Swans and Dragons: Ron Burgess

17th October 2017

In a new website feature, we look back at former Swansea City players who have also turned out for Wales at full international level.

In the third installment, we look back at Ron Burgess' career which saw him make 47 league appearances - scoring once - for Swansea Town between 1954 and 1956. He also managed the club between 1956 and 1958.

For Wales, he scored an incredible 23 goals in 32 caps between 1946 and 1954.

Prior to joining the junior staff at Tottenham Hotspur in 1936, Cwm-born left-half William Arthur Ronald ‘Ron’ Burgess followed in the mining traditions of his family by working as a pit-boy for two years.

Burgess’s path to becoming a professional footballer was an unlikely one.

Just a year after joining Spurs, he was told he wouldn’t make the grade at White Hart Lane.

As he was preparing to return home to South Wales, he decided to go and watch the club’s A team in action.

By coincidence, the side were a man light when he arrived at the ground that day.

Ron was asked to fill-in at half-back – a position he had never played before – and so good was his performance that afternoon that Tottenham decided to retain his services.

Burgess signed an amateur contract and spent the rest of the season with their nursery club, Northfleet United.

Burgess returned to the North London club during the 1938-39 season, when he put pen to paper on a professional contact.

His first-team debut came later that campaign, in a 2-1 victory at Norwich City on February 2, 1939.

He quickly made the left-half position his own and captained Spurs for much of his playing career.

Allowing for the war years, when military service meant he was rarely available, Burgess hardly missed a match.

He made some 324 appearances for Tottenham in all competitions between 1939 and 1954, scoring 16 goals.

He was part of the Lilywhites side that won the old Division Two championship followed by the top-flight title in consecutive seasons, 1949-50 and 1950-51.

In November 1939, Burgess represented Wales for the first time in a wartime international against England.

He was aged just 22 at the time and had barely 20 league appearances to his name.

During World War II, he made a total of 10 appearances for his country but his first official cap for the Dragons didn’t arrive until October 19, 1946 as he started for Wales in their 3-1 victory over Scotland at The Racecourse, Wrexham.

In the eight years that followed, Burgess missed just two Wales internationals and became the nation’s captain.

He skippered the Dragons as they beat a ‘Rest of the UK XI’ 3-2 at Ninian Park in 1951 as part of the Football Association of Wales’s 75th anniversary celebrations.

Prior to that, he had been selected for the Great Britain side that beat a ‘Rest of Europe’ team 6-1 in front of a staggering 137,000 crowd at Glasgow’s Hampden Park in 1947.

Burgess’ one and only Wales goal came against Switzerland in a 3-2 victory in Wrexham in May 1951.

He made his last Dragons appearance in a 2-0 defeat against Austria in Vienna May 1954.

Shortly after bowing out of international football, Burgess returned to his homeland to sign for Swansea Town.

The Swans finished 10th in the old Division Two in his first full season with the club, 1954-55, and also reached the fifth round of the FA Cup.

The following campaign saw Burgess installed as player-manager at Vetch Field, as the Swans finished 10th in Division Two once again and were runners-up in the Welsh Cup.

He hung up his boots in 1956 to focus on his managerial duties but after a disappointing campaign in 1957-58, in which the Swans finished 19th, he departed the Vetch after more than three years with the club.

He won 50, drew 22 and lost 57 of the matches as Swans boss.

After a short period spent out of the game, Burgess returned as manager of Watford in 1959.

In his first season in charge at Vicarage Road, he guided the Hornets to the first promotion in their Football League history as the Hertfordshire side moved from Division Four to Three.

The 1959-60 season was notable for the goalscoring exploits of Cliff Holton, who scored a club-record 48 goals that campaign.

Burgess left Watford in 1963 after exactly 200 league games as manager.

His next career move saw him take the top job at non-league side Hendon.

He led the club to the Isthmian League and FA Amateur Cup double in 1964-65 before subsequent managerial spells at Bedford Town and Harrow Borough.

He also took charge of the Welsh national team for one game in 1965 due to manager Dave Bowen’s unavailability because of club commitments.

Burgess worked for a number of clubs including Lincoln City and Luton Town in coaching/scouting roles through into the 1970s.

Other employment included serving as stock controller for a Wealdstone stationery company and as a warehouseman for a company in South Harrow.

In his later years, Burgess moved from Worthing back to South Wales.

He passed away in Swansea on February 14, 2005 at the age of 87.

In November 2014, a plaque was unveiled at the Cwm Welfare Ground in Cwm, Blaenau Gwent, in recognition of his outstanding football career.