Top Boyos: Ivor Allchurch

Our fourth ‘Top Boyos’ entry looks at one of the greatest players ever to play for Wales, Swansea and at one point one of the best players in world football. Michael Eames introduces us to the footballing geniusIvor Allchurch, as well as regaling us with his own personal encounters with ‘the Golden Boy’. Michael Eames (not to be mixed up with a certain Swansea kitman) is a lifelong Swansea fan who was raised on the streets surrounding the Vetch Field and has followed the Swans through their the rise and fall and recent rise again.
Allchurch
The Tale of ‘Dead Dogs for Goalposts’

An unlikely title and probably a little oblique, but hopefully all will make sense after introducing,in my humble opinion, the greatest of the all time giants in Welsh football and how ‘The Golden Boy’ won the hearts and minds of fans and friends alike, on or off the field, which he so brilliantly lit up with his ball skills, silky runs and wondrous goals.

Ivor John Allchurch MBE (16 Oct.1929 – 10 July 1997)  Born in Swansea at 66 Waunwen Road was the 6th of 7 children of Charles (a furnace-man) and his wife Mabel; both his parents were formerly from Dudley and had moved to Swansea some years earlier. Ivor was educated at Plasmarl school, but left aged 14 to work in an office and later as a fish market porter.

Ivor was spotted by the great Joe Sykes at Plasmarl, where he had originally gone to see another player, but Ivor had “stuck out like a sore thumb” and was signed as an apprentice in 1944 by the then Swansea manager Haydn Green.

Unfortunately, war affected Ivor as it did for many at this time, but nevertheless he did become a member of the ground staff and a full professional two years later; however, due to National Service (he served two years in the army) he did not play for the Swans until 1949, when he made his debut on 26th December away to West Ham.

Football apprenticeships back then were not quite the same as today’s young stars enjoy; academical and technical abilities were thwarted and the reality of cleaning boots, painting the stands and clearing up litter after ‘big’ games were the order of the day. Of course there was training and fitness regimes regularly implemented which consisted of cleaning boots, painting the stands and clearing up after “big”games” and the compulsory running around the cinder track at the freshly painted Vetch Field. Even in those bygone days training on the pitch was generally frowned upon, a bit strange really as it consisted of 10% percent mud,the odd blade of grass and 90% sand, but rules were rules and more often than not the Swans would go down the beach for training; it was a huge bonus if the tide was out, as then they could play on the hard sand.

Misdemeanors when training were akin to gladiatorial punishments, as players were ordered to sprint over sand dunes and leap from rock to rock on the collapsed sea wall in a race to the death, before finishing by jumping on to the roof of the now demolished gunnery station, that at one time stood overlooking the Bristol Channel.

I firmly believe that “The Golden Boy”, so named its popularly believed because of his golden blond hair, benefited greatly from these regimes adding to his natural skills; you try dribbling a ball across the super soft sand on Swansea Bay! I often wondered if his thoughts drifted back to Swansea sands as he ghosted passed helplessly wrong footed defenders with consummate ease on his way to sliding the ball into the back of the net or crashing one in from thirty yards.

The goal celebration that followed was to say the least, low key, maybe a raised hand or for an outstanding effort a raised eyebrow and small air punch – just like in life, Ivor was a quiet man and a gentleman.

Ivor played for the then Swansea Town making 445 appearances and scoring 164 goals, Newcastle, where he is revered as one of the best they’ve ever had and Cardiff City where he played 691 games and scored 249 goals. His 68 caps for Wales saw him score 23 goals.

In 1958 he was recognised as a huge talent worldwide by helping Wales reach the quarter finals of The World Cup (one day who knows!) His international career began against England  in 1951 and finished against Chile in 1966 making 68 appearances and scoring 23 goals for Wales.

Swansea released Ivor at the end of the 1967–68 season and he signed for Worcester City. He spent  a brief time at Haverfordwest as player manager and ended his career at Ponterdawe at the age of 50.

Ivor scored 249 goals in his professional career and made 691 appearances.

Tall, slim, quick, intelligent, a terrific built-in body swerve, good in the air, two-footed and a true gentleman – these were just some of the attributes that Ivor was gifted with along with being ‘blonde’. Truly ‘The Golden Boy’.

The decade when Ivor was at his peak was strewn with Swansea-born talent, but Ivor was the one most cherished by “Jacks” as his association through work, school and the Swans seemed to identify with more of a “Swansea Boy” than the others like John Charles, Cliff Jones, Jack Kelsey and Trevor Ford who mostly played at other clubs.

Even at this time Swansea were known to play cultured football and the passing game was their hallmark. Ivor fitted into this style of play easily and flourished, long before the “Swansea Way” of play that is currently the key to Swansea City’s success (so if your sitting in a pub and an OAP sidles up next to you to explain that the cultured passing game of the Swans first started at The Vetch Field in the 1950’s, pay heed,he was probably there).

In the 1958 World Cup finals, when Wales, after qualifying for the first time, reached the quarter-final before losing to the eventual winners Brazil, Santiago Bernabeu, president of Real Madrid, then the dominant club in Europe, dubbed Allchurch ‘the greatest inside-forward in the world’. High praise indeed.

Ivor Allchurch passed away in his home town of Swansea in 1997 and at Morriston Crematorium hundreds of fans, fellow professionals and friends paid homage to ‘The Golden Boy’.

Of course his wife Esme (nee Thomas) was there – they had married on 13th June 1953 and had two sons. Esme had been telling Ivor to hang up his boots for many years saying that he was too old , until one day he did, but by then he was 50 years of age. I’m not sure who won that battle, maybe it was honours even!

Back to the title of this recollection: Dead Dogs for Goalposts. In my early teens before my talents as a free scoring wing back were discovered, I somehow got stuck between the sticks as goalkeeper and of course having oodles of natural talent, I shone.

I should add at this point I lived in Western Street and my Gran in Clarence Terrace with the Vetch sandwiched between the two, so naturally the Vetch was my playground and I knew every inch of the place. We used to sneak in and play on it before being chased off by “Cake-Hole” the groundsman most days.

I became a programme seller aged about eleven and got to know most of the players fairly well and due to my blond hair was called ‘blondie’ by most of them, but Ivor was not one of them as he did his training and slipped out quietly.As my talents were finally recognised, I was invited for a trial for Swansea schoolboys. Even by my standards I was playing a blinder making save after save, until that fateful moment: diving full stretch to my left and pulling off another wonder save, the ball deflected off the turf and dislocated my thumb. thinking it was broken, as it was facing the wrong way, I was taken to the physio’s room. Eyes watering slightly, in I walked and there he was, having a massage: “The Golden Boy” himself! Gordon Daniels, the club secretary, was there to and recognising me said, “What you doing here Blondie?” Holding up my thumb, I mumbled “thumb” and then scarcely believing my ears, from the masseurs table came the words “Blondie – your a footballer then,son?” The great man had spoken to me! I stuttered something incoherent and a conversation began, mostly a one way conversation  as I, I’m afraid, was star struck.As he chatted the masseur relocated my dislocated thumb and I swear I didn’t feel a thing. All too soon it was over and I bounced all the way back home to tell my Dad. His response was underwhelming to be honest, as in those times footballers were just “ordinary” people who everybody knew and who went for a beer (and a ciggie) with the fans after a game, before “walking” home.

About a week later, a group of about 20 of us were playing football on the beach and the Swans squad were jogging along the beach; to my disbelief Ivor peeled off jogged over to me and asked how my thumb was and then asked with an amused grin if we were using “Dead Dogs as Goalposts” as there was one washed up about 20 yards from where we were playing. No words could ever describe the superiority and pride I felt at that moment, but it’s a phrase I will never forget.

Whenever I go to the Liberty and see the magnificent bronze of “The Golden Boy” the first thing that comes to mind is “Dead Dogs for Goalposts” and a shiver runs down my spine.

Hope that explains the title of my tribute to, in my mind,  the greatest of all Welsh players: Ivor Allchurch – ‘The Golden Boy’, a Gentleman and a True Jack.

Michael Eames (@mikethesalmon)

2 thoughts on “Top Boyos: Ivor Allchurch

  1. much as he was a great player .was he a better inside forward than north walian the silken skilled roy Vernon having played with @ against roy ive yet nto see a better footballer footballer in the premier league ‘comment.

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