Football: Tributes to a man who did it his way

Team of '66 lead memorial homage to Sir Alf Ramsey. By Ronald Atkin
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THEY BADE farewell to Alf in the most appropriate fashion yesterday by playing, at the request of his family, "My Way". There could have been no more fitting musical tribute to Sir Alfred Ernest Ramsey (1920-1999) than a pop song which summed up precisely how he achieved what he did, culminating in that legendary World Cup victory for England in 1966.

At his memorial service in St Mary-le-Tower, the civic church of Ramsey's home town, Ipswich, two of the players in that winning team of 33 years ago, Sir Bobby Charlton and George Cohen, spoke officially on behalf of their colleagues of their fondness and respect for their old manager. There were four other Men of '66 in the church - Nobby Stiles, Sir Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Jack Charlton - as well as the Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, Ramsey's old Tottenham team-mate Bill Nicholson and David Sheepshanks, the Ipswich Town chairman.

As well as the suits and blazers of officialdom and the world of football, the ordinary folk of Ipswich were let in to fill all the vacant places, two men in England shirts and many others wearing the blue of Ipswich, the T-shirts and trainers of the young contrasting with the tendency towards ties and frocks among the older element.

The Reverend Peter Townley, vicar of the 1,000-year-old church which is mentioned in the Domesday Book, praised "the distinguished adopted son of Ipswich whose name is a by-word in the name of soccer".

Cohen, his figure as reassuringly solid as it was back in 1966, mounted the pulpit to say of Sir Alf: "Few of the tributes paid to him on his death have got close to the sort of man he was, a very private man, a loyal man, a man passionate about his football. Anyone who played for Alf came quickly to the realisation that correctness in all things on and off the field was the cornerstone of his philosophy.

"He established a strong bond with his players which stood before every other consideration, and out of it came the spirit that was evident in the teams he put out for Ipswich and his country."

That Sir Alf would brook nothing in the way of what he considered interference was highlighted by Cohen's anecdote about the England players cautiously asking him, through Charlton, if they could make a long journey in casual wear. "Alf took about 15 seconds to think about it and said: `Bobby, I think we travel in suits'."

A formal-minded boss certainly, but Cohen added: "None of us in that squad of '66 can ever forget his loyalty. He was an extraordinary man who had a strength of purpose that made it easy to believe in him. Let us celebrate not only a great England manager but also a great leader who, should he be looking down at the moment, is probably thinking `yes, George, I think we have had enough of that'."

Charlton said the game had changed immeasurably for the better "because of Alf in 1966", and he added: "His greatest attribute was that he was a total boss and let you know that immediately. It didn't take long before we all realised that if we were going to succeed with Alf we had better listen.

"He was a complete and total winner who was not interested in finishing third or second, and he communicated that enthusiasm to us. For two or three years before 1966, England went out believing they could beat anyone."

Charlton recalled that, as Ipswich manager, Ramsey had forecast that when Manchester United came to Portman Road they would have 89 minutes of possession but would lose, and lose heavily.

"We had the ball for 85 minutes and we lost 4-1," said Sir Bobby, who went on: "Everyone in football has something they would like to thank Alf Ramsey for. Winning the World Cup in 1966 was the pinnacle but the legacy he has left has been a terrible burden to every team that has tried to emulate him since."

The hymns in praise of Sir Alf were "Love Divine", "Jesu Lover of My Soul", "Amazing Grace" and, of course, "Abide with Me" before we were reminded of the words of the final musical tribute: "Through it all I stood tall, and did it my way."