Brian Godfrey: Welsh international footballer who became a hard-bitten manager

Saturday 27 February 2010 01:00

The Welsh international Brian Godfrey was a footballer both tough and clever, and as a manager he was a shrewd, hard-bitten operator, albeit not at the rarefied level widely envisaged for him when he took his first managerial job in the mid-1970s.

First as a penetrative and prolific goal-scoring inside-forward, and later as a thoughtful, creative, occasionally abrasive wing-half, Godfrey made more than 600 senior appearances during an 18-year career which embraced six clubs, yet only the first of those outings – for Everton at Fulham in January 1960 – was made in the top division of the Football League. What characterised the sturdy Deesider above all was his passionate enthusiasm and abiding love for the game, which saw him playing at parks level into his fifties and for Aston Villa All Stars, made up of the club's former players, into his sixties.

Football was in Godfrey's blood, absorbed at the knee of his similarly zealous father, who played as an amateur in North Wales and once scored 16 goals as his team recorded a 21-0 victory. Such ruthless single-mindedness was to be a determining factor in the progress of the son.

Godfrey rose to local prominence with his home-town club, Flint Alexandra, then signed amateur forms with Everton as a 17-year-old in 1957, turning professional at Goodison Park a year later. At a time when the enterprising manager Johnny Carey was fashioning the nucleus of an exciting side which would go on to greater things under Harry Catterick, it was a period of opportunity, but the young left-winger, as he was then, failed to make a sustained breakthrough.

Thus, after his solitary senior opportunity at Goodison, in June 1960 Godfrey joined Second Division Scunthorpe United, whose manager Dick Duckworth lost little time in converting him to inside-forward. The newcomer settled rapidly at the Old Showground, impressing with his ball skills, strength and the power of his shooting, and soon he forged a productive partnership with the high-scoring centre-forward Barrie Thomas, their goals contributing mightily to the Iron's feat in finishing fourth in the second tier in 1960-61, still the highest placing in their history.

Godfrey was rewarded with an under-23 international call-up and, in October 1963, with a £9,750 move to Preston North End, a fellow Second Division club but one with deeper resources and therefore more plausible ambitions of rising to the top flight. At Deepdale he was to strike the form of his life, mostly in tandem with that dreadnought of a spearhead Alex Dawson, and he went on to score 52 League goals in 127 appearances for the Lilywhites, but before truly hitting his stride he was to endure bitter disappointment.

In his first season there, Godfrey played four games in Preston's FA Cup campaign, which led all the way to Wembley. However, after scoring in the sixth-round win over Oxford United, the Welshman lost his place to Alec Ashworth and was not selected for the final, one of the most thrilling ever staged at the old stadium, in which North End lost 3-2 to West Ham United. He was absent, too, for much of the springtime struggle for promotion, which ended in third place and narrow failure, and he was not happy about it.

Thereafter, though, he shone, notably in 1964-65 when he struck 25 times, and on the last day of 1965-66, when he contributed a five-minute hat-trick – Preston's quickest ever – in the 9-0 annihilation of Cardiff City at Deepdale. By then he was a full international, having earned three caps and contributed two goals, one on his debut in a 3-2 defeat by Northern Ireland at Swansea in April 1964, the other in a 4-1 reverse to Italy in Florence in May 1965, his farewell appearance for his country.

In September 1967, with North End stuttering, Godfrey moved to another struggling Second Division side, Aston Villa, in a package deal along with Brian Greenhalgh. He scored in his opening game but found himself in a poor team which in 1970 suffered the ignominy of relegation to the third grade for the first time in Villa's history. Against a background of boardroom turbulence, and with Godfrey emerging as an influential captain after dropping back to a midfield role, they went close to promotion at the first time of asking and astounded most observers by beating Manchester United over two legs in the semi-final of the League Cup.

At Wembley they lost 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur, but the ceaseless industry, imaginative prompting and inspirational leadership displayed by Godfrey made him an ideal signing for Villa's Third Division rivals Bristol Rovers at season's end, when he moved to Eastville as a makeweight in the £35,000 transaction that took the dashing young winger Ray Graydon to Villa Park.

The Welshman was an ideal addition for the Pirates, who needed an eminence grise to preside over a pool of talented youngsters, in which the schemer Wayne Jones stood out. Godfrey embraced the challenge vigorously, maybe a tad cussedly at times, setting a stalwart example as Rovers embarked on two rousing League Cup sequences, bowing out gloriously to the eventual winners Stoke City at the quarter-final stage in 1971-72, then knocking out Manchester United in an Old Trafford replay a year later before losing to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Between the two there was silverware to cherish as Rovers defeated Wolves, Burnley and Sheffield United to lift the pre-season Watney Cup, with Godfrey at the heart of a sterling team effort.

Off the pitch, too, he developed, proving a persuasive spokesman for the players in their dealings with management before falling out with manager Bill Dodgin over tactics and departing to Fourth Division Newport County for £10,000 in June 1973. There followed three seasons of intense endeavour at Somerton Park and a brief stint with Portland Timbers in Oregon before, as a 36-year-old in the summer of 1976, he took the next logical step, that of becoming a player-manager. His first stop was at Southern League Bath City, for whom he performed with unreduced gusto for one season before laying aside his boots and guiding his charges to the 1978 Southern league title

At this juncture Godfrey looked a certainty to thrive as a manager in the Football League, and duly he stepped up to take the reins of Third Division Exeter City in January 1979. Optimistic predictions appeared to be justified as he kept the Grecians in the top half of the table for three seasons, and also took them into the FA Cup sixth round in 1980-81, beating Newcastle United and Leicester City after replays along the way. In the last eight their progress was halted by Tottenham Hotspur, who went on to lift the trophy, and Godfrey's star was firmly in the ascendant. But then came two nerve-shredding escapes from relegation and in June 1983 he resigned with a year of his contract still to run.

Surprisingly he never returned to the Football League, instead doing a competent job for the Alliance/Football Conference club Weymouth between 1983 and 1987. He then brought about a renaissance for Gloucester City, inspiring them to the Southern League Midland Division title in 1988-89 and to the second round of the FA Cup a season later.

In 1991 he was sacked when the club was desperately short of cash, but he was back in 1992, leaving again in 1994. There followed service with Shortwood United and Cinderford Town before a second return to Gloucester, where he worked as assistant under Chris Burns, one of his former players, in the early years of the new millennium. In 2003 Godfrey moved to Cyprus, where he died after a lengthy battle with leukaemia.

Brian Cameron Godfrey, footballer and manager; born Flint, North Wales 1 May 1940; played for Everton 1958-60, Scunthorpe United 1960-63, Preston North End 1963-67, Aston Villa 1967-71, Bristol Rovers 1971-73, Newport County 1973-76; capped three times by Wales, 1964-65; managed Exeter City 1979-83; married (two children); died Nicosia, Cyprus 11 February 2010.

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