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By on 5 October 2017

This article was first published in the January 1952 issue of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. Interestingly it identifies many of the qualities and, indeed, foibles of Sir Alf Ramsey when he was still a player with Spurs and England. Later in his career, despite being the only manager to truly deliver something which made England supporters proud, he had these qualities thrown back in his face in being too formulaic and intransigent. Click on the page images below (above on tablets!) to have a look at the original article as published.

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The Five Elms “General” by John Thompson

THE team was called Five Elms because that was the name of the street in which most of the boys lived. It was just one of the countless tiny clubs no one ever hears about, the clubs which are more important than anything in football because they are the heart of the game and it would die without them.


Among the eager youths of Five Elms was the dark-haired Dagenham grocer’s assistant named Alf Ramsey, who was to become one of the greatest full-backs ever to wear the shirt of Tottenham Hotspur and England…

“In those days I never dreamt of ending up in League soccer, let alone being capped,” Ramsey has said. But I am told that even then there were hints of the quality which has made him the perfect craftsman – his infinite capacity for self-instruction.

Watch Ramsey in any match and you will see a footballer who, having reached the top of his trade, still regards himself as a pupil of it.

It is Ramsey’s diligence, his profiting from trial and error, which have made his style immaculate in appearance and profitable in effect.

During the war, as a sergeant in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, he was playing so well that he was recommended to Southampton by his commanding officer. Ramsey was then a centre-half, the position occupied at The Dell by Bill Dodgin.

Mr. Dodgin recalls: “It seems odd now to think that I used to move to full back to make way for Alf at centre-half!”

Later Mr. Dodgin, now Fulham’s manager, became manager of Southampton. For a time, Ramsey was a subject for experiment. He was even tried as a centre-forward. He proved that he could score goals!

It was early in 1947 that his play began to earn more than local notice. As so often happens in football, the opportunity was caused by another player’s misfortune.

Bill Ellerington had been taken ill after an F.A. Cup tie at Newcastle, and it was during Ellerington’s long absence from the team that Ramsey fully revealed his tremendous promise.

About that time, I remember Mr. Dodgin remarking that Ramsey, apart from his skill on the field, was also one of ‘the most intelligent soccer “talkers” he had ever come across.

“Any man who talks football and thinks football every moment of his day, as he does, can’t fail to make good,” he added.

That was, of course, an early example of the single-mindedness which has been Ramsey’s recipe for success.

His transfer to Tottenham Hotspur – in exchange, Southampton received Ernie Jones and a cheque – was finally negotiated by cable because, at the time of the transfer, the Southampton manager was on holiday in Brazil.

At White Hart Lane, Ramsey soon settled comfortably into the Tottenham set-up, still intently studying the game, still insistent that football must be played with careful precision.

His personal view is obvious to all who watch him. To Ramsey the field of play is what a map is to a general. And the map shows the whole picture – not the flanks alone.

For Ramsey the picture is equally broad. He sees the game not only as it affects his own local duties, but as a complete design in which defence and attack and right and left are fluid and must flow together.

The impression that he always has time to spare testifies to his coolness and his imaginative positional play.

His passing is calculated and firm and his refusal to waste the ball, however perplexing the pressure on him, was one clear example for the teammates with whom he took part in Tottenham’s championship triumph.

He owes much to the guidance he has received from manager Arthur Rowe and is grateful for it.

Ramsey, above all, is a conscientious and modest footballer, filled with the conviction – shared by all successful men that there is always more to learn…

Five Elms and all the other little unknown clubs in which stars are born can be very proud of such a graduate.

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