager had doubts about the Tottenham man's overall contribution and refused to be browbeaten by public opinion.

Accordingly, he embarked on the qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup without the popular play-maker and when results went awry he encountered an avalanche of criticism. So unprepared was he for this that, after a particularly miserable defeat in Switzerland, he decided to resign. However, in a testimony to the respect in which he was held, his players persuaded him to change his mind on the homeward journey.

There followed the finest England performance of Greenwood's reign, a victory in Hungary, and eventually a place in the final tournament was secured. However, despite not losing a match, England were eliminated at the quarter-final stage following frustrating draws with Spain and West Germany. By then aged 60, Greenwood elected to stand down, having done an honourable and competent job without ever capturing the imagination of the public. Part of that problem stemmed from his getting the job ahead of the "people's choice", Brian Clough, a circumstance that was dredged up repeatedly in moments of adversity.

Ron Greenwood had been a strong and positive influence on English football. An impeccable sportsman, he deplored the greed and hostility, the cynicism and win-at-all-costs attitude which had become pervasive. He was a deep thinker and skilled communicator who painted pictures with words on the training ground, believing simplicity was beauty. He was no shouter of odds, no conventional hard man, treating players as adults and expecting them to impose their own self-discipline. He was a noble servant to football: with more men like him, the game would be much the richer.

Ivan Ponting

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