Sunday, November 08, 2009

A lifelong hatred

Reading Leo McKinstry's excellent biography of Sir Alf Ramsey (of which more later) I've been struck by Ramsey's long standing loathing of the Scots.

It's not unusual to hear ex-Scottish internationals talk about how much beating the Auld Enemy meant to them, with Denis Law and Pat Crerand both lingering on this in their autobiographies.

And England players often talk about how much the annual clash at Wembley or Hampden meant to them with Bobby Charlton among those ex-players who has called for the match to be resurrected.

It is less normal to read about a life long loathing of an entire nation, one which surely ran beyond the confines of sport.

Quite what the "strange little men" north of the border ever did to Sir Alf is not clear but his hatred extended to refusing to wear Paisley pattern pyjamas. Take that Paisley!

"Not since the Duke of Cumberland" writes McKinstry, "has any Englishman had a more visceral dislike of the Scots."

Ramsey used to say "I'd sooner anybody beat us than the bloody Scots" and his normal team talks became more demonstrative when the opposition was in dark blue. Roy McFarland remembers a match in the 1970s and Sir Alf sending the team out with the words: "Come on boys, let's get into these Scots fuckers."

It's not surprising to learn that Alan Ball was one player who shared Ramsey's hatred and with stunning originality referred to "skirt wearing tossers." Indeed Ramsey, the great upholder of fair play and decorum, tacitly condoned Ball when he wiped his nose on a Saltire at Hampden.

A pre-tan Jimmy Calderwood later played briefly for Ramsey at Birmingham City and remembers a meeting attended by all the Anglo-Scots in the squad:
Sir Alf said: "Now I know you lot fucking hate me. Well, I have news for you. I fucking hate you lot even more." But, you know, I never missed a game for him. He really was a fantastic manager.
Only in the 1980s did Ramsey soften his stance when he offered Alex Ferguson advice before the Mexico World Cup. It says much for his loathing of Bobby Robson that Sir Alf saw helping the Scots as the lesser of two evils.

Does any of this matter? Not really. The attitude might be better seen as a product of Ramsey's time. George Orwell had a similar view of the "Jocks" until he fought next to a Glaswegian in the Spanish Civil War.

It was simply one of the many quirks of a man who achieved much but whose complex brittleness made him very difficult to love.

And does it not add a certain sweetness to those pictures of Jim Baxter toying with England in the Wembley sunshine of 1967?