Ken Ronaldson – ‘Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Man’
In November 1969, Basil Hayward was worsted in another swap deal. This time he swapped Carl Gilbert, a young forward who had lost his way a bit, with Ken Ronaldson from Bristol Rovers. Ronaldson was a fairly regular goal-scorer, so on paper it looked a good move, but the Gasheads knew something that we didn’t – Ronaldson was injury-prone. While Carl Gilbert went on to do well for them, in two years we only got six games out of Ken Ronaldson.
So did he become a cult hero because he was a disastrous signing? No. Did he become a cult hero because he was one of the most injured players we’ve ever had? No. Ken Ronaldson became a cult hero because on a certain day at a certain point in our history he was fit, and he played the game of his life. The day was Saturday, 24th January 1970, and it was the first time that Gills had ever played in the Fourth Round of the Cup.
13,746 packed into Priestfield to see Third Division strugglers Gillingham take on Peterborough and at first it looked as though it was going to be the usual cup disappointment. Gills were all over the place and the visitors deservedly took the lead after twenty minutes. Then suddenly Gills ignited, with Ronaldson leading the charge. Playing a deep lying role, he was beating men, spraying passes right and left, drifting out to either wing and putting in telling crosses. It was incredible. Gills came roaring back with two goals before halftime, both powerful headers by Mike Green from Ronaldson crosses.
The second half was a masterclass, as tall fair-headed Ken ripped Peterborough to pieces. He set up Brian Yeo for two trade-mark close range efforts and finished off a 5-1 thrashing by cracking a fifteen yard shot into the corner after cutting in from the left. In scenes of Cup euphoria which would not be seen at Priestfield for another 30 years, the crowd swarmed on at the end and carried Ken shoulder high from the pitch. There are two pictures in ‘Home Of The Shouting Men’ which brilliantly capture the power and excitement of that unforgettable afternoon.
Oh how we dreamed that weekend! Gills in the Fifth Round of the Cup! Manchester United with George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law at Priestfield, or Shankly’s Liverpool, or Revie’s Leeds, or Chelsea with Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson. We got Watford away. Ken was injured again and we lost 2-1 on a mud-heap at Vicarage Road. Brian Yeo’s goal in injury-time made it look respectable.
Ken Ronaldson left the club in 1971 and joined the police. His football career was over, but once, in a cup-tie at Gillingham, he had looked the finest player in England.