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Ralph Coates obituary

For Ralph Coates, who has died after a stroke, aged 64, the salient moment of his career was the goal he scored to win Tottenham Hotspur the League Cup final against Norwich City at Wembley in 1973.

Ralph Coates obituary It was one of the few dramatic moments in an otherwise rather dull match.

Coates's goal was all the sweeter for him for the fact that his manager, Bill Nicholson, had not picked him to play in the final. The choice lay between Coates and John Pratt, a central midfield player, while Coates was a fast, strong, direct and energetic winger. Pratt was chosen but, after 20 minutes, Coates was sent on as a substitute. Later, he would recall, "I'd had an ankle injury and wasn't 100 per cent fit."

He was disappointed not to be chosen, "but it's funny how fate takes a hand … We got a throw and Martin Chivers took one of his long ones. Alan Gilzean flicked on and was running on the edge of the box. I thought, 'Blimey, keep it down.' I did and it went to Kevin Keelan's bottom-left corner. Afterwards, I realised how much it meant to people and, even now, when people see it, they clap and cheer."

Born in County Durham, at Hetton-le-Hole, Coates was spotted as a teenager by a Burnley scout, Jack Hixon, and brought to Turf Moor where, in 1961, he joined Burnley's youth team. A natural winger, functional and effective rather than spectacular, Coates could play on either flank. By 1964, he was in Burnley's First Division team and stayed there, making 216 League appearances for 26 goals, until they were relegated in 1971. By then, he had won his first two England caps, in April 1970 against Northern Ireland, and the following season as a substitute against Greece. With Spurs, he would be capped twice more, against Malta and Wales.

Coming to Tottenham was something of a culture shock. At Burnley, he would recall, the team tended to be very young, "I was a fatherly figure there." At White Hart Lane, by contrast, the stars glittered. With typical modesty, Coates had been shocked when told that Spurs had offered £190,000 for his transfer, responding, "Don't be stupid, no player is worth that." He would prove, arguably, to be worth a great deal more.

At Tottenham, he adjusted speedily enough, although, by his own admission, there was an early period when, deployed as an orthodox right winger in his first season, he felt that he was "below standard". When the season ended, he asked Nicholson if he couldplay "in midfield", in a role that took him up and down the line. Nicholson assented and Coates flourished. When he helped Spurs win the Uefa Cup final on aggregate against Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1972, and the League Cup final in 1973, "a dream had come true".

In 1978, he moved to Leyton Orient, having made 188 appearances for Spurs, scoring just 14 goals. Even in the season when he won Spurs the League cup, he scored just three League goals in 20 games. For Orient, Coates played 76 League games in his three years at Brisbane Road, scoring a dozen goals. He then joined the Orient coaching staff. In 2010 he was inducted into the Tottenham Hotspur Hall of Fame.

He is survived by a son and daughter.

• Ralph Coates, footballer, born 26 April 1946; died 17 December 2010

• This article was amended on 29 December 2010. The original referred to Ian, rather than Alan, Gilzean; gave the Burnley scout's name as Jack Higson; and said that Coates joined Burnley's youth team in 1963, made his England debut in 1969, and was inducted into the Tottenham Hotspur Hall of Fame in 2000. These points have been corrected.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Brian Glanville, for The Guardian on Tuesday 28th December 2010 18.25 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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