My Hero: No.1: Ron Springett

My Hero: No.1: Ron Springett




I can’t remember the first time I actually saw Ron play for Wednesday. He had joined the club from QPR for £10,000 in March of the 57-58 season, and although my Mum always maintains that I saw my first game when I was 4 years old, I think it was during the 59-60 season that I started to go regularly to Hillsborough and my earliest memories of Ron stem from then. Springett’s signing owed much to the shrewd thinking of Eric Taylor. He met Ron at the Midland Station and took him to Hillsborough the scenic route, eventually getting to the ground via Rivelin Valley. This wasn’t the Sheffield that Ron had imagined; all leafy suburbs and picturesque countryside, and was a factor in his decision to sign. Some time later, he again came up by train and this time the taxi driver took him the direct route… straight through the East End, past all the belching chimneys and steelworks. Springett was reported as saying that he might not have signed if Taylor had taken that route!

A relative of my Mum’s was a chap called George Percival, and he ran the Swallownest Branch of the Supporters Club, based in a pub known as Maggies for some reason. They ran a coach to all the home games, and my Mum or Dad would take me to meet the coach at Woodhouse Mill, where I would get on and be entrusted into his care. He would see me safely into the ground, and then meet me at the front of the Kop afterwards.


I would take up a position right behind the goal, and I used to watch Ron as he warmed up, and when he defended the Kop goal during the match. From that vantage point, I became fascinated with goalkeeping in general, and Ron in particular. He quickly became my favourite player, and the one I tried to copy when I played football with my mates. Like a few other lads, I used to take an orange for Ron, and we all used to throw them to him when he came to the Kop goal. These were the days before ‘keepers wore gloves, and Ron would use the sticky citrus juice to help him grip the ball.

Goalkeepers back then didn’t get the same degree of protection from referees that they do now. Contact was allowed, and the archetypal centre forward was someone who was built like a brick shithouse and who would think nothing of trying to intimidate the ‘keeper with his physical presence.Ron stood up to the hammering he would take week in, week out and had tremendous agility to go with his bravery despite being only 5’ 9 ½ “ tall .

Harry Catterick
He was part of a Wednesday side that were starting life –again – in the top flight under the managership of Harry Catterick, and his performances soon caught the eye of the England selectors who picked him to play against Northern Ireland at Wembley on November 6th 1957.England lost 3-2, but Ron had the satisfaction of saving a penalty from Jimmy McIlroy.

This was to be the first of 33 International caps that Ron won, although his first one was more memorable than the others in the way that it was “presented”. Rather than some official presentation, it arrived at his house by post, wrapped in brown paper!


In April of the following year, he made his first appearance against the auld enemy at Hampden where he kept a clean sheet in front of 129,000 supporters, despite playing for part of the game with a dislocated finger. There was no sophisticated medical treatment available for players then, and Ron had to find a taxi to take him to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary afterwards. When the taxi driver realised who his fare was, he threatened to charge him double for being a big part in Scotland losing!

Ron also played in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, and was in goal for the 9-3 hammering of Scotland in April 1961. His England career was virtually over in Alf Ramsey’s first game in charge when he was unfairly criticised for 3 of the goals in the 5-2 loss to France under floodlights in Paris, although he was the reserve to Gordon Banks for the 1966 World Cup.
After a considerable campaign, Ron and the other England squad players finally received their World Cup medals from Gordon Brown in a ceremony at Downing Street in 2009.


Back at club level, the start of Ron’s career at Hillsborough coincided with of one of the best periods in Wednesday’s history. They finished 5th in 59-60, and were runners up the season after. 6th place was achieved in each of the following 3 seasons and although they only finished 8th the year after, if the media referred to the “Big Six” clubs in England, it was generally accepted that Wednesday were included in that number.
Ron was the best goalkeeper in the country in the early 60’s despite their being plenty of competition from other ‘keepers such as Eddie Hopkinson at Bolton and Alan Hodgkinson from across the city.

His understanding with his defence was remarkable, given that he never trained with them in the week! (Ron continued to live in London and was allowed to train with Q.P.R before travelling to home games on the Friday.

For away games, he used to make his own way to the ground or to where the team had been staying.).

Mind you, he did play behind some great players – the defence never changed (or so it seemed), and although I had a programme for every game, it was always Springett, Johnson, Megson, McAnearney, Swan, Kay. What would we give for players of that calibre today!

While Ron was playing for Wednesday, his younger brother Peter had also joined the goalkeeping ranks and was rapidly making a name for himself at the club where his elder brother had started his career. Springett Jnr really shot to prominence in 1967 when he helped Q.P.R to promotion from the old Third Division and to a shock League Cup win against First Division West Brom. Rangers had been 2 goals down, but inspired by 2 great saves from Springett ( and some magic from Rodney Marsh), they came back to win 3-2.

Shortly after this, in May 1967, came the swap deal that was unique at the time (possibly still is) when Peter agreed to join Wednesday with his elder brother – and £24,000 – going in the opposite direction. This brought to an end the career of my all time Wednesday hero after 384 games, and it has been a real pleasure writing this, and bringing back memories of a great, great player who played a huge part in the team I loved.

Cheers, Ron !

Charlie (1953 Owl)
Owls Alive

TWITTER: @OwlsAlive


2 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed this read – and particularly the reference to my Grandad – George Percival!

    My Grandad was the ultimate Wednesdayite – he worked on the Players Entrance for 1st team and reserve games for 40 odd years, moving to the directors entrance in the last 7 years of his life. My Grandma too was just as fanatical, and I used to sit with her at Hillsbro for the games.

    Grandad missed family weddings to be at Hillsbro, he used to sell lottery tickets for the Development Fund, his only payment being a free Kop ticket – which he used to give away to lads from the village who couldn’t afford to get to the games via a combination of unemployment and hitting hard times

    He was a very special man – and a great friend as well as a Grandad.

    Thanks for remembering him – hes been dead some 24 years now and its lovely to stumble across his name on the internet

  2. Hi there a good read, and nigel read, my dad was called george percival his dad harold and he lived in swallownest my dad also told me that when he was younger he use to get in through the players entrance because his uncle george use to work on it 🙂 U.T.O

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