Ray Barlow: Footballer at the heart of West Bromwich Albion's free-flowing 1950s side

His speciality was exquisite deliveries threaded through the tiniest of gaps in opposing rearguards

Ray Barlow was a footballing artist, the sweet-passing midfield fulcrum of Vic Buckingham's delightfully free-flowing West Bromwich Albion side of the mid-1950s, and it was not only Baggies loyalists who scratched their heads in perplexity that the stylish wing-half was awarded only a single England cap. Certainly there was no shortage of shrewd observers within the game who reckoned the tall, rangy Wiltshireman preferable to Jimmy Dickinson, the splendidly consistent and defensively ultra-solid Portsmouth stalwart who kept Barlow out during his prime, Dickinson wearing his country's colours 48 times in the process.

As befitted a former inside-forward, Barlow was primarily an attacker, and a gloriously entertaining, endlesslysubtle one at that. His speciality was threading exquisite deliveries through the tiniest of gaps in opposing rearguards, seeming to sense openings which appeared only fleetingly and of which more mundane operators were not even aware.

Often he was the most striking figure afield, dictating the tempo of a game with an imperious authority whichcontrasted vividly with his engagingly unassuming character away from the action. Yet for all the elegance of his work on the ball, Barlow was a powerful presence, too, his dynamic box-to-box surges and his strength in the tackle being notable features of his all-round excellence.

Having joined West Bromwich from amateur football in his home county as an 18-year-old in 1944, he was pitched immediately into emergency wartime competition, then made his senior debut in September 1946, scoring from inside-left in a 7-2 victory at Newport County. Midway through 1948-49 he cemented a regular position in the side and, still operating mainly as a forward, scored in the 3-0 win at Leicester in the campaign's penultimate match which was to secure Albion's promotion to the top flight as runners-up to Fulham, the Second Division champions.

Among the élite, Barlow's poise and polish were all the more evident, especially when he settled in his most effective role of left-half, although such was his versatility that sometimes he was pressed into service at centre-half, inside-forward and even centre-forward. His input was never more effective than in 1953-54, when the Baggies were within four points of becoming the first club in the 20th century to achieve the League and FA Cup double, finishing as runners-up to their West Midlands neighbours Wolverhampton Wanderers in the old First Division and beating Preston North End in the Cup final.

Barlow, who was the last Albion survivor from their Wembley line-up, shone brightly in defence and attack under the twin towers, linking up with left-back and captain Len Millard to nullify the potent threat of Preston's fabulous Tom Finney, the newly-crowned Footballer of the Year, and surging forward to earn the penalty from which Ronnie Allen equalised on the way to a dramatic 3-2 victory.

Internationally, though, there was less satisfaction. There were two outings for England B, four for the Football League and an FA tour of South America, but it remained inconceivable to all who placed a high priority on skill and imagination – particularly in an era when England were twice humiliated by the magnificent Hungarians – that Barlow should be limited to 90 minutes in the full national team, the one which beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in October 1954. That day in Belfast he was part of an experimental side containing seven débutants, of whom Johnny Haynes was the only one who would carve out a regular niche, and it seemed to many in attendance at Windsor Park that Barlow and the brilliant Fulham schemer might have forged a fruitful long-term combination on the football fields of the world.

Happily for Albion, his club form was not affected by his country's cold shoulder, and he continued to thrive at the Hawthorns, meshing particularly smoothly with fellow wing-half Jimmy Dudley, deep-lying centre-forward Allen and, as the decade wore on, the attacking midfielder Bobby Robson. In the late 1950s he succeeded Millard as captain, leading them to fourth and fifth in the First Division table in successive seasons before, having reached the veteran stage, accepting a move to second-tier Birmingham City in August 1960.

Not surprisingly, given the accumulation of physical knocks during more than 450 competitive outings for the Baggies, Barlow didn't last long at St Andrew's, moving on to non-League Stourbridge in 1961 after only a handful of appearances for the Blues. Adevoted family man, he went on to run a tobacconist's and sweetshop inWest Bromwich, then a post office in Stourbridge, always retaining his connection with the club he had served with such distinction and which accorded him a signal honour during its 125th anniversary celebrations in 2004, when he was included in Albion's all-time 16-man squad.

If further proof of Ray Barlow'seminence were needed, it came from Sir Bobby Robson, who not long before his death in 2009 described his former Hawthorns comrade as one of the finest players he had ever worked with.Considering that Robson had played for and managed England, then managed Barcelona and Newcastle United among others, that was a meaningful tribute indeed.

Raymond John Barlow, footballer: born Swindon, Wiltshire 17 August 1926; played for West Bromwich Albion 1944-60, Birmingham City 1960-61; capped once by England, 1954; died Bridgend, South Wales 14 March 2012.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice