Old master leaves a fine legacy to the beautiful game

His Hammers had the world at their feet and he rose to coach his national side. James Lawton remembers Ron Greenwood, who died yesterday
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The Independent Football

At the height of his glory Ron Greenwood dispensed post-match sherry and football advice in his little office at West Ham United. The talk stretched late into the night. The sherry more often than not was Bristol Cream. The talk was always golden.

If all the chairs were taken, you sat on the floor and you listened. However imperious his manner - and it could often be at least that - everyone hung on his words, even the most self-opinionated man in English football, Sir Alf Ramsey.

Yesterday, after Greenwood's death in his Suffolk home at the age of 84, Martin Peters, who with Sir Geoff Hurst and the late Bobby Moore was one of his great triumvirate of players who were so vital to England's triumph in the 1966 World Cup, conjured again the impact and the significance of the Greenwood-Ramsey dialogue.

"I know," recalled Peters, "that Ron talked me into the England team - and I know that so much of his work was absorbed by the team when we won the World Cup. Ramsey had looked at me and decided I wasn't good enough, but Ron chirped away at him. He said I was the kind of player who could help England beat European and South American defences. In the end Alf was persuaded and I'll never stop being grateful to Ron for that. I also think that all of English football has reason for gratitude. He made such a contribution to us being able to compete at the highest level.

"When he arrived at West Ham [taking over from the tradition-bound veteran Ted Fenton] in 1961 he changed everything. He spent so much time in Europe, watching training, analysing tactics, and he made West Ham the Academy. He didn't believe in the big striker knocking everyone out of the way, and his great innovation was the near-post ball, which changed so much about the way you attacked a defence."

Greenwood's near-post ball also delivered the World Cup. Deadlocked against the tank-trap defence of Argentina in the quarter-final, with 13 minutes to go, Peters looked up as Hurst moved into the box. He knew precisely where his team-mate was heading and delivered the ball perfectly to his head, at the near post.

Nobby Stiles recalls that moment when England grasped that they could win the greatest prize in football. "The goal was designed and made in West Ham." says Stiles, "but Alf and the rest of us had put plenty of work into making sure it was incorporated as a prime weapon in our campaign. As a Manchester United player I knew the threat posed by the Hammers.

"The front players would at some point split and one would make a move on the near post. At Old Trafford, when we played them we always insisted on guarding that post. The Argentines were not so aware of the threat and the Peters-Hurst combo delivered the sweetest of knock-out blows. Peters floated a superb ball to the near post and Hurst timed his run and header as if by clockwork."

There was more of the same in the final, England a goal down and Moore surging down the left, winning a free-kick, and taking it almost instantly... it went arrow-like to the near post and there, again, was Hurst.

"Ron," added Peters, "always knew how he wanted the game to be played. He was an absolute purist, and though he didn't always succeed in getting the football, or at least the results, he wanted, he never put aside his beliefs.

"Because of the quality of pitches in England at that time, sometimes our football went wrong; you couldn't always be as precise as you wanted to be and sometimes maybe we would get steamrollered against a powerful town on some muddy pitch, usually up north, but that never tempted Ron into compromise. To him, there was only one way to play football... it was the right way, with skill and intelligent running. If you couldn't make football beautiful, why play?"

It was a high-risk policy which produced a relatively slim haul of trophies, given the brilliant standards set by Greenwood's West Ham between 1961 and 1977, when he succeeded Don Revie as England manager. At Upton Park, Greenwood won two FA Cups, in 1964 and 1975, and the European Cup- Winners' Cup in 1965, but the quality of his team's play, with Trevor Brooking taking up the demand for superior performance on the field after the departures of Moore, Peters and Hurst, was his ultimate achievement.

After the high point of the 1966 and 1970 era, Greenwood took over England at a time of mediocrity, one which had confounded the last days of Ramsey and the great club manager Revie, and his tenure was marked by frustration. England failed to qualify beyond the opening pool of the European Championship in 1980 and though undefeated in the World Cup finals of 1982 - England's first in three campaigns - with draws against the eventual finalists West Germany and hosts Spain, did not reach the semi-final stage.

That was no doubt painful for the rugged centre-half of Bradford Park Avenue, Brentford, Chelsea and Fulham who devoted his managerial career to the refinement of English football and the nourishing of some of its best talent. But then he also knew that some achievements in football are written in the sky rather than on the trophy board.

Ramsey once said that Greenwood's protégé Peters was 10 years ahead of his time. Yesterday, Peters offered a toast - in sherry of course - to the man who had so elegantly put up the signpost.

From Bradford to España '82

1921 Born in Burnley.

1945 Makes debut with Bradford Park Avenue.

1955 Wins League with Chelsea. Retires a year later, playing for Fulham.

1961 Becomes West Ham manager. Wins FA Cup in 1964, and Cup Winners' Cup in 1965.

1977 Takes over as England manager.

1981 Plans to retire after World Cup qualifier in Budapest, but players convince him not to.

1982 Stands down after an unbeaten England fail to reach World Cup semi-finals in Spain. Won 33 of his 55 England matches.

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