Briton Ferry, Neath born goalkeeper William Ronald “Roy” John began his career with Briton Ferry Athletic before joining Swansea Town in June 1927, initially as an amateur, signing professional before the turn of the year. At this time he was an outfield player, originally a full back where he was “not greatly appreciated”, before initially moving forward to play as a half back, where he gained a reputation as “a resolute tackler with a useful kick”. He left Swansea in 1928, having not played for their first eleven, having a trial that year with Manchester United. He then joined Walsall that May, where he mainly played for the reserves as a half back, making his Football League debut as a left back at Fulham in October 1928, playing 4 games that season.
However, following the departure of Fred Biddlestone to Aston Villa in January 1930 and an injury to the reserve goalkeeper, manager Sid Scholey asked John to try out for the custodian’s shirt. John did so well in a practice match that by March 1930 he was promoted to first team goalkeeper. Within months he made his international debut, when he played for Wales against Ireland at Wrexham on 22nd April 1931. His debut match ended in a 3-2 victory to the Welsh. One writer of the time described him as “dashing and daring – a gay cavalier who laughs fortune in the face”. John went on to win 13 more caps for Wales in full internationals over the next seven years, helping Wales win the British Home Championship in 1933 and 1934, and was made captain for his final international against Scotland in November 1938. During his time as the Wales goalkeeper, he alternated with Bert Gray and Len Evans.
After 94 appearances for Walsall, he was transferred to Stoke City in April 1932, where he saved a penalty on his debut against Bradford Park Avenue and was part of the team which won the Second Division Championship in 1932-33, John missing only 2 matches. The local media described John’s performances during that season as “simply brilliant”. He was in goal for Stoke at Manchester City for an FA Cup tie in March 1934 when a record crowd of 84.569 at Maine Road attended. He struggled though in the First Division and was sold to Preston North End in the summer of 1934 after 76 appearances for The Potters. After six months in the reserves at Preston, John moved to Sheffield United in December 1934, for a transfer fee of £1,250. He made 31 appearances for The Blades before he was sold to Manchester United for a fee of £600 in June 1936. His debut for the club finished in a 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers on 29th August 1936 but he played only 15 times for The Red Devils before he was transferred to Newport County in March 1937.
His spell at Somerton Park was brief and he moved back to Swansea Town only four months and 10 appearances after joining Newport. In 1938, he helped Swansea reach the Final of the Welsh Cup, where they were defeated by Shrewsbury Town in a replay. He remained at the Vetch Field club until the Second World War cut his career short. He officially retired on 11th November 1939.
During the War, John came out of retirement and guested for several clubs in the north west of England, including Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley and Southport, as well as playing for Swansea Town and in September 1942 he played for a Wales XI against the R.A.F.