Reg Ryan – The Schemer

Gavan Bergin

Reg Ryan was born in Dublin in October 1925. He lived in the Marino area of Dublin until the late 1930s, when he emigrated with his family to England.
Reg was very good at sports. He played Gaelic football in Ireland, then when he moved to England he took up soccer. He played schoolboy football for Blackpool FC, then works football (a sports team that is financed and owned by a manufacturer or business) for the Sunbeam Cars factory team in Coventry. By the time he was sixteen he had a reputation as one of the best young players around. Sheffield United took him on trial in 1941, then Nottingham Forest trialled him in 1942. Coventry City FC signed him up in April 1943.
At that time, due to the Second World War, the Football League had been reorganised into various regional ‘wartime’ leagues. Coventry were in the Midland Regional League when Reg made his debut for them during the 1942/43 season. But though the wartime leagues may not have been up to the standard of the Football League, the time Reg spent at that level made him a much better player. He had arrived as a promising amateur, but he left the club as a professional footballer.
In April 1945, West Bromwich Albion paid Coventry the transfer fee of £750 to sign Reg. Back then, £750 was no small amount to pay for a player who was untested in top level football. But Reg immediately started to prove that he was worth the money. He played 17 matches for West Brom during the 1945/46 season of the Football League South. That was the last season of the wartime leagues, and West Brom were back in the Football League for the 1946/47 season.
That meant that Reg was a Football League player at last. He made his league debut for West Brom against Chesterfield on April 7th 1947, and he played five of West Brom’s last ten league matches of the ‘46/’47 season. Reg was working his way towards becoming a regular starter for West Brom. He played 28 league matches over the next two seasons, and he did his part in achieving success for West Brom.
On September 15th 1948, two weeks into the ‘48/’49 season, Reg scored his first Football League goal in a 3-0 win against Lincoln City. That victory kicked off a run of good form for West Brom, who won eight and drew one of their next nine games. They went top of the league in October 1948, and they were still top in January 1949. They ended up in second place, earning promotion to the First Division.
Although Reg had done fairly well that season, he hadn’t yet become a regular starter for West Brom in the Second Division, and when he wasn’t selected by West Brom for the first few matches of the 1949/50 season, things didn’t look good for him.
But Reg was not out of the team for long: he made his First Division debut in West Brom’s sixth match of the season against Arsenal on September 7th 1949. He played a good game that day, and went on to play 36 consecutive league and cup matches for West Brom. He didn’t miss a single game for them between September 1949 and April 1950. By then, Reg had become a favourite with the supporters at West Brom’s home ground, the Hawthorns, and he had established himself as a player in the First Division. But West Brom were having a tricky time of it in the top flight. They had made a good start to the season, spending only four weeks out of the top half of the league. Their trouble started with a 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester United on December 24th 1949. That loss put West Brom 12th in the table, and then they had a terrible run of results that dragged them further down the league.
By the end of March 1950 they were in 17th place, only three points above the relegation zone with four weeks of the season remaining. Although that was a perilous position to be in, they still had eight games left from which to earn the points needed to get out of trouble. But they hadn’t been earning many points from matches they played. They went into the last month of the season having taken only one win from their previous ten games.
When their dismal form continued with two more defeats at the start of April, the drop was looming for West Brom. They had a tough job to do, and it started with the hardest game possible. On April 8th, 1950, they were away to the best team in England, the reigning champions Portsmouth. The match kicked off in stormy weather that made it difficult for both sides to play, but Portsmouth had much the better of it and West Brom seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. Then, in the 76th minute, Reg Ryan stepped up and hit a shot from thirty yards that flashed past the Portsmouth keeper and into the net, making it 1-0 to West Brom. After scoring that important goal and giving West Brom the lead, Reg got to work helping them to defend it. And, despite the constant waves of Portsmouth attacks that fell on them, Reg and West Brom stood firm. They held on like grim death to that one goal advantage. They held their lead and didn’t let go until the final whistle sounded and they had their victory. the newspapers were clear about who they had to thank for it.
The Warwickshire Sports Argus reported: “In a game upset by high wind, the champion Portsmouth team had their chances to score against West Brom, who struggled until Reg Ryan scored with a grand shot that gave Albion the points.”
The victory turned out to be vital for West Brom. It lifted them from 17th to 15th place in the league and set them on a magnificent run of form. In their last six matches of the season they went unbeaten, winning four and drawing two, without conceding a single goal. They ended up finishing 14th in the league, comfortably mid-table and well clear of the relegation zone. That was a more than decent end result for West Brom. They had shown that they were up to the challenge of First Division football. In the end the 1949/50 season was a good one for West Brom – and it was a good one for Reg too. He proved that he had what it took to make it as a top-level player.
Reg was not a big man, but he was sturdy and tough and fiercely competitive. No one ever pushed him around on the pitch.
he made his name with West Brom playing in the left-half position, as one of the three midfielders in the 2-3-5 formation that teams used in those days. The job of the left-half was to link between defence and attack, and it was a job Reg was perfectly suited to. He had endless energy, sharp defensive awareness, a sure touch on the ball with left foot or right, and he was an exceptionally fast runner. When his side were under attack he used his pace and determination to dash back, harry the opposition and win back the ball; then once he was in possession his uncommon physical strength, quick feet and excellent control made him a hard man to catch, let alone to dispossess. And he was as valuable to his team when they were going forward. His swift, forceful running on and off the ball made him a menace to opposition defences, and his powerful, accurate shooting and phenomenal heading ability meant he was always a threat on goal.
However, the attribute that made Reg most dangerous in attacking areas was his excellence as a passer of the ball. Passing, long and short, forwards, backwards and sideways. And whether it was a simple square pass to retain possession, or a glorious defence-splitting, goal-making through ball, passing was his top skill, his speciality.

End of Part One

Don’t miss the next exciting installment of ‘Reg Ryan – the Schemer’ in the April/May edition of NewsFour.