Ron Flowers was a genuine football legend.
A major figure in the most successful period in the history of Wolverhampton Wanderers, he was an England regular for four seasons.
The unassuming Yorkshireman trod the world football stage and faced some of the greatest players the game has seen – Puskas, Pele, di Stefano and Eusebio, to name but a few.
How good was he? In his heyday, one of the driving forces in Wolves’ midfield, he was like Steven Gerrard – and then some! Fans of my age will have vivid memories of the blond-headed midfield dynamo.
They will also have memories of some spectacular goals, none better than one he scored in a 9-0 demolition of Fulham in 1959. Running diagonally across the field towards the left wing he suddenly let fly from 30 yards with one of the most powerful shots Molineux had seen – unlike Fulham’s England under-23 goalkeeper Tony Macedo who never saw it.
Owner of a World Cup winner’s medal as a member of Alf Ramsey’s squad of 1966, Flowers, who has died aged 87, captained his country three times and was once the side’s penalty ace, boasting a 100 per cent record.
Flowers grew up in Edlington, Yorkshire, and was briefly on Doncaster Rovers’ books while also working in the British Railways loco sheds in Doncaster. He decided he was making no progress with Rovers and joined Wolves’ Yorkshire nursery club, Wath Wanderers, under the guidance of former player Mark Crook.
It was not long before Flowers was sent to try his luck at Molineux and he was given his first team debut at 18, playing at centre-half against Blackpool in September, 1952. He was moved to left-half early in that match and marked his debut with a headed goal from a corner in a 5-2 home defeat.
It was not an auspicious beginning but two games later he looked far more assured as Wolves beat league champions Manchester United 6-2 on the day another half-back made his debut, a talented amateur international named Bill Slater. Both men would carve their names into the club’s history.
Flowers established a place in the first team towards the end of the 1953-4 season as Wolves became champions of England for the first time. He made 15 appearances, enough to gain him a championship winner’s medal.
His impressive performances the following season saw him capped for England against France playing alongside the great Duncan Edwards and club colleagues Bert Williams, Billy Wright and Dennis Wilshaw, the first time Wolves had supplied four men to an England side.
By his own admission Flowers had a poor game and was promptly dropped, though he did play a couple of times for the under-23 side. When he regained his England place in 1958 he soon established himself as a fixture for his country. Such was the club’s half-back strength at the time that the man he replaced in the national side was Slater who with Eddie Clamp had played for England in that year’s World Cup finals.
Slater had played in the tournament in Sweden after the Munich air crash had claimed the life of Duncan Edwards along with seven other Manchester United players. That awesome task could so easily have fallen to Flowers. He was Wolves’ first choice until Boxing Day 1957 and playing well when a bout of flu laid him low. So Slater stepped up from the reserves and did so well that Flowers could not regain his place. When England sadly had to find a replacement for Edwards it was to champions Wolves they turned and to Slater, the club’s first choice left-half at the time.
Eventually, Flowers regained his place. Slater was playing right-half and Flowers left-half at the time and such was his form that Flowers was recalled by the selectors even though Slater had done well at left-half in the previous international – a 5-0 win over the USSR. So Flowers faced Wales at Villa Park in November, 1958, the start of a run of 40 consecutive England games, a sequence bettered only by Billy Wright with 70.
Initially an attacking wing-half, or midfielder in today’s terminology, Flowers later became a central defender with England, playing first alongside Sheffield Wednesday’s Peter Swan and then Tottenham’s Maurice Norman.
The role of penalty-taker was given to Flowers after Bobby Charlton vowed never to take another following missing a twice-taken kick against Scotland at Hampden Park in 1960.
Although not his club’s regular taker, Flowers was asked by Walter Winterbottom during a practice session to try a few kicks against keeper Ron Springett. Flowers did well enough to be given the job.
An 8-0 defeat of Mexico in the summer of 1961 saw Flowers score the first of six successful penalties. With two goals from the penalty spot, Flowers took great pleasure in being his country’s top goalscorer – ahead of Charlton and Jimmy Greaves – in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile.
Although he was no longer first choice by 1966, Flowers was still a key member of Ramsey’s squad and very nearly played in the World Cup final against West Germany. Jackie Charlton, suffering with a heavy cold, was doubtful on the eve of the Wembley showdown and Ramsey told Flowers he would deputise if necessary.
However, Charlton recovered in time to retain his place. Not that Flowers had built up his hopes – he knew that it would take something more serious than a bad cold to prevent Charlton playing in the most famous game in the history of English football.
Flowers did receive a medal once FIFA had ruled that all squad members of a winning country were entitled to one. Flowers and the other surviving players had to wait until 2009 and he collected it from goalkeeper Gordon Banks at No 10 Downing Street. That same year, Flowers was one of the first group of legends to be inducted into the newly-created Wolves Hall of Fame. He has since been appointed president of Wolves Former Players’ Association in succession to the late Malcolm Finlayson.
At the start of 2021, Flowers, along with Jimmy Greaves of the 1966 squad, was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours.
He may have missed out on the World Cup epic, but Flowers did play in a successful Wembley final team, helping Wolves beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0 to win the FA Cup in 1960.
That honour was added to his 1954 championship medal and those he collected when Wolves were again champions in 1958 and 1959. He made 28 and 31 appearances respectively in those successful campaigns.
With 512 games, he is behind only Derek Parkin, Kenny Hibbitt, Steve Bull and Billy Wright in the all-time list of Wolves appearances. In addition, he played in the memorable floodlit friendly victories over Spartak, Honved and Real Madrid. His stature was recognised when he was made a Wolves vice president.
Flowers, who captained the club in succession to Bill Slater, scored 37 goals for Wolves, many of them fierce long range shots, and he reached double figures for his country.
Club colleague Eddie Stuart once said of Flowers “He was an all-round perfectionist” and few players in the club’s history have shown as much versatility as Flowers who at various times played full-back, central defence, midfield and striker to achieve legendary status at the club.
Few players have worn that status with such genuine modesty.