Today’s game against Newcastle United included a minute’s applause for Ralph Coates who died after a stroke a couple of weeks ago. Then at half time his ex colleagues Alan Mullery, Martin Chivers, Martin Peters, Pat Jennings, Phil Beal and John Pratt all came out to share memories of the man they all described as a great guy loyal to both Spurs and Burnley his other former club.
As a 9 year old I well remember Ralph’s signing and Bill Nicholson once again paying a large transfer fee for Sam Leitch to report on in Football Focus on Saturday lunch time. As I recall my first Spurs games saw Jimmy Neighbour and Roger Morgan swapping the shirt with Jimmy Pearce also trying to force his way into the side.
Ralph’s signing should have put paid to that but I recall him struggling as much as the others with our “problem position” out on the left. Alan Mullery’s injury brought him in as his replacement ahead of John Pratt in the number 4 shirt and it is as much for this number as I remember him as for the 11 shirt he was signed to fill.
Morgan’s retirement through injury pushed him back towards the winger’s duty whilst allowing John Pratt to take over at number 4 and it was in this role that he continued for a number of seasons until he took the number 10 shirt after the signing of Peter Taylor for our relegation season of 1976-77. Following relegation Ralph moved onto Leyton Orient after a period in Australia.
In all Ralph played 248 games for Spurs scoring 24 goals. No goal was more important than the League Cup winner against Norwich for which he struck a tremendous volley from the edge of the area before charging away trade mark hair flowing behind him. These were the days when the League Cup final was not shown live and many Spurs fans were forced to wait for the extended highlights show on the Big Match on the Sunday afternoon.
When Ralph joined the club we were an experienced side competing on many fronts. Unfortunately that quickly turned to retiring team and those following the household names were unable to keep the team competitive. Similarly a succession of signings failed to deliver the required quality and our relegation was a sad price to play. In that time Ralph was a committed member of the side working hard to deliver his best on the field whilst not building upon the promising career he had built at Burnley.
Perhaps the club was bigger than he was able to deal with as a star player, as is he case with many players, but on meeting him in the executive lounges on occasions he always had time for supporters and it was clear that he was proud of being able to represent the club over a period of time and of his role in scoring a winning goal in a Wembley final or of winning a UEFA Cup medal and playing in the losing team in 1974.
Ralph played at a time when financial reward was only adequate and like many of his colleagues would still have needed to work. Despite this his mind was rich with the memories of playing alongside some of the best players ever to represent the Club. Whilst he may not have succeeded as Bill Nick would have wanted his name will remain in my memory long after the names of those who represented us 250 times in the early 1990’s have faded.