15. Mar, 2022


I was sad to hear the current plight of John Toshack, the legendary Welsh centre forward was placed on a ventilator after contacting Covid 19. Coming on the heels of the tragic deaths of cricketers Shane Warne and Rod Marsh it proved another sad backdrop to a troubling time Ironically Toshack's Uncle played Test Match cricket for Australia in the1940s. So hopefully he will be raising a baggy green to honour Warney and Marshy.

But Tosh has showed a strength of character which will enlighten his darkest hour. How many men for example are held in high regard by followers of Cardiff City and Swansea City. The red hot South Wales rivalry which arouses passions in the Valleys . Toshack was a Bluebird and a Swan at opposite ends of his playing career. His halcyon early 1970s days were in the red shirt of Liverpool. The promising young centre forward was signed from Cardiff in 1970 and enjoyed a golden period at Anfield. In 8 years Toshack helped the Reds win 3 League Titles, 1 European Cup, 1 FA Cup and a UEFA Cup. Toshack scored 96 goals and formed a lethal partnership with Kevin Keegan.

In 1978 Toshack left Liverpool, it was widely expected that he would rejoin Cardiff as a player coach, but Bluebirds manager Jimmy Andrews opposed the return to Ninian Park. Within weeks Toshack was appointed Swansea City manager. Aged just 29, Toshack became the youngest manager in the Football League. The Swans were struggling in the Fourth Division. The Vetch Field had certainly seen better days. In 1964 Swansea were beaten by Preston North End in a FA Cup Semi Final. Great Welsh players like Ivor Allchurch had worn the famous white shirt. But those were distant memories for the Swans fans. There were however green shoots emerging. Young local lads Robbie James, Alan Curtis, Jeremy Charles and Wyndeham Evans were been blooded into the first team Indeed much of the credit has to go to Harry Griffiths, Toshack's predecessor as Swansea manager. Tosh had style, he was appointed manager on St. Davids Day 1978.

Harry Griffiths stayed on as an advisor as the Swans clinched promotion to the Third Division, sadly Harry Griffiths died before promotion was secured. The popular Welshman suffered a heart attack as City prepared to face Scunthorpe. Twelve months later the Vetch was celebrateing again as the Swans were promoted to the Second Division. Alan Curtis had played a pivotal role in the rise of the Swans and joined First Division Leeds United in 1978. The Whites adapted well to life in the second tier, a season of consolidation followed in 1979-80. The following season started with a 2-1 defeat at Watford. But City soon recovered, losing only once in the next 13 games, They hammered Bolton Wanderers 4-1 at Burnden Park and beat Newcastle United 2-1 at St James Park. The Toon punishment did not end there. In mid December Newcastle were beaten 4-0 at the Vetch. At the beginning of 1981 there was a sense of optimism in the Rhonda Valley, could Swansea really gain promotion to the top flight of English (and Welsh) football for the first time in their history? Hopes were boosted further when Alan Curtis returned to the Vetch while winger Leighton James was signed from Burnley. As the run in approached City faced Blackburn Rovers in early March. The Vetch fixture was crucial. Rovers were Swansea's nearest challengers. Managed by Howard Kendall, the Ewood Park club were sure to provide the acid test. Swansea kept their nerve and emerged 2-0 winners. A result which would prove vital in the final reckoning.

On the final day of the season City had their destiny in their own hands. A win would see Toshack's side promoted. A familiar foe lay in their way. Swansea faced Preston North End, the club that had denied them FA Cup glory 17 years ago. To add extra spice North End needed a win to avoid relegation to the Third Division. An estimated 11,000 Swansea fans made the trip to Deepdale, amongst them was Welsh Rugby Union legend Gareth Edwards The glamour did not end there, the Swans were given a pre match team talk by the legendary Bill Shankly, the man who managed Toshack at Liverpool. Shanks magic seemed to be working as City went 2 up with goals from Leighton James and Tommy Craig. Preston were managed by another iconic figure, Nobby Stiles was a member of England's 1966 World Cup winning team. Stiles must have read the riot act in the home dressing room at half time as North End soon pulled a goal back through Alex Bruce. The Swans stood firm and sealed the historic win in the dying minutes. Alan Curtis raced down the right, he fed Robbie James. The midfielder miss controlled but the ball fell into the path of Jeremy Charles. Charles made no mistake, blasting his shot into the roof of the net.

Swansea City had done it. It had taken just 4 seasons to complete the journey from the Fourth to the First Division. A record they held jointly with Wimbledon. For the first time in nearly 20 years a Welsh club were mixing it with the elite. Cardiff had been relegated from the First Division in 1962. It had been a personal triumph for Toshack, the day before his appointment City had been beaten by Rochdale who were bottom of the Fourth Division, now Liverpool, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest and reigning European Cup winners Aston Villa would be visiting South Wales. Toshack was not resting on his laurels and signed Yugoslvian Internationals Dzemal Hadzlabdic and Ante Rajovic, both proved firm favorites with the Vetch faithful.

Toshack returned to his old Merseyside stomping ground to boost the attack England striker Bob Latchford was signed from Everton. Latchford made a dream start, scoring a hat trick on his debut. City crushed Leeds United 5-1 (Latchford is pictured scoring his first goal) at The Vetch in their First Division bow. As any team made a better start to life in the top tier. Curtis scored the pick of the bunch as he picked up the ball on the right beat 2 Leeds defenders before scoring emphatically. As commentator Idwal Robbling shouted "What a sidestep, what a goal."

It got better and better as FA Cup holders Tottenham Hotspur were beaten 2-1. In early October Toshack made an emotional return to Anfield. The day before he had attended Bill Shankly's funeral, as Merseyside paid its respects to the man who had made Liverpool FC a footballing giant. As the two teams lined up to for a minutes silence, Toshack took off his track suit top to reveal a Liverpool shirt. Some misrepresented the gesture feeling that Toshack was trying to curry favor with the Anfield hierarchy. Liverpool were enduring a rare bad spell and Toshack was been mentioned as the man to replace Bob Paisley as Reds manager. Swansea were unlucky not to win the match. Goals from Robbie James and Latchford put City 2 up before the home side rescued a 2-2 draw.

A week later Arsenal were beaten 2-1 with young Max Thompson scoring a memorable winner. On October 17th Swansea City won 2-1 at Stoke City. Victory in The Potteries saw Swansea City climb to the top of the First Division. Many felt the bubble would burst but the Whites continued to defy the odds. In January 1982 Manchester United were beaten 3-0 at home. In late March Swansea again topped the league following victory over Manchester City. The impossible dream seemed possible. But Swansea stumbled in the final furlong, winning only 1 of their last 6 games. Nevertheless the Swans finished 6th, a magnificent achievement and still their highest ever league finish.

But the rot had set in. Swansea were relegated the following season and John Toshack left. By 1986 they were back in The Fourth Division. Like Northampton Town in the 1960s City had risen from the depths, only to return there. In 2003 they were almost relegated from The Football League. A 4-1 win over Exeter City kept the Swans head above water. Local lad James Thomas was the hero, scoring a hat trick. Remarkably a decade late Swansea were back in The Premier League and League Cup winners. The brilliant stewardship of Roberto Martinez, Brenden Rodgers and Michael Laudrup playing the attractive Swansea way. A fitting legacy to the boys of 81.