Ron Flowers: The son of a coal miner who made it all the way to the World Cup

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Ron Flowers was regarded as one of Wolves’ greatest players and was a key part of the Wanderers side that won three First Division titles and the FA Cup during the 1950s.

The midfielder, who has died at the age of 87, won 49 caps for England, scoring 10 goals, and has the distinction of scoring England’s first goal in a European Championships game.

Flowers also represented his country at both the 1962 and 1966 World Cup. He did not play during England’s famous triumph on home soil but received a winners’ medal in 2009 following a Football Association-led campaign to persuade FIFA to award medals to all the winners’ squad members, rather than just the 11 players on the pitch.

Flowers also played professional football for Northampton, where he also had a short spell as manager, and Telford.

Ronald Flowers was born in Edlington, Doncaster on July 28, 1934. Flowers was the son of a coal miner but knew at an early age that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, George Flowers, who had played professional football for Doncaster Rovers.

Ron Flowers
Ron Flowers won 49 caps for England (PA)

Most boys in the mining village where he grew up saw football as the best way to avoid working in the local colliery.

In his autobiography, For Wolves and England, Flowers said: “To buy me my first pair of football boots my parents, for some time before Christmas, put a little aside each week so that the boots they presented to me should be a really good pair.

“Then came one of the proudest moments of my life. On Christmas Day, 1939, my parents gave me my present. Father tied the laces of the boots for me, and, bright and early, immediately after breakfast, I was out with the other youngsters – most of whom seemed to have been given new soccer boots – for a really good kick about; the perfect appetiser for my Christmas dinner.”

Flowers soon joined the youth side at Doncaster but at the same time he also trained as an apprentice at the town’s rail sheds, at his father’s insistence that he learn a trade outside of football.

It was at Wath Wanderers where Flowers came to the attention of Wolves’ highly successful manager Stan Cullis and he joined the Molineux club in August 1951. Prior to this, he had served in the RAF and became an Aircraftman Second Class.

Soccer – World Cup England 66 – England Possibles Training – Lilleshall
Flowers (second left) missed out on a place in the World Cup final (PA)

Flowers made 515 appearances for the club, scoring 37 goals, and was part of the Wanderers’ side that won the First Division title in 1953–54, 1957–58 and 1958–59 as well as the FA Cup in 1959-60.

He made his England debut against France in May 1955, joining a team that included Nat Lofthouse, Stanley Matthews and Billy Wright.

Flowers made history when he scored England’s first goal in a European Championship game – in the qualifying round first leg against France at Hillsborough in October 1962 – and he played in the World Cup in Chile later that year, scoring twice in the group stage.

Four years later, Flowers was the oldest member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad as England won the World Cup on home soil.

He came close to playing in the final itself at Wembley when Jack Charlton caught a cold on the eve of the match. Ramsey told Flowers the night before the final against West Germany that he would play if Charlton had not recovered by the morning.

Ron Flowers (right) with Gordon Brown
Flowers (right) received his World Cup medal from Gordon Brown in 2009 (John Ferguson/Daily Mirror/PA)

In the end, Charlton was fine and played and, ultimately, Flowers never kicked a ball in the tournament. It meant he did not receive a winners’ medal.

However, in June 2009 all the players and staff of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad who did not get medals received one at a ceremony at 10 Downing Street.

Initially, only the 11 players on the pitch at the end of the 4-2 final win over West Germany received medals.

Flowers, who won his last international cap for England against Norway in June 1966, got a medal presented to him by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown along with fellow players Peter Bonetti, Ron Springett, Jimmy Armfield, Gerry Byrne, Norman Hunter, Terry Paine, Ian Callaghan, John Connelly, George Eastham and Jimmy Greaves.

Flowers joined Northampton in September 1967 as player/manager before a similar role at Telford, then called Wellington Town, followed.

It was around this time he opened a sports shop in Wolverhampton. The store is still there today and is currently being managed by his sons.

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