Bill Jones: Courageous defender and midfielder at the heart of Liverpool’s 1947 title-winning side

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The Independent Online

Bill Jones was at the core of everything that was admirable about Liverpool Football Club in the middle years of the 20th century. Versatile, accomplished and loyal, an indefatigable workaholic with a great fighting heart, he was a bastion of the side that secured the first post-war League Championship in a pulsating denouement on the last day of the 1946-47 season.

He remained a key part of the Reds' backbone, usually in a defensive role, as they reached their first Wembley FA Cup final in 1950. He was still at Anfield four seasons later, battling courageously and selflessly, if unavailingly, to avoid the hitherto unthinkable fate of relegation from the top division.

Mention of Jones's bravery in a mere sporting context is not to trivialise his true valour, displayed during the Allies' crossing of the Rhine as Hitler's home defences were breached in 1945, for which the rookie footballer received the Military Medal.

Having joined Liverpool as a 17-year-old from the Derbyshire amateursHayfield St Matthews in 1938, Jones was one of a whole generation ofplayers who lost their early prime to the Second World War. However, he did manage to make his first-team entrance for his new club in unofficial emergency competition and there was also time during the war to make guest appearances for York City, Leeds United and Reading.

But it was not until August 1946 that he achieved his senior debut, lining up at centre-forward against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in a tight contest settled by a goal from his fellow debutant, Len Carney. Jones' first goals, two of them, came a week later in a7-4 home victory against Chelsea, but then his career direction was altered irrevocably by Liverpool's signing of the prolific marksman Albert Stubbins from Newcastle United.

To accommodate the illustrious newcomer, initially manager George Kay shifted Jones to inside-left, but soon he slipped out of the side, reappearing midway through the season, first at left-half, then at left-back, centre-half and right-half, so that when the championship crown was finally claimed, he had appeared in six different positions.

The title race climaxed in classic fashion with the top two teams, Liverpool and leaders Wolves, facing each other at Molineux. The Black Country side were firm favourites, being a point better off and having thrashed the Reds 5-1 at Anfield a few months earlier, but the visitors confounded the odds to win 2-1.

That day Jones – standing in at right-half for his indisposed captain, the cultured Phil Taylor – performed beautifully, his passing crisp and creative, his tackling fierce and determined, his reading of the game impeccable. But such was his adaptability, a precious commodity to any side, that he never settled into a dedicated long-term role.

Over the next few years Liverpool, for whom Stubbins and the brilliant Scottish forward Billy Liddell werethe most prominent performers, slipped back to become solid mid-tablecitizens, but there was a bonus in 1950 when they faced Arsenal in the FA Cup final. Jones had spent most of thatseason in the No 5 shirt, but he found himself at the centre of bitter controversy when it was announced that he would occupy the left-half berth at Wembley, replacing the popular, flintily indomitable Bob Paisley, who had played in every round and had scored in the semi-final victory over local rivals Everton.

The two players were close friends and Jones, though a totally innocent bystander to the decision, felt mortified for Paisley and embarrassed when some fans declared they would never watch the Reds again as a protest at the omission of the north-easterner.

It was hardly the ideal preparation for a showcase occasion, and unfortunately for Liverpool the normally consistent Jones turned in a poor display as the Gunners prevailed 2-0, with his immediate opponent Jimmy Logie proving highly influential in the outcome. Jones had one chance to salvage the day with the score at 1-0, but he headed against the Arsenal crossbar and the moment had gone.

Two weeks later, though, his customary prowess was recognised when he was called up by England to replace centre-half Neil Franklin of Stoke City, who was dropped after decamping to Colombia – then outside the umbrella of Fifa and therefore outlawed – in search of a pot of gold.

Poor Franklin's dream died all too soon and he returned to England disillusioned, but his suspension afforded Jones a precious opportunity. He didn't fail, featuring in successive victories over Portugal in Lisbon and Belgium in Brussels, but the centre-forwards he was marking both scored and he was discarded, never to play for his country again.

The undaunted Jones, who had also appeared for the Football League,continued to serve Liverpool with doughty resolution in his variety of rearguard and midfield slots, but come the 1952-53 season the Reds, by now managed by Don Welsh, were inserious decline. In 1953-54 they finished bottom and were relegated to theSecond Division. The 33-year-oldJones was released, having played278 games and scored 17 goals for his only professional club, although there was no shortage of shrewd observers who reckoned the Reds had made a premature decision, and that theveteran still had plenty left to offer as a still-ailing team strove to make an early comeback.

Thereafter he became player-manager of the non-League side Ellesmere Port before returning to Liverpool as a talent scout during the late 1950s and beyond, listing among his discoveries the two leading goalscorers in the club's history, Roger Hunt and Ian Rush.

Jones, a gifted all-round sportsman who might have made a living as a cricketer had he not been committed to the winter game, was immensely gratified by the footballing success of his grandson, Rob Jones, who featured as a full-back for Liverpool and England during the 1990s before injury brought his career to a premature end.

William Henry Jones, footballer: born Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire 13 May 1921; married (one son, one daughter); died Chester 26 December 2010.

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