Obituary: Roy Vernon

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The Independent Online
Thomas Royston Vernon, footballer: born Ffynnongroyw, north Wales 14 April 1937; played for Blackburn Rovers 1955-60, Everton 1960-65, Stoke City 1965-70, Halifax Town 1970; capped 32 times for Wales 1957- 67; died Blackburn 5 December 1993.

ROY VERNON was a colourful, at times tempestuous Welshman blessed with a vivid talent for football and an ebullient, buccaneering character in which there was no trace of false modesty. Thus, when asked at height of his career, in the mid-Sixties, to name the outstanding goal-scorers in the land, he replied, in a tone of cool certainty: 'There's Denis Law, there's Jimmy Greaves and then there's me.'

Those privileged to witness the quicksilver Scot and the predatory Englishman in their spectacular prime may be disinclined to include Vernon in such illustrious company. Yet the very comparison speaks volumes for Vernon's credentials as one of the most lethal marksmen of the post-war era.

To those who knew him as a teenager, there was little doubt that he was headed for the heights. Vernon's sportsmaster at Rhyl Grammar School, who helped nurture the gifts of many a prospective professional footballer, reckoned he could teach him nothing. As he excelled in local football, Vernon proved a magnet to the big clubs. But, ever one to go his own way, he rejected the overtures of Everton - whom he would one day lead to glory - and Manchester United, signing instead for Blackburn Rovers, reasoning that he would encounter less keen competition at Ewood Park. Thereafter Vernon's progress was rapid. He made his top-flight debut in 1955 and some 18 months later, not yet 20, he won the first of 32 full caps for Wales. In 1957-58 he was an integral part of the Rovers side that won promotion to the First Division, and then crowned his season by appearing in the World Cup finals in Sweden.

But Vernon was a headstrong young man prone to question authority, and after a succession of rows with the Rovers manager, Dally Duncan, he was sold to Everton for pounds 27,000 plus the Everton striker Eddie Thomas. At Goodison Park his game matured and Vernon blossomed into a magnificent taker and maker of goals with a delightful range of skills, one minute silky and subtle, the next venomously incisive. Striking up a potent partnership with the Scot Alex Young, Vernon topped Everton's scoring chart in each of his four complete seasons with the Blues, eventually netting 110 times in 200 senior games. His finest hour came in 1962-63 when he captained Everton to the League championship and it was fitting that he scored a hat-trick against Fulham on the day the title was clinched.

However, controversy continued to dog his footsteps. On Merseyside he came under the iron disciplinary rule of the Everton manager, Harry Catterick, who could not accept Vernon's free-wheeling, rather sardonic outlook, and Vernon was once sent home from a United States tour for breaking a curfew. But Catterick was determined to make the most of him. He gave Vernon the captaincy in the hope that responsibility would have a mellowing effect - an imaginative move which met with some success.

Clearly, though, the two men were not compatible in the long- term and in 1965 Vernon joined Stoke City for pounds 40,000, still only 28 and with plenty left to give. During five years in the Potteries he contributed impressively if fitfully, a niggling knee injury reducing his effectiveness all too often. Eventually, after a brief sojourn with Halifax Town, Vernon wound down his career in South Africa before returning to Lancashire to play football for fun in the amateur ranks.

If his pace had departed, his skill was as sharp as ever, and so was his sense of humour. Once told by an earnest non-League boss that his midfield couldn't find him because he was standing still, Vernon responded: 'If they can't find me when I'm standing still, how the hell do you expect them to find me if I'm running around.'