A boy born in West Germany, with a Jamaican father, played his whole club footballing career in England but by the grace of god had a Welsh mother, became a football cult icon of his time, that footballer was Welsh international, George Berry.
Berry’s father, was in the armed forces which meant often being posted in other countries. When George was born, the family were living in Rostrup, West Germany as it was known then. George Berry was born in 1957, and the area he lived had an extensive air base where his father worked. Very soon after he was born, the family moved to Blackpool, England where they settled down, and Berry attended school and from a young age, fell in love with football. He was recommended for a trial with Wolverhampton Wanderers by Alun Evans, who had played for Wolves and Liverpool amongst others during his playing career. Berry was playing in the same Youth team as Evans’s nephew when spotted and after his trial at Wolves was snapped up.
Berry was a big strong commanding centre half. He stood at 1.85 metres tall, so in old school measurements, six-foot-one-inch tall, however, with his trademark afro hairstyle he certainly gave the impression of being a lot taller than that. Berry made his debut in May 1977 when he was 19 years old against Chelsea. The player suffered many racist insults throughout his career due to his colour as did many other players. In these years the abuse was particularly bad, and many players suffered even from their own fans. One incident during an FA Cup game against Watford, Berry received abuse from a fan with Berry reacting to this abuse got onto the terraces with the two having an altercation where the police got involved with no formal action taken for any of the parties.
Wolves were a solid First Division side during this period, well established in the top division. Berry played a prominent part in this period. In 1980, Wolves had a great run in the League Cup getting to the final where they played reigning European Champions, Brian Clough led, Nottingham Forest. Wolves with players such as Emlyn Hughes, Berry, Kenny Hibbitt, Andy Gray and John Richards in their ranks got the victory on that day, with at the time, the club record signing, Gray scoring the solitary goal in the game. A great moment for the club.
Unfortunately, only two seasons later, the club was relegated, and Berry left the club joining Stoke City, who were in the top division, on a free transfer. Stoke struggled and that season was relegated from Division One. Berry was dropped from the team and went out on loan to Doncaster Rovers, before under a new manager at Stoke, Mick Mills, being brought back to the club and playing alongside Steve Bould in the centre of defence, both the club and Berry were transformed. Berry was named club captain, and the side managed to get to the playoffs that season. He remained with Stoke until 1990 before moving to Peterborough United and then Preston North End before retiring from professional football at his final club, Aldershot.
Berry’s international career with Wales began during his period at Wolves. In 1979, Berry was selected to make his debut against the country of his birth, West Germany in a European Championship qualifier at The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham. Berry then 21 years of age played alongside Leighton Phillips against a West German side who that night had players such as Sepp Maier, Manny Kaltz, Uli Stielike, Rainer Bonhof and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in their midst. West Germany who the following summer, would become European Champions ran out winners by two goals to nil, with Zimmerman and Fischer scoring the goals.
His international career was a stuttering one. Berry found it hard to secure a regular spot in the starting eleven and ended up with five caps. During that period, Wales had several good players in the centre back position in addition to Berry and Phillips, such as Byron Stevenson, Joey Jones, Kevin Ratcliffe, and Paul Price all trying to accommodate two places. To demonstrate his difficulty in commanding a starting spot, his first four caps was while he played for Wolves, but between his fourth and fifth cap, 23 Welsh internationals took place before playing in 1983 against England while on Stoke’s books, which turned out to be his final appearance for Wales.
George Berry was a player who may not have been the most technically proficient player but his wholehearted approach to the game made up for those limitations. A strong, commanding presence, outstanding aerially, whose leadership skills shone through as was his desire to represent Wales.
Feature Picture Credit: dailymail.co.uk