Victory Shield squad to emulate stars of the 1950's?
The late 1940's and 1950's was a wonderful period for football followers in Wales, especially for those who hailed from Swansea. The club was holding its own in the old Second Division and kept producing very talented players, many of whom went on to play for the Wales senior side and became members of the World Cup squad of 1958.
There is a growing feeling that we are now entering a similarly exciting time. The senior side is unbeaten in the European Nations qualifying campaign with great prospects of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time since 1958 and Swansea City, despite an absence of locally born players, are riding high in the Premier League.
Thursday night's win in Ballymena by the Under 16 team was the first time for Wales to win the Victory Shield outright in 65 years. It was also the first time for Wales to win all three games, making it an even more remarkable achievement than the win in 1949 when they beat England, drew with Scotland, but did not play against Northern Ireland because the school leaving age increased to 15 for England, Wales and Scotland and there was a period of eight years when all three sides selected under 15 teams for games between themselves, but an under 14 (or Junior” side) for the game with Northern Ireland. The Irish eventually came into line with the rest of Britain for the 1956-57 season allowing the Victory Shield to once again be competed for by the four teams rather than just the three.<2r>
Beating England 4-3 in front of a huge crowd at the Vetch Field was a very exciting win, with Mountain Ash's Derek Jones grabbing a hat-trick. In goal that day was Johnny King, the boy from Ferndale who later went on to play 368 league games for Swansea Town between 1950 and 1964. He gained one senior cap for Wales in 1954 and would have had many more were it not for the brilliance of Arsenal’s Jack Kelsey.
The squad was dominated by Swansea born players –
- Len Allchurch, Matthew Chard, Denis Croft, Mervyn Dance, Gerald Hardey, Cliff Jones, Morton Lloyd, John Williams, Alan Samuel (all Swansea Boys)
- Terry Flynn, Derek Williams, Len Marshall (Merthyr)
- Johnny King, Gareth Philpott (Ferndale)
- G.Thomas, Rhys Thomas (Aberdare)
- John Griffiths, Eifion Williams, (Arfon)
- Alan Cockwell (Neath), Peter Denham (Flint), Isfryn Hughes (Anglesey), Derek Jones (Mountain Ash), John Stephens (Cardiff), Colin Morris (Barry), Glyn Davies (Newport)
Two of the squad, Len Allchurch and Cliff Jones went on to gain excellent careers in the professional game.
Len, younger brother of legendary Ivor, scored the goal at Easter Road which gave the draw against Scotland in 1949, and signed for the Swans in 1950 playing 347 games over two periods from 1950-61 and 1969-71 and scoring 60 goals. Despite not playing, he was a member of the World Cup squad which played in Sweden in 1958 and after his transfer to Sheff.Utd in 1961 he helped them gain promotion to the First Division where he played for three seasons making 140 appearances and scoring 37 goals.<3r>
Cliff was capped by Wales Schools in 1949 and 1950. He captained Swansea Schools in 1950 in a squad where he was joined by Terry Medwin and Mel Charles - a season in which the Swansea Schools team were unbeaten and won the English Schools Trophy. Such was the dominance of Swansea Schoolboys in the 1940's and 1950's under the guidance of Dai Beynon, that they won the English Schools Trophy three times (in 1950, 1953, 1955) and reached the final in 1958 and won(or jointly held) the Welsh Schools Trophy 11 times between 1946-58. Other Swansea-born players such as Trevor Ford, John Charles, Ray Daniel, Ivor Allchurch and Jack Kelsey missed out on international honours because of the break in international fixtures caused by the Second World War.
After joining Swansea Town, Cliff made his league debut in 1952 appearing only 25 times as a winger for the club before being called into the Wales national team. He played in all five of Wales’ games at the 1958 World Cup and also made a total of 11 appearances for Wales in World Cup qualifiers between 1957 and 1968. He won 59 caps, scoring 16 goals.<5r>
Cliff was bought by Tottenham Hotspur in 1958 and became a key part of the double-winning side of 1960-61. He was also a member of the successful Spurs sides in the 1962 FA Cup Final and 1963 European Cup Winners Cup Final.
Football has seen many changes in the last 60 years, but we can still hope in Wales that members of the current Welsh Schools side will soon make good progress with their clubs and some will break into the senior international side. We must not expect too much too soon. It would be wonderful if Tyler Roberts and Liam Cullen, last week’s goalscorers, could break into the senior side in the next few years, but boys develop at different rates. The great John Charles was capped at 18, but his younger brother Mel, who was regarded by Pele as the best centre-half in the World Cup in Sweden in 1958, struggled to get a regular place in the Swansea Schoolboys team of 1950.
A photograph of the 1949 squad can be seen on page 25 of Ceri Stennett's excellent book "As Good As It Gets" which documents the history of Wales Schools football.