Memories of Ron Wylie – a legend of Midlands football

It was only after receiving a roasting for eating a burger that Garry Thompson realised what Ron Wylie really thought of him.

Birmingham City manager Stan Cullis and right-half Ron Wylie (left), who has been appointed captain for the coming season.
Birmingham City manager Stan Cullis and right-half Ron Wylie (left), who has been appointed captain for the coming season.

“Coventry were playing Leicester City and I wasn’t in the team,” Thompson, then a teenager looking to make his way in the game, recalls. “I was watching from the directors’ box and at half-time decided to head off and get a burger.

“I got back after the second half had started and Ron, who was assistant boss, must have clocked us.

“Anyway, we lost the game and after the gaffer Gordon Milne had his say, Ron’s talk was all about what a bad professional I was!

“I was furious. I couldn’t believe he was singling me out and it wasn’t the first time either.

“But as I was leaving the dressing room the gaffer pulled me to one side and said: ‘You do realise he’s only being tough on you because he thinks you’re worth bothering with? If he didn’t think you were any good, he wouldn’t be so angry’.

“It was then I started to realise Ron thought quite a lot of me.”

Thompson credits Wylie, who died this week at the age of 86, for helping him develop from a promising youngster into a striker who would play for more than a decade in the top flight with the Sky Blues, Albion, Sheffield Wednesday and Villa.

“My nickname at Coventry used to be Two o’clock Thompson,” he says. “We’d train in the morning and at the end of every session Ron would turn to me and say: ‘Thompson. Two o’clock!

“We’d go back out on to the field then and it would be just me and him, working on different aspects of my game, the things I needed to improve. He was always trying to help me improve. I owe him everything, really.”

Thompson is far from the only former player to have taken time this week to reflect on the positive impact Wylie had on his career.

Though his one shot at management with the Baggies might have been underwhelming, his ability as a coach – coupled with a knack for spotting a promising youngster – ensured Wylie made a considerable mark on the landscape of Midlands football.

“A great influence on me and many other young players at the time,” was how Brian Little, who found himself under Wylie’s tutelage upon joining Villa as a 17-year-old in the early 70s.

“Ron was old school,” tweeted former Coventry striker David Cross. “Drove us players hard, settled for nothing less than 100 per cent; demanded the best. Suffered no fools but always had a twinkle in his eye when he you got the inevitable b******ing.”

Wylie was an excellent player himself, scoring 27 goals in 244 games for Villa as an inside-forward and hailed by the club this week as one of their finest since the Second World War.

His playing career alone, which began at Notts County and also included five years at Blues, is more than worthy of reverence.

Yet his continued involvement in the game after hanging up his boots, the often unseen work on the training pitches of Coventry, Albion and particularly with Villa, for whom he later scouted and acted as a player liaison officer before finally calling it a day in 2002, means Wylie can only ever be remembered as a true legend of the Midlands game.

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