Wales’ Football Icons: #4 Ivor Allchurch

ARTICLE BY TOMOS WYN JONES

PERHAPS many of the younger generation of Welsh football fans wouldn’t even recognise the name Ivor Allchurch.

Described as the “Golden Boy” of his generation of Welsh players, Allchurch was born in October 1929 in Swansea, where he also started his footballing career.

However, like many players of his generation, including John Charles, Allchurch was due to complete his mandatory National Service and was called up in 1948. During his training, he continued to play football within his unit, in addition to playing for the Western Command. Allchurch’s loyalty towards his hometown club was evident when he was completing his National Service, as he declined offers from the likes of Shrewsbury Town on a permanent basis, and returned to Wales in 1949 where he kicked off his professional career with the Swans (then called Swansea Town but now Swansea City).

Allchurch faced stiff competition in his first season with the club, as strikers Sammy McCrory and Billy Lucas were favoured above him by manager Billy McCandless. After spending the first half of the 1949/50 season in the Reserve side, his debut for the senior side came on Boxing Day against a strong West Ham United side, who beat the Swans 3-0. Despite that defeat, Allchurch impressed on his first outing, and it led to his second consecutive start for the South Walian side, where this time he scored in a surprising 3-0 victory against First Division outfit Birmingham City in the FA Cup.

Allchurch is regarded as Swansea City’s greatest ever player.

Allchurch was quickly making quite the impression, receiving high praise from Arsenal legend Joe Mercer, who found many difficulties coming up against him in their FA Cup victory against the Swans. The “Golden Boy” certainly looked as a generational talent and was rewarded with a Welsh cup winners medal at the end of the 49/50 season, where he featured in a 4-1 demolition of Wrexham at Ninian Park.

The following season. Allchurch broke a club record to become the youngest player for Swansea to play every minute of every game throughout the 1950/51 season. A lot of pressure was on his shoulders leading the line for one of Wales’ biggest clubs and he finished the season with a respectable 9 goals in all competitions. Despite improving his goal scoring standards the next season, Allchurch was deeply unhappy with the Swans’ lack of ambition, as they flirted with relegation and were at danger of playing Third Division football if they didn’t improve their performances on the field of play. Despite contemplating leaving South Wales, Allchurch remained with the Swans, despite Arsenal bidding a near-transfer record of £30,000 for him at the time.

Swansea looked much more like an attacking outfit during the 1952/53 campaign, as they formed a formidable front three of Allchurch, Terry Medwin and Harry Griffiths. Allchurch’s first career hat-trick came during that season, as he put in a dominant display against Brentford. The South Walian also continued his trend of improving his goal scoring tally every season, ending up with 15 goals in a relatively successful season for the Swans.

By midway through 1953, Allchurch was drawing attention from some of the best clubs in the English game, and his 20 goals during the 1953/54 season was putting the Swans in danger of losing their star man. His career high of 22 goals in the 1954/55 was amongst the best in the country at the time, where he averaged a goal every two games. His career, however, changed forever after the sudden passing of manager Billy McCandless. Swansea established a selection committee, including Allchurch, that would lead the club for the foreseeable future. During their leadership, the club seemed to have finally mounted a promotion challenge, where they dominated the Second Division during the first half of the season. However, several disputes occurred between the committee and the club board, where they disagreed over club finances and transfers. Despite Allchurch’s best efforts of scoring goals, the defence of Swansea were leaking far too many goals, resulting in them ending the season in a disappointing mid-table position. Considering they were promotion contenders up until Christmas, it came as a bitter blow.

Despite scoring on a regular basis for the next three seasons, Allchurch once again became frustrated with the Swans for a lack of ambition and unwillingness in investing within the squad. This was cited as his main reason for leaving the club, with many top clubs, including Liverpool, seriously interested in signing him. However, as Liverpool were playing in the Second Division, he rejected their offer, with the Welshman desperately wanting to play for a First Division club. As such, Newcastle United bid £28,000 for Allchurch at the 11th hour and the bid was accepted.

He signed for the Magpies in October 1958, where he made an instant impact by scoring twice on his debut in a 3-1 victory against Leicester City. He was yet again part of a formidable strike force with Newcastle, as he starred up-front with George Eastham and Len White. Despite missing the opening months of the 1958/59 season, Allchurch ended up as Newcastle’s second highest goal scorer of the season with 16 goals, making quite the mark in his debut season in England’s elite division. He was scoring at a rate of a goal every game and a half, making it an even more successful season for the player.

Allchurch in action for Newcastle United.

The 1959/60 season was built to be a stellar campaign for Newcastle, with the front three looking like one of the brightest attacking forces in the country. However, Newcastle’s season started miserably, ending up in 18th position by October. Allchurch was also said to be aggregated by his club’s decision to decline an international call-up. A transfer request was handed in consequently by the player, as he believed the club had not kept to their word that he would be released to play for Wales when called up. After the dust had settled between all parties, the request was dropped by Allchurch, and he continued to play and most importantly, returned to scoring goals for the Magpies. Once again, he was one of Newcastle’s best players for the season, as he scored 14 goals in an 8th placed finish.

The 1960/61 season started in no better fashion for Newcastle, as they were losing on a regular basis. Tension was brewing in the changing room, with Allchurch once again requesting a transfer based on returning to his family, with his wife expecting a child. Newcastle certainly didn’t help themselves, as they decided to play Allchurch in a more central position rather than a winger. This prompted Allchurch into purposely not playing on three occasions in protest. Newcastle were looking increasingly likely to be relegated, and the loss of their captain certainly didn’t help their cause. Allchurch stood in as captain, in the hope that results would improve. However, it was too little too late, as the club suffered relegation to the Second Division.

The Welshman was made permanent captain for the 1961/62 season but failed to galvanise his squad and struggled to find consistent form to return straight back to the First Division. Although he was a prominent figure throughout the season, Allchurch handed in his third transfer request because of Newcastle blocking yet another international call-up. Newcastle gave in and a move to Cardiff City came about for a fee just under £20,000. Allchurch’s Newcastle career from a personal point of view can be seen as a relatively successful period, where he managed to score 51 times on 154 occasions for the Magpies.

Allchurch made his Cardiff debut against Newcastle in an entertaining 4-4 draw. Allchurch, who was made club captain immediately, was praised by the local press for leading Cardiff’s early promotion charge back to the first division. He was also described by the South Wales Echo as perhaps Cardiff’s greatest captain in recent history, paying tribute to his immediate impact. In addition to his leadership attributes, he formed a swift strike partnership with Peter Hooper – between them they scored 34 goals (Allchurch scoring 14). Despite this, Cardiff were unable to string a consistent run and failed to return to the top-flight at the first attempt.

The 1963/64 season started with the best news possible, that Ivor Allchurch and John Charles would line-up together for the first time at club level. Despite everyone raising their hopes, Cardiff only accumulated 14 wins throughout the season, with both strikers (In their 30s) struggling to find consistent form, but Allchurch did finish as the club’s top goal scorer with 12 goals. He won his second major honour of his career at the end of the season, when he was triumphant in a 2-0 play-off win against Bangor City at the Racecourse. The Citizens won the opening leg 2-0 at Farrar Road, but a 3-1 win in the 2nd leg for the bluebirds was enough to send the game to a play-off, where the club from the capital were victorious by two goals to nil.

John Charles and Ivor Allchurch pictured with the Cardiff City team of 1962/63.

The following season, Allchurch found it difficult to break into the side until after Christmas, where he found life under new manager Jimmy Scoular difficult. On his return in February ’65, he scored 9 goals, with three coming against Swansea, condemning their relegation to the third tier of English football. In addition, Allchurch made his debut in European competition, starting in a 0-0 stalemate against Danish side Esbjerg fB. Allchurch won his second consecutive Welsh Cup with Cardiff in a 3-0 win against Wrexham at Shrewsbury’s Gay Meadow, where he scored a brace in a convincing final win for the bluebirds. This turned out to be his final game for Cardiff, after he was re-signed by Swansea City for a fee in the region of £8,000. He finished his Bluebirds’ career with 47 goals in 126 games.

In a similar way that John Charles had upon his return to Leeds, Allchurch’s comeback with the Swans meant there was an increase in the sales of season tickets at Vetch Field. However, the club was struggling with their early form, and it took until their 5th game to win their first game of the season, when Allchurch scored the decisive winner in a 1-0 win against Grimsby Town. It was a real struggle in his first season back with the Swans, however, he did manage to win yet another Welsh Cup, this time against Chester City, where he scored the decisive winner at Sealand Road. Allchurch finished the season as the club’s top goal scorer with 16 goals in 43 outings.

Swansea’s struggles continued into the 1966/67 season, where manager Glyn Davies’ contract was mutually terminated, as results were heading in a worrying direction for the club. Allchurch was appointed as club captain, but it was too little too late once again in the Welshman’s illustrious career, as he suffered his second relegation of his club career.

The 1967/68 season proved to be Allchurch’s final season as a professional footballer, as he decided that the time had come to bring an end to an incredible career spanning nearly 20 years. He operated in a more central role, and it benefited him massively, scoring 17 goals.

Allchurch officially retired from the game in May 1968, ending up as Swansea’s record goal scorer in their history, with 166 goals across two spells. In addition to this, he ran out 445 times for the Swans, which today sees him stand as the player with the 6th most appearances ever for the club.

Allchurch in Wales colours.

On the international front, Allchurch made his Wales debut in 1950 at the age of 21, when he appeared in a 4-2 defeat against England in the British Home Championship. He was a key figure in Wales’ first successful qualifying campaign for a FIFA World Cup, where he starred and scored in both legs against Israel in a play-off match to determine who would go to the finals in Sweden.

He was an integral part of Wales’ squad during the World Cup; he scored in a 1-1 draw against Mexico during the group stage, and scored Wales’ first goal in their historic 2-1 victory against Hungary, which led to Wales’ qualification to the quarter-final stage. Allchurch received so much praise during and after the tournament, that some reporters even tipped him to be good enough to star for the Brazilian side, that included the likes of future superstar Pele.

Allchurch reached the 50th cap mark in 1962 against Scotland and became Wales’ record cap holder at the time, overtaking Billy Meredith’s record. His 68th and final cap for his country came in 1966 when he faced Chile. His record number of caps stood for 20 years, and his record 23 goals for Wales also stood until Ian Rush overtook it in the 1990s.

The statue dedicated to Allchurch outside Swansea’s Liberty Stadium.

Towards the end of his playing career, Allchurch received an MBE in the New Year’s honours for his services to sport, further acknowledging how much he had changed football in our beloved country. He was also inducted into the hall of fame of Wales (1995) and England (2005), proving once again that he was a national treasure and a true icon for Wales and the English game. Allchurch sadly passed away in July 1997, aged 67. In his honour, a statue (pictured above) has been built of him outside Swansea’s Liberty Stadium, with it officially being unveiled at the same time the Liberty officially opened in 2005.

Allchurch, whose brother Len was also a Welsh international and Swansea Town/City legend, will be best remembered as Swansea’s record goal scorer and Wales’ World Cup hero, however, it is crucial to also remember his contributions for Newcastle and Cardiff City – he hit double figures in terms of goals scored every season he played apart from his first two as a professional. He was one of the best professional footballers of his generation and will forever be missed by us all but remembered for his talent.

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