Walter Winterbottom: The great guru born 100 years ago today

He shaped England's international game in ways that are still being felt today, as a new book reveals

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The Independent Football

Whatever difficulties England's 13th manager, Roy Hodgson, had to endure before last Tuesday's international against Montenegro, he was at least allowed to pick the team. No such luxury was permitted for many years to Sir Walter Winterbottom, first and longest-serving of the breed, who was born 100 years ago today.

The occasion has been marked with a timely biography, written by his son-in-law, and next month a statue will be erected at the St George's Park National Football Centre, near Burton-on-Trent, to a man who inspired a generation of coaches and could have wielded even greater influence over English football had he been allowed to follow 16 years as national manager by becoming secretary of the Football Association. Denied by shameless politicking, he moved instead to the Central Council for Physical Recreation and then the new Sports Council, and was knighted on his retirement in 1978.

Among his many achievements was to have established by the time of his fourth World Cup in 1962 – can anyone imagine another England manager lasting for four in a row? – that the man supposedly in charge should decide who actually played. From Winterbottom's first game in 1946 (winning 7-2 away to Northern Ireland), selection was the prerogative of an eight-man committee plus a chairman, drawn from directors who naturally tended to favour the players from their own clubs.

He described a typical selection meeting thus: "We had five goalkeepers nominated... gradually got it down to two, and it was a vote then. If it was four and four, the chairman would decide." Before the infamous 1950 World Cup defeat by the United States it was suggested by Winterbottom via his mentor, the FA secretary Sir Stanley Rous, that Stanley Matthews would be a useful inclusion. "Never change a winning team," the committee chairman, Arthur Drewry, thundered; and the result was the worst by any England team in 140 years.

After each successive World Cup failure Winterbottom would make recommendations, mostly far-sighted but only slowly implemented, if at all. Hodgson should probably avoid reading topics on the agenda 60 long years ago, which included the following: "Time available for training before international matches"; "Ways to bridge the gap between club and country"; "Establishing a better system for the development of young players". Plus ça change?

Small victories included introducing B international matches and in 1954 an Under-23 team (forerunner of the current Under-21s). A number of players progressed from there to the senior side, only for the Munich air disaster four months before the 1958 World Cup finals to rob England of key men. By 1961 they had a side that Jimmy Greaves, who with his Tottenham team-mate Bobby Smith was scoring for fun, considers to have been better than in 1966. Forty goals in six games, including the 9-3 demolition of Scotland, suggested he may be right, but the team peaked too early for the 1962 finals and went out – plus ça change again – in a quarter-final against Brazil.

By that time Winterbottom was having more of a say in selection on a much smaller committee but, having decided on a change of job, he was bitterly disappointed to be outmanoeuvred in favour of Denis Follows for the position of FA secretary, despite the support of the outgoing Rous. His last match as manager, a home win over Wales in November 1962, was his 139th.

Only 28 of them were lost, but he was prouder of having established from scratch in his concurrent role as director of coaching the FA coaching scheme, through which disciples such as Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Bill Nicholson, Don Howe, Malcolm Allison and Jimmy Hill all passed. Like the former schoolteacher and lecturer that he was (although he played for Manchester United before the war as an amateur), Winterbottom regarded coaching as educating. He sent players into schools to put on sessions, and when he published Soccer Coaching in 1952 a review by John Arlott called it "probably the most important book ever written on the game".

In the introduction to his own book 30 years later, Greenwood would write: "Many people in the game now have no idea how much football owes to Walter Winterbottom. He and Stanley Rous are major figures in the post-war history of English football."

'Sir Walter Winterbottom: The Father of Modern English Football', by Graham Morse, is published by John Blake, £17.99

How it was for Walter

Job description

Team manager of England, plus FA director of coaching


£980 in 1946, rising to £2,600 by 1961

Team selection

By nine-man committee not including the manager, almost all club chairmen


One assistant coach at World Cups, plus a trainer, but no doctor

Release of players

Haphazard. Milan and Internazionale would not release Jimmy Greaves and Gerry Hitchens during the season


For the 1950 World Cup the squad trained for three days at Dulwich Hamlet, then undertook a 31-hour flight to Brazil with four stopovers.

How it is for Roy

Job description

Head coach, England team


£3 million (estimated)

Team selection

By head coach alone


At Euro 2012: three coaches; four Club England board members; physiotherapists and doctors; security staff; FA communications staff

Release of players

Obligatory under Fifa regulations


Two warm-up internationals, meeting a fortnight before the first game, and flying first-class in a chartered plane. Rigorous heart and fitness monitoring