People who believe that football in the United Kingdom has never been better represented than it is by players now turning out in the Premier League are ignorant of standards set more than 40 years ago by the first generation of post-war professionals. Born before the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 and thus denied the benefits of organised development, they revealed a rare instinct for the game, providing the impetus that led to England's victory in the 1966 World Cup final and successes in European club football.
Remarkably, a number came from an area of South Wales centred on the old port of Swansea. It served up John Charles who achieved great fame in Italy with Juventus and, for the local Second Division club, then known as Swansea Town, a forward line made up entirely of Welsh internationals: Harry Griffiths, Terry Medwin, Ivor Allchurch, Len Allchurch, and Cliff Jones.
All but Griffiths moved on, Jones achieving great distinction in the colours of Tottenham Hotspur, but none captured the imagination more than Ivor Allchurch, who became known as the "Golden Boy" of Welsh football.
Tall, blond, strong and elegant with a loping stride that carried him effortlessly past opponents, Allchurch was a classic inside forward, a master of the defence-splitting pass whose goals resulted frequently from the violent accuracy of his long-range shooting.
Discovered in local football by Swansea's trainer, Joe Sykes, and recruited to the ground staff, Allchurch made his senior debut in 1949 after completing National Service with the Army. He was an immediate success and in 1951 gained the first of 68 caps, a record only broken in 1986 by Joey Jones of Wrexham, Liverpool and Chelsea. Joined in the Swansea and Wales teams by a younger brother, Len, he made 330 league appearances, scoring 124 goals before a belated move to the First Division with Newcastle United.
A BBC television documentary about Swansea footballers seen recently in Wales brought back the extent of Allchurch's brilliance. "I didn't have to be reminded that Ivor was a great player," Cliff Jones said. "He had the lot, including a marvellous temperament and would have been a sensation in the game today. Things were a lot different then. Because of the maximum wage players couldn't better themselves financially from a transfer and Ivor was always a home-town boy. It was a bit late by the time he joined Newcastle but I'm sure that if he'd gone to a big English club earlier we'd be speakling about one of the all-time greats."
After many attempts to prise Allchurch away from Swansea had failed (Wolverhampton Wanderers made repeated offers), he was sold to Newcastle for pounds 28,000 in October 1958 after representing Wales in the World Cup finals in Sweden, their only appearance. The late Dave Bowen, who captained that team and Arsenal, recalled, "I'm sure we surprised a lot of people, that they looked at Ivor and wondered where he had been hiding. He could have played for any of the teams out there, including Brazil who only just managed to beat us in the quarter finals. Every time I got back to Arsenal after playing for Wales I implored them to try and sign Ivor, and if there hadn't been so many outstanding youngsters coming through at Manchester United I know that they would have made a big effort to sign him."
What Allchurch needed was a big stage on which to display his exceptional talent. Although admired greatly by Newcastle's supporters, scoring 46 goals in 143 league appearances, he was denied any of soccer's great prizes and his transfer value had fallen to pounds 15,000 when he signed for Cardiff City in August 1962. Retaining a passion for the game, Allchurch played on for many years, rejoining Swansea in 1965 and then appearing in non- league football for Worcester City, Haverfordwest and Pontardawe Athletic before retiring in his forties.
As a member of Swansea's playing staff briefly in the 1950s I got to know Allchurch, but not intimately. Sometimes we'd take the same path home from training but he wasn't much for idle conversation. Unassuming, he took his fame lightly. He had a slow smile and a quiet way of speaking. An exceptional footballer, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Ivor Allchurch today would be valued in eight figures.
Ivor John Allchurch, footballer: born Swansea 16 December 1929; played for Swansea 1947-58, Newcastle United 1958-62, Cardiff City 1962-65, Swansea 1965-68, Worcester City, 1968; MBE 1966; married (two sons); died Swansea 10 July 1997.
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