Simon Flower’s football career in North Wales alone makes impressive reading, but the fact he spent a season playing alongside a World Cup winner at one of London’s top clubs only makes his life story considerably better.
The tall defender starred for the likes Llanfairpwll, Cemaes Bay, Porthmadog and Holyhead Hotspur in the upper tiers of Welsh domestic football, but earlier back in 1988-89 was taken on as a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) by Division One outfit Queens Park Rangers.
Although he never made the first team, Simon did play regularly in the reserves, where team-mates included Northern Ireland international Alan McDonald and the great Ossie Ardiles, a member of Argentina’s 1978 World Cup winning side.
Born on June 27, 1971, at the Gors hospital in Holyhead, Simon was brought up in Trearddur Bay and attended Rhoscolyn primary school before moving up to Holyhead secondary (better known as the county school).
“One of the teachers at Rhoscolyn, Mr Parry, was my first school football team manager and a great influence,” he recalled.
“At Holyhead county secondary, Bob Wrench and Phil Holland were great PE teachers. Many kids who went to that school have a lot to thank them for from a sporting perspective.
“The school team from U13 until the last year was a tough bunch, some great players in the years above and below also.”
Out of school, Simon played junior football for Gaerwen under John Lee and Malcolm Clanahan at Trearddur Bay.
“I left home at 16 and moved into a flat in Holyhead with my girlfriend from school. We married at 18 in 1990, a year after I came back from London,” he said.
That year in London was quite something, as Simon confirmed.
An opening at Queens Park Rangers
“I had been playing for Holyhead United Juniors in the Anglesey League with (former Crystal Palace prospect) John Edwardson as manager.
“John was a good coach and set an example of how to behave on the pitch whilst maintaining a tough presence.
“I was writing to clubs asking for trials at this time in 1988 whilst working in Llangefni sports centre.
“In the last year of secondary school in ’87 I should have gone for a trial with QPR, but was booked on a school trip in the same week. My mum said no chance as it was paid for already so I missed a chance.
“I wrote again to QPR in ’88, explaining I missed out the previous year. (Holyhead lad) Tony Roberts was there as a young pro and was able to arrange for myself and Justin Allsopp to have a one-week trial.
“I didn’t know much about the team, only that Tony had progressed well in his few years there. I was not a regular starter under John at United Juniors, he would have me as a sub if I wasn’t putting the effort in training or in the last game.
“We had a trial match against Fulham in the junior team to start with. I only lasted 60 minutes due to cramp but played okay. I had asked Tony what positions were they short of in the Under-18’s, he said centre back.
“I had played a few games for school only in that position, and for Trearddur Bay U-16’s, but I played left midfield/wing at the time.
“They asked ‘where do you play son’, I said ‘centre half, either side’. The next day I was called to see the youth manager and told they would give me 12 months on the YTS scheme (this was common at this time).
“The funny thing was they said ‘if other clubs ask you to sign, tell them you are signed to us already’. There were no other clubs.
“We trained the next day with the reserves and had a practice match against the first team. I was partnered with Danny Maddix. He said ‘you can mark Trevor, don’t give him room’.
“I didn’t know who he was talking about until Trevor Francis walked on the pitch. Justin Allsopp played at right back, he had played okay the day before but in this game he kept Israeli international David Pizanti in his pocket (Justin was 16 but a strong lad as the former British weight lifting champion).
“Justin was asked to sign the next day also.”
Pre-season at QPR
Simon reminisced: “We returned for pre-season in June, sharing dressing rooms with some first team players – Alan McDonald the Irish captain, Paul Parker, who moved on to Man United, David Seaman, Ossie Ardiles, Mark Falco to name a few.
“Jim Smith was the first team manager, a great character and man manager. He signed Nigel Spackman and Peter Reid also that season to add some experience.
“Training with these players made you realise how good you needed to be to make a living playing football. Pre-season was tough but rewarding, we played our first youth team league game and I was selected to play which I was pleased with.
“A few days later in training we were warming up and I was told to go to the other pitch and not train with the youth team lads. I wasn’t sure what the reason was and felt disappointed.
“I realised that the other pitch had a practice match, first team vs reserves, I played and again did okay. I was then selected to play for the reserves in their game against Spurs at White Hart Lane.
“I was in shock really and maybe upset some of the other youth lads who had been at the club for years. The reserves were made up of young pros 18-20 years old and fringe first team players and some of the first team after returning from injury also played to get match fitness.
“I had the pleasure of partnering Alan McDonald, Ossie Ardiles on occasion, two excellent players.
“My claim to fame is playing alongside Ardiles. Although at the end of his career he was a joy to watch, calm, skillful, great balance and read the game beautifully.
“One game in particular in which he played we lost 2-1 to a strong Arsenal team with Smith, Groves, Campbell, Quinn all playing and making their mark.
“We played in the Ovenden Paper Reserve League with Keith Peacock as the reserve coach. We didn’t do too well as we were mainly a young team, but it was a great experience to play at places like Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Southampton, Norwich, West Ham and Wimbledon stadiums.
“I didn’t make the first team at QPR, that would have been a dream but a step too far. An extra yard of pace could have made the difference maybe.”
More mixing with the future stars
“We attended Kings Cross College one day per week with the other junior team players in London such as Andy Cole, who was at Arsenal. Our tutor was Kate Hoey, now a member of the House of Lords.
“The other reserve teams were packed with future stars. Alan Shearer, fresh from scoring a hat-trick on his debut for Southampton, left without a goal but scored on the end of my nose with a robust challenge for the ball.
“Alan Smith for Arsenal also left empty-handed although they won the match. Sol Campbell, Matt le Tissier, Andy Townsend, Rodney, Ray and Danny Wallace at Southampton, Ruel Fox, Kevin Campbell, Ian Wright at Palace, Kerry Dixon and Billy Dodds combination at Chelsea, the list goes on.
“Then there was me, three months from playing with my team-mates or against them from Holyhead. Carl Hughes, Carl Parry, Andy O’Malley, Gary Wood, David Owen….all with as good or better attributes as myself but here I was.
“I played most reserve games that season, but halfway through the season the management changed with (Trevor) Francis taking over the helm.
“I didn’t feel he liked me as a player, and told me as much when he released me saying something like you might have a chance in the lower leagues.
“The youth team coach Frank Sibley (he played for QPR when he was 15-16 years old but had his career cut short in his 20’s with a knee injury) arranged for a trial at Swansea, saying ‘You can go home for the weekend then pop down for the trial’. Wales was a mystery to many of the Londoners.
“The reserve manager Frank Burrows was good but a bit tough. He pointed out one lad before a training match and said if you have half of what that lad has you will be okay. I later realised he was talking about Chris Coleman. Only in later years his words made sense. I spent a week there, enjoyed the experience but returned to London to play in the last league game for the U18s.
“That was my end to almost being a professional player in London, I learnt a lot from coaches, managers and players. So many characters and different backgrounds for players.
“The heights some players reached, Shearer, Cole, Parlour, Campbell showed me that you need talent but also real determination to succeed – the best young players do not always make the grade.
“Andy Cole believed he should have been in the Arsenal reserves and first team at 17, no doubt in his mind. He certainly worked hard to make his dream come true. Many players who were standout at the time, I never heard their names again.
“I was very lucky to get that small chance.”
Back to North Wales
Fresh from a very useful season at QPR, Simon returned to North Wales and signed for Llanfairpwll, a strong Welsh Alliance League outfit.
Neither the League of Wales or Cymru Alliance had formed by then, so there was no Welsh football pyramid as such.
Simon remembers: “I spent a few happy seasons in Llanfair PG. I received the League Player of the Year with Mike Davies getting top scorer that season also.
“The Llan team was a mix of experienced players such as Derfel Gilford, Colin Redmayne, Graham Critchlow, Peter O’NeiI and some younger lads such as myself Mike and Pete McCann.
“I signed for Bangor City in the first year of the Welsh Premier but was being played at right back in pre-season which wasn’t really working for me.”
So along came none other than Colin Hawkins to ask the young Flower if he would consider signing for Cemaes Bay, where big things were about to happen.
“Colin approached me and explained what he was planning in Cemaes and I decided to join the gang,” said Simon.
It proved a good move, In 1992/93, Cemaes won the Welsh Alliance League title and Cookson Cup double.
“After moving from LlanPG and manager Owen Parry, who had been a great motivator and tactician, to meet up with Colin in Cemaes was great fun.
“The team grew week on week in confidence, the target being to knock Llangefni off the top spot as they had been so dominant. We succeeded.”
Cemaes won the tier-two Cymru Alliance in 1994-95 and then spent three seasons in the League of Wales, becoming the first – and still only one of two – Anglesey club to make the top flight.
Unfortunately, in 1997-98, the renamed Cemaes Ynys Mon lost their main sponsor and had to see out the season with local players before inevitable relegation.
Simon returned to School Lane and had a spell as player-manager in that campaign.
“I moved around a little between Cemaes and Porthmadog, but in returning to Cemaes and the loss of the sponsor we dug in to finish the season so that we could drop one division only.
“Bill Abbott took over for a few games, then I took it on as the manager for the remaining games.
“At the time was the youngest national league manager, something to look back on with some pride.
“Local players only….many only played at Anglesey League level and all of the top teams to play.
“They really tried, we had some long journeys home from Barry Town and other tough matches.
“After finishing the season I stepped down and Paul Whelan took over. He was a great success and really had a way with the players.
“Cemaes was a true experience, Colin (Hawkins) was the icing on the cake.”
Reflecting on a career to be proud of
Simon saw out his playing days at Holyhead Hotspur and Amlwch Town.
“From my first game for John Lee for Gaerwen in Gwalchmai, for Malcolm Clanahan at Trearddur Bay junior and senior teams, John Edwardson at United Juniors, Owen Parry, Colin Hawkins at Cemaes where we had some continued success, Meilir Owen who took me to Porthmadog and was also a great influence for me, Chris Lawler, Tommy Charlton at Amlwch and my last manager and former team mate Carl Taylor at Holyhead Hotspur….
“It was a pleasure to play for all of them, in good teams with the same aim, play as a team and win together.
“I think of the training, games and laughs most days as I get older.
“Football is a great release for many people, an escape from the day to day hustle.
“Fortunately some of the reserve team players during my time in London are now commentators on mainstream TV which again trigger fond memories of my youth.”
And the present…..
Simon is still married to Sian. The couple live out in sunny Qatar, where Simon works, with their three children.
“We have three kids, all of them are here in Qatar at the moment.
“Caitlin, my daughter is the eldest at 25, Samuel is 23 and the youngest David is 20.
“We have a house in Holyhead also. I left in 2009 and moved to Dubai/Abu Dhabi for a year then came to Qatar in 2010.”