RON Greener, arguably the greatest player ever to pull on a Darlington shirt, has died aged 81.

Ron made 490 Darlington appearances, 439 of them in the Football League, more than anyone in Quakers’ history. 

They included momentous and still remembered Cup victories over Chelsea and West Ham United and a League Cup tie with Bolton Wanderers in which more than 21,000 somehow squeezed into Feethams.

Club director Dave Mills said: "On behalf of the Board of Directors, supporters, management and players, I offer my most sincere sympathy and condolences to the wife and family of Ron Greener, who so sadly passed away earlier today.

The Northern Echo:
Ron Greener on the receiving end of a tough tackle by Arsenal's Alan Skirton during an FA Cup tie at Feethams in January 1965

"Anyone who knew Ronnie knew he was DFC through and through and he was always a regular supporter at home games until the last few months and his presence will be greatly missed.

"I’m pleased that I recently managed to secure Ron a road named after him, Greener Drive, on the new housing development at Feethams, a fitting tribute to a true Darlo legend. I will be representing the football club at Ron’s funeral in due course."

“In the whole history of Darlington there have never been scenes like these,” wrote Darneton in The Northern Echo, after the 4-1 replay win over a Chelsea side that included the young Jimmy Greaves. 

More recently Ron had suffered a heart attack, undergone a quadruple bypass and had further surgery to address fearful arthritis, the footballer’s legacy. 

Extraordinarily, however, the club had decided against naming a new lounge at the Feethams ground after their all-time hero. 

“The problem is that 70 per cent of our present supporters possibly won’t have heard of him,” said Ken Lavery, general manager at the time. “No disrespect to Ron, but his name isn’t the same as Stanley Matthews.”

They called it the Centre Spot instead. His achievements were recognised later when the club named a conference room The Ron Greener Suite at the new Darlington Arena. 

He’d been a blacksmith at Easington Colliery, signed part-time for Newcastle United for £6 a week, would catch the bus to training after a hard day shift and next morning would be back down the pit. 

“It was that or National Service,” he once recalled. “It wasn’t that I was afraid of going to war, I’d have done that, but it was better than marching around a parade ground.”

He made the first of three first team appearances in October 1953, against Charlton Athletic, but soon afterwards went to war in a 13-year career for Darlington, signed by manager Bobby Gurney – a former Sunderland favourite, and with comrades like John Peverell and Brian Henderson, who follow him in the all-time appearance list.

“Bob came to our house quite a few times, my mam thought he was a really nice chap and he was. There no agents or anything in those days. He just had to impress me mam.”

Fans soon nicknamed the new centre half Mountain – “something to do with Mountain Greenery,” Ron supposed.

Though happy to talk about the great cup exploits, and about the promotion winning side of 1965-66, he as frequently and as affectionately recalled the rats which plagued the riverside Feethams ground.

The Northern Echo:
Ron Greener pictured in front of his mural at Darlington Arena

“We had to stamp our feet before going into the dressing rooms. It would usually frighten them off for a bit – they’d been chewing the soap – but it wasn’t the image that people had of professional footballers.”

Rats were the responsibility of legendary club trainer Dickie Deacon.

“He was the only one who could work the blinking thing,” Ron recalled. Greener Drive now stands on the site of the ground.

Given a free transfer in 1967, he spent two season at Stockton, worked with Brian Henderson in Quakers’ chairman John Neasham’s motors business and with his memories and his wife Margaret, a retired teacher, continued to live in the town where he forever he will remain a legend.