Football: Sir Alf Ramsey - Stiffest of stiff upper lips

Alan Hubbard says the spirit of Sir Alf's age was lost long ago

WE CALLED him "Old Stone Face" even before Sonny Liston commandeered the sobriquet in the early Sixties. Sir Alf Ramsey's upper lip was ever stiffened. He was a man of few words and even fewer public emotions.

In his greatest hour - or rather two, when England won the World Cup in extra-time - he was the last to get to his feet though the first to embrace his cherished captain Bobby Moore. His features flickered momentarily as if to say "what's all the fuss?" and then he shook off the descending mob of back-slappers and encouraged his players to dance their jigs of joy.

Much later, in a rare moment when the mask slipped, he was to confide: "It is true I never showed any reaction. That's how it must have seemed on the outside but inside I was drunk and dancing. I know they say I am cold, that I do not have feelings, but I do. They are bottled up inside me. I suppose one day they will explode, and I shall die."

Well, dear old Alf has died, but the spirit of his age and the game he represented surely died long before him. Those of us fortunate enough to be roaming the sporting world in the Sixties will remember Alf with almost as much affection as we do the other greatest of that era, Muhammad Ali. We got everything from Ali but we got unsweet FA from Alf, so single- minded was his dedication to his players. But he always commanded our respect and, on occasions, even engendered our affection.

At least you were always sure of a straight answer even if more often than not it was "no". Yet when the fancy took him he could be engaging company. Years after the 1966 triumph I encountered him in Kuala Lumpur where, oddly rejected in his homeland, he was on a coaching stint. Never a happy traveller, Sir Alf, to my astonishment, greeted me like a long-lost brother. For three hours he relaxed and reminisced over lunch.

It was clear the years had not mellowed his football philosophy. He still preferred graft to guile and when we talked of Glenn Hoddle, he sniffed: "Would you want him on your side in the trenches?" Who would have thought that Hoddle would have been reincarnated as Ramsey's successor?

You always knew when Sir Alf was angry because he reverted to the dropped aitches of his pre-elocution lesson days as a player when, on occasions, he could be a bit of a lad himself. It is hard to imagine now that the precise, correct Ramsey once climbed on to a table at a Tottenham banquet, kicked off his shoes and did an impromptu knees-up as he belted out "Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner".

As one of the game's foremost foot soldiers he took no prisoners. Once he was asked whether he was playing when England were routed by the Hungarians. "Yes," he retorted tersely, "and I was the only one who was."

The stories about Alf's xenophobia are legion and invariably true. He was never one to tolerate foreigners, fools, or foolish footballers gladly - even less the old farts of the Football Association. He once ordered the FA chairman out of the players' lounge in the team hotel because he was smoking a cigar. "I will not have you puffing smoke into my players' faces."

Of course, the old farts got him in the end, sacking him a month before his contract expired in 1974. His salary was just pounds 7,500 and his ex-employers never attempted to use his talents in any other capacity; nor indeed did they ever call upon Moore's ambassadorial ability. For, unlike the commander and the captain, while they ran the game they never really knew how to play it.

One hopes that at least now they will have the decency to organise a suitable memorial at the new Wembley for the two giants they were so quick to forget.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss