In the final part of his trilogy, Ed chats to John about the latter stages of his City career and how, in a final twist in his time as a top-level pro, a surprise phone call took him to one of the English game’s ‘big boys’…
John’s burgeoning development as a player meant that John Bond could see him fulfilling a much more offensive role in the Norwich team; a move up the pitch to the right-wing position where his power, pace and thunderous shot would eventually see him score 16 goals during the 1977/78 season.
But not only that. Ryan also won the club’s Player of the Year award – beating, in the process, much more well-known names such as Graham Paddon, Martin Peters, Kevin Reeves and Colin Suggett; no mean feat if, as you recall, he was little more than that ‘solid and unremarkable right back’ who had originally signed for the Canaries.
His elevation to the right-wing meant Norwich now had a vacancy in the right-back position.
“Kevin (B0nd) came into the side more regularly once John Bond had decided I might be able to do a job for him in midfield. He wasn’t, in my opinion, quite ready, even then, but after my decent start which included a few goals, I wasn’t reverting back there which put the onus on Kevin to make the position his own. And he did, quickly maturing as a player and never looking back.
“I’m sure there are those who, even today, doubt his abilities but they need to look back at what he achieved in his playing career first. He won the Player of the Year award at every club he played for and eventually got called up for an England ‘B’ game against Australia* at St Andrews which I went to watch.”
*Kevin came off the bench to replace Brendan Batson in that game which England won 1-0.
“To have the career he has had, both as a player and a coach is a testament to his character and shows just how much more he is than the youngster who was only supposed to be in the team because he was ‘Daddy’s boy’.
“I’d hoped to be seeing him this spring so we could get a game or two of golf in, but his recent appointment at Southend put paid to that!
“Sadly, I don’t see too many of my old teammates other than Kevin and Viv Busby. I had nine clubs as a player spread out over 21 years and that is an awful lot of people to try and stay in touch with! I’d love to meet up with so many of them and see what they’ve been up to, and how they’re getting on.
“The more famous of them are, of course, a little bit easier to track down, what with social media but teammates from my earlier years in the game would probably greet me by expressing their surprise at my late progress in the game!
“Viv (Busby) lives a few hundred metres down the road from me in our village here in Andalusia. He’s well, apart from a bad knee but keeps himself, and others, active by organising some training and a walking football session twice a week. Like so many who played the game in our time, he’s had some bad brushes with the medical profession but, in general, is enjoying his retirement in Spain.
“Viv and I made a lot of mayhem between us in our early years. We were young, probably stupid and unaware of just how fortunate we were to have a privileged career that provided us with relative wealth, great health and, of course, a smattering of fame.
“He was a mobile and very hard working striker, up there, for me, alongside someone like Phil Boyer and certainly as good a goal scorer. I always thought Viv was one of the very few mistakes John Bond made in his time at Norwich. They fell out over a recurring injury that Viv had and John let him go, despite Viv scoring a good number of goals for us.
“He’s recently admitted to me that the row they had was much bigger than the problem that caused it in the first place while John once told me he thought he’d been a little bit hasty in moving Viv on”.
John went on to make 132 League and Cup appearances for Norwich for whom he remains a popular and fondly remembered ex-player, proof positive of that coming via the near deluge of messages I received from Canary fans when they found out about this interview. All good things must come to an end, however, and they did for John at Carrow Road in March 1979.
“By the summer of 1978, I was more, as a footballer, than just the ‘honest pro’, which had always been the description I’d given myself before I started working under John Bond. Under him, I’d just had my most successful season with John publicly announcing that I, along with Martin Peters, was the first name on his team sheet.
“Thinking back, that was great praise, especially being mentioned in the same breath as Martin but also, don’t forget, in front of some other very talented players. David Jones, Colin Sullivan, Graham Paddon, Colin Suggett, Mick McGuire, Jimmy Neighbour and Kevin Reeves, all of whom were classy and experienced professionals.
“Then there were those members of the squad who were just coming to the end of their careers, people like Duncan Forbes, or those who were starting out, Justin Fashanu and Peter Mendham. They all played an important role in the growth and successes we enjoyed at the club, a time when we were, without doubt, one of the most attractive footballing sides in the league.
“I started the 1978/79 season quite well and scored a few goals (nine goals in 14 League and Cup matches from the start of that campaign) before becoming tangled up in what became a very strange contractual discussion.
“John Bond came up to me one day after training and said I deserved a new deal as a reward for my efforts. He added to leave it with him and that he would speak to the board about it. I waited for three weeks to hear back from him before asking how the chat with them had gone?
“I was shocked at his reply. ‘No, they think you’ve gone, you haven’t scored for a couple of games’. And that was that!”
The reality was that John had, after his great start to the season, struggled to maintain his consistency. Yet this wasn’t just about him. The Canaries struggled for form and goals throughout that season, one that saw them fail to win a league game away from home (the only club out of all 92 in the English Football League not to do so) and to end up with just seven wins from their 42 league games.
A televised 3-0 defeat at Leicester City in the FA Cup 3rd round – the game that saw Keith Weller and his white tights become a brief national talking point – was the catalyst for Bond’s ire as he promptly, post-match, placed John, along with Graham Paddon and Martin Chivers on the transfer list.
“After thinking about what he’d said, I came to the conclusion that, if I didn’t make the most out of the success I was having now, then I certainly wouldn’t be able to when my talents started to fade with age. So, with a heavy heart, I suggested that perhaps it would be best that I left and that a move to the NASL would be preferable as it would provide me with the money and security needed for my family’s future.
“I signed for Seattle Sounders but even then, it wasn’t quite ‘goodbye’ to Norwich, Norfolk and John Bond, as the club inserted a clause in the deal that meant I came back to Carrow Road on loan after the North American season ended.”
John duly returned to Norwich for part of the 1979/80 season as a loan player, making 18 league and cup appearances, with his last ever game for Norwich being against, ironically, the same one as he had made his debut against, Liverpool, this time at Carrow Road and a televised 3-5 spectacular that is best remembered for Justin Fashanu’s Goal of the Season.
A game that was also, incidentally, the last that goalkeeper Kevin Keelan played for the Canaries.
John eventually found his way back into English football as one of former teammate Martin Peters’ first signings for Sheffield United where he had been appointed manager.
“My fitness came in handy at that time as I played, at 32, non-stop from March 1979 through to May 1981 when Sheffield United, Martin and I all got relegated to Division Four”.
John made 56 appearances in just under two years for Sheffield United. Unfortunately for the Blades however, Martin Peters, after a promising initial spell in charge of the club, found himself unable to arrest a decline in form that saw the club relegated to the Fourth Division for the first time in their history at the end of the 1980/81 season, which led to Ian Porterfield taking charge at Bramall Lane.
It was an unhappy time for all supporters of the club, many of which will be, without no question, able to look back on those dark times as they celebrate the club’s latest promotion to the Premier League. For John, however, who was now 34, it seemed that his playing career, at least, would now be coming to a permanent close.
That might well have been the case had John Bond and John Benson not been amongst the spectators at an FA Cup 1st round replay between Sheffield United and Altrincham on November 23, 1981, one that saw the Blades crash to a 3-0 defeat.
“We’d been soundly beaten and, after the match, I remember having a quick chat with Bondy who was kind enough to say to me, ‘You were different class out there tonight Ryno, best on the pitch’, which was nice of him.
“A few weeks later I was watching Match of the Day on a Saturday evening and Manchester City were featured. Ray Ranson, who was their right-back at the time came across to cover and, in the process, made a sliding tackle cum clearance. He took the ball as clean as a whistle with his opponent ending up flat on his backside but then, to my astonishment, Ranson was booked, a terrible decision.
“What I couldn’t know, of course, was that the booking meant that Ray would now be suspended for two games, something that left City with a bit of a problem as they didn’t have another natural right-back available. Which was astonishing really, as they were in and around the top three at the time and had a very good squad indeed, as you’d expect that included good players like Kevin Bond, Geoff Lomax and Aage Hareide, all of whom could play there.
“But they were all unavailable which meant that the three Johns – Bond, Benson and Sainty – all knew they needed a new right back. And fast.
“That led to me getting a phone call on the following Thursday afternoon from Bondy who got straight down to business asking, ‘How would you fancy coming over to Maine Road and playing for me?
“Bottom of Division Four to the top of Division One, it wasn’t a hard decision to make”.
There was a catch, however.
“He added that I’d only get two games and that when Ray Ranson was available again, I’d be out. But he did soften the blow by adding that he’d get me a coaching job at the end of that season. That made it far too good an offer so I said ‘yes please’ and promptly set out on the drive to Lytham St Annes, together with Kevin Bond.
“I had to rush as Bernard Halford, who was the club secretary, had told me that all the forms needed to be signed by 5 pm that day, else the move would be off. Luckily, at 4:52 pm, I ran into the Football League offices and signed on the dotted line in time.
“I made my debut against Stoke City in a 1-1 draw. It wasn’t that good a game or performance but, afterwards, John Bond was talking to all the national papers and made a point of saying that his side’s best player had been a 34-year-old full back who he’d signed on a free from a club in Division Four.
“I’d been told I might only play two games for City but I ended up staying in the side and ended up making 19 appearances that season”.
John stayed at Maine Road in a coaching capacity until July 1983 when he became one of the casualties of the new managerial regime at the club, with Bond’s replacement as manager, Billy McNeill opting to bring in his own staff.
But what a glorious autumn to his playing career John Ryan, that ‘solid, if not remarkable’ right back had enjoyed.
John now lives in Spain where he keeps a careful eye on the progress of all his former clubs. He is, as you might expect, delighted with how the 2018/19 season has turned out for Luton Town, Norwich City, Sheffield United and Manchester City, but isn’t so happy with how things have turned out for Arsenal and Fulham, for whom he reserves a heartfelt ‘Oh dear….’
Two words that were no doubt uttered by many an opposition goalkeeper when they saw John Ryan lining up a shot from around 20-25 yards out.
He was a 1970s version of Gareth Bale, the full-back turned rampaging wide midfielder with pace to spare and a fierce shot.
How much would he be worth today? A lot more than £50,000 you suspect.