Over the decades there have been many great players who have worn the Welsh shirt, players of the footballing ability known in football circles around the world over such as Billy Meredith, John Charles, Cliff Jones, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale to name a few. I recently republished an article on Y Ddraig listing my own greatest Welsh 11 of all time. In that side, I am sure there are names that everyone knows, however, as generations change, memories dim, and one name who presently may not be as well known is the player I picked on the right wing for that side, and that player was Ivor Allchurch. A gem of a footballer in the late 1940’s right through to the mid-1960s, one of the all-time greats of Welsh football.
Ivor was born in Swansea, West Wales in 1929. Ivor was the sixth of seven children with four brothers. The children all attended Plasmarl School, and Ivor left school at the age of 14 to find work and help with money for the household. After a few different roles, Ivor ended up as a porter at a local fish market, which allowed him in winter to finish early due to insufficient stocks in what was at the time, wartime. This allowed Ivor to play football in this available time on a more regular basis, his brother, Len also worked at the same fish market, so the pair sharpened their football skills on those cold winter days.
All four brothers loved football. Arthur would go on to represent Wales at amateur level; Charlie played for many years in local leagues in Swansea. Len Allchurch would go on to play for Swansea, Sheffield United and Stockport and also as Ivor played for Wales, but there is no doubt, and this is not to disrespect the others, Ivor was the footballing star in the family, and what a bright star he was.
Ivor was first spotted as a player of real promise when he was 14 years old. He was seen playing in an under 18 game by Joe Sykes, a scout at the time for Swansea. The club had amateur status at the time, and Sykes visited Ivor’s home to see his parents. Soon after this meeting, it was agreed that Ivor would join the club when he was 15, and train at the club two days a week. During this interim period, there were several professional clubs who saw Ivor play who wanted them to join them, but Ivor did not want to break the verbal agreement that he and his dad had given to Swansea already. A real man of honour, would that happen nowadays? I very much doubt it.
In 1948, Ivor was called up for his National Service and enlisted in the British Army. During this period, Ivor played for his unit and Western Command. So impressive were his performances, that Shrewsbury, also like Swansea, an amateur club, asked him during his military service to play for them which he did. Professional clubs were watching on and a number as before, wanted Ivor to sign but Ivor after he finished his National Service, he returned to his hometown club, Swansea.
Ivor would make his debut for Swansea in 1949 against Birmingham in the FA Cup which Swansea won. In the next round, Swansea would play Arsenal who would go on to win the FA Cup that season. Ivor’s performance that day was so impressive, that legendary Arsenal manager, Joe Mercer, was quoted as saying “He nearly frightened us to death”, Ivor’s footballing skills so smooth, he could dribble, spot a pass and was a constant goal threat from his position at inside right. Indeed, more offers for the player came in but again, Swansea yielded selling the player.
After only 30 appearances for Swansea, Ivor would make his debut for Wales against England at Roker Park, Sunderland in 1950 in a defeat. The player would play each of the next 26 Welsh internationals over the next six years since his international debut.
During the early 1950’s Swansea did have some financial problems but kept star names such as Ivor and another Welsh great, Terry Medwin in their ranks. Swansea was a Second Division side and was mainly in the lower reaches of the Division. Ivor did contemplate a move away, clubs such as Wolverhampton Wanderers, Manchester City and Liverpool made bids for the player, and in 1952, Arsenal put in an offer of £30,000 for the player, which at the time, was only £5,000 shy of the British transfer record, which was rejected.
Ivor’s Welsh teammates could see how good a player Ivor was and felt his skills belonged in the First Division and tried to persuade him to put in a transfer request, but Ivor stayed loyal to “The Swans”, he felt the club had the players and the ambition to play in the top flight, and he wanted to play there with his birthplace team.
As mentioned previously, Swansea was a Second Division side, more often in the bottom half of that division. Their forward line in the mid-1950’s side was very strong for that division. They were all internationals and consisted of Harry Griffiths, Terry Medwin, Ivor Allchurch, Len Allchurch and the great, Cliff Jones. Some forward line!
In 1955, Swansea sadly lost their manager, Billy McCandless who passed away just before the season started. The Swansea board decided to go with a three-man selection committee consisting of their three players in the side, Ron Burgess, Joe Sykes and Ivor. Burgess was given the title of “team manager”. With the three at the helm, Swansea started the season very strongly and by Christmas, looked to mount a serious promotion challenge.
However, after a few injuries, the strength of the squad was not in place to cope. The three-man committee asked for funds to improve the squad, but this was denied with the team eventually finishing tenth. Ivor’s frustrations increased with the club, and after a few more seasons of decline and after appearing in the 1958 World Cup Finals for Wales, he now appreciated it was indeed time to move on and with Swansea’s financial state, the time was now right for all parties.
Once clubs knew that the graceful, highly accomplished Allchurch was available the offers flooded in. Liverpool yet again made a move and offered to match any bid for the player. Ivor wanted to play in the top division, so Liverpool was not the move he wanted. Aston Villa had an offer accepted by Swansea, but it was Newcastle United he would sign for. Newcastle offered £28,000 which was accepted. Ivor went to Manchester to meet with the Newcastle manager, Charlie Mitten and was so impressed with the manager and his plans for the club that Ivor signed a contract at Manchester train station on a luggage trolley.Embed from Getty Images
One of the agreements that Ivor made with the manager was that he would be released by the club to play in any internationals for Wales which certainly aided Ivor’s decision. Finally, at the age of 28, Ivor would be playing in the First Division against the very best to ply his footballing ability.
Part 2 of the series will follow next week when we look at his career with Newcastle and of course, his and the countries exploits in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Please see attached link to part two: