Updated: Saturday, 21st September 2019 @ 6:10am

Sir Walter Winterbottom: The Oldham teacher and first England manager who pioneered modern football

Sir Walter Winterbottom: The Oldham teacher and first England manager who pioneered modern football

By Matthew Lees

While the Football Association is celebrating its 150th anniversary, one man born in Oldham has the distinction of having a key role in its history.

That man is Sir Walter Winterbottom – born in Stafford Street, Werneth on March 31, 1913 – England’s first, youngest and longest serving team manager.

After World War Two, Sir Walter took the job in 1946 but biographer and son-in-law Graham Morse argues his legacy is much greater as he helped shape today’s modern-day football.

“Walter should be remembered as the man who began football coaching, at a time when coaching was ridiculed by international players, club managers and directors,” said Mr Morse.

“He persevered over his 16 years at the FA and established coaching as a respected and essential part of football.

“His legacy is the FA coaching system that he founded.

“He inspired a new generation of coaches like Bill Nicholson, Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson who became known his disciples and spread his gospel to the clubs they joined.”

Today is the 100th anniversary of his birth, and Winterbottom took up teaching at the Alexander Rhodes School in his hometown while playing part time for Royton and then Mossley FC.

In 1936 he was signed for Manchester United by Louis Rocca, the man who put the Red Devils in contact with Sir Matt Busby.

“Walter's career as a professional footballer with Manchester United is much overlooked or misrepresented,” added Mr Morse,

“In one brief season with United in 1936/37 he played 23 consecutive first team games before a debilitating spinal disease cut short a promising career.

“Archie Ledbrooke of the Daily Dispatch described him as 'The find of a lifetime,' and he was being touted by the press as in line for England honours.”

He led England into their first ever World Cup in 1950 and went to four successive Finals – a record only matched by West Germany’s Helmut Schon.

He reigned for 16 years, five years longer than Sir Alf Ramsey, and despite being maligned for not learning from the infamous 6-3 defeat to Hungary, Sir Walter was proud of his achievements.

“Like every England manager that followed there were high and low points,” said Mr Morse, author of 'Sir Walter Winterbottom: The Father of Modern English Football’ and the website www.sirwalterwinterbottom.com.

“The low points were losing 1-0 to the USA in England's first World Cup in Brazil in 1950, and of course losing 6-3 to Hungary in 1953, when England lost at home to a foreign team for the first time.

“His personal high points were beating Portugal 10-0 away in 1947, Italy 4-0 away in 1948, Brazil 4-2 at home in 1956 and Scotland 9-3 at home in 1961.

Sir Walter, who served as an officer who reached the role of wing commander in the RAF during World War Two, never officially had responsibility for team selection but did not let it hinder him.

“Of course it was a terrible handicap that an FA committee picked the team, but that was how it was back then,” added Mr Morse.

“Gradually he used his intellect and knowledge to guide the selectors and when he resigned from the FA he was picking the team, insisting that Alf Ramsey should have the sole responsibility for team selection.”

After 139 games as England manager he resigned in 1962 with a 56.12% win ratio becoming General Secretary of the Central Council of Recreation then the first Director of the Sports Council in 1965.

Despite being busy during his long career, his family was an important part of his life.

“Walter had a warm personality that made him a much loved person by his family and indeed by all those he engaged with,” said Mr Morse.

“He was away from home for more than six months a year on England tours or coaching courses at Lilleshall, but he was loved by his family.

“He helped his three children, Janet, Brenda and Alan with homework and they enjoyed the time they had with him.

“His Christmas parties at home were legendary.”

The man regarded as the father of modern footballer was knighted in for services to sport in 1978 but passed away in 2002 aged 1989.

His memory will live on however as the FA have commissioned a bronze statue coinciding with its 150th anniversary celebrations fittingly for St George’s Park, due on April 23.

The biography 'Sir Walter Winterbottom: The Father of Modern English Football.' is now available from all bookshops costing £17.99 and www.amazon.com.

Image courtesy of Andrew Edwards, via YouTube, with thanks

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