Sir Alf Ramsey

I am really going to be writing about a huge ‘up’. I do love an underdog, especially if my team isn’t in pole position then I’ll get behind their dream ride. Dreams don’t come bigger than Ipswich Town’s roller coaster ride. It is so English. They were only voted into the league in 1938 so their entry was curtailed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Having been in the Second and Third Divisions, the thought of then being in the top tier of football seemed as likely as them winning it.

The question I am asking here is: what or why were Ipswich the blueprint for England’s glory? This Sceptred Isle has history and eccentricity at its core. It’s the birthplace of legends such as King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Lord Snooty. We make a big deal about money and class. Can the combination bring about sagas and stories we will talk about for generations?

The fairy tales that happen today are often actualised with a healthy dose of cash. This is a commodity that was seriously lacking at Portman Road in 1960. However, they had recently employed the fairy godmother of tactics: one Alf Ramsay. He may not have been able to buy new players, but in true Cinderella style, he transformed what he had from the mundane into something quite beautiful and magical.

Alf Ramsay made so many dreams come true and he had learned his craft from Arthur Rowe while playing for Tottenham. The passing game had forged players who have to think about the flow and movement of the game and it was with this background that novice manager Ramsay could implement his tactical approach. In 1955, he took charge of the newly-relegated Ipswich Town.

With low expectations, an ageing team, and no money, this seemed a daunting project. There was only one way to go and that was with tactics. It was noted that during the very first game Ipswich played three different types of corner kick. Change doesn’t happen overnight but at the end of the season, Ipswich finished third and had scored 106 goals. things were definitely on the up. Up they went the following season and as champions of the Third Division.

With a solid defence and two prolific strikers, Ipswich enjoyed moderate success and actually became Division Two Champions at the end of the 1960/61 season. Ray Crawford had scored 40 goals and his strike partner Ted Phillips had netted 30 out of the 100 goals Ipswich scored to become not only champions but ‘centurions’ to boot. As we know, strikers can’t score unless they are in a position to so. With Jimmy Leadbetter as a winger, they were in a position to do their job.

This was Ipswich’s first appearance in the First Division and of course, they were tipped for relegation. With a draw against Bolton and defeats against Burnley and Manchester City, it seemed that the pundits were right. The team rallied and with Crawford, Stephenson, Moran, Phillips, and Leadbetter all scoring when Burnley came to Portman Road things seemed better. Players knew what was expected as Alf Ramsay managed them well. In fact, they were the only six players who were on the scoresheet all season.

Ipswich beat the previous seasons ‘Double Winners’ Tottenham both at home and away. This was a good sign. Tottenham also were competing in Europe, so when Ipswich were knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round, it left them free to concentrate on their performance in the league. It was a closely fought season. Ipswich were top in April when they were defeated by a rather poor Manchester United. To lose 5-0 at this stage is demoralising. So, with two draws against both Arsenal and Chelsea, it seemed like Burnley would be champions. Ipswich may have been leading but the Clarets had a game in hand. Burnley drew that game against Blackpool.

On the last day of the season, it seemed like Burnley would take the spoils as they had a greater goal difference. Aston Villa were visitors to a packed Portman Road. It took 72 minutes before Ray Crawford could score in front of some 29,000 fans. It took him a further four minutes to seal the deal. Ipswich had done all they could and minutes after the final whistle was blown Ipswich were doing a victory dance as Burnley could only manage a draw.

This has to be one of the finest moments in First Division history: and certainly a fairytale win for Ipswich. It is a tale of doing your best with what you have. Alf Ramsay’s tactics flummoxed most sides that season. Unfortunately, other teams learned how to defend and counter such play and this success was not replicated the following season. As all England fans know, Alf Ramsay’s England lifted the World Cup just four years later using the tactics he taught at Portman Road.

Ipswich winning the First Division is one of those footballing legends. Ray Crawford said that they never talked about the possibility until the final day. In fact, Ipswich went on tour the day after they became champions. Crawford was rewarded with a pay rise to £30 a week for all those goals. After the tour, Crawford went to work at his summer job at the docks. He worked for timber merchants Bailey and White. Many of these players retired and went on to have humble careers. Ted Phillips worked for Pirelli, Leadbetter drove the delivery van for the Edinburgh Evening News, Stephenson worked in a scrapyard and Moran continued to play football back in Scotland.

The magic faded but due to the warmth and hospitality of the club chairman John Cobbold, this was not the only moment of greatness for Ipswich Town. Yes, they went down. They did have ‘Woar Jackie’ in charge at the time as Alf was doing other things by 1963. I can only think it was the lure of booze that kept people happy. Cobbald was reputed to have said: “There is no crisis at Ipswich until the white wine runs out in the boardroom.”

That’s the spirit.

That spirit was picked up by Bill McGarry who saw them promoted again to the First Division in 1968. He left to manage Wolves but was replaced by Bobby Robson and an era of success. This success continued until Mr. Robson did an Alf Ramsay and became England’s manager in 1982. Talk about history repeating. Well, it nearly did!

Ipswich Town has a place in footballing history that’s for sure. It is a remarkable tale of a bygone era and something truly British. The underdog, the stoical attitude, the modesty all lead by tactical genius and sponsored by a member of the aristocracy. This tale is a team effort and many people are credited with parts. Its Chairman was integral in keeping the management on track.

The aforementioned John Cobbald: should he be credited for brewing England’s glory years? He was born into a brewing dynasty so that’s a good start. As grandson to the Ninth Earl of Cavendish, he was continuing this pedigree. The fact he went to Eton and was a jolly nice bloke makes this a truly British legend. He gave Alf Ramsay carte blanche to hone his craft. He gave Bobby Robson time, love and encouragement to do the same. So, yes I think he could be credited with giving us some of England’s finest moments. Let’s raise a glass to the former Chairman of Ipswich Town: the team that brewed England.