Fifty-Eight Years Ago Today Town Were Champions
Tuesday, 28th Apr 2020 06:00
Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Blues' sealing their 1961/62 League Championship win and to pay tribute we're re-running our 2002 interview with John Elsworthy, who played at half-back in that great side.
Elsworthy, who picked up First, Second and two Third Division South winner's medals with Town, talked about that memorable season, Sir Alf Ramsey and the club's only championship-winning team.
Sadly, the Welshman, who made 435 appearances and scored 53 times for Town between 1949 and 1964, passed away in May 2009, aged 77.
We went to Bolton for the first game and we drew 0-0 but we'd done pretty well. Then we went to Burnley on the Tuesday and lost 4-3 in a game that could have been 10-9, it was that sort of match, both goalkeepers were fantastic. Then we played Manchester City at home and lost 4-2 and then Burnley on the Tuesday and we won 6-2.
A fair few goals there.
There were a lot more goals in those days, but then we were playing with five forwards. I was a half-back, I would come forward and be about 30 yards from their goal and I'd still have five forwards in front of me. What options I had! Ted Phillips, Ray Crawford, Jimmy Leadbetter, Doug Moran and Roy Stephenson.
Stephenson and Leadbetter were the two midfield players who I always knew would be available. Players like them were used to making themselves available.
People always talk about the revolutionary formation with the withdrawn wingers, when did Sir Alf start playing that?
Fairly early. Roy Stephenson was an inside-forward of the old school, he used to fetch and carry and be the link. Stephenson did that with Leicester, Blackburn and Burnley and Leadbetter had done much the same with Chelsea and Brighton. They'd been inside-forwards, but they were getting to 30 and Alf asked if they minded playing on the wing.
You always did what Alf said, you didn't have to but you realised that he'd have something in mind. They'd always played inside-forward, and under Scott Duncan so had I. I'd had a second cartilage operation and lost a bit of pace so I went to half-back and played there for the last three games of the season when we got relegated [1954/55]. I stayed at left-half when Alf came in he moved those two to the wings.
The thing was that when you'd been an inside-forward for as long as we had you got used to fetching and carrying, you were up and down and kept the team ticking. Leadbetter, now he was on the wing, came back or infield and the full-back never went with him, and Stephenson did the same on the other side. So these two had the freedom of the park, something they'd never had before when inside-forwards as the half-back would have followed them everywhere and shut them out.
I couldn't get used to playing half-back and still thought I was an inside-forward, so I was attacking like hell. Eventually sides decided that the inside-forward should follow me, although I should have been marking him really! Going forward there was nothing in front of me, so there were three of us, with all this experience, all quite good on the ball and allowed to develop the play. We'd got Crawford and Phillips in front of us, and Moran. Baxter and Moran were the ball-winners, they'd win the ball and give it to the three of us.
And when Sir Alf left Town he did the same with England.
When Alf took over the England job he put Alan Ball on the right wing, Martin Peters on the left, he put Bobby Moore inside, and did exactly the same with the England side and won the World Cup. They were obviously better players than us as they were internationals, but he did with the England side what he had done with Ipswich. It was really so simple, he just did the simple things right.
The thing about Alf was that he was so clever. If you improve each player 5 per cent, overall it's a tremendous improvement. He never tried to make miracles he just tried to make an improvement. When he was here some improved 10 per cent, others 5 per cent, but every one of us improved.
The story goes that Bill Nicholson, the manager of Spurs, worked out how to play that formation by the time the Charity Shield came around at the beginning of the next season.
That was a fallacy. In those days there wasn't a lot of money about and to play in the Charity Shield you got £25, two shields and a trophy. By the time of the Charity Shield there were one or two of us carrying injuries, five or six of us not really fit. Alf said it wasn't really fair for the reserves to get what we were entitled to and, as you had to play in the game to get the £25, the unfit players played and we lost [5-1].
We had actually got a plan for dealing with sides who might put their half-back on our wingman. Nobody did it, but Tottenham apparently talked about playing like that. When our wingman came deep whichever half-back was on that side would pick him up and the full-back would pick up the inside-forward. If they'd have done that we'd have pushed the wingmen up, and then they'd have had a back five and no midfield. I've read that Tottenham ‘found us out' a few times but I've never said too much about it before.
When did you start to know that there was something special going on in that season?
We didn't expect to win the First Division obviously, but we when we won the Second Division the year before we scored a hundred goals. Crawford and Phillips scored 87 between them! The Second Division was a ‘hard' division, full of skilful players who played it hard. In the First Division there were mostly ‘footballers'. With the game less defensive than it is now you had more space and you didn't get shut-down so quickly.
What about going to Spurs, they were the big side of the time and had just done the double.
This is why we deserved to win the title. We went to Tottenham in the February and won 3-1 and hit the post twice in the last five minutes. We won comfortably and we nearly outplayed them! To play so well and win so well it made you think you weren't afraid of anyone; they'd done the double the year before and that year they won the FA Cup. They were the best of British football Tottenham, and it was a pleasure playing against them, a brilliant team.
What helped us against them was Phillips against Danny Blanchflower. Blanchflower was a superb player, but Phillips was tall, he was quick and Danny wasn't a defensive player really. They should have switched him and put Mackay on Phillips. I think they slipped up there, and Phillips had a field day.
A special victory for Sir Alf as he was a player at Spurs alongside their manager Bill Nicholson?
We were very anxious to do well there and we beat them 3-2 here as well, although I think we played better at White Hart Lane.
Did you gain confidence as the season went on?
Yes, definitely. We won our first away game at West Brom in the October and Sir Alf said that if we had 24 points by Christmas we wouldn't get relegated. Well, we'd got 30 by Christmas, he was very happy and were on our way.
I remember when we played Sheffield United, they'd come up with us the season before and had three England players, the Shaw brothers and Hodgkinson. We played them at home and we won 4-0. I came off with Joe Shaw, the centre-half, and he said to me ‘have you been playing like this all season?' And I said yes. He said that if we kept playing like that we'd win the First Division!
We'd find ourselves a few minutes into games that season and we'd look at one another and say “we can win this!” We didn't know what these teams would be like when we went into the games as it was our first venture into the top division.
Photo: Action Images
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