A forward who terrorised the lower leagues, Saunders enjoyed his best spell in front of goal as a Portsmouth player, with a phenomenal strike rate during his six years on the south coast. Top scorer in each season during his stay at Fratton Park, his goals won the club the Third Division title.
Before his move to Fratton Park, Saunders played a handful of games for Everton, then switched to Gillingham where he scored his first senior goals. He later had successful spells with Watford and Charlton.
Ron Saunders will be forever remembered as the man who walked away from Villa, then current League champions, while the side were competing for the European Cup. Villa went on to European glory minus the combative manager, who had fallen out with the club's major shareholder Ronald Bendall over his contract and did not return to Villa Park – apart from ‘on business’ with other clubs – until 2006.
Saunders also twice won the League Cup at Villa Park, the best stop in a managerial career that also took in success at Norwich and Birmingham, but failure at Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion.
Saunders had lost League Cup finals with Norwich in ’73 and Manchester City in ’74 but made it third time lucky at Wembley as Villa faced the Canaries in an all Second Division clash. Despite Kevin Keelan's best efforts, the Norwich keeper watched as his penalty save fell into Villa winger Ray Graydon's path, and he took full advantage, scoring the game's only goal from the rebound.
After 180 minutes of tedium – the first game, a 0-0 draw, was so uninspiring ITV refused to screen the highlights – Old Trafford brought the best out of Saunders’ team. Both sides abandoned their cautious approach and Everton raced into a 2-0 lead courtesy of Bob Latchford and Mick Lyons. However, Saunders worked his magic from the touchline, and his side scored three, with two for Brian Little sandwiched between Chris Nicholl's goal that sealed a memorable comeback.
Worn down by boardroom battles, this heavy defeat at Old Trafford, which saw Villa remain mired in the bottom half, was the last straw for Saunders, who quit three days later. Despite taking the lead through David Geddis, the champions saw United draw level through Kevin Moran, before Bryan Robson, Steve Coppell and Moran's second piled on the pressure.
|Portsmouth||Third Division Championship||1961-62|
|Norwich (as manager)||Second Division Championship||1971-72|
|Aston Villa (as manager)||League Cup||1975, 1977|
|Birmingham (as manager)||Second Division Championship||1984-85|
Saunders had a talent for memorable quotes, including “my team won’t freeze in the white-hot atmosphere of Anfield”, “if you're going to commit suicide, you don't do it yourself” and the brilliant “allegations are all very well but I would like to know who these alligators are.”
Ron had a cameo role in the Birmingham-set ATV soap opera Crossroads in 1981.
Saunders once clashed with Villa goalkeeper John Burridge in training – and was taken to hospital with a broken nose
|Full name||Ronald Saunders|
|Date of birth||6 November 1932|
|Place of birth||Birkenhead, England|
|1986–1987||West Bromwich Albion|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.|
† Appearances (Goals).