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Despite leading England to their only World Cup victory, Sir Alf Ramsey's part in this as been too long overlooked. In fact, rather than being looked upon as a national hero Sir Alf is remembered as being a cold individual whose tactics that helped England win on that day back in 1966 hampered the development of the English game for years afterwards. Its very telling that when the new Wembley is completed the white horse that controlled the crowd during the 1923 Cup Final will be commemorated but not Sir Alf. Hopefully this brilliant book should help redress the balance.

It's a big book, but nearly every one of its 500+ pages contains a fastinating anecode that gives you an insight into this most private of men. Don't read it expecting to learn of any scandals or hidden secrets because there wasn't any. We learn that the only things that mattered to Sir Alf were football and his wife, Victoria, who he was deeply devoted to. We are told that he had many faults; he had little interest for anything outside football and his attitude towards the media and the 'men in suits' at the FA was so bad that it cost him is job in the end, but perhaps the two people who come out worst are the FA's Sir Harold Thompson and 'golden boy' Bobby Moore, who comes across as being a rather arrogant character.

There can be no doubt that Leo McKinstry has produced a book that sets the standard that all sporting biographies should aspire to.
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on 26 January 2007
I just wish this book had come out 25 years earlier - that's when it really SHOULD have been written - for in that period between Ramsey's sacking in 1974 and his death in 1999, the man had either been savaged by the media, or just plain forgotten by the public. This book shows Sir Alf for what he really was - a fabulous manager and a WINNER. So to me this book is certainly long overdue but very welcome.

In deciding to cover Ramsey's lifespan - as opposed to just his time in football - the author has taken on quite a task. But in doing so he has done a great job by unearthing plenty of anecdotes and by reaching some of the man's long-forgotten contemporaries. The result is 500 pages of superb reading.

Quite clearly, Leo McKinstry has aimed to set the record straight, and to redress the imbalance created by a negative, media-led campaign which dogged Ramsey's time in management and beyond. And I think he achieves this aim. I just hope that some of Ramsey's severest critics read this book and have a serious rethink about what they said and wrote about him.

Although the book covers Sir Alf's life, the book really centres on his two finest achievements - that of turning a struggling, unfashionable second division outfit into First Division Champions, and taking his country to the top of world football. Needless to say, that extraordinary double-feat has never been, and probably never will be, emulated.

So, given those fabulous achievements, just why was he so unpopular with the media? Because he was a quiet, modest man? Because he appeared cold and reticent at press conferences? If he was snappy on those occasions, who can blame him? Surely it was an entirely justified mistrust of the tabloid press.

Finally, when I read of the FA's decision to commemorate a horse for the new Wembley rather than their finest-ever manager, I was just incredulous. Once again the FA did not exactly cover themselves in glory. This was the final kick in the teeth.

There's just one small criticism I have about his book. The author, I feel, makes too much use of quotes from people who knew Sir Alf. Throughout the book, long after a broad concensus about Sir Alf is reached, McKinstry continues to take quotes - almost exhaustively.

But depite that mere foible, I have no hesitation in giving this book five stars. It's an excellent read - albeit long, long overdue.
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on 19 December 2008
The most successful English manager of all time deserves a great biography - and this is it. I picked it up with several questions in my mind. How did Sir Alf manage to build an England team that could win the World Cup in 1966 and be a strong contender in 1970, when no England manager has come close since? Why, despite this, did he seem to fall out of favour with press and the football authorities? Why, after leaving the England job, did he never go back into club management apart from a brief spell with Birmingham City? And how did he bring Ipswich Town from the depths of the old Third Division to win the League Championship in their first season in the top division? All these, and many others, are answered by Leo McKinstry in this thoroughly researched and well-written book. He recognises and explains Ramsey's achievements, but this is no hagiography - he also sees his flaws, but treats them with respect and sympathy. The picture that emerges is of a man with tremendous understanding of football, able to "think outside the box" and work out the best way of using the talent at his disposal and blending them into a balanced team. He was prepared to drop the much-admired Jimmy Greaves because he recognised the need for a true target man and hold-up player, Geoff Hurst; maybe in today's context the names might be Owen and Heskey, and one wonders how he would have resolved the Lampard/Gerrard midfield conundrum. But he was also a shy man who found it difficult to be relaxed and open with the Press - and as many have discovered since, it is not enough to be good at your job if you don't play the internal and external politics. He also struggled with "flair players" who were undisciplined and erratic like Rodney Marsh, and the growing "playboy culture" of 1970's footballers; yet his teams were not just built on work ethic - he recognised talent and ability, and built the 1966 World Cup side round Bobby Charlton. The tragedy of the story is that he was sacked well before retiring age and left with a pittance of a pension from the FA - barely a third of the State old age pension - while his successors earned far more while achieving less. The villains of the piece are undoubtedly the FA, who come across as outmoded and out of touch, at least in Ramsey's day - though the failure to recognise him and honour him properly since then makes one wonder how much has really changed.
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on 14 April 2006
Despite his central role in English football history, Sir Alf Ramsey, has had few detailed books written about him. Only one book has had a serious examination of his career - a book written by Dave Bowler in 1999. However, Leo McKinstry has produced a epic work which fully redresses the balance. Sir Alf is an intelligent, balanced look at this most controversial of characters and draws upon a wide range of material much of which is primary testimony from those who worked with Ramsey.

Sir Alf is written in a thorough yet accessible style and looks closely at not only Ramsey's tenure as England Football Manager but also his time as a footballer with Southampton and Spurs. In particular, his time at Ipswich is covered in detail and full of interesting anecdotes. The book is a balanced portrayal of Ramsey and effectively makes the poignant point that Ramsey is yet another example of England neglecting its heroes until it is too late. Indeed, Ramey is rightly feted as one of the great footballing managers yet was left to struggle with an uncomfortable retirement.

This book has much to recommend as it offers an alternative angle on an often written about subject - the 1966 World Cup - as well as covering the life of an England football legend. An excellent book!
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on 31 January 2014
Since England won the World Cup in 1966, I have often wondered why they have never won it again.

According to this book, Alf Ramsey was the type of man who gave his whole being to the cause of winning the 1966 World Cup. The evidence from his team members give many insights into the reasons why he succeeded.

Quite simply, Alf Ramsey could clearly see that football is a team game, and that a team is not just a collection of the "best" players who play at the same venue at the same time. It is far more complex than that, and needs a special dedicated skill to develop a winning team, which Ramsey managed to do.

In my opinion his master-stroke was the inclusion of Nobby Stiles in his team. Because without the considerable individual influence of Stiles both on and off the pitch as a sort of talisman who helped the team to believe in themselves and their combined abilities, I doubt that England would have reached the World Cup final.

The FA, sports journalists, the media and the general public criticised his methods and his style of play, but he was brave and confident enough to continue to follow his own convictions.

Noone has come close to even equalling his success in the 48 years since that win. I now have a clearer undersanding why. Some of the reasons are quite surprising and enlightening. Some are unexpected and shocking, perhaps even disturbing.

This is a very enjoyable, but ultimately an enormously sad book. Highly recommended
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on 12 February 2008
Sir Alf Ramsey was the most successful manager England ever had but he also created a number of enemies who when things went wrong turned on him viciously. This book deals not only with his time as England manager and the reasons for his fall from grace but also what created the personality of the shy and reserved man who achieved so much. It is a very readable book with some interesting analysis not only on football but also on wider English attitudes to change and the rest of the world in the fifties and sixties.
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on 2 April 2010
It's a good sign when you don't want a book to end, isn't it, and I certainly wanted this one to keep going. Despite it being a chunky 500 pages long there is so much material to cover. There's the World Cup win of '66, obviously, taking Ipswich to the Championship (for readers under 40 that's the old name for the Premiership) the year after being promoted, Mexico in 1970 and the arrest of Bobby Moore, the debacle of Poland in '73, playing in the 3-6 defeat against Hungary in '53, and so on.
McKinstry admires Ramsey and defends him against criticism such as the `wingless wonders' charge against Ramsey's most successful teams. He's outraged that Ramsey hasn't received more recognition for his achievements, in terms of support in his old age and a memorial to commemorate him.
McKinstry has read and interviewed widely so the text has plenty of colour, avoiding the trap of just listing results with an occasional extract from a newspaper report thrown in - indeed as the generation of professional players active in the 50s and 60s begin to die off this may be the last original biography of England's only World Cup winning manager.
There are other less expected gems in here as well - Ramsey made his name as a player at Southampton just after the end of the Second World War before moving to Southampton. The description of the teams and tactics, conditions for players, other personalities (such as his clashes with the future Spurs manager Bill Nicholson) are fascinating. Best of all McKinstry includes some analysis of Ramsey's playing style and tactical skills, an aspect often missing from books on football from before the TV era. Later on there are Ramsey's returns to management after his sacking by England, notably at Birmingham.
Yet at the heart of this is the enigma, if that's the right word, of Ramsey the man. Of course, Ramsey was dead before McKinstry started his research so the only time we hear his voice is through newspaper interviews and - occasionally - from anecdotes. His contacts with others could occasionally be very generous but also very rude when he was absorbed or thought the person was wasting his time. Most people in football describe him as being very courteous and with a presence that demanded respect. One problem for the book, though, is that these features get repeated over and over again so you do have to work through innumerable interviews with ex-professionals saying, "I was totally in awe of him but he only really came to life when talking about football."
I could go on - such as about the cast of supporting characters, Bobby Moore, the chairman of Ipswich, the chairman of the FA - but if you've any interest in football before the `70s then you will enjoy this book. Although maybe not if you're Scottish - he does have an irrational hatred of Scotland ...
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It is often the case that a man is viewed of the moment and not his his time. This was never truer than of Alf Ramsey, a man lionised then villified in the space of a few small years.

This book claims to be a major reappraisal of the life of Sir Alf Ramsey and is justified in this assertation, although by no small means as surprisingly little has been written by the intensely private Ramsey.

My personal interest and awareness of football started around 1973, and one of my earliest footballing memories were of a yellow clad England falling to a disastrous defeat in Katowice, although false memories must colour he occasion as I'm sure we only had a B&W TV in those days (for those of you under 40 look up B&W TV on wikipedia). I recall the vitriol in the country directed not just at Ramsey but also Bobby Moore, the two men who had just 7 years earlier been hailed as heroes. Oh, how fickle we are, but this illustrates my point about being judged at a point in time rather than on ones life times achievements.

McKinstry writes for the Mail, and carries this Mail style into the book. Some may see it as a bit dry and lacking in passion but I found it suited the subject, the restrained and undemonstrative Ramsey. The book chronicles Alf's life his Dagenham childhood through natioinal service and as a professional at Southampton, then moves on his more successful days at playing Spurs, and managing Ipswich and of course England.

There are many, perhaps too many, quotes from contemporaries of Ramsey as McKinstry seems to feel the need to build up a weight of unassailable evidence. Maybe with a bit of prudent editing this book could be reduced from 500 pages to 400 without noticeable loss.

The picture painted of Ramsey is of a quiet, principalled man, but one who could make a decision. He was undoubtably a football man and many of those who played for him are unstinting in their loyalty and praise. McKinstry does attempt to balance the book by quoting those who didn't get on so well with him or who had reason to feel aggrieved, however, these lack depth. I'd have been interested to hear more from Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Robson, and indeed from the FA who are noticeably silent, perhaps feeling that they would be misrepresented - much being made by their lack of assitance to Ramsey in his old age, although as the book does point out offers of help were often turned down out of misguided pride.

Another area which could have been explored more was the impact of the rise of the Maverick. Ramsey was, and still is, often criticised as the man who killed skill for not picking players like Rodney Marsh, but as anyone who has managed at any level will tell you, you just can't carry players who are only interested in theirselves - just look at England in South Africa. Alf would hate it, but today Germay play more to his model than England - they decide how they are going to play then pick the players to fit in, not vice versa.

Overall I give this book 4 stars, a interesting, well researched and clearly written travelogue through the glory days of English football to its nadir, but the editing should have been more heavy handed and Sir Alf's critics are not as vociferous as they might have been.
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on 20 July 2010
There is a lot that is bewildering about the life of the only man to lead England to World Cup success. How does a man from such a poor background end up sounding like a former public schoolboy? Why was this man with a proven record of success treated so badly by the English FA? What was it in the man which inspired so much loyalty in the majority of players he worked with?

Leo McKinstry has done as well as anyone could in tackling these questions and others although the testimony of former players, frequently quoted, becomes repetitive and at times tedious.

For lovers of football anecdote and gossip this is recommended.
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on 25 November 2012
An extremely well written book and a great read. The subject, Sir Alf Ramsey, is shown in all his complexities, his single mindedness and self confidence. Undervalued in his own lifetime Alf revolutionised the England manager's job when he took it over in 1962. Prior to that the England team was, believe it or not, selected by a committee. Even though nominally a manager was appointed in 1946 by the name of Walter Winterbottom, the fat cat no-nothing FA selectors still held the whip hand and Walter was under the thumb as far as selecting players was concerned. The appointment of Alf changed all of that and this book examines the environment that formed Alf's football approach and his general attitude to life and his supreme self confidence. Full of superb anecdotes, one of my own favourites being how in 1966 Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore would sarcastically start signing "What's it all about Alfie" when Alf started enforcing tactics and team discipline they didn't like. But Alf was his own man and he lifted English football to a stratosphere it had never reached before and certainly not since.
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