Brighton & Hove Albion’s May 1983 FA Cup Final clash with Manchester United was historic for the club but for their 21-year-old right back it was even more eventful.
Who would have known that former Bristol City apprentice Chris Ramsey’s ignominious departure from the field in a firemen’s lift on Glen Wilson’s shoulder would more or less be the end of an all-too-brief playing spell in the top echelons of the English game?
Might the match – and Ramsey’s career – have panned out differently if it hadn’t been for that diabolical tackle by Norman Whiteside?
Trouble had been brewing in the weeks leading up to the final and the national media, looking for every possible angle to pick at, had singled out Ramsey for criticism. Did that stoke the fire?
Let’s rewind a little and explore what happened.
Birmingham-born Ramsey, whose father came to the UK from St Lucia, was one of two boys and five girls. Rejected by Charlton Athletic as a schoolboy, he became an apprentice at Ashton Gate but was then released and, after a successful trial, Brighton took him on.
The 1980-81 season was Albion’s second in the top division and, as it drew towards its close, it was looking increasingly likely they were heading for relegation.
Manager Alan Mullery was openly criticising his players for their efforts and his big ally off the field, vice-chairman Harry Bloom (current chairman Tony Bloom’s granddad) had died of a heart attack on the team coach on an away trip to Stoke.
Something had to change and, at the tender age of 19, Ramsey was called up from the reserves and plunged in at the deep end.
In three of the last four games, he took over the no.2 shirt after Mullery switched John Gregory from right back into midfield. Ramsey’s debut came in a crucial Easter Saturday clash away to rivals Crystal Palace when, released from the shackles of defending, Gregory scored twice in a 3-0 win. Ramsey also played in the wins over Sunderland away and Leeds at home.
The Seagulls stayed up by the skin of their teeth and Evening Argus reporter John Vinicombe said in his end of season analysis that Ramsey had been “a revelation” in those three games.
Within a matter of weeks, Mullery quit as manager in the furore over chairman Mike Bamber selling Mark Lawrenson to Liverpool (after Mullery had already agreed a deal to sell him to Manchester United).
Gregory was sold to QPR for £300,000 but, far from that move opening up an opportunity for Ramsey, Mullery’s replacement Mike Bailey brought in on a free transfer from Loftus Road the experienced Don Shanks, who was immediately installed as the first choice right back.
Indeed Bailey froze out Ramsey for the following 19 months! At one point he was transfer listed but it was Bailey who departed the Goldstone first – his sacking working to the advantage of the young defender.
When George Aitken and Jimmy Melia took over in December 1982, Ramsey was instantly promoted from the reserves and seized his opportunity.
In a profile in an Albion matchday programme in February 1983, Ramsey told Tony Norman: “Like any other young apprentice, my dream was to play in the First Division. I must admit that even after coming to Brighton, I had times when I wondered if I’d make it. But now I’ve got my chance and I’m keen to make the most of it.”
In one of the most comprehensive profiles on Ramsey, former Brighton teammate, Andy Ritchie, told Adam Ellis of The Football League Paper: “He was quite a shy lad back then but he had everything you want in a full back. Aggression, pace, agility – and he could tackle like a demon.”
These were the attributes that Melia appreciated too. In a Daily Mail preview of the Norwich quarter final, Melia told reporter Brian Scovell: “The other players love playing with him. He’s a great competitor, tackles well and uses the ball with a bit of style.
“I’m pleased he’s taken his chance. He deserves to play at Wembley if we manage to get there.”
As it turned out, Ramsey’s place was in jeopardy because of two sendings off in the league in April which led to him being banned for the semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury.
After being sent off in a 2-1 home win over Spurs, Terry McNeill reported in the News of the World: “Ramsey was lucky to stay on earlier after bringing down Mark Falco in a probable scoring position. When he took the striker again from behind, there was no escape.”
The 20-year-old Ramsey was fairly phlegmatic about the situation and told Alex Montgomery of The Sun: “Whatever I did, I did for the club. You can’t think about Cup games when you are struggling for points at the bottom of the First Division.”
His second dismissal, along with Coventry’s Steve Jacobs (who later played for the Albion under Chris Cattlin) after a scuffle in a 1-0 win at the Goldstone, was lambasted by one of the pre-eminent football writers of the day, Frank McGhee of the Daily Mirror.
“Can Brighton afford to field at Wembley a man who by then won’t have been able to play for 19 days?” he intoned. “And can they trust Ramsey not to sully soccer’s great state occasion by a moment of blind madness?”
Nevertheless, after Wednesday were beaten, Melia was happy to restore his first-choice right back to the starting line-up but one wonders now whether Ramsey had a sense of foreboding about how the big occasion would unfold.
Reflecting on those dismissals in the build-up to the final, he told The Sun’s Montgomery: “I just hope people aren’t looking for me. I’ll certainly be careful. I honestly don’t think I deserve the reputation which I’ve been saddled with in the last few weeks.
“The dismissals were just coincidences – nothing more than that. I know I am an aggressive type of player but that is my game. I always want to give 100 per cent for the club. The last thing I want is trouble at Wembley.”
After Albion had taken a shock lead through Gordon Smith’s header, United piled on the pressure and Ramsey headed a goalbound Gordon McQueen effort off the line.
But then came a pivotal moment early in the second half. Tim Carder and Roger Harris record it thus in their excellent Seagulls! The Story of Brighton & Hove Albion FC: “Whiteside went in high on Ramsey’s shin as the Albion full back cleared, and then trod on his ankle. The referee had a strong word with the United forward but did not signal a foul.”
The tackle had rendered Ramsey lame and while he tried in vain to carry on, two minutes later he wasn’t able to challenge for a ball to the far post which Frank Stapleton duly dispatched to equalise.
Those of us watching in the stadium, together with millions glued to TV screens around the world, saw Ramsey carried from the Wembley turf and, in those days of only one substitute, wondered how Albion would cope with a makeshift defender in the shape of Gerry Ryan.
After United took the lead through Ray Wilkins, Ramsey’s friend – and fellow England under-20 teammate – Gary Stevens’ equalised to send the game into extra time and ultimately a replay. Stevens was adamant about the impact Whiteside’s challenge had on the game.
In Match of My Life, edited by Paul Camillin, he said: “It was a bad tackle and perhaps cost us the game. In those days we only had one substitute and Gerry Ryan came on and did a great job at right back, even though he was a midfield player, but we did miss Chris because he had been having a great game.”
Whiteside was unapologetic about the challenge but Ramsey fumed to The Sun’s Montgomery: “It could have broken my leg. If I’d done it, I’d have been off. I just can’t understand how Whiteside got away with it.”
The injury deprived Ramsey of the chance to play in the replay five days later and, after that sad exit, his playing career never reached similar heights again.
Indeed he actually only played 37 games for the Albion, most of those coming in that 1982-83 season. He played only a handful of games in the following season and in August 1984 went on loan to Swindon Town before joining them permanently four months later. There, he played alongside the likes of Sky Sports reporter Chris Kamara and Albion’s current assistant manager Colin Calderwood and clocked up over 120 appearances, including being part of Lou Macari’s Fourth Division champions in 1986 and Third Division play-off winners in 1987.
In August 1987, he joined Southend United but played just 13 games for them before persistent back injuries forced his early retirement at the age of just 26.
Some business ventures he embarked on didn’t work out and former Albion right back rival Shanks set him up with a trial for a team in Malta, Naxxar Lions, where he made a playing comeback.
Eventually the ongoing injury problems made him look to other ways of making a living. He coached in the United States but also started studying like crazy.
Amongst lots of qualifications, he got a Master’s degree at the University of North London in Health, Physical Education and Recreation (a qualification which enabled him to become a primary school teacher) and simultaneously obtained his UEFA coaching badges.
That Football League Paper piece records: “With an MSc, ten diplomas and myriad other qualifications, Ramsey is so highly educated that he actually sets the test for pro licence candidates.”
A stint in charge of youth development at Leyton Orient and coaching Newham Ladies was followed by an FA appointment as coach to the England under-20 side in the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship when among the players under his direction were Ashley Cole, Peter Crouch, Matthew Etherington and John Piercy, who later played for the Albion. At the FA he learned from the likes of Les Reed and one-time Albion winger Howard Wilkinson.
Although he had a short and unsuccessful three-month spell as assistant to Ricky Hill at Luton Town, he said: “Ricky Hill was a massive inspiration to me.”
Just when it appeared new offers had dried up, Ramsey got the chance to manage Charleston Battery in the USA, where he stayed for three years. Winning the USL A-League (second division) with Battery in 2003 brought him to the attention of Spurs, and, as head of player development, many of the young players he coached in tandem with Les Ferdinand and Tim Sherwood are current stars: Harry Kane, Ryan Mason, Danny Rose, Nabil Bentaleb, Andros Townsend, Steven Caulker and Jake Livermore.
“He was massive for all of us,” French midfielder Bentaleb told The Football League Paper. “He believed in us, he encouraged us. He told the manager we were ready when everyone else believed we were not. He was not shy or scared of anybody and he knew exactly what he wanted.”
In the Evening Standard in 2012, Spurs and England centre back, Ledley King, said: “He is one of the best coaches in the country. The youngsters love the way he works and they have really bought into his methods.”
Ramsey left Spurs in 2014 to take up a coaching role at QPR, and when Harry Redknapp left the floundering Hoops in February 2015, Ramsey stepped up to become a fully-fledged Premier League manager.
He was not able to halt Rangers’ relegation from the elite, though, and lasted only until November in charge of the side as they struggled to come to terms with life back in the Championship.
However, in January this year, he was appointed technical director at QPR to oversee the club’s academy coaching and player development.
The club’s director of football, Ferdinand, told The Guardian: “While we were disappointed things didn’t work out with Chris at first team level, we were determined to retain his services. As such, we actually put a clause in his contract which allowed us to retain Chris’s services in a player-development role should things not work out for him as head coach.”
- Shootthedefence.com did a face-to-face interview with Ramsey on 23 September 2016 which is well worth a listen as he talks in detail about his whole career.
- In pictures from my scrapbook, Ramsey graces the cover of an Albion matchday programme; he defends the near post during the 1983 FA Cup Final with Gordon McQueen in attendance; he is photographed by Tony Norman outside the Goldstone and criticised in the Daily Mirror by Frank McGhee.