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ENGLAND'S MOST GIFTED STRIKER; Cup final team-mate recalls pint-sized menace with two wonderful feet...

Byline: VINCE ELLIS

RONNIE Allen would have been the most expensive striker in English football history had he been in his prime today.

That's the opinion of '54 Cup final team-mate Frank Griffin, who still regards Allen as the most gifted forward this country has ever produced.

Comparing strikers across the generations is always hard.

But after more than five decades playing against and watching the very best in action, the former outside-right is unshakeable in his opinion.

'Whatever the highest figure paid for a striker in this country, Ronnie would have been worth more,' the Cup final goals-corer explained.

Natural

'Alan Shearer is the most expensive at the moment, but if Ronnie had been playing today there would have been no doubt who was worth more.

'He was fantastic, truly fantastic. Ronnie was simply the best forward I have ever seen. He was blessed with natural goal-scoring talent and two wonderful feet. It didn't matter which foot Ronnie had the ball on, he was lethal.

'If you were a defender or a goalkeeper, Ronnie was the last striker you wanted to face.'

And what Allen lacked in inches he made up for with an acute footballing brain.

The slightly-built forward - he was just 4ft 10ins and 8st in weight when he made his soccer debut in 1944 - could never muscle his way past 6ft-plus defenders, so he out-smarted them instead.

Yet it took a goal drought at Albion, after his pounds 18,000 move from Port Vale, for then boss Jack Smith to switch him from right-wing to centre-forward.

The rest, as they say, is history and, with Allen as the spearhead in Vic Buckingham's inspired team, Albion became a feared force.

'When Albion attacked, Ronnie would move forward then hang back behind the defenders and wait for his opening,' Griffin explained.

'As soon as a cross went in, he was there, ready to pounce and fire the ball into the net.

'We had to keep the crosses low - a foot off the ground for Ronnie - because he was hardly Tommy Lawton.

'But with those feet he didn't have to be. Left or right he would hammer the ball home and I have never seen a more precise volleyer of the ball.

'That was his speciality and he would hit every volley with such force.

'Ronnie nodded a few in with his head, but his finishing was all about those deadly feet.'

Despite being such a natural finisher, Allen was never selfish. If the opportunity was there to set up team-mate John Nicholls for a strike, he took it.

'Ronnie laid them on a plate for John,' said Griffin.

'So many of his goals were created by Ronnie. They were a wonderful partnership, but Ronnie was the creator.

'They should have played together for England. I think it was always a source of great disappointment to Ronnie that they never did.'

Griffin's own international opportunities were limited by the presence of two legends in his position - Sir Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney.

But there was no concrete reason behind Allen's England oversight.

He was capped just five times and cast into the international wilderness at 25, years away from his peak and, ironically, on the same day as another under-appreciated talent, Len Shackleton was given the England boot.

'There was too much emphasis put on height for England strikers. They all had to be like Lawton and be over 6ft,' Griffin recalled.

'He should have played for England more, there was no doubting Allen's sheer skill. That should have been enough.'

And nowhere did he showcase that incredible ability better than from the penalty spot.

Coolness

His cool finishing from nine yards enabled Albion to claim the FA Cup in an incredible season which almost saw them snatch the league title as well.

Allen scored twice in that 3-2 Cup final victory over Preston. But it was his coolness from the spot that will be longest remembered by Albion supporters.

'Ronnie would take penalties with his left foot and his right,' Griffin added. 'He would keep a mental note of which keeper he'd sent which way and next time he faced them he would use the other foot and hit the ball into the opposite corner.

'I have never seen anyone before or since who had the confidence and ability to do that from the penalty spot.

'No British players, continentals or South Americans have ever had that sort of flair, but Ronnie did and that was a measure of the man.

'And he hit the ball so hard from the penalty spot.

'He burst a ball once. He banged it into the net so hard they had to call for another one.

'It was all timing. There was nothing of the guy, but boy could he hit it.

'A wonderful striker - and two wonderful feet.'

NATURAL FINISHER... powerful volleys were Allen's speciality
COPYRIGHT 2001 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Football
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 17, 2001
Words:814
Previous Article:RONNIE ALLEN STORY.
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