A product of the Turf Moor nursery, which churned out a string of talented young players, Coates was promoted to the first team to play under Harry Potts and Jimmy Adamson, but relegation forced the Clarets to consider selling their star player. Bill Nicholson spotted the potential in the flying winger and made a trip to a Stoke hotel to meet and sign Ralph for £190,000 in May 1971 in Adamson's car in the car park. This price tag made him a record cash signing at the time.
Attending Eppleton Modern School, Ralph played for Lambton and Hetton district teams and County Durham Schools side before he was spotted playing junior football in Durham by scout Jack Hixon. He soon gave up a job interview as an apprentice fitter at the local colliery at Eppleton to join the Clarets in October 1961. However, he might never have joined the Clarets had his mother not known manager Harry Potts, as she believed Ralph was too young to leave home at the age of 16. Having come from the same town as the Burnley boss, she was happy that the Potts family would keep an eye on the young footballer. Coates was offered a fortnight's trial with Burnley and was taken on as an apprentice.
Coates signed as a professional within two years and by 1964 made the first team at Burnley, where he became a big star. He was moved to the left wing from centre forward and his pace and stamina made him a difficult opponent to live with over 90 minutes.
Selected for the England Under-23 side and scoring in an 8-0 record win over Wales on his debut and winning eight caps in all and playing four times for the Football League representative side, Coates was promoted to the senior side by manager Sir Alf Ramsey and won four full caps for his country. Was selected for the group of players who went to South America for the pre-1970 World Cup Finals, but did not make the cut for the last 20 despite being in top form and playing for the England XI v Colombia XI and Ecuador XI. His wife had encouraged him to travel abroad with England on three occasions even though he was only a substitute when he wanted to withdraw and not travel with the party.
Bill Nicholson had been Coates' manager with the England Under-23 team and this persuaded him to join Spurs. What he hadn't known was that there had been an agreement with Tottenham to let them have the first offer on Coates and although it was thought at the time that Arsenal would bid more for the player, the Burnley board did not get on with their Arsenal counterparts and therefore wanted the deal done and dusted with a club they had a good relationship with. Coates was mowing his lawn when he got the phone call to meet Nicholson. Ralph had scored 32 goals in 261 first team games for Burnley before signing for Spurs for £190,000 that was a British record at the time.
On arrival in London, Ralph and his wife Sandra moved into a first floor flat in Palmers Green, North London. Sandra had been a Burnley fan since a child, but said, "Spurs have never been my favourite team, until now." She had gained 'O' and 'A' levels at school and then went to a Liverpool college for three years to qualify as a state registered occupational therapist.
Ralph's first appearance in a Spurs shirt was in a pre-season friendly at Hearts in August 1971 and he played his first League match for Tottenham away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on the opening day of the season on 14th August 1971.
He took a while to settle in, but showed some of his form for his former club and when he got into his stride, after scoring the Wembley winner, Ralph provided the ammunition for Martin Chivers and Martin Peters to hit the goals that brought a spell of success for the club. Also chipped in with a few vital goals of his own, especially in Europe and he ended his Spurs career with 24 goals in 248 league games.
Coates was called upon to replace John Pratt in the League Cup Final of 1973, he slammed the winner through the rain past Kevin Keelan in the Norwich City goal for the only goal of the game. The goal was a turning point in his Tottenham career and Ralph said about the day, "Every player who has played in front of a capacity crowd at Wembley has their own recollections of the day, and my experience was like so many others. You are naturally slightly nervous in the tunnel as you wait to walk out, but when the crowd see the teams coming out, the noise is deafening. But I tried to keep as calm as possible, and to score the winning goal fulfilled all my dreams, it was a feeling that I will never forget."
With more confidence and a move into the centre of midfield, rather than being stuck out on the wing, Coates started to show the Spurs fans, what he was capable of and his dynamic running and thunderbolt shooting added to his ability to create chances and he became a firm favourite at the Lane for his 100% performances.
Ralph stayed at Spurs until the 1978/79 season, although he had been loaned out to St. George's – a Sydney team – in the summer of that year. when he left White Hart Lane to join Leyton Orient in October 1978, where he stayed for two seasons and despite being offered a coaching role, he decided that football management was not the road he wished to follow.
The winger was always remembered fondly at Turf Moor and got a standing ovation from the home fans when he returned there with Orient in 1980. Coates made his last appearance in the Football League against Cardiff City on 30th August 1980.
Coates took a sports psychology course and got a diploma, before moving on to become the London Borough of Barnet Recreation and Leisure Officer. Worked for GEC at Borehamwood for 10 years, then in April 1999, Ralph took up a post as manager of the Marconi Sports and Social Club in Potters Bar and Chelmsford, later occupying a similar role for Elliott Sports and Social in Boreham Wood. Working as a development officer for Hertfordshire FA between 2004 and 2006, Coates gave a lot back to the game that he had graced.
Kept playing in Sunday League football with Hertford Heath, Ware, Nazeing and Stanstead Abbotts for many years. Played with the Spurs Old Boys side in charity matches until a knee operation in 1998 forced him to give up playing.
Ralph had two children - Lisa and Paul.
Lived his later life in St. Albans, Hertfordshire and still took an active part in youth soccer in the county, also helping Roger Morgan and coaching 8-16 year olds at White Hart Lane on Friday nights. Ralphie was still working as a match-day host in the Spurs Legends area of the ground after 1995, after having turned out for the old boys XI for a number of years.
Ralph Coates died in the Luton & Bedfordshire hospital, Luton, Bedfordshire, England on 17th December 2010 after suffering a stroke.