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Born: Wednesday 16 October 1929, Swansea, Wales
Died: Wednesday 9 July 1997, Swansea, Wales (aged 67)
Position: Inside Forward
One of Wales' finest ever players and a member of what remains the only Welsh team to reach a major international tournament, inside-left Ivor Allchurch set national appearance and goalscoring records which stood for many years after his retirement. He is also one of a relatively small number of players to have had significant spells with both his hometown club Swansea City (at the time known as Swansea Town) and fierce rivals Cardiff City.
Allchurch was born in Swansea on 16 October 1929, to English parents who had moved to south Wales some years earlier. Both he and younger brother Len were keen footballers and both would go on to turn professional. Having left school at the age of fourteen, Ivor worked in a variety of jobs before being spotted by a scout from local team Swansea Town, who played in the English Second Division. He was playing in an under-18 match after already having played an under-16 game earlier in the same day, and was still the best player on the pitch.
Allchurch quickly signed on as an apprentice, working on the club's ground staff before turning professional in 1947. His entry into league football was delayed when he was called up for national service, although during that time he did appear in 11 league for then-Midland League side Shrewsbury Town in 1948-49. His Football League debut finally came on Boxing Day 1949, in a disappointing 3-0 Second Division loss at West Ham, and he went on to appear in most of Swansea's remaining matches that season.
Allchurch's reputation quickly grew and he was soon regarded as one of the finest inside forwards in British football. His close control and turn of speed enabled him to beat defenders with ease, while his height gave him great ability in the air. Also renowned for having an incredibly powerful left-foot shot, he regularly scored spectacular long range goals. First Division clubs soon showed an interest in him, but with the maximum wage still in force there was no incentive to move away from home.
He was called into the Welsh national team for the first time in November 1950, making his debut in a 4-2 British Home Championship defeat to England. Despite playing for an often struggling Second Division side, Allchurch was always one of the stars of the national team. His winning goal against Scotland in the 1951-52 Home Championship helped Wales to claim a share of the title with England.
The highlight of his international career came in 1958. Wales had originally failed to reach the World Cup having finished second in their group but when Israel would have qualified without playing a game, they were required to play-off against the runner-up of one of the European qualifying groups. Wales were drawn to face them and won the play-off, reaching the World Cup in Sweden.
In the finals Wales drew all three group games, coming closest to a win when Allchurch gave them a half-time lead against Mexico. They were pegged back to 1-1 but finished the group level on points with Hungary, meaning there would be a play-off for a place in the last eight. Hungary led at half-time but Allchurch scored his second goal of the finals to pull his country level. They went on to win 2-1 before losing 1-0 to eventual champions Brazil in the quarter-final, having made a real impact on their first World Cup.
On the back of his World Cup performances, an offer from First Division side Newcastle United finally lured Allchurch away from Swansea in the autumn of 1958. He left the club having scored 124 league goals and helping them to reach back-to-back Welsh Cup finals. For the first time in his career he would no longer be a team-mate of brother Len, who had become a regular on the right wing for Swansea.
Allchurch scored twice on his First Division debut as Newcastle beat Leicester City 3-1, going on to amass 16 goals in 26 league games that season. Having been almost 29 when he made his top-flight debut, his loyalty to Swansea may have meant that he missed out on fully realising his potential at the highest level. However, leading defenders of the time, including future World Cup winner Bobby Moore, considered him one of the finest inside forwards they had faced.
Allchurch stayed with Newcastle until the summer of 1962, a spell which ended back in the Second Division after relegation in 1961. He was the club's top scorer in their first season at the lower level with 11 goals, but then returned home to south Wales to join Swansea's rivals Cardiff City who had also just been relegated to the Second Division. In three years at Cardiff he scored 39 goals in 103 league games and crowned his spell at the club with a Welsh Cup final win over Wrexham in 1965, where he scored twice in a 3-0 play-off victory.
On leaving Cardiff, Allchurch moved back to Swansea for a second spell with his hometown club, who by then had just been relegated themselves into the Third Division. Their on field struggles continued, finishing only 17th in the table in 1965-66, but there was more success in the Welsh Cup. Again the final went to a replay, this time against Chester, and Allchurch scored the winner in a 2-1 win. Three weeks later he played in his last ever international match, a 2-0 defeat to Chile. His 68 caps remained a record until beaten by Joey Jones 20 years later, while his total of 23 goals was unsurpassed until Ian Rush scored his 24th goal for Wales in 1993.
Unfortunately for Swansea, the 1966-67 season brought another relegation and Allchurch ended his Football League career playing in the Fourth Division. In his final season of 1967-68 he was the club's top scorer, while over his two spells at the club he amassed a total of 146 league goals, a record which remains unbroken. He continued to play in non-league football, appearing for Worcester City and Pontardawe Athletic as well as having a short spell as player-manager of Haverfordwest County.
In his retirement, Allchurch worked as a storeman. He was remembered as one of football's gentlemen who got on with his job in a quiet, unassuming manner but was nevertheless incredibly popular wherever he played. When he died in July 1997, aged 67, hundreds of people attended his funeral in Swansea and when the club opened their new Liberty Stadium in 2005, a life-size statue of Allchurch was placed outside.
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- Published on Monday, 08 October 2012 20:19