THE DEATH of Redditch-bred footballer Ronald ‘Percy’ Freeman means the area has lost “a great character loved by all who met him” says his best friend David Eversham.
Percy, who died aged 70 early into the new year after suffering heart problems, was a well-known footballer in Redditch and the surrounding area and went on to enjoy a career with Football League clubs including West Bromwich Albion, where he made his first team breakthrough following an injury to legendary striker Jeff Astle.
Born in 1945, Percy was an infectious character who David became best friends with when Percy came to his aid at a Headless Cross fairground.
Aged 17, David became involved in “a spot of bother” and stranger Percy – two years younger – came to David’s aid.
“He got me out of a hole and we became best friends instantly. We have always been inseparable since and were known as the twins,” said David.
“We both had a massive passion for football and Percy played for many local teams both on Saturdays and Sundays, but his big break came in 1968 when we were together at Stourbridge and West Brom – who were in the top flight – came in for him as an understudy to Jeff Astle.
“Jeff got injured and Percy got his chance in the first team. It was a proud moment for Percy and everyone who knew him and after his time at West Brom he also played league football for Lincoln City and Reading.
“What other people and I loved about Percy was his kind-hearted nature. He would do anything for anyone and just loved his football and also cricket, which he played for Cookhill as a fast bowler.
“Back in the day we used to work as bouncers at a place in Kidderminster on Saturday nights and we’d finish in the early hours, drive to a lay-by in Ombersley, have a bit of a sleep in the car, then play football on Sunday mornings without having gone home.
“Percy got the chance to play with some star names of English football but he always remained grounded and kept his friends involved with everything. The two of us had some great times and, even when he moved to live in Lincoln, we would see each other every week as one of us made the journey.”
The long list of football clubs Percy played for included Headless Cross Youth, Alcester Boys Club and Clent Rovers as a teenager, followed by Alcester Town, Alvechurch, Astwood Bank, Stourbridge, West Brom, Lincoln, where he had two spells, and Reading, whilst he also enjoyed time as a Sunday league player for AFC, Black Horse and the Redditch Wednesday shopkeepers team.
Percy, who leaves a wife, three children and numerous grandchildren, was described on Lincoln City’s official website as a ‘legend’.
Having made three appearances at West Brom, the Imps snapped him up and the Newark-born forward became a hero of Lincoln’s record-breaking 1975/76 Division Four championship-winning side. He scored 23 goals in 35 games that season before moving to Reading for a fee of £11,500.
Percy was one of the most popular Lincoln players of all time and in 2007 was named runner-up to Andy Graver by supporters in a special ‘League Legends’ poll to mark the club’s 100th Football League season.
His passing has been met with sadness by many big football names, including former England manager Graham Taylor – Percy’s manager at Sincil Bank – who said: “It’s very sad. He was a very influential part in the success of Lincoln at that particular time. He was very dangerous in the penalty box, a hard man to stop.”
West Brom took to Twitter to express the club’s condolences, as did former Aston Villa, Coventry City and Wolves winger Steve Froggatt.