James Lawton: A gentleman shackled by arrogant bureaucracy

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The Independent Football

Sir Walter Winterbottom's death has inspired many tributes to the life of a man who worked hard to carry English football back into the mainstream of the world game. The size of the task is nowhere more dramatically underlined than in the fact that it was not until 1950, three years after his appointment, that England first competed in a World Cup – 20 years after the inaugural tournament in Uruguay.

That England's reward was defeat by the amateurs of the United States was another telling commentary on the insularity of the national game. But if Winterbottom did what he could, if he made a distinguished career for himself in the bureaucracy of English sport, and influenced the coaching careers of men like Bobby Robson and Don Howe, it is idle to pretend that that his 16-year reign as the England manager amounted to much more than a story of futility.

He never got to pick the team; astonishingly, that was the responsibility of all 92 League club chairmen. Winterbottom accepted restrictions on his role that were contemptuously swept aside by Alf Ramsey when he took over in 1962. Ramsey was the first to apply a professional's stamp, and four years later England were world champions. Ramsey drew to a close a shameful chapter of arrogant amateurism, one which had seen the founders of the game slip so far behind such football powers as Brazil, Uruguay, Italy, and at various times, nations like Austria and Hungary.

No doubt Walter Winterbottom loved football. The sadness was that, like so many great but shackled English players, he had to do so at such a demeaning price.