Trevor Ford

Fearsomely physical centre-forward
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The Independent Online

Trevor Ford, footballer: born Swansea 1 October 1923; played for Swansea Town 1942-47, Aston Villa 1947-50, Sunderland 1950-53, Cardiff City 1953-56, PSV Eindhoven 1957-60, Newport County 1960-61; capped 38 times by Wales 1947-57; married (two sons); died Swansea 29 May 2003.

Trevor Ford was a colourful, fearsomely physical centre-forward who led the Welsh attack for a decade soon after the Second World War.

One of the fieriest spearheads in football history, he provoked fervently strong feelings both for him and against, and he thrived on the notoriety generated by his crash-bang-wallop methods. An amiable, wryly humorous fellow off the pitch, Ford reckoned that his personality was transformed when he ran out to play. Though maintaining that he was scrupulously fair, never setting out to injure an opponent, he once declared: "I was like an animal."

It was a disarmingly frank verdict delivered without a trace of regret, and when lurid descriptions of his style were brought to his attention - "a half-crazed Welsh dragon" and "the dirtiest so-and-so in the business" were two of the milder offerings - he was not abashed. By his own lights, he was merely doing his job and doing it well - he netted freely for a succession of clubs, notably Aston Villa and Sunderland, and set a new scoring record for his country - all within the rules of what he referred to proudly as a man's game.

After all, in Ford's day it was acceptable for centre-forwards to charge goalkeepers, and he could point to an unblemished disciplinary record, with not a solitary caution or dismissal during a professional career which spanned nearly 20 years. In today's climate, it is fair to say that he would have to amend his approach drastically or be outlawed. Ford, a blast furnace worker in his teens, was a promising but diminutive left-back when he enlisted with his local club, Swansea Town (now City) as an amateur in 1942, turning professional two years later.

During war service as a physical training instructor in the Royal Artillery, he gained height and weight and, although the Welsh youngster was still no giant at 5ft 10in, a sergeant major felt encouraged to switch him to centre-forward. Immediately it became clear that he had found his niche and, on returning to Swansea, he scored 41 goals in the 1945/46 wartime regional competition, which led to a call-up for the Wales team to face Northern Ireland in an unofficial Victory international.

At that point, with the Swans struggling in the Second Division, it was clear that the muscular swashbuckler could better himself elsewhere and, after almost signing for Chelsea, he was transferred to top-flight Aston Villa in exchange for the inside-forward Tommy Dodds plus a cheque for £9,500. Ford did well enough at Villa Park, netting 60 goals in 120 League appearances, and even his sternest critics were forced to admit that his game consisted of considerably more than brute force. True, his raw bravery, tireless industry and aerial dynamism riveted the eye, but also he was imbued with assured control and an accurate shot in either foot, and he was particularly effective when pulling markers out of position by roaming to the wings.

However, Villa's bid to become championship contenders petered out tamely and in October 1950 Ford was head-hunted by Sunderland, then known as the "Bank of England club" because of their colossal spending, who shattered the British transfer record to sign him for £30,000. The Welshman exploded on to the Roker Park scene with a spectacular hat-trick on his home début against Sheffield Wednesday, charging the Owls keeper Dave McIntosh over the line for one of the goals and further fuelling his abrasive image by breaking an upright with one savage effort.

But although Ford continued to score freely for the Wearsiders, registering 67 times in 108 First Division outings, he could not lift them out of mid-table and, with scapegoats being sought, much was made of his clash of styles with his infinitely more inventive team-mate Len Shackleton. For his part, Ford claimed that Shackleton wouldn't give him the ball when and where he wanted it, while the anarchically inclined Englishman accused the Welshman of lacking the positional sense to make the most of his subtle deliveries.

During one friendly encounter with a Dutch side, Shackleton made his point with typical waspishness. After dribbling past several defenders and rounding the keeper, he stopped on the goal-line, then rolled the ball to the feet of the nearby Ford, with the withering comment: "Here, don't say I never give you a pass!"

In December 1953, disappointed that the expensively assembled Sunderland combination had failed to realise its full potential, 30-year-old Ford joined Cardiff City in another £30,000 transaction, and his goals helped them to finish 10th in the First Division at season's end. Thereafter, though, the Bluebirds struggled and Ford hit controversial new heights when he revealed during the writing of his autobiography I Lead The Attack (1957) that under-the-table payments had been made during his Sunderland tenure. When he refused to name names he was banned by the English game's authorities and announced his retirement in November 1956, making a lucrative comeback three months later with the Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

For three years Ford prospered in Holland, spearheading PSV to domestic success before the suspension was lifted in 1960 and he returned to Wales, finishing his career with brief stints at Newport County and non-League Romford. On the international front, his 38 appearances had yielded 23 goals, a magnificent tally subsequently equalled by Ivor Allchurch, then eventually bettered by Ian Rush, who had played in many more matches than Ford when he annexed the record.

After leaving the game, Ford worked in the motor trade before retiring to live close to Swansea's Vetch Field, where he had set out on the road which was to earn him an unperishable niche in Welsh folklore.

Ivan Ponting