Graham Kelly: Wealth of Winterbottom's legacy almost impossible to calculate

How was the Football Association so perverse as to let Winterbottom drift out of football?

Monday 25 February 2002 01:00 GMT

Although, in the wake of his death last weekend, there has been much scorn about the constraints under which Sir Walter Winterbottom operated, the Football Association made a far-reaching decision when it appointed him director of coaching and England team manager after the war.

Previously, the team had been in the charge of an FA official and a trainer, invariably from one of the London clubs, such as Arsenal's Tom Whittaker.

Some obituarists have churlishly dwelt upon Winterbottom's failure to win a World Cup, his defeats at the hands of the mighty Hungarians (who had learned from a fellow Lancastrian, Jimmy Hogan) in 1953 and 1954, or the scholarly demeanour which sometimes distanced him from the hurly-burly of the dressing-room, but he was a true colossus of English football, the extent of whose influence it is almost impossible to calculate.

Nearly 50 years after Walter set down the first coaching course at Lilleshall, I had a courier knock on my door with a beautiful rug sent from an official of a far-flung football association who was desperate for his brother to attend an international football seminar in England. Ken Jones has already written here of some of the illustrious foreign coaches whom Winterbottom attracted as guest lecturers for his courses.

Bill Nicholson was a disciple. Bobby Robson. And Ron Greenwood. Even though the FA overlooked Winterbottom for secretary when he resigned in 1962, Alf Ramsey's 1966 World Cup success with the West Ham trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters owed something to his predecessor.

How was the FA so perverse as to allow Winterbottom to drift out of football? The councillors were so keen not to become overshadowed again, as they had been by Stanley Rous, that they elected as secretary instead a trade union official, Denis Follows.

I cannot bring to mind the precise constitutional situation at this distance, which was exceedingly tangled, but the all-powerful Rous had got himself into the position of being Fifa president and FA secretary at one and the same time and, when the newspapers started campaigning for his protégé, Winterbottom, to be the new secretary, it is not difficult to imagine how the cunning power broker, Harold Thompson, could swing a vote of some small-minded people against an enlightened candidate.

The electorate, incidentally, comprised the entire FA Council, some 80-odd members, a novel selection process indeed. Almost as bizarre as that which confronted the eager Winterbottom when he arrived at the Victoria Hotel in Sheffield in 1946 for his first meeting with the England selection committee to pick the team to play Northern Ireland. There were seven club directors on the committee, plus the newly appointed manager. Everyone put forward their nominations and ballots ensued for each position.

In those days it was not definite that England would enter World Cups and therefore preparation for bigger things did not occur to anyone. An England cap was often an honour for long and distinguished service, so Winterbottom was pleased when Football League representative matches could be used instead as a method of recognising deserving players.

Invariably, the senior players would play a large part in organising the team and it must have been daunting initially for Winterbottom, with only a handful of League appearances, to face a team containing the likes of Frank Swift, Stan Matthews, Raich Carter, Tommy Lawton and Wilf Mannion.

The main thing Winterbottom did learn from Hungary was the value of a settled side and, despite tragically losing Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards and David Pegg to the Munich air crash, he had settled on a promising 4-2-4 team, built around Bobby Robson and the captain, Johnny Haynes, which scored a bucketful of goals in 1960-61.

Key players such as Haynes, Jimmy Armfield, Bryan Douglas, the Blackburn Rovers winger, and Bobby Charlton were fixtures in the team for two and a half seasons, but unfortunately, by the time of the 1962 World Cup in Brazil, the spine of the team was broken. Bobby Smith, the Spurs striker, was injured and Peter Swan, the Sheffield Wednesday centre-half, fell ill, before England were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Brazil.

Winterbottom was often asked who he thought was the better player, Stan Matthews or Tom Finney. The selectors were fortunate enough to have to choose between these two magnificent English wingers. He believed that for efficiency Finney was the greater player, contributing more goals and assists, but that no one could match Matthews for sheer entertainment. They played in the same England forward line on 18 occasions, Matthews on the right wing, Finney on the left.

The charming man whose thirst for knowledge could never be slaked was surfing the internet at nearly 90. If you could market the football know-how passing through those church gates next Friday, you would make a fortune.

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