MARGARET BRECKNELL recalls the story of two West London-born brothers whose careers bore a striking resemblance to one another’s
On the face of it, a young football fan growing up during the 1960s in the Shepherds Bush area of London would have had little in common, except for a love of the game, with one living in the northern part of Sheffield. However, those young fans would have shared one common experience when it came to match day. They could have hardly remembered a time when they hadn’t been cheering on a Springett in goal.
Remarkably, the name of Springett was inextricably linked with goalkeeping duties at one or both of two league clubs for a period from the early 1950s right through to the mid 1970s, but especially so during the swinging sixties. You will have probably guessed already that the two clubs in question were Queens Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday. The two Springetts in question were brothers Ron and Peter.
Ron Springett, the elder brother by nine years, was born in Fulham, south-west London, in 1935. He made his debut for Queens Park Rangers, then in the old Third Division South, in 1953. Despite a two-year break for national service, he quickly built up a reputation as a promising goalkeeper.
His big break came when top-flight Sheffield Wednesday came calling in March 1958. Ron was at first reluctant to leave his London home and move north, and initially declined the transfer. However, he was eventually persuaded to make the move when the then Wednesday manager, Eric Taylor, made the unusual compromise of allowing him to continue to live and train in London. He was only required to be in Sheffield for match days. This seems an extraordinary offer to make and is an indication of Wednesday’s desperation at the time to sign a quality goalkeeper. Ron Springett was the fifth goalie to appear for the club during a disastrous season, which culminated in relegation to Division Two.
Following his transfer to Wednesday, Ron’s reputation continued to grow. The Owls were promoted straight back to the First Division as champions the following season and went on to enjoy a highly successful period in the top flight, finishing in the top six for the next five seasons. Ron played an essential part in this success. He was not the biggest of goalkeepers, being only 5ft 10ins tall, but made up for his lack of inches with great agility, quick reflexes and a huge amount of bravery. He was also known for his thorough preparation, keeping notes, for instance, on the way in which his opponents took penalty kicks.
Ron’s part in Wednesday’s success during this period soon attracted the attention of England manager, Walter Winterbottom. He made his England debut in 1959, saving a Jimmy McIlroy penalty in a narrow 2-1 win over Northern Ireland at Wembley. He went on to become England’s first choice goalie for the next four years culminating in the 1962 World Cup Finals in Chile. However, his appearances for England became more limited thereafter with the appointment of Alf Ramsey as England boss and the emergence of a new young goalkeeping star, one Gordon Banks. Ron won the last of his 33 caps for England in a friendly against Norway shortly before the start of the 1966 World Cup Finals. He was part of the England squad for the successful World Cup campaign, but failed to make an appearance.
Meanwhile, back at Loftus Road, Ron Springett’s younger brother, Peter, was becoming the regular goalkeeper for Queens Park Rangers, who were still in the Third Division at the time. Born in May 1946, Peter followed in his big brother’s footsteps by signing apprentice forms for QPR as a goalkeeper in 1961. The season that followed the 1966 World Cup Finals was to prove to be a pivotal one for the younger Springett. Peter was an ever present, as, in a memorable season, Rangers not only won the Third Division South title, but also came back from two goals down to defeat top-flight West Bromwich Albion in the first League Cup Final to be held at Wembley.
As the 1966/67 season drew to a close, news broke of a ground-breaking move for QPR’s star goalkeeper. In a highly unusual – and possibly unique – transfer deal it was agreed that Peter Springett would join Sheffield Wednesday. In exchange, QPR would receive a cash sum of £24,000 plus a Wednesday player. Yes, you’ve guessed it – their goalkeeper, Ron Springett! The 21-year-old Peter was viewed as one of the most promising young keepers around at the time and thus was valued the higher of the two brothers in this deal.
Following Ron’s return to Loftus Road, QPR continued their rise up the football pyramid and achieved promotion to the top flight for the 1968/69 season. On 14th December 1968 Sheffield Wednesday and QPR played each other at Hillsborough, with Ron and Peter Springett in opposite goals. This was the only occasion on which the Springetts played on opposite sides in a competitive game and Peter came out the better of the two brothers, as Wednesday achieved a resounding 4-0 victory.
So, what happened next? Peter Springett developed into a reliable goalkeeper, but his career never quite hit the heights of that of his brother, Ron. It must have been difficult for him to live perennially in the shadow of his more successful older brother. Nevertheless, he was an ever present in the Wednesday goal for three seasons until he lost his place to Peter Grummitt part way through the 1969/70 season, at the end of which the Owls were relegated. Thereafter, his first team appearances were restricted, but, unlike Ron, he settled in South Yorkshire. He remained at Hillsborough until 1975, making a total of 180 appearances, following which he joined local rivals Barnsley for whom he made a further 191 appearances. Sadly, he subsequently endured a four-year battle with cancer, only to succumb to the illness, aged just 51, in 1997.
As an interesting postscript, on leaving football, Peter joined the South Yorkshire police force. When Aston Villa won the European Cup in 1982, the trophy was stolen from a pub near Tamworth whilst doing the rounds of the West Midlands. Panic ensued for a while until the trophy resurfaced, having been mysteriously handed into West Bar Police Station in Sheffield. Peter Springett was present on this occasion and was pictured with police colleagues with the trophy.
As for Ron Springett, after rejoining QPR he played a further 45 league games for the London club before retiring in 1969. He opened a sports goods shop not far from QPR’s ground and regularly attended home games at Loftus Road. The Springett family is still associated with QPR to this day in the form of Ron’s daughter, Terry, who has been Club Secretary for a number of years.
Ron may not have settled in Sheffield during his time at Wednesday, but he remained a huge favourite with Owls fans. Following news of his death in 2015, a heartfelt minute’s applause was held in his memory before the start of the next home game at Hillsborough. More recently, at the start of this season he was chosen as one of the best fifteen Wednesday players of all time to be featured in a special piece of artwork commemorating the 150th anniversary of the club.
It is unsurprising that the Springett name continues to be held in such high regard at both Hillsborough and Loftus Road, bearing in mind the huge contribution the two brothers made to the two clubs over such a long period of time. There must still be many Wednesday and QPR fans out there of slightly more mature years that grew up cheering a Springett in goal.
Margaret Brecknell is a freelance writer covering sport and other topics. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mabrecknell