Great Harwood Legends

Ronnie Clayton

18-10-03

Today’s legend is not only the most famous player to have played for Harwood, but the most famous player to ever have played for a non-league club. Captain of Great Harwood, captain of Blackburn Rovers and captain of England-RONNIE CLAYTON.
Where do I start with Ronnie? He’s not only a Harwood legend, known throughout the world and respected by everyone, he’s also played with Bobby Moore, Bryan Douglas and Tom Finney. Played against Stan Mathews, Jimmy Greaves and Pele and graced the turf of the Showground.
Ronnie joined the Rovers at the age of 14 and less than 2 years later was making his debut for the first team. At the time he was an amateur and as such was not paid the £1 for a draw and £2 bonus for a win! His career was interrupted for a couple of years for his National Service, but by the time he was 20, he was captain not only of the Rovers, but also of the England under-21 side, a position which he held for three years. Not surprisingly for one of Blackburn Rovers’ greatest ever players, he went on to not only play for the full England side 36 times, but also to captain them on many occasions, the last time being in season 1963-64.
The great man spent 21 years at Ewood, making a remarkable 660 appearances, before being persuaded to take up the post of player/manager at Morecambe. This proved to be a dodgy decision, for as well as running the family newsagents, he had to commute to Morecambe, sign new players, find them living accommodation, take training etc. etc. and after about 9 months he quit the post.
Derrick Keighley, the Harwood chairman, then asked Ronnie to sign for the Reds, along with many other ex-Rovers stars, and so began his Great Harwood career. It lasted just one season but it must have been a great thrill for the locals to have seen him in action, and he helped the Reds to their best ever F.A. Cup run, when they reached the 1st Round proper before bowing out to Rotherham.
In those days we were regularly attracting four-figure gates which helped to pay the huge wage bill-Ronnie recalls the weekly wage was about £8! After he left the Showground to concentrate on his business, an added bonus was that he got to see a little more of his wife, two sons and daughter, although he did take up golf, which he still enjoys today.
Some of the many highlights of Ronnie’s career are as follows:
He was given the unenviable task of marking Pele in Rio in front of 187,000 fans. He played against Brazil at Wembley when the South Americans were hammered 4-1. He played for England along side greats such as Finney and Mathews, and played for many years with his lifelong best friend Bryan Douglas, who he counts as the best Rovers player he’s played with.
One incident which Ronnie recalls as if it were yesterday, was a game at Deepdale in mid-winter against Preston, his other favourite team. The ground was frozen solid with huge icy divots sticking up 6 inches like half buried broken bottles. Tom Finney was weaving his magic as usual, when Ronnie decided to put a stop to his trickery. Flying into the tackle like Roy Keane with a headache, he whacked the North End wing wizard who flew up into the air before sliding 10 yards along the treacherous turf. Tom eventually got to his feet, blood pouring from his legs and face, his white shirt now resembling a Liverpool top, and limped over to a sheepish Ronnie, who prepared himself for a good thumping.
“Fizzin’ ‘eck!” said Tom, and then walked away!! – Wash your mouth out with soap Finney! The great Sir Tom Finney is Ronnie’s favourite former player and his current top man is Thierry Henry.
The worst moment of his career was when he left the Rovers after 21 years as a player, although he’s now back where he belongs, taking tours around Ewood.
His greatest moment was being made captain of England. His two favourite grounds are Upton Park, where he was never on the losing side, and Wembley. He particularly likes the way the pitches, stadia and facilities have improved over the years but dislikes the shirt pulling and man to man marking which is so prevalent in today’s game.
Ronnie remembers the great comradery at the Showground in the early ‘70’s and enjoyed meeting up with all the ex-Rovers players. He still sees many of the old Harwood crew and really enjoyed his night out here recently when we played Darwen.
Finally, we were sad to hear that he was taken ill just a few days after that game, and we would all like to send our best wishes to him and hope that he has a speedy recovery.

FOOTBALLING LEGEND

RONNIE CLAYTON

Great Harwood ‘legend’

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