There used to be a pub-quiz question
“name the 11 members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad who didn’t play in the Final”. But now a probably more poignant question is;
“name the members of England’s squad who are still alive”.
This week Ron Flowers became the latest member of that squad who has shuffled off this mortal coil. He’s joined Roger Hunt and Jimmy Greaves as the third member to die this year. He’s the seventh member to die since January 2020. 11 have died since January 2018.
These heroes are fading fast.
Flowers is often a forgotten member of England’s greatest footballing triumph. He was one of seven players who never set foot on the pitch during the tournament. Yet he came within a whisker of playing in the Final.
He was the oldest member of the squad, only Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves went into the tournament with more caps. A measure of the esteem his manager held him in was evident on the eve of the Final. Jack Charlton had been taken ill. Alf Ramsey informed Flowers he would replace the Leeds centre-half if he did not recover. Flowers must’ve had trouble sleeping that night.
Agonisingly for the Wolves defender, Charlton made a full recovery and went on to play in the Final and receive his winners’ medal. Cruelly for Flowers and the other non-playing members of the squad they had to wait many years (2009) for theirs.
Flowers was born on 28th July 1934 in Edlington, Doncaster. He died on Friday 12th November 2021, aged 87. At the age of 18, he signed professional forms with Wolverhampton Wanderers. He made 515 appearances during a 15-year career at Molineux, scoring 33 goals. He scored on his debut against Blackpool.
He became an important part of Stan Cullis’s legendary Wolves team of the 1950s. He was initially used in an attacking role in midfield but later moved to a more defensive position.
By the time he made the team Wolves had finished runners-up in the First Division three times. They finished third in his first season. Then in only his second season at Molineux they were English First Division Champions for the first time in their history, winning the title by four points from West Brom. They won the league three times in six seasons. They finished in the top two five times in seven seasons.
Flowers was part of the side which won the FA Cup for the fourth, and last time when they beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Wembley. They missed out on a historic league and cup double by finishing just one point behind Burnley in the league.
Two months before his 19th birthday he earned his first international cap in a friendly against France in Paris. Raymond Kopa scored the only goal of the game against an England team which included Billy Wright, Duncan Edwards, Stanley Matthews, Nat Lofthouse and Don Revie.
Flowers had been brought up at Wolves indoctrinated in their passing game. Consequently, he kept passing the ball into space ahead of Matthews, allowing the legendary winger to run onto it. But Matthews preferred the ball at his feet and so the experiment didn’t work and Flowers wasn’t seen in an England shirt again for over three years.
Manager Walter Winterbottom selected him for the Home International Championship match against Wales at Villa Park. This time he was alongside Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright. Despite two goals from Peter Broadbent England were held to a 2-2 draw.
He finally got to play at Wembley when he was in the team which beat Scotland thanks to a Bobby Charlton goal. That game was Billy Wright’s 100th cap.
The summer of 1959 saw England embark on an American tour. Flowers lined up in the Maracana against a Brazilian side that boasted the likes of Pele, Didi, Nilton and Djalma Santos. Brazil won 2-0.
Four days later they were humbled in Lima, losing 1-4 to Peru where Jimmy Greaves scored on his debut. Three defeats in three matches, it was with some relief they took on the USA in Los Angeles. Flowers netted his first goal for his country, scoring twice in an 8-1 win.
That game was Flowers’ club and national captain, Billy Wright’s last appearance for his country.
The 1959-60 season was a memorable one for Flowers. Not only did Wolves come within a point of the double, but he played another seven times for his country.
April 1961 he was part of the England side which beat Scotland, 9-3. Greaves scored a hat-trick in a team that included Jimmy Armfield, Bobby Robson, Johnny Haynes as well as Bobby Charlton. The Scotland side that day contained Dave Mackay, Ian St. John, Denis Law and Billy McNeill.
A month later Mexico arrived at Wembley and were sent packing in an 8-1 home win. Flowers was on target with a second-half penalty.
He was again on the scoresheet in his next appearance when his late equaliser earned England a point in a crucial World Cup qualifying encounter in Lisbon.
England qualified for the 1962 World Cup in Chile and it was clear Flowers would play an important part. He scored in three of the four matches in the run-up to the tournament. Twice from the spot, including a revenge 4-0 win in Lima where Greaves netted yet another hat-trick. That game saw the first appearance in an England shirt of a young Bobby Moore. Flowers would soon become Moore’s partner in defence, having moved from midfield.
England lined up in Rancagua against Hungary for their opening game of the 1962 tournament. A goal down at half-time, Flowers scored his fourth penalty to level things on the hour. England were eventually beaten 1-2, though as they made a poor start.
Two days later they were back at the same venue, this time against Argentina. Flowers maintained his 100% record from the penalty spot when he put England in front after 17 minutes. Charlton and Greaves added to that to give England a 3-1 win against a side containing Antonio Rattin.
Five days later England booked their place in the knockout stages with a goalless draw against Bulgaria. Finishing second in the group meant a Quarter-Final meeting with Brazil. Lining up against the World Champions was a daunting prospect. Garrincha scored twice as Brazil ran out 3-1 winners on their way to retaining their world title.
Flowers scored in his next appearance for his country. It was another penalty and his sixth in an international career where he never missed. It proved to be his tenth and final goal for England. The game was a 1-1 draw against France at Wembley. It was a qualifying tie for the newly created European Championship. When England were well beaten in the second leg, Alf Ramsey had taken over the reins as England manager.
In May 1964 Ramsey handed Flowers his 44th cap, but more importantly his first as captain. It was a friendly in New York against USA and England won 10-0. Roger Hunt hit four and Everton’s Fred Pickering scored a hat-trick on his debut.
He captained his country twice more, against Wales and Netherlands. He won his 49th cap in the final friendly before the 1966 tournament when England beat Norway, 6-1 in Oslo. It was another game where Greaves scored a hat-trick as England looked well prepared for their home competition.
As mentioned earlier, Flowers made the squad but never the starting line-up for the 1966 Finals.
His England career was finished. But what a career. He was in two World Cup squads and at one point he played in 40 consecutive matches for his country. Not bad when you consider the late 1950s and certainly in Ramsey’s early days, were an experimental time for the England team with many players selected.
His best days in a Wolves shirt were coming to an end. Flowers could point to being an influential part of the greatest days Wolves have ever seen. The club were pioneers. Floodlight evening matches against European opposition in England began at Molineux.
When Wolves beat teams such as Hungarian giants, Honved, the press labelled them ‘Champions of the World’. Under the astute management of Stan Cullis, Flowers and Billy Wright were part of a team considered the best in the country. When Matt Busby’s young side suffered their tragic fate in Munich, Wolves filled the void as the best in the land. League titles were a measure of that success.
A year after the World Cup Final, Flowers played his last game for Wolves, as he moved to Northampton Town in Division Three. By then Wolves were a Second Division side, having faced the drop in 1965. Northampton had just suffered two successive relegations having reached the First Division for the first time in their history. He spent two seasons at Northampton becoming player-manager in May 1968. A year later the club were relegated again, and Flowers left for Telford United. He continued in his role as player-manager, leading the club to their first-ever FA Trophy Final where they lost 0-2 to Macclesfield Town in 1970.
In October 1971 he was sacked by the club and left the game to concentrate on running his sportswear store in Wolverhampton, which is still flourishing today.
Earlier this year he was awarded an MBE.
Flowers is survived by his wife, Yvonne, with whom he remained married to since 1957.
Former Wolves striker and chairman of their former players’ association, John Richards, paid tribute to a club legend
“Ron is one of our legends. He was a big part of a team that set the tone for British football and all of us who followed had to try to match the standards they set. We didn’t and, to be perfectly honest, no team has.”
“One of the nicest people you could meet. No edge, no ego, very unassuming, he did so much for charities and the community. A lovely man, we will all miss him.”
Ron Flowers was yet another player of his time, considered a giant on the pitch yet a gentleman off it.
The answer to that question about the World Cup-winning squad still alive?
Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, George Cohen, George Eastham, Terry Paine, Ian Callaghan.