Great Harwood Legends
Thomas Royston Vernon
This article features another of the Robins all-time legends. This man was loved by Harwood fans, adored by Blackburn Rovers fans, and worshiped like a ‘Demi-god’ by the supporters of Everton and Wales –
THOMAS ROYSTON VERNON
I’ve spoken to many people whilst researching the information for these features and EVERY single person says the same thing-‘A true gentleman’ - ‘A great player’ – ‘A natty dresser’ – ‘Modest’ – ‘Good looking’ – ‘One of the lads’ etc. etc. If you think that I’m just saying this, then all will become apparent as you read what the press had to say about Roy. It’s hard to imagine that a real superstar like him would even give a club the size of ours a second thought, but he really did grace the Showground for around a season at the start of the ‘70’s.
Roy was born in, wait for it – Ffynnongroew, a little village in Flintshire, where he lived until he signed for Blackburn Rovers in 1953. At the age of 13, he had trials for Flintshire schools, and it soon became clear that he had something special, as a year later, in July 1952, Everton asked him to attend trials. Although the trials went well, Roy and his family wouldn’t be committed until he had finished his exams. Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers saw his potential and after trials at Ewood, signed him in March 1953. Everton’s indecision was to cost them a tidy sum in future years.
1954 saw Roy make his International debut for the Welsh Youth team and this was just part of the match report from that game.
“The game’s outstanding player, I thought, was Royston Vernon, who before going to Blackburn, played for Mostyn Y.M.C.A. Vernon was the life and soul and the brains of the Welsh forward line, and altogether his play was a pleasure to watch. Assuredly, Vernon is destined for stardom in the highest class.”
Several outstanding performances for the youth and reserve teams, soon had Roy knocking on the first team door, and his debut came as an 18 year-old against Liverpool at Ewood. 3-1 down at half time, Roy took centre stage and inspired the Rovers to a 3-3 draw.
The national headline after Roy’s fantastic debut read:
‘18-year-old Vernon leads Blackburn out of dumps’‘Blackburn however were always capable of making spirited attacks with the 18 year-old debutant right winger Vernon showing that man-ager Johnny Carey has a ‘find’.
Vernon was the boy behind this Blackburn come-back. His fast raids were a constant source of trouble to Lambert.’
The Welsh press were also in raptures over their ‘son’s’ debut.
‘Vernon’s Brilliant Debut For Blackburn’
‘Vernon, who joined Blackburn from Mostyn Y.M. last year and is now a full time professional, made his debut for the Rover’s first team at Ewood Park on Saturday against Liverpool and he marked the occasion by giving a brilliant display at outside right. Liverpool led 3-1 at the interval, but Blackburn pulled up to make the final score 3-3 and the star of their great fight-back from a seemingly hopeless position was 18 year-old Vernon. He made two of the Rovers goals and came close to scoring twice himself. Vernon was the greatest thorn in Liverpool’s flesh and his fast raids were a constant source of trouble to another Flintshire-born player, Liverpool’s Welsh International full back Ray Lambert, one of the most experienced defenders in present day football. A former pupil of Rhyl Grammar School, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Vernon of Ffynnongroew, and both his parents were at Ewood Park on Saturday to see their son’s fine performance.’
After Roy’s incredible debut against Liverpool, he never looked back and instantly became a regular first teamer who was loved by the Rovers supporters.
After another season of youth internationals, 1957 saw 20 year-old Roy make his full international debut against Ireland in Belfast. At the time, he was a Lance Corporal in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Wrexham, doing his National Service. A second cap soon followed at Hampden Park. Playing at inside left, his direct opponent was Tommy Docherty, who would surely have left his mark on our hero-if he’d been fast enough to catch him! Along side Roy in the Welsh team that day were Len Allchurch, Mel Charles and Cliff Jones amongst others. As with his Football League debut, one performance was all that it needed for him to become a regular fixture in the starting eleven and his International career lasted for over ten years. One of the most important goals which he scored for his country, was in the 1-0 win over Czechoslovakia in a World Cup qualifier in 1957.
His goalscoring exploits at Ewood saw the Rovers on the brink of promotion to Division 1, and alongside future Great Harwood players, Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas, he helped the Rovers to one of, if not the, most famous league victory in their history. Needing to win at Charlton on the last day of the season, they were coasting at 4-1 but were pegged back to 4-3 before holding out till the end. It was around this time that he married Norma Tierney at St. Mary’s R.C. church in Islington, Blackburn, before settling down to live in Ramsgreave Drive in Blackburn. The honeymoon had to be delayed as Roy was needed for a cup replay at home to Cardiff and even then he had to wait another couple of days until the Blues had played Liverpool. Football was taken so seriously then, that many of the Rovers players weren't allowed to attend the wedding as they were in training for the two important games later in the week!
The following season saw the Rovers consolidate in the top division, helped in no small way by Roy’s outstanding performances and goalscoring prowess. –
The beginning of the 1959/60 season saw shockwaves reverberating around Ewood Park as Roy asked for a transfer. He had become unsettled due to what appears to be a mix-up. He had been given approval to play a benefit match in Wales, before being told by another member of staff that he would not be allowed to play. Although the matter was resolved and Roy played in the game, other clubs were soon ‘on the case’ and things were never the same. Roy said at the time: “I am not happy with certain recent happenings and feel that the tension and petty squabbles are upsetting my play.”
Manager at the time Dally Duncan was even less happy than Roy, and as the headlines exclaimed
‘HANDS OFF ROY VERNON’
‘Blackburn boss hits out at back-door tactics’
Blackburn Rovers boss Dally Duncan said last night: “ If I can put my finger on any club that is going round the back-door to get at Roy Vernon it will mean severe punishment for somebody. I shall contact the Football League immediately.”
Twenty two year-old Vernon, who looks a better prospect every time I see him, would still like to leave Ewood Park despite the emphatic “No” to his recent transfer request. Manager Duncan didn’t dally when we discussed the Vernon persistence. He admitted the Welsh International was “still a little niggly about something” and then declared: “We think it’s definite that some club is getting at him. It’s difficult to obtain clear evidence, but if we do the League will have to be brought in.” Duncan said: “I’ve told Vernon, this last week, that he hasn’t got an earthly chance of leaving Blackburn. Someone’s got to be the boss. Someone’s got to be firm, otherwise we’ll have every player in here wanting to go. This young forward line of mine can go places this season. Vernon is the schemer, the distributor. I RATE HIM A GREATER PLAYER THAN ALBERT QUIXALL, HE CAN BE MORE DEADLY ON HIS DAY.” If Blackburn ever did change their minds, bidders would have to START – and I mean START – at £35,000. But Dally, real name Douglas, insists:
“FORGET IT. BIDDING WON’T EVEN START.”
The back pages of the national newspapers had only one story, and this was a typical headline:
“Blackburn bombshell – Roy Vernon wants a transfer”
Royston Vernon, Blackburn Rovers’ 22 year-old Welsh International inside-left – reckoned by many to be one of the best inside forwards in the country wants a move from Ewood Park.
Despite his apparent unhappiness during his last few weeks at Ewood, Roy always gave 100%, never more apparent than during an F.A.Cup replay win against Sunderland in January.
“Roy Vernon double cracks Sunderland”
Blackburn Rovers 4 Sunderland 1
Roy Vernon, the inside forward Blackburn were prepared to sell to Everton, showed in last night’s replay at Ewood Park that second thoughts are certainly best. He scored two brilliant goals, and was the architect of a success which sent Rovers marching into the fourth round. Vernon, sent off in the first match at Roker, made his mark right from the start with slick scheming and precise passing.
“Now Everton move in for Vernon”
A telephone approach by Johnny Carey - made yesterday I believe – to his old club Blackburn, sounding them on the availability of one of the youngsters he helped to groom for stardom at Ewood Park….Vernon. This time he received a more encouraging answer than on the other occasions he has raised the subject.
And I expect this latest Carey attempt to be discussed at tonight’s board meeting at Ewood Park.
Sadly for all at Ewood, Roy did in fact leave for Everton in a deal worth £35,000, a move which saw the Toffees acquire a player who would help them to become one of the top teams in the land. If Roy’s career had been a revelation so far, then its zenith was reached after his move to Goodison.
It almost goes without saying that he was an instant success, but the adulation which he received over the next six years was incredible. After almost every Everton game, Roy Vernon’s name was amongst the headlines.
Did they love him? – Just a bit, as the following headlines confirm;
‘Superb Vernon puts paid to Liverpool’
There can only be one unanimous verdict on Merseyside this morning. Welsh International Roy Vernon, who is as deadly as a cobra, was the MAN of this sometimes brilliant, always exciting, and sometimes tough tussle.
‘VERNON TAMES WOLVES’
Two goals end record
Roy Vernon, Everton’s £35,000 Welsh International inside left, shattered the proud unbeaten record of Cup-holders Wolverhampton Wanderers in a devastating two minutes at Goodison Park yesterday. Never can a forward have picked a more crucial time than did this lean, mean-looking player – for at the time Vernon struck so magnificently with two goals, Wolves were indicating by deeds and a goal that they were staging a comeback after being on the receiving end. Two goals in two minutes was the Vernon contribution and what goals they were-as sensational as they were brilliant.
‘VERNON THE STAR OF SUPER-SHOW’
‘ROY’S RIOT ACT’
Roy continued to dominate the headlines for 5 full seasons at Everton, during which time he was leading scorer on no less than 4 occasions. In his second season, a hat-trick in the final game at home to Fulham, secured the First Division Championship, and a second trophy followed before the start of the following campaign, when the Charity Shield was lifted after a four goal thrashing of Manchester United, Roy of course was on target.
The following article was written half way through that Championship winning season.
‘The Jimmy Wilde of soccer – Vernon’
Having seen most of the great inside forwards of the past forty years – James Mannion, Revie, Greaves, Chambers among them – I have come to the conclusion that we have, at Everton, one to beat the lot. He’s only starting his career, is little more than ten stones, has a rather knock-kneed stance which makes him look anything but a player and has a characteristically fiery temper and temperament. Name? Roy Vernon. Position? Anywhere and everywhere (at lightening speed) he can do his side a bit of good. Vernon is a natural. You couldn’t coach or council him in any way unless it were to hold his tongue and temper. His extraordinary control of the ball, his well developed sense of locality, his sense of anticipation and the speed of his awareness of a situation……these make him a player in a hundred thousand. Vernon’s virtuosity does not end there. He has drive, guts, and a shot so unexpectedly fierce, he rates with his old compatriot, Jimmy Wilde the boxer, who was known as the ghost with the hammer in his hand. Like Wilde, Vernon puts his opponents to sleep before they know what has hit them.
The following piece is another indication of the kind of man Roy was;
HOW PLEASANT it was at a recent London match to see Roy Vernon, the Everton inside-left, go to the gate and give away his complimentary tickets to young Everton fans who had made the journey from Liverpool.
Alas, all good things come to an end, and after transforming Everton into the biggest club in the land, Roy left to join Stoke City in March of ’66, shortly after hitting his 100th league goal for the Toffees. The final ten games of the season yielded another five goals and his partnership with John Ritchie was one of the most fearsome in the league. The following campaign saw Ritchie ill for a long period which meant that if opponents could stop Roy, they could stop Stoke. And how they did, as Roy was booted from pillar to post and ‘rarely leaves the field without his battle scars’.
On his departure from Goodison, Roy said: “I suppose everyone knew we were going to part company. At Everton success is not anticipated…..it is demanded. Players are expected to toe the line rigidly, almost like schoolchildren, and I don’t like too much discipline. Stoke treat you more like an adult. As long as you are going out and bombing away to the best of your ability on Saturday afternoons, they are happy.”
The move was described as ‘one of the bargains of post war soccer’.
Ritchie left Stoke soon afterwards but Roy continued to put first division defences to the sword for another three to four years before……Great Harwood chairman Derrick Keighley, made one of the most astonishing moves of that or any other season, when he persuaded Roy to sign for the Showground side. Keighley was a wealthy local businessman who owned haulage contractors Dutton Transport of Whalley.
The beginning of the season saw ex-Rovers keeper Jones in the same line-up as Bryan Douglas, and in the coming weeks, first Ronnie Clayton and then Roy were signed. These players were still talented individuals, Roy had only just turned 32 and there were plenty of goals left in ‘them thar boots’.
Keighley had spent plenty of money assembling this star-studded side and he was not disappointed. Goals flowed in the Northern Premier league, the strongest league outside the fourth division, and in the F.A.Cup. The Harwood programme from a game at the end of September read: ‘We would like to give a belated welcome to our latest signing, Roy Vernon. Roy made a promising debut against Leyland, being unlucky not to score on at least four occasions. It goes without saying that we are more than delighted that he chose to sign for us, sooner than the many other clubs chasing his signature. We hope his acquisition will greatly improve our chances of again getting amongst the honours list.’
Roy was signed in time for the F.A.Cup first qualifying round when Leyland Motors were despatched, and was also in the line-up for the drawn game at Lancaster City in the second, which was played on October 10th 1970. The matchday programme laments, ‘Welcome to Welsh International Roy Vernon, who Lancaster were so anxious to sign but were unsuccessful’.
The following Thursday saw the Reds win the replay and the record cup run was into full swing.
Come January, Rotherham were in town for the first round proper and the biggest game in the club’s history.
Unfortunately the Reds were thrashed, but guess who scored one of our two goals? Roy stayed for the season and played in the first four games of the following campaign before making a premature exit from the game, along with his long time friends, Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas. Now just in case you think that Roy was a saint, and let’s face it, no-one likes a ‘goody two shoes’, you’ve heard that he had a fiery temper on the field, well he could be a bit of a ‘scally’ off it, and certainly liked the odd flutter on the dogs. It came to the attention of future chairman Bill Holden, that when the dogs were running at nearby Bolton, on the same night that Harwood were playing, Roy always found a reason not to play! Well everyone has to have their bit of fun.
Roy enjoyed his retirement and at last could spend as much time as he liked with his family, wife Norma and sons Royston, Mark and Neil, all of whom still live in the Blackburn area.
Sadly, their time together was far too short as Roy died prematurely at the age of just 56. It goes without saying that the tributes came flooding in from far and wide.
The Daily Post wrote:
‘A tribute to a Goodison legend-Rhapsody in Blue-It’s a question you could only ask about a 21-carat gold hero. “Is it true he used to take a shower with a cigarette in his mouth?” I didn’t know the answer to that one, but I do know that the last time I clapped eyes on our idol his lips were clamped around a glowing cigarette, his eyes screwed up against the drifting smoke like some Bogart of the Blue brigade. There he was no more than 20 feet from me, still lathe thin, still with the regulation short back and sides, still with that air of arrogance about him-the arrogance that made him, on his day, a world class inside forward. Here was the perfect footballer. Balance, pace, flair, grace under pressure, he had the lot. Even after all these years, it was like losing a family friend. I didn’t know him, I never spoke to the man, but perhaps that’s the best way with heroes. I’m sure he’s with the angels, and I’m sure, just for Roy, they’ve provided him with his very own 18-yard area to prowl around and given him a celestial penalty spot.
Rest in peace Roy, we shall never forget you.’
The Welsh press were also unstinting in their praise:
‘Football is in mourning for legend Roy Vernon-Roy Vernon, one of the most prolific and stylish strikers ever to play for Wales, has died aged 56. A minutes silence was observed at Ewood Park yesterday before another of his former clubs, Blackburn Rovers, kicked off against Chelsea in the Premier League. With Wales, Vernon gained 32 caps between 1957 and 1968 and represented his country in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. “It is a terrible blow to Welsh football,” said Welsh F.A. president Elfed Ellis.’
The Lancashire Evening Telegraph read:
ROVER REMEMBERED BY GREAT PLAYERS
Old guard of Ewood in funeral tribute to Roy Vernon
‘Great names from Blackburn Rovers’ old guard were among the mourners at the funeral of Roy Vernon. A packed congregation at Woodlands United Reformed Church, Cherry Tree, said a final farewell to the former Blackburn Rovers, Everton and Wales star who died last Sunday aged 56. The ex-Rovers players were led by Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas. The funeral car made a detour via Ewood on the way to the church.’
THOMAS ROYSTON VERNON
Football League Appearances And Goals
BLACKBURN ROVERS App - 131 Goals - 49
EVERTON App - 176 Goals - 101
STOKE CITY App - 84 Goals - 22
HALIFAX TOWN App - 4 Goals - 0
Roy also won 32 full international caps and had a spell in South Africa in 1970 before turning out for Harwood in the early ‘70’s, although his record at the Showground is unknown.
Great Harwood ‘legend’
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