Duncan Hamilton is rightly acclaimed as one of our best – if not the best – sports biographer.
It’s not a literary field crammed with talent.
Most ghosted sports biographies are dull with some revelation for the serialisation in a newspaper. Duncan Hamilton writes on major but contrarian sports figures like Brian Clough.
It’s a demanding skill as he rarely writes on a contemporary subject.
Here he profiles Alf Ramsey who died many years ago and did not leave a body of letters, nor a family that wished to confide in Hamilton.
He had a remarkable career. As a right back for Spurs Ramsey won international caps. His mentor was Spurs manager Arthur Rowe whose “push and run” tactic won Tottenham the 1951 Championship.
Ramsey hoped and expected to become Spurs manager but the post went to Bill Nicholson so he moved to third tier Ipswich.
Within two years they were promoted to the top flight where, the following year, they won the Championship – pipping Spurs and Burnley.
The next stop was the England manager role, taking over from Walter Winterbottom.
He was the first England manager who could pick his own team but the FA, under Chairman Sir Harold Thompson, still wielded much power.
Despite winning the World Cup in 1966, he was little acclaimed by the FA or the press.
In 1970 England went out of the World Cup to West Germany in the quarter finals and Germany put England out of the European Nations Cup two years later at Wembley and – by 1974 – after failing to qualify for the World Cup, Ramsey was sacked.
He made little money from the game and the FA was measly in any reward.
Like most of his 1966 team, his career declined as both the FA and the game turned their backs.
Some managers – like Matt Busby and Jock Stein liked him – but Ramsey had a poor relationship with another successful Ipswich and England boss, Bobby Robson.
They lived nearby in Ipswich but famously Ramsey, at Chelsea, refused an offer of a lift home from Robson.
“ I came here by train and will return by train” he responded.
Ramsey was a complex character.
Chippy, too conscious of his Dagenham origins, and lacking any financial ambition.
One attribute was not in doubt: the capacity to find a winning system and identify those who could play successfully within it.
It started at Ipswich with Jimmy Leadbetter, a winger who resembled a part time gas fitter, but was integral to Ramsey’s 4-3-3 system.
Hamilton writes well on the total lack of appreciation by the FA.
Hamilton does not refer to the press who danced on his grave. I recall a prominent journalist I once knew gleefully recounting how, in 1974, he finally got even with Ramsey.
The same journalist promoted Terry Venables, another Dagenham boy, who had 10% of the success of Alf Ramsey.
Personally, I attach as much blame for the total lack of any success post-Ramsey on the press.
Consider his successors – Don Revie walked out on the job, Ron Greenwood and Graham Taylor brought no success, Venables provided stories but not trophies. Sven Goren Erikkson and Fabio Capello were expensively recruited buys; Englishmen Glenn Hoddle, Steve Maclaren and Roy Hodgson failed; and Gareth Southgate ticked all the PC boxes but has yet to find a Ramsey-style winning formula.
The other criticism I would make is the link the title – a quote from a 14th century nun – has to do with the subject, which is one of rejection – not answered prayers.
Nonetheless, many will enjoy this well-researched account of the only England team and manager to win a trophy.