Blackburn Rovers legend Ronnie Clayton died yesterday aged 76.
The one-club man, who made 665 appearances for Rovers between 1951 and 1969, passed away in the Royal Blackburn Hospital.
He will be remembered as one of Rovers' greatest ever players and a true gentleman from a different era of football.
Ronnie, a powerhouse right-half, made his debut against Queens Park Rangers in April 1951 and still lies second in the all-time list of leading appearance makers for the club.
He helped the club win promotion to the First Division in 1958 and was captain as Rovers reached the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1960.
Ronnie even marked Pele in front of 187,000 fans in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and played in the 1958 World Cup.
He won 35 England caps and became the first Rovers player since Bob Crompton to captain his country and holds an iconic status around Ewood Park.
Ronnie, who lived in Wilpshire, leaves wife Valerie and two sons and a daughter.
The club said supporters would be given the chance to pay their respects to the former captain of club and country before this afternoon’s Premier League clash with Chelsea.
Rovers chairman John Williams said: “Everyone at Ewood Park is deeply saddened by the news.
"Ronnie was not only a wonderful servant and ambassador, he was also one of the most popular men ever to be associated with Rovers.
"No-one had a bad word for Ronnie and he will be so very sadly missed.
"Our deepest sympathies go out to Val and all of Ronnie's family at this saddest of times."
Clayton’s former team mate and best friend Bryan Douglas admits Ewood will never be the same again.
Douglas and Clayton have become synonymous with each other in tales about Rovers past, having made 1168 appearances between them in the 1950s and 1960s.
Born within a couple of months of each other, the pair became firm friends after adventures with Rovers and England that saw them experience a World Cup, relegation, promotion and FA Cup final defeat together.
Now, as Douglas faces up to life without the other half of his double act, the 76-year-old described the void that will be left in so many people’s lives.
Douglas, said: “Ronnie had been suffering a bit but this has come as a huge shock. I can’t believe it. I am devastated and will miss him so much.
“Ronnie was a terrific servant to Blackburn Rovers, both before and after his retirement. He never let the team or the club down and not enough good things can be said about him as a player or as a person.
“Ewood Park will be a sadder place without Ronnie, it will feel different without him. He was well liked by absolutely everybody.
“So many people wanted to shake hands with him at matches that I used to tell him he was like Prince Phillip. Ronnie will be remembered for a long, long time.
“He will never be forgotten by the supporters, the club, his friends and family and anyone else who knew him.”
The great ‘Ronnie and Dougie’ double act continued to walk the corridors of Ewood Park after their retirement as they entertained guests and sponsors on match days in the VIP lounge named after them.
Douglas, said: “Ronnie may have been born in Preston but he was Blackburn through and through. He probably could have left Rovers a number of times but he wasn’t interested.
"He loved the club.
“ When I got picked for England he was like a big brother to me. He looked after me, he introduced me to all the players and made me feel at home.
“I will always thank him for that. Since we finished playing our families got very friendly as well and we went on holiday together.
"We have become very close friends. People associate us together, we have always been a bit of a double act.
“We have been such close friends for so long. He was in the Rovers first team before he turned 17 and became a regular and that shows how good he was.
“I just can’t believe he has gone. I feel for his wife and family and know how they are feeling. He will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.”
Tony Parkes urged Blackburn Rovers to ‘win it for Ronnie’ ahead of this afternoon’s Ewood Park visit of Premier League champions Chelsea.
The former Rovers player, coach and manager believes Clayton is guaranteed a fitting tribute by an adoring Blackburn public this afternoon and believes a win would be what “Ronnie would want most”.
He said: “I used to sit next to Ronnie at games and there was no doubt he loved Blackburn Rovers and loved seeing them win. Beating Chelsea would be a fitting tribute for him.
“He was one of the club’s greatest ever players, if not the greatest, and he was well loved by the public and by the people at Ewood Park.
“When you think of Blackburn Rovers you think of Ronnie and Bryan Douglas. The three just go together. Ronnie will never ever be forgotten.
“He deserves all the praise and tributes he gets. My sympathies go out to his wife and family.”
Mick McGrath and Matt Woods, who formed a formidable defensive trio with Clayton in the 1950’s and 1960’s, have also paid tribute to their former team mate.
McGrath, who still lives in the area and socialised with Clayton, said: “He was Blackburn Rovers through and through. I still can’t believe it, it is just a massive shock.
“Ewood Park will be a sadder place without him. He should be an example to the present day footballers. On the pitch he was a great defender and off the pitch you could not meet a nicer guy.
“Make no mistake he was one of the best players around and he carried on serving the club after his retirement. He will be a huge miss for so many people.”
Woods said: “He was a real one-club man, a rare breed. What a player as well, he was up and down all the time, he never stopped running.
“He was a good lad and I said to Bryan Douglas when he told me the news, ‘there aren’t many of us left now’.”
Another former team-mate John Connelly, who played with him in the late 1960s, said: “He was a lovely genuine lad, and a one club man.
"I'm glad Blackburn Rovers did him proud - him and Bryan Douglas. I'm grateful I had the chance to play alongside him at international level and at club level as well.
"He was a great player. You don't get to be captain of England if you've not been at the top of your tree.”
Other former team-mates also paid their respects to a ‘true club legend’.
Dave Whelan said: "It's such a shock and such a sad loss for Blackburn and the sporting world.
"He was the nicest man you could ever meet and to play behind him was a great privilege. He was the fittest person I have ever played with or seen in the whole of my life.
"When we used to train every day, Ron and myself used to run from our training ground, which was two miles away from Ewood Park. We used to run and race each other back to the stadium and I could never beat him."
Mike Ferguson said: “I knew he hadn’t been well but it is a shock to hear the news. He was a gentleman, a true gentleman of the game.
“After they made people like him, Bryan Douglas and Billy Wright they threw away the mould. They don’t make people like that any more.
“When I made my debut at Ipswich, Bryan Douglas just told me to stay on the line and Ronnie would find me. He did every time, he would just deliver the ball straight to me, it was amazing.
“Ronnie and Bryan were the men who led the side back after the 1960 FA Cup final debacle. I think that really hurt Ronnie and he was determined to make up for it, and of course the supporters thought the world of him.”
Another Rovers favourite Kevin Gallacher believes anyone who has played for the club will know about Clayton’s legend.
He said: “I befriended Ronnie Clayton over the years and I am proud to have called him a friend. Blackburn has had a lot of greats but Ronnie and Bryan Douglas are the real legends.
“The two have always been a bit like Morecambe and Wise. Just a great double act.
“I know I played during the 90’s but Ronnie was still a massive part of the club. He always will be.”
Burnley chief executive Paul Fletcher, said: "I knew Ronnie, and whenever I saw him he always had a smile on his face.
"He was a Blackburn Rovers legend and a fantastic player.
"It's always sad to hear of these great players passing.
"Football rivalries are forgotten at times like this. The thoughts of everyone at Burnley Football Club are with Ronnie's family at this sad time."
According to Blackburn Rovers The Complete Record by Mark Jackson, Ronnie the player was 'akin to the modern midfield dynamo.
He wrote: "Strong in the tackle and powerful in the air, Clayton was a dominating figure in defensive situations.
"However, it was his ability to drive forward and switch defence into attack that caught the eye.
"His natural athleticism allowed him to surge foward and run at the opposition, while his football brain enabled him to instigate attacking moves with defence-splitting passes."
Mellor resident Bill Thompson, a lifelong friend, said: "There was only one Ronnie, and he had some great stories about playing for England.
"He was a great lad. They don't make them like that any more."
During his Rovers career Ronnie had operated a newsagent’s shop and, after a short spell as player manager of Morecambe, he worked as an area manager for tyre company ATS.
Ronnie also led stadium tours of Ewood Park.
He was also known for his support of grass roots football after his retirement from the sport.
Steve Frost, chairman of Wilpshire Wanderers Junior Football Club where Ronnie was honorary president, said he was a genuine legend and a true gent.
He said: "The stand-out memory I have of Ronnie is when he turned up for a presentation event with all of his England caps in a carrier bag.
“After he handed out the awards, he dished out the caps for all the kids to wear. It is something they will always remember.”
Ronnie also introduced a clubman of the year award at Wanderers.
Mr Frost said: "He said it was for players who played and conducted themselves in the right manner, just as he had done during his playing days.
“This is a sad time for everyone involved in the club. He was a genuine legend and a true gent.”
Billy Markham, secretary of the Blackburn Combination, said the league would hold a minute’s silence before today’s fixtures as a mark of respect.
He said: "It is very sad news as everyone had a good word to say about Ronnie.
“He came to a number of our presentation evenings and he never forgot his roots.
“He was a father of the town.”
Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: "He was a fantastic footballer, and a great man.
"This is a big loss for Rovers and the town of Blackburn."
Former Bullseye host and Rovers fan Jim Bowen: "I remember watching him from the terraces. He was one of my favourites - number four, England captain.
"He was an absolute gentleman on and off the pitch. We did some dinners together and he was a lovely man."
Fashion designer and Rovers fan Wayne Hemingway: "He was a very natural guy, and a natural player, and obviously a Rovers legend."
Former Blackburn council leader and Rovers season ticket-holder Mike Lee: "He was coming to the end of his career when I started watching.
"Back then it showed what a team could achieve when it was all about loyalty to the club. That's something lacking from the game today."
Neighbour Fred Wearden, 89, lived next to Ronnie for almost 50 years.
He said: "He was still playing when we first lived next door to each other. You would get a few fans coming round looking for him.
"He was a really nice man."
Betty Hopkinson, who also lives on the same street, also used to go on holiday with her husband Frank, Ronnie and his wife.
She said: "We had some lovely times. He was nice to be with, and very modest."
If you would like to pay tribute to Ronnie, please add your comment below.