Friday, 9 February 2007

Ron Remembered

"Ron was the encyclopaedia of football"- Bobby Moore

The very essence of a visionary is to observe the prevailing circumstances and offer radical alternatives which hint at the future. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that anyone tagged a visionary can be universally appreciated. When Ron Greenwood embarked upon his first senior management post at West Ham in 1961, British football was a brutal game with little finesse by comparison to its modern-day equivalent. Years ahead of his time, he introduced a continental style never previously employed upon these shores, based on possession and skill. He was a true visionary, a founding father of contemporary British football.

“His most famous line was ‘simplicity is genius’,” says West Ham star Billy Bonds, who played under Greenwood. “To Ron, football was entertainment and he never compromised his beliefs.”

“He encouraged players to express themselves,” says Trevor Brooking, who was brought to West ham as a youngster by Greenwood, and who would later play under him for England. “He put in place a philosophy that’s become ingrained at West Ham and that has been the challenge for all coaches at Upton Park since. I may be slightly biased, but I’d say Ron was one of the best three English coaches in the last 50 years.”

Greenwood the player emerged at Chelsea in 1940. A stylish, unflappable centre-half, his career was stalled by the outbreak of war; five years in the RAF, he joined Bradford Park Avenue. In 1949, he moved to Brentford and, after a second spell at Chelsea, saw out the final days of his playing career as captain of Fulham in the mid-‘50s.

His first full managerial post came at Eastbourne FC in 1957, and a year later, he was appointed assistant manager at Arsenal as his reputation spread. Greenwood was soon given responsibility for the England Youth and Under-23 sides, before taking over at West Ham in ’61, winning the FA Cup in 1964 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later with what Brooking calls “an un-English like” performance.

In 1974, Greenwood handed over the managerial reins at Upton Park and stepped upstairs to become general manager and, in 1977, he was appointed England manager following the departure of Don Revie, ahead of media and fans’ favourite Brian Clough.

Unsurprisingly, Greenwood was often scorned by the press, especially during England’s cumbersome qualification for the 1982 World Cup. In Spain, he became only the second England manager to remain undefeated in a World Cup finals, but England still missed out on a semi-final place. “His technical thinking was way ahead,” says Greenwood’s England assistant, Don Howe. “I worked with Ron, Bobby Robson and Terry Venables and I think Terry and Bobby would say that Ron was the best of the three.”

Retiring from the game upon returning home, Greenwood added to his CBE with a Football Writers’ Association Tribute Award for outstanding contribution in 1983 and, in 2002, he was inducted into the FA’s Hall of Fame. He passed away one year ago today at his Suffolk home after a long illness, aged 84. The last word goes to Greenwood’s former West Ham protégé Geoff Hurst. “He opened the door to modern football,” says England’s 1966 hat-trick hero. A more apposite summation of Greenwood’s contribution you could not find.

Other reading:

David Lacey's tribute; Brian Glanville's eulogy; The Times obituary; Rob Hughes remembers; David Millar's lament; Tim Rich's tribute; The Telegraph obituary;

1 comment:

cockney-slasher said...

RIP Ron. At least you didn't have to witness that pointless, passionless excuse for a performance yesterday. Your heart would've bled.


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