ARTICLE by Keane Webster
PICTURE by The Football History Boys.
When we think about some of the Icons our national side has seen over the years, we are instantly drawn to names such as, Gareth Bale, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs or Mark Hughes.
However, names that should never ever be forgotten in the Welsh footballing world include; John Charles, Ivor Allchurch and Jimmy Murphy – all of whom played big parts in what was, for the best part of more than half a century before our Euro 2016 campaign – Wales’ biggest achievement when they reached the World Cup Quarter Final in Sweden, way back in 1958.
Often described as the ‘Golden Boy of Welsh Soccer’, Ivor Allchurch enjoyed a thrilling and lengthy career at clubs such as Swansea City, Newcastle United and Cardiff City. He is one of Wales’ best ever players who played as an inside-forward with his skilful, quick dribbling and deadly shooting. Allchurch was instrumental in Wales’ qualifying rounds for World Cup 1958 – scoring against Israel in two play-off games, which saw Wales qualify for their first and, so far, only World Cup Finals. During the famous World Cup campaign, Allchurch managed to find the net against Mexico and Hungary and put an impressive performance in in the quarter final match that which saw Wales get knocked out by a then- 17-year-old Pele’s Brazil. His more than respectful goal scoring record is a credit to the role he played for the Welsh national team, with 23 goals in 68 games. To add to his impressive goal scoring record, Allchurch’s 68 games saw him hold the record of ‘most capped Welsh international’ until 1986, before it was beaten by Ian Rush’s 73 (Which has since been beaten by nine other players).
Ivor Allchurch (above) is highly-respected all around Wales and even has his own statue outside of the Liberty Stadium, after making over 400 appearances for Swansea City. Despite playing at such a high level for his whole career, before retiring at the age of 50 Allchurch finished his career playing for two much smaller clubs in Haverfordwest County and Pontardarwe Athletic. The drop of quality between these two clubs and the three he played for in his earlier days showed the pure humbleness of this true Welsh footballing icon.
Frequently being named ‘British football’s greatest ever export’, John Charles was also a key figure in Wales’ 58’ World Cup campaign and is without a doubt, to many people, the greatest Welsh player ever. As well as his teammate Allchurch, Charles also scored vital goals in the 1958 World Cup campaign but was unfortunately injured for the quarter final game against Brazil. According to manager Jimmy Murphy, Wales would have beaten the Brazilians had John Charles played. Whether or not Wales would have won, there was no doubt he would have made a difference, with his emphatic goal scoring record backing up the threat he posed to any team he faced. Charles netted 15 times in 38 caps for Wales, showing he could also flaunt his goal scoring prowess on international level.
Nicknamed the ‘Gentle Giant’ due to his polite demeanour and staggering height of 6”2 at the age of 17, it was obvious Charles (above) would go on to be an exceptional talent with his lighting quick pace, his pure strength and two good feet. Originally a centre half, it became apparent later on that Charles was a forward and was given a role up front early in the 1952-3 season by Leeds manager Frank Buckely. During his short first stint at centre forward, Charles put his name on the score-sheet 11 times in just six matches. Going on to spend the rest of his season as at centre forward, John finished the season with 38 goals in 40 matches. In what was a fantastic year for the player, attention was drawn to the young Welsh talisman from Italian giants Juventus. The old lady were willing to pay a then British record fee for the Welshman’s signature offering £65,000 to Leeds United, who ended up accepting the offer. Going on to win three league titles and two Coppa Italia’s, plus scoring 95 goals for Juventus, Charles had an illustrious career overseas in Italy, but ultimately returned to Leeds five years after his big move. After being unable to re-adapt to the English game, Charles went out on loan to Roma and then to Cardiff – but nevertheless was still regarded as the best player in the world by Welsh fans right up until his retirement and for a long time after too I’m sure. He is also still loved by Leeds United to this day, with a stand named after him at Elland Road, and still revered as Juventus’ greatest ever overseas player.
Jimmy Murphy was a superman in the footballing sense. The first and, to date, only manager to qualify for a World Cup finals spot with the Wales national team. Murphy enjoyed an 11-year career at West Bromwich Albion and Swindon Town, whilst also making 15 appearances for Wales before going on to take charge of his country. Despite being Wales boss, Murphy was also Manchester United’s assistant manager behind Sir Matt Busby, whilst leading the Wales side to what was their greatest ever achievement, the 58’ World Cup quarter final. However, it is not just the tactical genius of Murphy that makes him so special. His graft and determined attitude gained him respect from many personalities and fans around the UK, and emphasised how much of a footballing icon he truly was, and Manchester United fans may just have him to thank more than anybody in their club’s history. Murphy was also known for his strength of character and was appointed by Sir Matt Busby after Busby watched him hold multiple P.E drills in the army.
But the story that makes Welsh fans most proud about having Jimmy Murphy (above) as a part of their footballing family, is how his constant determination and drive saved Manchester United Football Club. On February 6 1958, Sir Matt Busby’s young and talented United side were involved in a horrifying air crash disaster which saw 23 of the ‘Busby Babes’ lose their lives. Jimmy Murphy, who had not travelled to Belgrade with the team as he was managing Wales in their final qualifying game against Israel, arrived at Old Trafford the day after, high spirited, only to be told by an office women about the incident. Despite the joy of qualifying his National side for their first ever competition, Murphy halted all celebrations and acted quickly. He flew out to Belgrade to see the surviving players and give them any support they needed, and then visited members of the injured, or killed families. Due to losing half the team to injury and death, Manchester United asked the Football League for permission to miss the next game, which was only 13 days away, as they would not have enough players to make a squad. However, the football league denied the request and told Manchester United that if they did not play, they would be kicked out the football league for good. Therefore, Jimmy Murphy worked tirelessly all week and got a team to field against Sheffield Wednesday made up of local footballers and semi Professionals. Manchester United went on to win the game and kept on winning matches throughout the season too. The damaged side also made it all the way to the FA Cup Final but unfortunately lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers. All of this was thanks to Jimmy Murphy. A Welsh hero, genius and icon. A man to never be forgotten and one who’s legacy will undoubtedly live on in Manchester United and Welsh hearts forever.