Obituary: Sir Alf Ramsey, 1922-1999 - True talent revealed as manager

In 1966, when it mattered, he produced a marvellous, attacking, positive team

Hunter Davies
Friday 30 April 1999 23:02

I HAVE Alf's autograph on our bathroom wall. Every morning for 33 years when I shave and brush my teeth, I think of Alf. And what I think is `Yeah, I was there, I saw them win. Not much chance of that happening again, not in my lifetime. Or anyone's lifetime, the way they have been playing these last 33 years'. Then I leave the bathroom and begin my day.

Alf's signature is on a first day cover from 1966, celebrating The Win. It's signed by every member of the England team, plus Alf. "Plus Alf" is the unusual bit. "Look at this," I say to visitors when I am giving them my football memorabilia tour, whether they want to see it or not. "You didn't know Alf could do joined up writing, did you?"

A silly, infantile remark. What I mean is that you very rarely saw Alf's autograph. He was not known for such sloppy, sentimental behaviour. That's his image, really, a dour, tight-lipped, uptight, charmless manager, who spoke like an old-fashioned trade union official in stilted, pretend- posh sentences.

He was disliked by the press and the FA, who were quick to get shot of him once his teams started doing badly. Yet, in 1966, when it mattered, he produced a marvellous, attacking team with positive, attacking players such as Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.

He had been a dour full-back for Spurs but when he became a manager, he showed more flair than he had ever displayed as a player.

Alf did get a knighthood. Personally, I thought a dukedom was more in order. But since the 1970s, he seemed to disappear, become a figure of mockery. Partly because he had never bothered to court the press, partly because of the enemies he had made at the FA and partly because of his personality.

Other football heroes seem to have grown bigger, greater, more loved as the years have gone and been remembered and lauded accordingly. There is Herbert Chapman's bust at Arsenal. Sir Matt Busby Way at Old Trafford. Tom Finney has a stand named after him at Preston. A statue of Bill Shankly stands on the Kop.

Sir Alf has no such monument. Even in our dreams, or those oft repeated images from 1966 we don't see Alf. We see Bobby Moore, holding up the Cup, or Hurst scoring. Poor old Alf never entered our national hall of visual images.

And yet, he did what no one else had done. Alf was the architect of England's greatest ever triumph. That at least can't be forgotten.

Hunter Davies is a broadcaster and author of The Glory Game

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