After 4 months of football lockdown finally today the Swans are back in business. I had to check online when we played the last game, who it was against and what was the score (7th March, West Brom, 0-0). With so many momentous, life changing, world changing events currently taking place I must admit I’m looking forward to getting lost in 90 minutes of stress and heartache where the outcome isn’t life or death, no matter what Bill Shankly said.
It somehow seems appropriate that football returns this week as we mark the 50th anniversary of one of the finest games of football ever. The 1970 World Cup final was the culmination of one of the greatest months of my life. I was 10 years old and football was everything.
I had completed my Panini Stickers book before the finals started. Also, at this stage I hadn’t developed my complete and total Welsh footballing allegiance so we collected the coins from the petrol stations which featured the England squad and I would have thought we bought their pop single ‘Back Home’.
The tournament had some of the most dramatic games I have ever seen. In the group stages England lost to Brazil with Gordon Banks pulling off a save that still defies explanation.
The iconic handshake between Bobby Moore and Pele at the end of that game is etched on my mind.
England finally went out of the competition in the Quarter Finals. Losing goalkeeper Gordon Banks due to stomach problems juts before the match made me nervous. At 2 nil up I was shocked that England Manager Alf Ramsey took off Bobby Charlton. It was later said he was resting him for the semi-final. A goalkeeping mistake and a fluky header brought West Germany level and with no Charlton to steady the ship a poachers goal from Gerd Mueller sent the Germans through and England home.
I was disappointed but I have to admit by then I had lost my heart…to Brazil.
50 years on I can still name the team. The beautiful Golden yellow shirts, the flamboyance and arrogance of players whose love for the game shone through on the pitch. This was total football. Everyone could play anywhere on the pitch and of course they had Pele, the man who coined the phrase ‘O Jogo Bonito, The Beautiful Game’.
I actually missed the kick off for the final. Even on World Cup Final night I had to go to the Gospel Meeting and with a speaker who obviously had no idea of what an important night it was he went into extra time with his ‘appeal’ to the congregation. My brother Gareth and I ran home and whilst we missed the starting whistle we saw all of the goals.
If the World Cup Final of 1970, played at Azteca Stadium in Mexico in front of over 107,000 spectators was a defining moment in my love affair with the Beautiful Game it was a very different occasion and location that I knew this was going to be a lifelong love affair.
This week I’ve been lockdown rubbish clearing and came across the football programme of the first match I ever went to. It was at 3.15pm on Saturday the 20th September 1969. In the Fourth Division of the Football League Swansea Town were playing host to Northampton Town at the Vetch Field. I had been to the ‘stadium’ once before to see my brother play in the junior schools cup final, but this was the first time I had been there on my own. Well, on my own with about a dozen other kids and a couple of teachers. The Swans were trying their best to welcome in a new generation of football fans by giving school football teams tickets to home matches. This week was the turn of Bryhynfryd Junior School and I have to say the plan worked beautifully.
We all marched up the steps of the Double Decker and took our place ready to scream at the tops of our voices. As it was early in the season there was still some grass on the pitch.
The Swans might not have had a Pele or Jairzhino playing in white, but we did have Tony Millington in goal, Vic Gomersall at left back Mel Nurse at Centre half Herbie Williams and Dai Gwyther up front with Brian Evans on one wing and Len Allchurch on the other. Of course, Len Allchurch knew all about Pele and Brazil as he was part of the 1958 Wales World Cup Squad that lost to Brazil in the Quarter Finals.
If I’m honest I don’t remember too much about the actual football. The one outstanding moment was when the Northampton centre forward Frank Large kicked the ball into the crowd. The wayward shot unfortunately hit a young child in the crowd prompting a member of the public to run onto the pitch to confront the big blond number 9. Frank reacted in the way most 4th Division centre forwards would at the time by punching the supporter leading to his sending off for bringing the game into disrepute. All that action and with the Swans winning 3-2 there was no question, I was hooked.
Over the years I’ve watched the Swans home and away, at the Vetch and at the Liberty. I’ve seen us at the bottom of the Fourth Division and at the top of the Premier league. I’ve seen us play hopeful long ball lump it up the pitch footie and I’ve seen us emulate that Brazilian team I saw in 1970.
It was a couple of years later that I realised how good that Welsh 1958 World Cup side was and how close we had come to beating Brazil in that Quarter Final. By that stage I was in the same football team as Jeremy Charles and we would often ask his dad Mel Charles about that tournament. He once told me that the best player in that 1958 Brazilian team was Garrincha (Portuguese for ‘little bird’). To this day I don’t know whether he was teasing me when he said the reason that Garrincha was able to bend the ball so much was that he wore his boots on the wrong feet.
By that stage all I wanted to talk bout was the 17 year old who had scored the goal that sent Wales home. Mel always maintained Pele had miskicked the ball that led to the goal, Pele always said Mel Charles was the best Centre half in the tournament. Pele also said he remembered that game fondly because it was his first world cup goal.
Pele went on to win the World Cup 3 times and when he scored in that 1970 World cup it was the 100th Brazilian World goal.
One final Swansea Brazil connection, at the end of the 1958 World Cup Quarter Final Mel Charles swapped shirts with Pele. After years of them collecting dust he decided to put it to good use by taking them down the park for the lads to use as they didn’t have proper kit. Somewhere out there in Swansea that Pele shirt could still be lurking.