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Graham Morse
The Father of Modern English Football:
Walter Winterbottom
(John Blake Publishing, 2013)


Reviewed by Chris Goodwin
April 2013

Released March 2013

Walter Winterbottom's biography on EFO

Whatever you think of Sir Walter Winterbottom, he defied the odds.  Whatever you thought Winterbottom was, he wasn't. He was an enigma, and because he was a riddle, as is the norm, the media would fill in their own blanks.  And the astute, private man that was Walter Winterbottom, the working-class Oldham lad, was far too interested in his own life, never pretentious, in his own matters, to set the record straight. He was happy for the mass to make their own minds up, for Walter knew what he had achieved, and he had achieved massively, he just never told anyone. So his story remained untold. Until now.

Generally, as the saying goes, if a story is worth telling, then it's worth telling well, and this story, apart from being long overdue, is story that has been desperate to be told.

Many prominent names in football get to tell their story and it is told so that we are expected to drool in anticipation of the next supercar gathering dust, if it hasn't been wiped out, or the next girl's name whom he can't remember from the nightclub the other night.

What needs to be recorded is Winterbottom's career as a fantastic centre-half for Manchester United. Not only did he command his area with an iron fist, but was equally alert at right-half and right-back.  There are many tales about how Walter marked the great Dixie Dean out of his game. How he prevented the legendary Ted Drake from scoring, and by him man-marking Westland out of the game, he thus made Stan Matthews' game inaffective.  This was Walter Winterbottom, who week after week, was making all the headlines for all the right reasons.  The 1935-36 season was an explosive season. He was rubbing shoulders with the players that he will one day be teaching a brand new tactical game.

Winterbottom wasn't a manager. Yes, he was England's first manager, but he wasn't a manager. He was a coach, and he was the best. He coached the coaches, he coached the players.  He became the reason for the coaching. He gave the England game the coaching and the tactical awareness that was needed to bring the country on par with the rest of Europe.  Many of the established players rebuffed him. But that just made him stronger.  He was astute enough to recognise the real threat of the Hungarians in 1953 in the 'Match of the Century'.

There is a fantasic chapter on Stanley Rous. The man responsible for bringing the Football Association forward. If Winterbottom is the father of the modern game, then Rous is the grandfather. The one responsible, and astute enough, to give the young Winterbottom his pivotal role with the England team.

Graham Morse is more than adequate to tell this story, for he is Walter's son-in-law.  And that personal touch, I believe, is what makes this book so addictive.  The recollections of tales, not always told by Walter, make the theme run along smoothly.  This coincides with a post-war history of the National Team. Of how Walter guided his ship along the ebb and flow of the media, the press and the Football Association.

Walter brought the national game into the twentieth century. And this tells us how he did it and why he did it.  But thats not the end of his story, for he achieved so much more away from the Football Association........ because they crapped on him from a great height. He wasn't the first, and he wasn't that last. But he wasn't going to let that hold him back. He continued to climb the ladder of opportunity. Having just celebrated his own centenary.... his was an anniversary worth celebrating.

Well done Walter. Well done Morse.


Sir Walter Winterbottom was arguably the most influential man in modern English football. He is known as the first England team manager, but more than that he was an innovator of modern coaching, sports administrator and a man ahead of his time; a man who had a profound effect on English football and who laid the foundations for England's success in 1966. Walter managed them all, from Lawton to Charlton, and inspired many to become coaches: Ron Greenwood, Bill Nicholson, Jimmy Hill and Bobby Robson were amongst his disciples and took his gospel to the clubs they managed. Born in 1913, Winterbottom started out as a teacher and physical education instructor, playing amateur football in his spare time. He was soon signed up by Manchester United, playing his first game 1936 and winning promotion to the First Division in 1938. A spinal ailment curtailed his career, but during World War II he served as an officer in the Royal Air Force before the FA appointed him as national director of coaching and England team manager in 1946.
He remains the only manager to have taken the national side to more than two World Cup finals and was created an OBE in 1963 and a CBE in 1972 before being knighted in 1978. Walter died in 2002 but his legacy continues to inspire many in football today, especially with the opening of the new St George's Park football academy. With interviews and insight from top football names, this book - written by Winterbottom's son-in-law - also draws on personal diaries, photographs and letters. However, this is more than just a biography of one man - it's the story of how modern football came about. -  synopsis

To buy: Sainsbury's