Ronnie Radford obituary | Football

Few players from the lower reaches of English football ever make it into the national consciousness, let alone stay there for decades. Yet Ronnie Radford, who never played at any level higher than the old Fourth Division, did just that. Radford, who has died aged 79, earned his enduring fame on a muddy pitch at non-league Hereford United in February 1972 during a televised third round FA Cup replay match against First Division Newcastle.

The tie seemed to be all over when the visitors went 1-0 up with 10 minutes to play. But shortly afterwards Radford won a sturdy tackle just inside the opposition half, played a long-range one-two with the winger Brian Owen and then unleashed a wondrous shot from 30 yards that rocketed into the top corner of the Newcastle goal. As Radford arced across the sodden surface with arms aloft, hundreds of youthful Hereford pitch invaders engulfed him in a scene of such delirious ecstasy that it has become as much a part of the folklore of the FA Cup as the white horse at Wembley or long-haired Charlie George lying on his back after scoring the winner in the 1971 final.

Radford’s glorious strike allowed Hereford to essay one of the greatest ever cup giant-killing feats with a 2-1 win that was sealed by a goal from Ricky George in extra time. Highlights of the drama were relayed to millions on Match of the Day, with suitably excitable commentary from a young John Motson. Radford’s goal has since been replayed hundreds of thousands of times by misty-eyed admirers.

The player himself, a journeyman who spent most of his career in part-time non-league football while working as a joiner, was among those playback enthusiasts who could relive the moment endlessly without becoming bored. But he was typically modest about what has often been described as the best ever goal in the FA Cup. “At the time I didn’t even think about the distance to the goal,” he recalled. “I just thought: ‘I’ve got to hit this.’ It could have gone in the car park, but it didn’t.”

Ronnie Radford, top left, celebrating with Hereford United teammates in February 1972 after their win against Newcastle United.
Ronnie Radford, top left, celebrating with Hereford United teammates in February 1972 after their win against Newcastle United. Photograph: PA Photos/PA

Radford was born in South Elmsall, a small coal mining town in Yorkshire. He played at school as a midfielder, a position he occupied for most of his career, although he also appeared at full back. Signed up by First Division Sheffield Wednesday in 1961 as a teenager, he was moved on in the same year to Second Division Leeds, where he trained under their player-manager Don Revie.

Having failed to make the first team either at Leeds or Wednesday, in 1962 he was signed up by non-league Cheltenham, where he had a happy time for the next three years on a weekly wage of £12 that was supplemented by joinery work. There was a short interlude with Rugby Town in 1965, but he soon returned to Cheltenham, spending another three seasons there and clocking up 318 appearances until Fourth Division Newport County signed him for £1,500, giving him his first experience of higher-level football.

“It was quicker in the Football League, but my fitness levels improved with full-time training and it was a good experience,” he said later. However, Radford was still living in Cheltenham with his wife Annie, found the travelling to Wales onerous, and also missed his work as a joiner, which he regarded as his main activity.

After two seasons at Newport, during which he appeared 68 times, he plumped in 1961 for a transfer back to part-time Hereford, allowing him to be nearer home and to pick up with his joinery again. “I left Newport because of the travelling really, and I was earning less in full-time football than I was playing part-time and working,” he said.

Although he could never have imagined it, the switch to Hereford also quickly thrust Radford into the spotlight. He was barely into his sojourn there when the club went on a terrific FA Cup run, progressing all the way from the qualifying rounds to within theoretical breathing distance of the final at Wembley. Although the momentous win against Newcastle came as a result of a fine team performance, inevitably Radford’s extraordinary goal – and the heartwarming scenes that followed it – stole the limelight.

After the end of his football career, Ronnie Radford worked full-time as a joiner.
After the end of his football career, Ronnie Radford worked full-time as a joiner. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

At the time he had never seen himself on the small screen. “After the match, me and Annie stopped off for fish and chips and ate it in front of Match of the Day,” he said. “We thought it was going to be two minutes of highlights but they made it into the main game. I’d never watched myself play football, I didn’t even know what it looked like when I ran. It was such a strange experience.”

Although he was flattered to be the centre of attention, Radford was also discomfited by being the focus of so much media activity. “I was only one part of it, one kick. There were 14 other guys who shared all those experiences with the people of Hereford. I just felt so uncomfortable about being singled out.”

After the win against Newcastle, Hereford lost in the fourth round of the cup to West Ham, but were subsequently promoted to the football league. Radford stayed at the club until 1974, after which he had a short spell as player-manager at Worcester City and then played for Bath City, where an achilles tendon injury ended his career at the age of 33.

A finish to serious football prompted a return to his native Yorkshire, where he settled in Wakefield with Annie and their two children, Gary and David. Taking up joinery full-tme, he remained there for the rest of his life.

Each year, as a reminder of his enduring place in public folk memory, Radford was invited to the FA Cup final to present an award to the team that had pulled off the most inspiring giant-killing act in that year’s competition.

He is survived by Annie and their sons.

Ronald Radford, footballer, born 12 July 1943; died 2 November 2022

Ronnie Radford, scorer of iconic FA Cup goal for Hereford, dies aged 79 | Football

Ronnie Radford, whose thunderous strike for Hereford United in the quagmire of Edgar Street against Newcastle remains one of the greatest FA Cup moments, has died aged 79.

Television footage of Radford’s equaliser in the 2-1 third-round win against the first division side in February 1972 has become one of the venerable competition’s most treasured and repeated scenes.

“There was my match that was supposed to be a three minute edit at the end of the programme, propelled to the top of the show!”

Hereford Utd v Newcastle Utd – The match that changed everything for #JohnMotson

— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) May 19, 2018

“Goals like mine are scored every week, up and down the country,” said Radford years later, “but we were playing out the classic FA Cup story and that was just part of the script.”

A statement from Hereford on Wednesday afternoon read: “We are devastated to hear of Ronnie’s passing, and wish to extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends at this very sad time. Ronnie is not just a part of Hereford United folklore, he is a part of football history and has kept Hereford on the football map since 1972.

“His mild manner, and friendly and modest approach to life epitomised the man he was and he was always delighted to visit Edgar Street, to meet up with past teammates and watch the present day team in action. We will always keep Ronnie close to our hearts at Edgar Street, not just at FA Cup moments, but forever and celebrate him and his huge role in propelling Hereford United to the forefront of the nation’s attention with that goal and being part of that team. We will carry your spirit onwards. Rest in peace Ronnie.”

Radford later played for Worcester City, managing the club for the 1974-75 season, taking them to second in the Southern League.

He told the Guardian in 2008: “It means a lot to be remembered for that goal against Newcastle. I went to get a hearing aid last week because I’m going slightly deaf and the guy who fitted it was a Sheffield Wednesday fan. He asked me my name and when I said it was Ronald Radford, he told me that was also the name of a famous footballer. I told him I was that footballer and he went red in the face and couldn’t stop smiling. I found that bewildering. I’ve never wanted to be famous; I still don’t feel famous now.”

Radford, pictured in 2015, became a joiner after he retired.
Radford, pictured in 2015, became a joiner after he retired. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

On that fateful FA Cup day in 1972, Hereford became the first non-league team to beat a top-flight side for 23 years, Radford’s searing shot on a bog of a pitch – the replay had been postponed three times and was played on fourth-round day – sparking a pitch invasion as fans in black and white scarfs mobbed their No 11, whose both arms raised celebration has become the stuff of FA Cup lore.

Radford’s shot made it 1-1, but it was Ricky George who bagged the winner. George posted on social media on Wednesday: “I am sad to report the passing of the great Ronnie Radford, a man with a heart as big as Wembley stadium. Immortalised by his sensational goal for Hereford United against Newcastle United in 1972, Ronnie’s name will be enshrined in FA Cup folklore forever. Love you top man.”