Ron Saunders

Ronald Saunders (6 November 1932 – 7 December 2019) was an English football player and manager. He played for Everton, Tonbridge Angels, Gillingham, Portsmouth, Watford and Charlton Athletic during a 16-year playing career, before moving into management. He managed seven clubs in 20 years, and he remains the only manager to have taken charge of Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, the three rival clubs based in and around the city of Birmingham

Ron Saunders
Personal information
Full name Ronald Saunders
Date of birth (1932-11-06)6 November 1932
Place of birth Birkenhead, Cheshire, England
Date of death 7 December 2019(2019-12-07) (aged 87)
Position(s) Striker
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1951–1955 Everton 3 (0)
1955–1957 Tonbridge Angels 53 (39)
1957–1958 Gillingham 49 (20)
1958–1964 Portsmouth 236 (145)
1964–1965 Watford 39 (18)
1965–1967 Charlton Athletic 65 (24)
Total 445 (246)
Teams managed
1967–1969 Yeovil Town
1969 Oxford United
1969–1973 Norwich City
1973–1974 Manchester City
1974–1982 Aston Villa
1982–1986 Birmingham City
1986–1987 West Bromwich Albion
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Saunders also managed Yeovil Town, Oxford United, Norwich City and Manchester City. He was involved in football for 36 consecutive years; he left his final managerial role, at West Bromwich Albion, at the age of 54.

Playing career

As a player, he was an old-fashioned, hard-shooting centre forward who "led the line"[clarification needed][citation needed]scoring 246 goals in 16 years for Everton, Tonbridge Angels, Gillingham, Portsmouth, Watford and Charlton Athletic.[1] Saunders was leading goalscorer for six consecutive seasons at Portsmouth[2] and his goals were a key factor in helping Pompey win the Third Division title in 1962.[3] He remains their third highest goalscorer.[4] He retired from full-time playing in 1967, when with Charlton.

Managerial career

Early career

Saunders became player-manager at non-league Yeovil Town.[3]

Norwich City

As a manager, Saunders first tasted success at Norwich City, guiding them to the Second Division title in 1972, which saw them promoted to the First Division for the first time in their history. Saunders steered Norwich City to survival in their first season in the top flight. They also reached the Football League Cup final, losing 1–0 to Tottenham Hotspur.[5] He resigned as Norwich manager on 17 November 1973 following a boardroom row after a 3–1 home defeat to Everton.[6]

Manchester City

Five days later, Saunders accepted an offer to take over at Manchester City.[7] For the second season running Saunders managed a team to the Football League Cup final, but once again they lost – this time to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Despite their cup success, City's league form was shaky, and Saunders was dismissed three weeks before the end of the season, with the club outside the relegation places on goal average alone. He did not stay out of work for long however, and the following month joined Second Division side Aston Villa as manager.[8]

Aston Villa

He guided Villa to promotion to the First Division (as runners-up in the Second Division) in his first season as manager, also winning the League Cup. He became the first manager to take three clubs to the League Cup Final in three successive years. He re-established Villa as a top First Division club, winning the League Cup again in 1977. In 1980–81, he guided Villa to their first First Division title for 71 years.[9]

He resigned from Villa on 9 February 1982, due to a disagreement with the board over his contract. At the time, Villa were mid-table in the First Division and had reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup. His assistant Tony Barton took over, and led them to victory in the 1982 European Cup Final four months later.[10]

Birmingham City

He moved straight to Villa's local rivals, Birmingham City. They went down in 1984 but he got them back into the top flight at the first attempt. In January 1986, Saunders walked out on struggling Birmingham to take charge of local rivals and fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion.[11]

West Bromwich Albion

He was unable to stop Albion from sliding into the Second Division and was dismissed in September 1987, after failing to get them back into the First Division. This was his last managerial role.[12]


In a friendly fixture staged as a testimonial for the recently deceased Tony Barton, Saunders appeared at Villa Park in 1994 as manager of a Villa side drawn mostly from players who had played in the European Cup final in 1982, against a West Midlands all-stars side. This was the first time he had returned to the club since his resignation some 13 years earlier.[13] In December 2006, the 74-year-old Saunders was the guest of honour at Villa Park for the match between Aston Villa and Manchester United, invited by new chairman Randy Lerner.[12] He returned to Villa Park shortly after, on 5 May 2007, for the 25th anniversary celebrations of the 1982 European Cup win.[14]


Saunders died on 7 December 2019, aged 87.[15][16]



Norwich City

Aston Villa

See also


  1. "Ron Saunders". UK A–Z Transfers. Neil Brown. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  2. "Pompey 1st Team Squad: 1958/59". PompeyRama. Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2010., and subsequent season pages.
  3. Jones, Trefor (1996). The Watford Football Club Illustrated Who's Who. p. 205. ISBN 0-9527458-0-1.
  4. "Pompey Database". Portsmouth F.C. Supporters Club of U.S.A. Archived from the original on 14 April 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  5. "Club History – 1970 to 1985". Norwich City F.C. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  6. Green, Geoffrey (19 November 1973). "No valid answers for collective decline". The Times. p. 8. Last year, Norwich only just escaped relegation by a whisker and again find themselves in the shadows, made even darker on Saturday night when their manager, Ron Saunders, resigned after an angry scene in the boardroom following the 3–1 home defeat by Everton.
  7. "Derby players not to go on strike". The Times. 23 November 1973. p. 11.
  8. Matthews, Tony (1995). Birmingham City: A Complete Record. Derby: Breedon Books. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-1-85983-010-9.
  9. "Villa Legends Ron Saunders". Aston Villa F.C. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  10. Ward, Adam; Griffin, Jeremy. The essential history of Aston Villa. Headline. p. 129. ISBN 0-7553-1140-X.
  11. Matthews. Birmingham City: A Complete Record. pp. 42–44. ISBN 978-1-85983-010-9.
  12. Jawad, Hyder (6 December 2006). "Saunders to return to Villa Park". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  13. Jawad, Hyder (23 December 2006). "RETURN OF THE HERO; Villa salute to 'greatest boss' long overdue He was the catalyst of Aston Villa's greatest successes but Ron Saunders became the forgotten man". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 11 April 2014 via The Free Library.
  14. "O'Neill: Heroes should inspire". Express & Star. Wolverhampton. 4 May 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  15. Bonell, Jonny (7 December 2019). "Aston Villa legend Ron Saunders dies, aged 87". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  16. "Ron Saunders: Former Aston Villa manager dies aged 87". BBC Sport. 7 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  17. "1981/82 Charity Shield". Retrieved 4 November 2019.


  • Jones, Trefor (1996). The Watford Football Club Illustrated Who's Who. p. 205. ISBN 0-9527458-0-1.