Ralph Coates: Industrious midfielder who helped take Tottenham to two European finals

Ralph Coates is revered at Turf Moor as one of the finest of all Burnley footballers, and while the sturdy, endlessly industrious little flankman-cum-midfielder's star did not gleam quite so incandescently later with Tottenham Hotspur, he recovered from a shaky start in north London to play a telling part in lifting two major trophies in the 1970s.

The excellent Coates was an England international, too, yet he never quite sustained the early notion that he might be destined for greatness. One or two fanciful pundits even expounded the theory, when he was in his claret-and-blue pomp during the late 1960s, that he might go on to emulate his fellow north-easterner, Bobby Charlton. Yet such a proposition was always preposterous, relating more to a similarity in hair-do – both men sported long, trailing wisps combed carefully over a bald pate – than to actual ability with the ball.

In fact, one was that very rare bird, a bona fide footballing genius; the other was a journeyman, ever steadfast, occasionally scintillating but essentially worthy, and none the worse for that. At his best the pacy, indefatigably energetic Coates was a thrilling performer, all explosive bursts of acceleration and flowing body-swerves which left defenders leaden-footed in his wake. But at his worst he could appear anxious, even clumsy, a frustrating enigma. On such occasions his shot, which could be a fearsome weapon even though he was never a prolific goalscorer, invariably fizzed wildly wide, like a bullet from the handgun of a blindfolded cowboy. Perversely, too, sometimes his crossing was more accurate when he was under heavy challenge than when he had time and space to spare.

But always there was honest effort, a saving grace in times of tribulation, and the fans sensed the good heart of an appealingly self-deprecating individual who was as faithful a team player as it's possible to be.

Coates had been serving an apprenticeship as a fitter when he arrived at Burnley as a dashing 15-year-old centre-forward from his local amateur side, Eppleton Colliery Welfare, in 1961, the latest of a stream of north-eastern recruits to the club. He turned professional two years later and made his senior debut as a stand-in for the rugged Andy Lochhead alongside twin spearhead Willie Irvine in December 1964, when the Clarets were ensconced comfortably midway in the top division.

In the following season, having been shifted to the left wing, he earned a regular berth as Harry Potts' enterprising team finished third in the title race behind Liverpool and Leeds. The dynamic Coates offered a vivid contrast to the trickier, more flamboyant Willie Morgan on the opposite flank, the pair complementing one another ideally as they fashioned countless scoring opportunties for Irvine and Lochhead.

As a person Coates remainedbecomingly modest despite his rapid ascent, although on New Year's Day 1966 there was an out-of-characterincident during a Lancashire derby with Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. With the visitors in control near the end, the Burnley man sat on the ball during open play, a provocative move which infuriated rival players and supporters alike. Later he explained that he had been attempting to take the heat out of a stormy contest with a touch of humour but, not surprisingly, it had the opposite effect.

Still, his career continued to gather impetus, especially after he switched roles to become a creative inside-forward, but that did not prevent Burnley from declining, imperceptibly at first, towards lower-table mediocrity. There was some consolation in reaching the quarter-finals of the European Fairs Cup in 1966-67 and the last four of the League Cup in 1968-69, though the latter achievement was marred by the fact of elimination by Third Division opponents, the eventual winners Swindon Town.

Come 1970 Coates hit new heights, collecting the first of his four full England caps in a 3-1 victory over Northern Ireland at Wembley in April, shortly before his 24th birthday. But during the subsequent campaign the fortunes of Burnley, with new manager Jimmy Adamson at the helm, headed at speed in the opposite direction and they were demoted. Now a transfer for the versatile and often inspirational Coates seemed inevitable and so it proved as he was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £190,000, then a British record for a cash deal, in May 1971.

That was the month in which he played his last game for his country, a consequence of a succession of disappointing displays during his early tenure at White Hart Lane. On arrival he was 25 and seemingly on the threshold of a golden prime, but most of his performances in 1971-72 appeared hesitant and error-strewn.

It did not help that the Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson returned him to a wing position, where he felt peripheral and where his obvious pace and strength were not always matched by the necessary finesse. Also, on joining a side which included the stellar likes of Martin Chivers, Alan Gilzean and Martin Peters, he had to adjust to no longer being the focal point of the attack, as he had become at Turf Moor. But Coates was no quitter and after a brief rest from the limelight he bounced back as a midfield workhorse, relishing the added responsibility for chasing back to help his defence, impressing with his application, delighting with the occasional shaft of brilliance.

He featured in both legs of the Uefa Cup final victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1971-72 and emerged as the hero of the 1973 League Cup final, scoring the only goal against Norwich City. That was after joining the action as a substitute for John Pratt, his absence from the starting line-up partly due to a nagging injury and partly to his still-fluctuating form.

Happily, by 1973-74 he had settled, appearing less tense, and he scored four times during Spurs' progress to another Uefa Cup final, which was lost to the Dutch club Feyenoord. For three seasons after that, under successive new managers Terry Neill and Keith Burkinshaw, he played more games than he missed, often courageously masking the pain of nagging injuries which decreased his effectiveness.

In 1976-77 Coates was part of the lacklustre team that finished bottom of the old First Division, then featured only fleetingly in the second tier before being loaned to the Sydney-based St George's for six months, eventually being freed to join Orient as a 32-year-old in October 1978. At Brisbane Road, in the Second Division, he flourished anew, helping the Londoners to mid-table respectability over two campaigns, including 1979-80, which he began with a smart brace of goals against former employers Burnley and in which he netted nine times, the best seasonal return of his long career.

Coates made his final senior appearances at the outset of 1980-81 before suffering injury, then withdrawing to bolster and coach Orient's reserves. After retiring from the professional game in 1982, he continued to coach for a time before managing a leisure centre in Hertfordshire while continuing to play Sunday league football until he was 59.

More recently he worked in corporate hospitality for Spurs, whose current manager Harry Redknapp, on hearing of Coates' death, summed up the essence of the genial north-easterner to perfection. "Ralph," he said, "was just a great guy, one of life's nice fellas."

Ralph Coates, footballer: born Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham 26 April 1946; played for Burnley 1961-71, Tottenham Hotspur 1971-78, St George's of Sydney 1978, Orient 1978-82; capped four times by England 1970-71; married (one daughter, one son); died Luton, Bedfordshire 17 December 2010.

Travel
travel
Sport
football
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Engineer

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

Sales Representative, Leicester

£25-£30k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major well established nationwide market...

Sales Representative, Birmingham

£25-£30k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major well established nationwide market...

HR Administration Manager - Hounslow, West London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Administration Manager...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment