Sir Walter Winterbottom, a visionary and pioneer of English football coaching, was honoured by The Football Association (FA) on 23 April 2013, when a bronze bust was unveiled by England manager Roy Hodgson at St. George’s Park, marking the 100th anniversary of Walter’s birth. Winterbottom had a profound effect on English football and his story has now been told for the first time in a new book: Sir Walter Winterbottom: The Father of Modern English Football.
In 1946, at the age of only 34, Winterbottom was appointed by then FA secretary Stanley Rous as England’s first Director of coaching and team manager. Initially he faced stubborn resistance to his methods at all levels. Football had developed rapidly in continental Europe and South America but post-war England remained insular and arrogant. “In many ways we suffer because we started the whole thing,” Winterbottom said.
For 16 years he worked tirelessly to overcome resistance to coaching and drag English football into the modern era, encouraging players, clubs and administrators to change the way they thought. “Nobody believed in coaches at first,” Winterbottom said. “I wanted to change the whole attitude to coaching in this country.”
Winterbottom was the founder of the FA national coaching scheme and persuaded his international players to qualify as coaches at his summer courses at Lilleshall. He coached the coaches, with men like Ron Greenwood, Bill Nicholson, Jimmy Hill, Bobby Robson and Don Howe becoming known as his disciples. Winterbottom guided their careers as coaches and was influential in placing them in clubs as managers.
He brought about radical change within the national team set up and encouraged players to analyse the game more deeply, and change the slapdash, unrealistic and haphazard habits of many in terms of fitness, training, diet and match preparation.
He remains the only England manager to qualify for four FIFA World Cups™, taking them to Brazil 1950, Switzerland 1954, Sweden 1958 and Chile 1962. There were setbacks of course: losing 1-0 to Belo Horizonte in 1950 and 6-3 to Hungary in a 1953 friendly. Winterbottom, however, turned those disappointments to his advantage, learning from them and warning that in order to compete at the highest level England had to be more professional in their preparations. He introduced B and U-23 teams and more squad training sessions. The team formation was changed to 4-2-4 and the foundations were laid for England’s FIFA World Cup success under Alf Ramsey in 1966.
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter recently wrote to the Oldham native’s widow, Lady Ann Winterbottom, to pass on his congratulations at the FA’s tribute. He wrote: “Please accept my warmest congratulations on behalf of FIFA and the world football community on the unveiling today of the bust of your husband Sir Walter Winterbottom at the FA’s national technical centre at St. George’s Park.
“Sir Walter is not only rightly regarded as one of the fathers of coach education in England, but also made an invaluable contribution to the technical side of the game at international level in his capacity as head of the FIFA Technical Study Group over many years. I had the pleasure of working alongside Walter in Argentina and I am therefore proud to say that I had the honour of knowing him personally.”