Magazine article The Spectator

Delivering the Goods

Magazine article The Spectator

Delivering the Goods

Article excerpt

SIR ALF by Leo McKinstry HarperCollins, £18.99, pp. 528, ISBN 0007193785 . £15.19 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

The funniest episode in Leo McKinstry's biography of Sir Alf Ramsey (1920-99) finds its subject -- the time is 1973 -- reaching the end of his tether with the talented but undisciplined Manchester City forward Rodney Marsh. 'I've told you that when you play for England you have to work harder', Sir Alf harangues his wayward protégé. 'I'll be watching you and if you don't, I'm going to pull you off at halftime.' 'Christ!' Marsh mutters. 'At Manchester City all we get at half-time is a cup of tea and an orange.' Here in the twilight of Ramsey's career, this 'typical piece of cockney wit' marked a wider, symbolical divide: the gap that had opened up between an erstwhile national saviour and a new breed of mavericks more interested in soccer's rewards than some of its obligations.

Forty years after that epochal Wembley victory -- one of my first coherent memories is of watching Wolfgang Weber slide in to score West Germany's equaliser -- one forgets quite how embattled Ramsey was for the greater part of his England tenure. The press, three or four trusties excepted, hated him. The paying public was prepared to boo his teams off the field, or even onto it before one fixture against France in 1969. Only the players, amid the countless contending constituencies of English football, offered longterm respect. 'I would have died for him, ' the hard-tackling Nobby Stiles confessed. Such rapt veneration was not exclusive to the veterans of 1966: a late-period addition to the squad like Malcolm Macdonald 'loved Alf. I made no bones about him.'

Even Macdonald, on the other hand, occasionally felt like throwing an affectionate arm around his superior's shoulder, so great did the level of Ramsey's insularity sometimes seem to become. A workingclass lad from what was then semi-rural Dagenham who pursued a pre-sporting career as a Co-op delivery boy, he edged into the professional game on afternoons off from war service, captained Spurs and, as a slow-moving but stylish England fullback was present at the ignominious 3-6 drubbing by Hungary in 1953. The national job came a decade later, after a spectacular few years managing formerly humble Ipswich Town. …

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