Ramsey's secret: the first Club England

Norman Fox recalls how the 1966 World Cup was really won
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The Independent Online

When some of the England players of 1966 meet in a television studio after Saturday's match against Germany, the memories that another re-union will stir all over again are obviously going to be fond. And why not? Thirty-four years ago the young men of 1966 played out a great drama, but it was soon portrayed as a victory for Alf Ramsey's organisation and systems and a defeat for football's future as an entertainment. Right or wrong?

When some of the England players of 1966 meet in a television studio after Saturday's match against Germany, the memories that another re-union will stir all over again are obviously going to be fond. And why not? Thirty-four years ago the young men of 1966 played out a great drama, but it was soon portrayed as a victory for Alf Ramsey's organisation and systems and a defeat for football's future as an entertainment. Right or wrong?

The consequences of England's win played on the minds of some of the team. Ray Wilson, the left-back, no longer takes much interest in the game. He was one who realised that Ramsey's secret was not to do with a 4-3-3 system, which brought about the tag of "wingless wonders", or 4-4-2, but team understanding and a stubborn, determined manager's ability to turn England into Club England longbefore the term became a popular label for recent sides.

Wilson acknowledged that the mistake, so far as the future of the game was concerned, was that too many lesser managers thought that by copying Ramsey's tactical approach they could emulate his success. The problem was that there was not a profusion of Peters, Charltons or Hursts, nor enough men like George Cohen, Ray Wilson and Jack Charlton who had complete understanding of their roles.

A consequence was that genuine wingers became even more scarce, not necessarily because they were not available but because Ramsey had shown that the ultimate prize could be won without them. So every manager in the country decided that if he could do it so could they. There is little doubt that football became less entertaining out of blind imitation. More than anything it became increasingly deprived of wingers who are by their nature and ability entertainers.

Hardly a day goes by without the 1966 team's chirpy right-back, Cohen, being entertainingly reminded of England's victory. "It's not that every day someone comes up and says 'Well done, George' as if the game had only been played yesterday, but it's astonishing how many people think they were actually at Wembley that day. It makes me smile when some of them must only have been five years old when they were supposed to have been there. If they were all there, I reckon there must have been 200,000 tickets. Everybody seems to have had tickets except me. I only got three.

"You're always meeting these people who know where they were on that day, and it always seems to have been in some Spanish bar with a bunch of Germans and the end of the story is always 'and you ought to have seen their faces when we scored again'."

Cohen was one of those practical, efficient, quick but not outstandingly talented players Ramsey moulded into an essential cog in his team. That was his great skill. "When you talk about entertainment and systems, what you have to remember," Cohen said, "was that Alf had been using 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 at Ipswich. It wasn't as if he had brought in something new with the England team."

Ramsey never had much regard for professional football's reason for existence - the entertainment of the paying customers. "That," he said after the 1966 final "is none of my concern". His only concern was to fulfil his prediction that "England will win the World Cup". They did so because he had players with the intelligence to understand that, while Germany and several other countries had better individuals in terms of skill, they, and only they, absorbed, understood and formed a tactical system. As Wilson said: "We always knew that we didn't do things with the ball in the manner of Brazil. That was a criticism we accepted but what Alf created was a team. We knew he would defend us against anyone."

Cohen said: "People sometimes talk as if Alf invented systems. Formations had always been around. I started off with the WM, the swivel defence, and Walter Winterbottom had flirted with 4-3-3 back in the Fifties. Alf reverted to a 4-3-3 when Ipswich won the championship in 1962. We at Fulham had beaten them in that season and the following Wednesday Alf changed his formation to4-3-3, murdered us and went on to win the title."

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