Sheffield United and Wales footballer
Friday 26 December 2003
Gilbert Ivor Reece, footballer: born Cardiff 2 July 1942; played for Newport County 1963-65, Sheffield United 1965-72, Cardiff City 1972-76, Swansea City 1976; capped 29 times by Wales 1965-75; died Cardiff 20 December 2003.
In the spring of 1963, the 20-year-old Gil Reece was earning his living as a plumber while reflecting ruefully on a glorious football career that might have been. A little more than two years later he was playing on the left wing for Wales against England at Ninian Park, Cardiff, winning the first of 29 full caps spread over a decade on the international stage.
For Reece the future had beckoned alluringly after he had represented Wales at schoolboy level, then began an apprenticeship with his home-town club Cardiff City only for the script to go disappointingly awry. He failed to break into the senior ranks with the Bluebirds and was loaned to non-League Ton Pentre before joining Pembroke Borough as a part-timer.
Reece's reversal of fortune arrived in the form of the Newport County manager Billy Lucas, who spotted the feisty, goal-scoring flankman and recruited him back into the professional ranks in June 1963. Thus afforded a second chance, Reece impressed mightily for the Somerton Park side, scoring nine times in 32 League outings, and was rewarded with a £10,000 transfer to top-flight Sheffield United in April 1965.
He shone immediately in the higher grade, slotting effectively into an attack spearheaded by Mick Jones - who would go on to star for Don Revie's Leeds United - and also featuring the flamboyant Alan Birchenall. In 1965/66 the Blades, managed by the shrewd Glaswegian John Harris, finished ninth in the First Division and Reece proved himself ready for an even more exalted level as he strode into the international arena that autumn.
The following term his impetus was jolted by a broken leg, but he recovered to hit the best form of his life in 1967/68, finishing as United's top scorer with 13 League goals. Unfortunately the side was breaking up, with Harris accepting hefty fees for both Jones and Birchenall, and the Blades were relegated to the Second Division.
It was a shame that Reece, who was versatile enough to fill any attacking position, should experience demotion while in his personal prime. Fast, clever and tough, he was elusive for markers to pin down, difficult to knock off the ball, packed a venomous shot and was magnificent in the air for a relatively small man.
Over the next three seasons he remained a Bramall Lane mainstay, and excelled alongside the gifted schemer Tony Currie and fellow forwards Alan Woodward and Billy Dearden as promotion was secured in the runners-up spot behind Leicester City in 1970/71. As that memorable campaign approached its climax, Reece hit a purple patch, contributing five goals in four matches as the Blades inched clear of their rivals. United fans still wax lyrical about his brace in the victory over Birmingham City, one a sweet shot at the end of a mazy dribble and the other a flying header, and it was ironic that his victims during this heady sequence included Cardiff City, who were also in contention for a First Division berth.
United flourished back among the élite, even leading the table for a rarefied interlude during the autumn, but by then Reece's part was becoming peripheral and in the summer of 1972 - having made more than 200 League appearances and notched 58 goals for the Yorkshiremen - he was dispatched to Cardiff, along with the defender Dave Powell, in exchange for the striker Alan Warboys.
Back at Ninian Park, he proved a grittily resilient presence in a struggling side which dropped out of the Second Division in 1974/75, but bounced straight back a season later as runners-up to Hereford United. In addition, he played key roles in two Welsh Cup triumphs - netting a hat-trick against Bangor City in the 1973 final and scoring in the 1974 win over Stourbridge - and he continued to feature for Wales until May 1975, when he bade farewell in a 1-0 defeat by Northern Ireland in Belfast.
After ending his senior career with a brief stint at Swansea City, Reece served non-League Barry Town, then ran a plumbing and heating business with his brother before becoming a hotelier in Cardiff.
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