‘Dai’ David John Astley
LOST BOYO IN FRANCE (FC Metz, 1946-47), ITALY (Internazionale, 1948; Genoa 1949-50), AND SWEDEN (Djurgardens IF 1950-54; Sandvikens IF 1955-57)
CLUBS: (as player) Merthyr Town, Charlton Athletic, Aston Villa, Derby County, Blackpool, FC Metz, (as manager) Internazionale, Djurgardens IF, Sandvikens IF
WALES CAREER: 1931-1939, 13 caps, 12 goals
In the Lost Boyos bungalow, the Merthyr village of Dowlais is famous for being where the Irish ancestry of the family matriarch first settled in Wales back in the early 1900s. Elsewhere in the world, the village is better-known as being home to the world’s first ironworks to employ the Bessemer Process. Sir Henry Bessemer’s invention of a converter that could cheaply turn pig iron into steel would see Dowlais Ironworks product shipped around the globe and bring worldwide renown to Merthyr Tydfil.
Almost 100 years later, in the aftermath of World War II, another Dowlais product left for foreign lands and while this one would not change the world in the same way as the Ironworks had, he would go on to make a name for himself at some of Europe’s most famous football clubs.
David John Astley, or ‘Dai,’ was born in Dowlais in 1909 and went on to become a forward of note at Charlton Athletic, Derby County, Blackpool, and, chiefly, Aston Villa. Astley began playing with Merthyr Town in 1927 and three goals in five games brought about a move to Charlton where Astley netted 27 times in 96 games between 1928 and 1931.
Astley’s most successful period came at Aston Villa. Bought from Charlton for £1,500 in 1931, Astley scored 100 goals for Villa in 173 league and cup appearances. Astley ended the 1932-33 First Division with a runners-up medal, then led the Villa goalscoring charts in the following three seasons. In the final of those seasons, 1935-36, Villa were relegated. Astley played just 14 times in the Second Division before a £5,250 transfer to First Division Derby County.
Astley had a terrific first season at the Baseball ground scoring 29 times in just 30 league and cup matches as Derby finished fourth. Astley was again Derby topscorer in 1937-38, but left Derby for Blackpool in 1939 as his playing time was reduced. At Blackpool, his career was cut short by the outbreak of war.
For all Astley’s goals at club level, however, his greatest playing successes came on the international scene with the successful Welsh teams of the 1930s. Astley made his Wales debut in the final game of the 1930-31 British Home Championship in a 3-2 win against Ireland at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, with a second coming in the following year’s Home Championship in a 3-1 loss to England at Anfield.
Astley’s first goal for his country came in a 5-2 friendly win over Scotland in 1932, then featured in five of Wales’ six match undefeated Home Championship run between October 1932 and November 1933, as the Red Dragons completed what would be the first and only time they achieved back-to-back titles. In 1932-33, Astley scored a brace against Scotland and another double in the 4-1 victory over Ireland that sealed the trophy. He played a similarly important role in the 1933-34 triumph, scoring in single-goal wins against Scotland (3-2) and England (2-1).
Astley picked up a further five caps over the next five years. His final full appearance was against France, his only Wales appearance against a team from outside the Home Championship. Astley scored in a 2-1 defeat in Paris to end his international career with an impressive 12 goals in 13 appearances.
From 1939 to 1941, Astley continued to represent Wales, playing in four war-time internationals against England and scoring two goals in a 3-2 loss in 1939. When peace returned to the continent in 1945, Astley set off for the European mainland for a decade of Lost Boyo travels.
The first stop was the province of Lorraine in northwest France where Astley joined FC Metz under the English manager Ted Magner. Astley only started 10 league games for Metz, as the team finished in tenth place. Astley did manage two goals in the French First Division, the first coming in a home game against Rennes and the second in his last game for the club, a 7-2 home win against Montpellier.
The Montpellier game was not just Astley’s last in France, but the last of a long career that had begun 20 years previously in the South Wales Valleys. Soon after, Astley began his managerial career in the dugout of one of Europe’s most famous football sides – FC Internazionale of Milan.
Optimism was high as the reign of the new ‘Mister‘ began, although this had more to do with the arrivals of new signings Atillio Giovannini, Gino Armano, Istvan Nyers, and Amedeo Amadei. Results were good, but Inter, despite the new signings, were unable to topple Il Grande Torino who were on their way to a fourth successive Serie A title (the legendary team tragically did not finish the season as most of the team were killed in the Superga Air Disater).
When Astley’s Inter suffered a fifth defeat of the season and fell six points behind Torino, the decision was taken to replace the Welshman with the club’s Sporting Director, Giulio Cappelli. Inter went unbeaten under the new man and ended the season in second place, and many of the players in Astley’s team would later enjoy great success in the 1950s with Inter.
Astley’s next job was also in Italy as he started the following season in charge of Genoa CFC, but again he would not make it to the season’s end. This time, Astley lasted only 15 league matches before being replaced. Astley’s British style was not suited to a team featuring a new attacking triumvirate of Argentinians, and there was also a language barrier preventing him from imposing his ideas on the team. With Christmas approaching, Genoa were in 17th place and after a ninth defeat in 15 games, Astley was replaced by Manilo Bacigalupo.
For his next move, Astley headed north to Stockholm to take charge at Djurgardens IF. In his first season, Astley led Djurgardens to their highest Allsvenskan – Swedish football’s top-flight – position since that competition began in 1924. Astley also took his team to the Svenska Cupen Final for the first time in their history. Astley found himself in the opposite dugout to another Lost Boyo, Malmo coach Bert Turner. It was Turner’s men who completed a league and cup double courtesy of an 89th minute Walfrid Ek winner.
Astley stayed a further three years in the Swedish capital. 1951-52 saw another sixth place finish, followed by a third place finish in 1952-53. Djurgardens failed to immediately build on that good season and finished the 1953-54 season, Astley’s last, in seventh. Just as at Inter, Astley’s departure came just before a successful period in the club’s history. His replacement, Englishman Frank Soo, took Djurgardens to their first Allsvenskan triumph, a title they would win three more times in twelve seasons after Astley’s departure.
Astley remained in Sweden after leaving Djurgardens, moving to the city of Sandviken, 200km north of Stockholm. His new team, Sandvikens IF, were playing in the Swedish second tier, but achieved promotion to the Allsvenskan under Astley in 1956. Astley’s second season with Sandvikens ended in a seventh place finish, just a single point behind former club Djurgardens.
The 1956-57 season was to be Astley’s last as a football manager. Upon returning to England, Astley settled in Kent where he was landlord of the White Horse pub in Ramsgate. Astley died in 1989.