Ivor Powell: Dynamic wing-half who became the world's oldest coach
Thursday 15 November 2012
For more than three-quarters of a century Ivor Powell was a passionate, wise, prodigiously energetic bundle of football dynamism. As a bitingly combative, deftly skilful, endlessly industrious wing-half with Queen's Park Rangers, Aston Villa and Wales in the immediate postwar years, then as a manager and eventually as the world's oldest working coach – a status ratified by the Guinness Book of Records when he was 90, in 2006 – he dedicated his professional life to the game he adored.
Born in a South Wales coal-mining community, Ivor Verdun Powell – his middle name was a reference to the First World War battle raging at the time of his arrival – was the seventh son of a seventh son who, in his early teens, followed his father and brothers down a local pit to begin making his living. Though reared in a rugby union heartland, he gravitated instinctively to the round-ball code, and was recruited by QPR of the Third Division (South) from his local club, Bargoed, as an amateur in 1935.
He turned professional two years later and made his senior debut as a ball-winning, attacking midfielder in January 1939, only for the momentum of his fledgling career to be halted by the outbreak of war. Powell served as an RAF physical training instructor in India and Burma, although for a time he was stationed at Blackpool, where he guested for the Seasiders and became a close friend of the most famous footballer in the world at the time, Stanley Matthews, who acted as best man at his wedding in 1943. Amid his military activities there was also an international breakthrough – he made four appearances for Wales in unofficial wartime fixtures.
At war's end Powell matured rapidly into a QPR bulwark, aggressive and determined, intelligent in his use of the ball, a long-throw expert and a sparky presence in the dressing room. Even though he was playing his football in the third tier, it was no surprise when he was called up for the first of his eight full caps, out of position at inside-left in the 3-0 defeat by England at Maine Road, Manchester, in November 1946.
Meanwhile Powell was hitting new heights with his club, central to Rangers' promotion as divisional champions in 1947-48, and although he had entered his thirties it didn't deter top-flight Aston Villa from signing him for £17,500, a record for a wing-half, midway through the following season. Powell flourished at Villa Park, instrumental in reversing a slide towards relegation in his first season then taking on the captaincy and not missing a match in 1949-50 before knee injuries began to take their toll.
In August 1951, now 35, he was appointed player-manager of Port Vale, where his authoritative approach was not universally welcomed, and his contract was terminated four months later when Vale were bottom of the Third Division (South). Still management beckoned, and after a brief stint turning out for non-League Barry Town, Powell accepted the reins of Third Division (North) Bradford City in June 1952, as player-manager.
For two seasons he was hugely influential, lifting the team from 16th in the table in his first season to fifth in his second, but when a knee injury forced him to give up playing in 1954, the fortunes of the impecunious Bantams declined. Fans resented his sale of favourites such as winger Derek Hawksworth, some players disliked his stern discipline, and in February 1955, shortly before City had to apply for re-election to the League, he was replaced by Peter Jackson.
In 1956 Powell started a four-year tenure as a trainer-coach with Leeds United, working with the likes of Don Revie in his pre-management days, as well as Jack Charlton and Billy Bremner, before taking charge of Carlisle United, whom he led from the Fourth Division in 1961-62. The cash-strapped North-westerners struggled badly at the higher level, though, and he departed in February 1963 after a humbling FA Cup defeat by non-League Gravesend and Northfleet. There followed several years at the helm of Southern League Bath City and a brief spell coaching the Greek side PAOK. Then in the early 1970s he began coaching at Bath University, where he remained active for nearly four decades until his 94th year.
Powell proved inspirational with youngsters, tirelessly stressing his five-point mantra for success: aggression, determination, will to win, industry and consistency. In 2004 he was inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame. His Guinness accolade followed two years later and he was awarded the MBE in 2008, finally laying aside his boots in 2010. The university has set up the Ivor Powell Sports Scholarship Fund, a fitting monument to a remarkable man.
Ivor Verdun Powell, footballer and coach; born Gilfach, near Bargoed, Glamorgan 5 July 1916; played for Queen's Park Rangers 1937-48, Aston Villa 1948-51, capped eight times by Wales 1946-50; player-manager Port Vale 1951-52, Bradford City 1952-55; managed Carlisle United 1960-63; MBE 2008; married (deceased; one son, one daughter); died Bath 5 November 2012.
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