Charlton displays characteristic vision in deft dribble through Ramsey years

My England Years, By Sir Bobby Charlton with James Lawton
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The Independent Online

"The 30 years of hurt" will total 44 by the time the South African World Cup arrives. Inevitably, given the decades of longing, the entrails of 1966, the who, what, where, how and why England actually won a World Cup, have been endlessly picked over. It might seem there is little scope, or justification, for retelling this most oft-told tale of English football. Until now, however, one of the central figures of the triumph had largely kept his own counsel. With the publication of My England Years, the companion to last year's acclaimed My Manchester United Years, Sir Bobby Charlton finally breaks his silence.

He does so with the same clarity of vision, and sureness of execution, with which he used to burst through opposing midfields before shooting with force and accuracy. In a book which in many ways is an extended paean to Sir Alf Ramsey, Charlton has sharp insights into the way England's first professional manager shaped England's destiny. With his prose style ably assisted by The Independent's James Lawton, Charlton shares some evocative vignettes of life within the squad in that fabled summer.

There is the moment Ramsey brusquely dismisses an appeal from Charlton, delegated by the squad to ask if they could wear lighter clothes instead of their regulation worsted suits on a hot summer tour. Another time Charlton, after an enthusiastic response to Ramsey inquiring as to his thoughts on a long tour, admits he missed his family. "If I thought that was your attitude, I wouldn't have brought you," said Ramsey. Come the finals, and the infamous Argentina tie, Charlton describes how the beaten South Americans banged on England's dressing-room door and a cold-eyed Ray Wilson, like "a fighter sitting on his stool, steeling himself for the bell", said "Let them in". At Ramsey's direction the door remained shut.

It may be argued Charlton's autobiography could have been contained within one book. After all, unlike his contemporary Franz Beckenbauer, there were no further acts as a World Cup-winning manager, then host. But in an era when Wayne Rooney is working his way through a five-book deal, two volumes of Charlton represent an act of restraint offering space for his acute observations on such players as Bobby Smith, a valuable service for football historians and a reminder to younger readers of the many fine players within the English game prior to the Premier League. None finer than Charlton.

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