Ron Burgess

Titanic presence at Tottenham Hotspur

In the case of Ron Burgess, mining's loss was football's immeasurable gain.

William Arthur Ronald Burgess, footballer and manager: born Cwm, Monmouthshire 9 April 1917; played for Tottenham Hotspur 1938-54, Swansea Town 1954-56; capped 32 times by Wales 1946-54; managed Swansea Town 1955-58, Watford 1959-63; married (one son, one daughter); died Swansea 14 February 2005.

In the case of Ron Burgess, mining's loss was football's immeasurable gain.

People who knew him as a boy joked that, with his boundless vitality, immense strength and readiness to toil until he dropped, he might single-handedly have emptied the South Wales coalfield in which he grew up expecting to spend his working life. Instead he hewed out a glorious niche as one of the most influential performers in the history of Tottenham Hotspur, emerging as a titanic presence at the heart of the team which took English club football by storm midway through the 20th century.

Burgess was both skipper and midfield inspiration as the north Londoners topped the Second Division table in 1949/50, then lifted the League championship a year later, and, if one man embodied the ethos of the visionary manager Arthur Rowe's exhilarating combination, it was the genial, prematurely balding Welshman.

His perpetual motion and irrepressible enthusiasm, melding potently with the wily passing game of the inside- forward Eddie Baily, facilitated the side's fluid push-and-run style, which highlighted Rowe's credentials as one of the game's most progressive thinkers.

Not that Burgess was merely a workhorse, his characteristic dynamism and resilience being gilded by comprehensive all-round ability; his ball control was neat, his distribution assured, he was positionally astute, formidable in the air and quick over the ground.

He excelled, too, at international level, missing only two appearances for his country in eight post-war seasons, winning most of his 32 caps as captain. In addition he was the first Welshman to represent the Football League and he played for Great Britain against the Rest of Europe in 1947.

Burgess learned the game on rough pitches next to Rhondda Valley slagheaps, shining initially as a prolific centre-forward. Soon he attracted the attention of Cardiff City, whom he joined as an amateur in his mid-teens, but the Bluebirds' interest cooled and he took a mining job while playing for a local side, Cwm Villa. Now a future in the pits appeared inevitable, but after plundering 59 goals in one season he was spotted by Tottenham, who recruited him, again on amateur terms, in 1936.

Initially it seemed likely that Burgess's reprieve from the coalface was only temporary, as he failed to make the grade at White Hart Lane and he was on his way home to South Wales when he stopped off to watch his Spurs contemporaries in a junior game. They were a man short - he stepped in at right-half and performed so impressively that he was offered a place at the club's Northfleet nursery in Kent.

In the new role he progressed rapidly, turning professional in 1938 at the age of 21 and making his senior début in a Division Two fixture at Norwich in February 1939, only for his momentum to be shattered by the outbreak of the Second World War.

During the conflict, Burgess served as a physical training instructor in the RAF, but found there was plenty of time for football, turning out for both Tottenham and Wales in unofficial competition, as well as guesting for Huddersfield Town, Millwall, Nottingham Forest, Notts County and Reading.

When peace resumed, he settled as Tottenham's regular left-half and it was a tribute to his insatiable drive that he emerged as leader of a team which included two men marked out for massive achievements in management - Alf Ramsey was destined to guide England to World Cup triumph in 1966, five years after Bill Nicholson had presided over Spurs's becoming the first club that century to lift the League and FA Cup double.

At first Burgess's determination to surge forward, sometimes heedless of defensive duties, was perceived as a weakness, but after Rowe became boss in 1949 the skipper tempered his adventure with a dash of caution, and became even more effective. Indeed, years later the shrewd Nicholson would describe him as the best midfielder the club had ever known, thus outranking the illustrious likes of Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne.

The back-to-back successes of promotion and League title were followed by a near miss as Tottenham finished as runners-up to Manchester United in 1951/52. Then came two more seasons of top-flight action before Burgess, having entered his 38th year, joined Second Division Swansea Town in 1954. A year later he became player-manager at the Vetch Field, laying aside his boots in 1956 but consolidating the Swans' mid-table position, until a slump in 1957/58 preceded his departure and a fresh coaching challenge with lowly Watford.

In March 1959 Burgess ascended to the managerial seat at Vicarage Road, leading the Hornets to promotion from Division Four and on a thrilling run to the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1959/60. The following term brought more success, with Watford finishing fourth in the Third Division, but after differences with the popular marksman Cliff Holton had cost him the backing of many supporters, the club endured two disappointing terms and he was sacked in May 1963.

Some close observers believed that the amiable Burgess was not ruthless enough for the job, being loath to make crucial decisions affecting players' livelihoods, and their predictions that he would not return to the League scene proved correct. However, he was not finished with the business of gathering silverware, taking over at non-League Hendon and guiding them to FA Amateur Cup glory against Whitby Town at Wembley in 1965.

That Burgess still hankered after the big time was evident, however, in his application to manage Wales in 1964. He was rejected in favour of Dave Bowen, although he took charge of the team briefly when the Northampton Town boss was unavailable because of club commitments.

Later Burgess was a trainer at Fulham under his former Spurs colleague Vic Buckingham, then manager of Bedford Town, and a scout for Luton Town. Also there was a brief stint in charge of a Soccer Hall of Fame in the West End of London before work as a stock controller for a stationery firm in Wealdstone and as a warehouseman in Harrow.

Ivan Ponting



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
life
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
News
people
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn