Shropshire Star

Memory of Wolves legend Ron Flowers lives on

Former Scottish midfielder Ronnie Glavin, known as the ‘King of Barnsley’ following his legendary spell with the Tykes in the same team as a certain Mick McCarthy, was convinced he could see a family resemblance in the student trying out for his football team at Sheffield Hallam University.

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“So, you’re called Flowers,” he began.  “That’s an unusual name.  You don’t get many blonde-haired lads called Flowers…and the last one wasn’t bad.”

Harry Flowers, the tall and athletic marketing student in front of Glavin, who was attending the trial to try and land a place in the University’s defence, wasn’t quite sure what the coach was getting at.

“I just ignored him,” he says with a laugh.

“But then he came back up to me six weeks later and told me that Neil Warnock wanted to take a look at me down at Cardiff.

“And then he said: ‘Seriously, do you know who Ron Flowers is?’”

“Funnily enough I do,” I replied. “He’s my Grandad!

“He then reminded me that a few weeks earlier he had talked to me about being tall, blonde and aggressive in the air – that he thought he had spotted a Ron Flowers junior – and that I ignored him.

“It was only because I didn’t understand what he was getting at!”

Turns out Glavin was something of a Ron Flowers fan, having grown up watching the Wolves and England legend and then himself playing for Barnsley boss Norman Hunter, a team-mate of Flowers at international level including in England’s triumphant 1966 World Cup squad.

It is a year on Saturday since Flowers passed away, at the age of 87.

A Wolves legend with 512 appearances and 37 goals to his name, the club’s only three First Division titles and the 1960 FA Cup.

An England hero as well, with 49 caps, and ten goals, scoring his country’s first ever goal in the European Championships, belatedly receiving a World Cup medal for being part of the squad – nearly playing in the final until Jack Charlton recovered from illness - as well as an MBE for services to football.

And while his loss was mourned by fans throughout the city and indeed the country, and his legacy and impact will endure for many years to come, it is of course within the family network that the memories are most keenly cherished, and the loss most emotionally felt.

Because for Flowers it was always family first, and football second.  Despite his extraordinary successes and immeasurable achievements.

Harry, now 26, was one of three Flowers grandsons who grew up loving football, and elder brother Jack and younger sibling Tom also had the privilege of Grandad popping along to watch their junior fixtures during their formative years.

“All of us were into sport, my Dad (Glen) was decent at football and quite quick apparently, and Grandad would come and support every single one of us,” says Harry.

“Looking back, we were very lucky in that respect but we probably didn’t completely realise the career that he had.

“Maybe I was a bit naïve when I was growing up in terms of everything he had achieved, but to us he was Grandad - like so many Grandads - taking an interest in what we were doing.

“He would take me to football on a Sunday morning, come along to all our school games and do so much for us all without us really realising.

“He used to love it, probably because it also got him out of Grandma’s hair and got him out of doing any housework!

“But it was as I grew up, I started to understand more about his career and it was pretty cool to see your Grandad being invited down to Wembley and so on.

“The more I learned about him the more it inspired me, and made me want to try and emulate what he did in becoming a footballer.”

Emulating a league title-winner and established England international was always going to be the toughest of tasks, but Harry has managed to play at a decent level, and, despite some tough times at present at AFC Telford, remains focused on enjoying his football and trying to help the team improve.

Having grown up playing locally at Brocton, it was when heading off to study in Sheffield, and working with Glavin, that Flowers blossomed.

He particularly benefitted from the influence of Andy Kiwomya, who was recently at Bradford City as Head of Performance, in terms of a greater understanding of sport science and how to improve his fitness and conditioning to compete with top athletes.

While he didn’t manage to earn a deal with Warnock and Cardiff, that added knowledge and physical development, coupled with his defensive abilities and determination, instead attracted the attention of Burnley, and this time he secured a contract.

“I ended up at Burnley for a couple of years, and, to be honest, it wasn’t something I had really been contemplating,” he admits.

“I wanted to try and get involved in football, maybe on the marketing or business side, and that is why I’d gone off to do a degree – I hadn’t really thought about playing.

“But the opportunity came up, I decided I just had to give it a go and maybe follow the dream a little bit, and I put the studies on hold.

Harry Flowers of AFC Telford United.

“I was 20 when I went up there, and it was a great experience with some great people, some who I still speak to today.

“Going in and being around a club under the management of Sean Dyche, learning about the culture and everything he believed in, I couldn’t fail to benefit from it.

“When you see how he worked and what he got out of everyone that played for him, you can see why he was so successful there.

“I was playing a lot of reserve team football - Under-23s - and that was something which taught me how far away I was from it as a young lad but also how close I could be with a couple of injuries.

“Even training was an experience, coming up against strikers like Andre Gray who was there at the time, and there were a few ex-Wolves lads there as well.

“Sam Vokes was there, and Stephen Ward, who I remember speaking to a bit in the gym as he had met Grandad during his time at Wolves.”

And Grandad’s influence was never too far away as Harry navigated on in his career after not quite making it with Burnley.

Operating at the higher levels of non-league with Guiseley and Solihull Moors – under the management of – no relation - former Wolves goalkeeper Tim Flowers, he enjoyed loan spells with Kidderminster Harriers and then, to much success, in the Northern Irish League with Larne.

“Going over to play in Ireland was something I spoke to Grandad about,” Harry explains.

“He told me about one of the things during his career which, while he didn’t regret it, might have made things very different.

“He actually had the opportunity to go to Barcelona who were going to offer an open cheque book to try and get him over to Spain.

Ron Flowers

“But (Wolves manager) Stan Cullis wouldn’t let him go – Ron was the Wolves captain and that was that, he wasn’t going anywhere.

“We often joked that rather than being brought up in Stafford as we were, it could have been Barcelona instead!

“So with Ireland, he was very much telling me to go and enjoy the experience of a different country and different football and that was always his way – he was very open-minded.

“I used to see or speak to him most days and, even towards the end, when he learned how to use Facetime, and always had his thumb over the camera, I would be there, asking questions.

“It was always great to be able to tap into his knowledge and experience and I always valued his opinions.”

And that – chatting football and canvassing Grandad for opinions - was a blessing which Harry and his brothers would enjoy whilst watching games together as well.

The sports-mad nature of the extended Flowers family is indisputable.

Ron’s younger brother John and his Uncle George both played over 100 games for Doncaster Rovers, and John’s wife Maureen was a world darts champion.

Flowers was very proud of his Yorkshire roots - it was with Wolves’ nursery club Wath Wanderers that he impressed sufficiently to secure the move to Molineux – and that affiliation with Doncaster cemented his footballing alliance with Harry as his football interest grew.

Very often a call would go into former Wolves club secretary Richard Skirrow asking if he was able to source a couple of tickets for a Doncaster game.  Nothing fancy, no red carpet.  And not necessarily just for fixtures against Wolves.

But it was at one of those, the pre-Christmas Championship clash of the promotion-winning Wolves season of 2008/09, that Grandad and Grandson enjoyed a particularly lively day out.

At full time, the two were stood outside the Wolves dressing room and an enquiry was made to then boss McCarthy about whether they were able to pop in and say hello.

“Ron Flowers is here? Of course he bloody well can,” was the McCarthy response.

“I was about 12 at the time, and I remember going to that Doncaster/Wolves game at the Keepmoat,” Harry recalls.

Ron and Glen at Oxley Park

“Because Grandad’s brother had played for Doncaster, he gave me a book six months before all about the history of ‘Donny’, and for some reason I picked it up, and then said I wanted to watch the game.

“Mick McCarthy was the Wolves manager, Karl Henry was captain, and I remember Neill Collins scored the winning goal late on.

“Going into the dressing room after the game, Mick and Terry Connor and all the players were fantastic with us.

“As a young lad going in and speaking to all the players was brilliant, and my first real memory of the two clubs.

“I remember the Doncaster chairman at the time, John Ryan, was talking to Grandad and saying, ‘we should have kept you, shouldn’t we?’, as he had actually started his career with Doncaster.

“There was a bit of fun in the boardroom, but I remember it being a great day, and obviously Doncaster and Wolves are two clubs I follow very closely now.”

Football was not the only strong sporting passion shared between the Flowers family.

Golf was another, and Harry joined his grandad as a member at Brocton Hall, where, for many years, Flowers senior hosted an annual gathering - on and off the course - for those treasured World Cup heroes of ’66.

“He would also sneak me into the bar after a round when I was about 14,” Harry chuckles.

A quick few holes on Christmas morning also became a family tradition comprised of a five-ball – don’t tell anyone! – featuring the three brothers, Dad Glen and Ron.

“There was no one else on the course on Christmas Day so we just about got away with it.” Harry explains.

And another tradition, one which continues to stand long and proud within the city of Wolverhampton, is the sports shop – Ron Flowers Sports & Schoolwear – still going strong in Queen Street.

The shop where Wolves fans who had watched Flowers play could pop in and share their memories in a chat with the great man, or where younger wide-eyed supporters could gaze in awe as a World Cup winner measured their feet for a new pair of trainers or football boots, without even a hint of the trappings or the heights of his career achievements.

The shop which has stayed within the family, and where Harry now works, combining it with his football at Telford.

“I didn’t go back into studying after leaving for Burnley and work has come full circle for me now, back with the family business,” he explains.

“I came back from Ireland when Covid hit and then, once the shop opened up again, I started back here.

“It’s great that after such a successful first career, Grandad was able to set something else up which is still going today, and shows his skills extended well beyond just football.

“When Wolves fans come in and chat about seeing him play, or others who hadn’t but have heard so much about him, it’s great to listen to and is very touching - it makes me proud.

“I really enjoy it and it’s a good challenge combining work with Telford, because while the football is only part time, there sometimes isn’t that much difference between that and being full time when it comes to training.

“We are obviously expected to keep ourselves in good shape, getting to the gym away from training sessions, and, when you are full time, some of those other days are taken up with rest and recovery.

“But when you have been brought up in such a footballing family, and love playing and training, it is always something you can work through.”

Harry continues: “It has been tough with results at Telford this season, and very different to when Grandad was manager and took them to Wembley winning the FA Trophy

“When you are involved in football, you get used to having a lot more bad days than good ones, and you have to be able to take the rough with the smooth.

“If you are going to keep playing football you need to be able to take any criticism and come through difficult periods, and hopefully that is what we will do at Telford.”

Were Grandad still here, there would no doubt be a few quiet and calm words of encouragement to help him through, just as there were sprinklings of astute tactical information when watching games together sat side-by-side in the stands.

With everything for Flowers however, with any advice or guidance offered, humility was key.

There was never any sense of bravado, or shouting about his highlights and achievements. Quite the opposite, infact.

Speaking at a service of celebration held following his death at St Peter’s Church, son Glen talked about his father being ‘blessed with a wonderful talent’ but how he always ‘carried fame lightly’ with a ‘cool, calm judgement’.

“For Grandad, it was never ever about him,” Harry confirms.

“Any stories he would tell were rarely about football and he didn’t often speak about himself - you had to really ask him a lot of questions to get any info!

“He was so humble and yet what he achieved in his career was probably beyond his wildest dreams.

“I still get to Wolves matches when I can and was at the Nottingham Forest one recently and it’s always strange now not having him sat next to me.

Players, fans and officials observe a minute of applause in tribute to former Wolverhampton Wanderers player Ron Flowers

“I would always be asking questions, getting his opinion on the game, and a lot of people forget he was also well respected within management and coaching as well having worked at Northampton and Telford after finishing playing.

“That, sitting next to him and watching football, is something that I really miss deeply, but also a memory that I cherish from our time together and will never forget.

“And I will also never forget going to the West Ham game after his service and the incredible reception that the fans gave in tribute.

“It just showed how many people he had an impact on across the city, which is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“And I have just started reading his autobiography, and reading about how people viewed him and what they thought of him in the dressing room.

“A lot of it reminds me of how people have spoken about Conor Coady in recent years, and I think that highlights how Wolverhampton Wanderers as a football club produces players who are so respected in the game and by other clubs across the country.”

Flowers’ impact – and the respect in which he is held - will certainly never be forgotten, and not just throughout the world of football, but very close to home.

For the most part Harry has spent his life based in Stafford, five minutes from his grandparents, and it is within the tight-knit family group that, just as with the football, his memories are particularly poignant.

“If it says anything about Grandad, I think it is that, since he has gone, the legacy he left within the family,” he says.

“Grandma (Yvonne) is still here, and when we all get together it is the thoughts and memories we can share which mean so much.

“How Grandad was, how he behaved and what he believed in, speaks volumes of him as a person and is what brought us all together as a family.

“He never changed whether he was in public, on the pitch or sat in his living room at home – his personality was always exactly the same.

“And all those characteristics probably sum up why he was Wolves captain for so long and why he enjoyed the success that he did.”

As Harry so perfectly describes, Flowers’ approach to the game, his approach to life, staying so humble and down-to-earth despite his achievements in transcending the heights for both club and country, was – and still is - a shining example for others to aspire to.

And that could be his most powerful legacy of all.