Ray Daniel was a footballing thoroughbred and proud of it. A bulwark of the Welsh game during the 1950s, the most glorious decade of its history, he was one of the original ball-playing centre-halves in an era when brawn tended to outstrip finesse as a defender's chief requirement.
Indeed, he boasted the delicate touch of an inside-forward and, as an extremely self-confident, intensely sociable man, there was little he liked better than to demonstrate his dexterity to an admiring audience. A favourite trick was to drop a half-crown coin on to his left foot, flick it to his right, then on to thigh and shoulder before depositing it bewilderingly into his top pocket.
Daniel rose to soccer prominence during the early 1940s in Swansea, stepping off a remarkable conveyor-belt of talent which was to include Trevor Ford, John and Mel Charles, Ivor and Len Allchurch, Cliff Jones and Terry Medwin. Only 15 when he made his first-team debut for the Swans as a full-back in wartime competition, he exhibited such potential that he was snapped up by the mighty Arsenal while still an amateur in 1946.
Two months after arriving at Highbury - following in the footsteps of his brother, Bobby, who was killed in the war - Daniel turned professional, but, although a starry future was predicted, the young Welshman was to serve a lengthy apprenticeship in the shadow of the influential Les Compton. That did nothing to harm his international prospects, however. He won the first of his 21 full caps against England at Roker Park in 1950 and was called to his country's colours three times while still an Arsenal reserve.
It was not until 1951/52 that he secured a regular club berth, finishing that landmark campaign at Wembley, where the north Londoners lost the FA Cup Final to a late goal by Newcastle United. However, though the Magpies took the silverware, the glory went to the Gunners, who battled bravely with 10 men for most of the match after losing Walley Barnes to injury. Daniel earned a special mention in dispatches for playing in constant pain, his forearm encased in plaster as a legacy of an accident in a game at Blackpool three weeks earlier.
The disappointment of that defeat was swept away in the most emphatic manner as Arsenal lifted the League Championship in 1952-53 with Daniel, now at his imperious peak, missing only one match and excelling in a formidable half-back trio alongside Alex Forbes and the skipper, Joe Mercer.
Playing glorious football, combining creativity with the solidity which might be expected of a powerful six-footer, he was described as a Welsh equivalent of Neil Franklin, arguably the finest central defender England ever had. Firmly established at Highbury, he seemed likely to consolidate his role as an Arsenal stalwart for the remainder of the decade, but a disagreement over playing styles contributed to a surprise switch.
Sunderland, then in the top flight and known as the "Bank of England club", were in the process of assembling a star-studded side and Daniel was persuaded to join his friend and fellow Welsh international Trevor Ford on Wearside.
After the pounds 27,500 move - a record for a defender at that time - Daniel gave some of his most polished displays, helping to achieve fourth place in the First Division in 1954/55. But in the long term the so-called team of all the talents never gelled, results were frustratingly poor and when the manager Bill Murray experimented with the Welshman at centre-forward it was to little avail. Matters worsened in 1957 when the club became embroiled in controversy over illegal payments to footballers, several of whom, including Daniel, were briefly suspended.
That year proved a watershed in his career. He lost his place in the Wales team to Mel Charles - thus missing out on the rousing progress to the World Cup quarter-finals the following summer - and he was transferred to the Second Division Cardiff City for pounds 7,000. Within a few months he had returned to his first love, Swansea Town, before slipping out of the Football League to join Hereford United. Daniel spent seven years at Edgar Street in the relatively undemanding arena of the Southern League, including a stint as player-boss, before leaving the game in 1967.
Thereafter he worked successively as a publican in Swansea, as a regional manager for the Courvoisier brandy company and as a sub-postmaster in Cockett, a village on the outskirts of his home town.
Daniel will be remembered as one of the most gifted and charismatic of all Welsh players , if one whose prime might have lasted a little longer; and as a warm-hearted, wise- cracking fellow who lived his life to the full.Reuse content