Ron Baynham, England’s oldest surviving international footballer – obituary

Ron Baynham at Luton Town's Kenilworth Road ground in 1959
Ron Baynham at Luton Town's Kenilworth Road ground in 1959 - Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ron Baynham, who has died aged 94, was England’s oldest surviving international footballer; brave and an expert handler of crosses, he also turned out for Luton in the 1959 FA Cup final.

Ronald Leslie Baynham was born in Birmingham on June 10 1929 to Charles and Lily, née Burton. Cricket was his first love, and he did not play much football until National Service, in which he served in Germany with the 10th Royal Tank Regiment. He volunteered, he said, because sportsmen were given a bit of leeway as regards normal duties, as well as being paid when the regimental team played local sides – and though he had hardly played at all, he admitted years later, “I made up a few stories.”

A Wolverhampton Wanderers scout clocked his progress and he was offered a trial, but turned it down as he did not feel competent enough. Instead he played for Bamford Amateurs – football on Saturdays, cricket on Sundays – and he went on to join Worcester City of the Southern League.

After a year he felt confident enough in his abilities to accept a move to Second Division Luton in November 1951 for a transfer fee of £1,000 (which helped to keep Worcester afloat). Though he was taken on as an understudy to Bernard Streten, within a year the pair were locked in battle for first-choice duties, though it took more than five years for Baynham to make the position his own.

In 1955 Luton were promoted to the top tier, and in the autumn he played three times for his country, in a 5-1 drubbing of Denmark in Copenhagen, a 3-0 victory against Northern Ireland and a 4-1 win against Spain at Wembley.

He seemed set fair for a long international career, but the England selectors had always been a capricious bunch: he was replaced by Reg Matthews of Third Division Coventry City for the next match and never represented his country again. Ron Springett, who also won his first cap in 1959, kept the seat warm until Gordon Banks arrived on the international stage in 1963.

Baynham makes a save against Fulham at Craven Cottage in 1959
Baynham in action against Fulham at Craven Cottage in 1959 - PA/Alamy

The highlight of Baynham’s career should have been the 1959 FA Cup final against Nottingham Forest – but it was instead, he said, his “biggest disappointment. Sadly, the team that day did not play like the team I knew.”

Forest scored twice in four minutes early in the game, and although the Hatters gradually exerted a grip on the game – Dave Pacey pulled one back in the 66th minute – they were unable to make it count, Allan Brown and Billy Bingham, both future managers, missing good chances in injury time.

The final was the high point of that Luton side, who were mostly in the autumn of their careers; decline set in and over the next few years they drifted downwards.

In September 1960 Baynham fractured his skull during a home game against Sheffield United. He was back in action five months later, but by then Luton had signed Jim Standen from Arsenal and for the next two years the two had to share goalkeeping duties.

In 1962 Standen moved to West Ham, leaving Baynham as first choice. He played on until retiring in 1964 – but the following year, as the first team were relegated, he was persuaded to turn out in a reserve game while suffering from a potentially crippling hip injury. He had played 434 games for Luton across all competitions.

In retirement he worked as painter and decorator, and at Luton Airport, before retiring to Silsoe, 10 miles north of Luton, where he played for the village cricket team. In 2020 he was voted Luton’s best-ever goalkeeper in a fans poll. The following year his England caps were sold at auction to the Hatters Heritage charity to be displayed at a planned club museum.

Ron Baynham married Thelma Goodby; they had a daughter and son but divorced, and he is survived by his children and his partner Dee.

Ron Baynham, born June 10 1929, died March 18 2024