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Centenary feature: 1951-1959

PUBLISHED

10:00 1st May 2013

. . . The Swans gave youth a chance as a number of local lads made their mark at the Vetch Field


1951-1952
During the summer break there were a number of structural alterations that took place at the Vetch, with a concrete wall being built that ran the whole length of the popular North Bank. Unlike the previous season the team started in fine form, the highlight being a 7-1 victory at the Vetch over a Coventry City side that included former Swans players Allen and Lockhart. But this fine start could not be maintained and although Rotherham United were thrashed 5-0 at the Vetch in December, the team started to slide nervously down the table. The FA Cup gave the supporters something to cheer, however, when, after victory over Reading in the third round and Rotherham in the fourth, the club were drawn at home to big-spending Newcastle United. It was the glamour tie the club had hoped for with the Magpies boasting a plethora of talent, led by the legendary Jackie Milburn. Despite this, the Swans went down to a narrow 1-0 defeat and the players could hold their heads up high as they returned to the league and the battle for points. The cup run had had an effect on the team and by mid April, the club was firmly at the wrong end of the table. However, with just two games left to play, the Swans thrashed Leeds 4-1 at the Vetch before preserving their status in the division with a 3-1 win against Rotherham on the final day of the season.

1952-1953
Although the previous two seasons saw the team struggle in the league, there was genuine optimism within the club in the form of promising youngsters coming through the system to augment those already playing in the first team. Amongst these were Mel Charles, brother of John, and Cliff Jones. An early indication was illustrated in November, when ten members of the starting line-up were Welsh – eight of whom were Swansea born. The spirit of the side was one of youthful exuberance with many players coming through the Swansea schoolboy system. The season would see this young, exciting side finish in a creditable 11th place, but how many clubs in the whole of the Football League could have four sets of brothers on its books as the Swans did? These were Ivor and Len Allchurch, Bryn and Cliff Jones, Cyril and Gilbert Beech and Colin and Alan Hole - a record that will probably never be surpassed.

1953-1954
The early season results were mixed, notably coupled with heavy defeats at Birmingham City (0-6) and West Ham United (1-4). As promising as the youngsters were at this time, the loss of senior players like Gilbert Beech and John Dewsbury to long-term injury, and the transfer of Frank Scrine and Billy Lucas, left the team short of experience in vital areas. Still, the team that played at Luton Town in January and gained a 1-1 draw created history by having a side full of Welshmen in its line up. The FA Cup gave the side some respite from a difficult league season, with the team being drawn away to lowly Barrow. The Swans did well to emerge from a very difficult tie with a 2-2 draw, beating the Cumbrians 4-2 in the replay at the Vetch Field. But the dream ended in the next round with a 3-0 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park. The rest of the season saw the side fight to preserve their Division Two status, doing so with three points to spare in an inconsistent campaign. One major departure during the season saw trainer Frank Barson leave due to illness, his place taken in the summer by Welsh International Ronnie Burgess as player-coach.

1954-1955
The season opened at the Vetch Field in front of 25,000 spectators with the visit of West Ham United. The home side were in sparkling form, winning 5-2 with Ivor Allchurch and Ronnie Burgess dominant. The side would enter the New Year in the top ten of the division, with defeat of Port Vale (7-1) in September being the highlight of the opening months of the season. But the unpredictability of the team could be seen when Bristol Rovers put seven past the Swans at Eastville Stadium in early October. The FA Cup paired the Swans with Blackburn Rovers in the third round at Ewood Park, with the Swans winning 2-0 with goals from Terry Medwin and Cliff Jones. The fourth round draw was kind to the Swans, giving them a home draw against Stoke City where goals from Medwin, Griffiths and Allchurch gave them a 3-1 victory in front of over 27,000 spectators. The next round also saw the team drawn at home, this time to the expensively assembled Sunderland, whose inside forward Len Shackelton was one of the great entertainers of his generation. On a snow covered pitch the home side pushed their First Division opponents all the way, eventually drawing 2-2 in front of 28,500 spectators. And although the Swans lost the replay 1-0, it was further evidence that this young side was developing all the time. Further encouragement came once more from the Swansea Schoolboys, who again won the English Schools Trophy.

1955-1956
With the new season approaching the club was stunned by the news of the sudden and unexpected death of manager Billy McCandless. Such was the shock to the club that the directors decided not to advertise for a new manager, instead placing Ronnie Burgess as acting player-manager with Joe Sykes as chief trainer. The season saw the side in scintillating form over the opening months, with victories over Bury (5-3), Rotherham United (4-1) and Notts County (5-1) taking the side into the top half of the league. When the Swans played at home to Leeds United in October, such was the excitement in the town that a new record attendance was created as over 29,500 people crammed into the stadium. On bonfire night the Swans beat Liverpool 2-1 at home to consolidate their position at the top of the league. This exciting young side were earning rave reviews up and down the country with their style of play, but they suffered a setback when centre half Tom Kiley suffered a serious knee injury. This became the defining moment in a season because with no ready-made replacement, the campaign collapsed into a disappointing finale. The Swans were beaten 6-1 at Leicester City to start a run of just one win in eight games. And although the team would remain in the top half of the division throughout the rest of the season, it would be a disappointing 10th place finish that had previously promised so much.

1956-1957
At the end of the previous season centre forward Terry Medwin placed in a transfer request that saw him move to Tottenham Hotspur for £18,000. This was to be the first of many transfer requests that now permanent boss manager Ronnie Burgess would have to deal with over the coming years. The team opened the new season with a 5-1 win over Blackburn Rovers, Mel Charles scoring four of the goals. But true to form, as strong as the team were at home, it was away from the Vetch Field that the Swans struggled most as they suffered a number of heavy defeats by Fulham (3-7), Rotherham United (1-6) and Grimsby Town (0-5). During October and November the Evening Post newspaper were receiving many letters from fans criticising the board on its perceived lack of investment in the squad. And this criticism intensified when Tom Kiley, who had come back from last his knee problems, was forced to retire when a further operation was required on his troublesome injury. The season was one of inconsistency on the pitch, and it was only a late winning run that saw the club finish 10th in the league once again. The Welsh Cup found the side once again reach the final, this time losing 2-1 to Wrexham.

1957-1958
Burgess was very quiet in the pre-season transfer market, with only local youngsters Barry Jones and Mike Johnson signing on for the club. Both would go onto have very good careers in the game in the years to come, but it was the team strengthening here and now that concerned the home supporters. An opening day draw away to Cardiff City, a win against Lincoln City and a draw with Fulham gave supporters hope for the future. But as the season progressed towards Christmas with heavy defeats against Liverpool, Middlesborough and Leyton Orient, it became apparent to all that the squad was thin. One game of note was away to Stoke City in December, where the team played its first league match under floodlights. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to the team’s liking and they crashed to a 6-2 defeat on the night. The repeated request for transfers out of the club from the likes of Mel Charles and Cliff Jones continued with the team lying at the bottom end of the league. And in January, the club finally relented with Jones signing for Tottenham Hotspur to join former Swan Terry Medwin for a British record transfer fee of £35,000. With this money, the board paid small fees for three players, with the main acquisition being centre-half Ray Daniels from Cardiff City for £3,000. The season finale saw the side firmly at the bottom of the league, but after thrashing Derby County 7-0 at Easter, the team once more preserved their Second Division status on the final day by beating Bristol City 2-1 at Ashton Gate.

1958-1959
After the drams of the previous season, and with gates falling, the board of directors decided that savage cuts in the playing staff were the only way to help ease its financial position. Then, in June, the Chairman announced that for the first time in the club’s history, a General Manager would be appointed. This decision caused manager Burgess to resign, citing that he was unable to perform his job under these conditions. The outcome of all this internal politics within the club was Trevor Morris replacing Burgess in the managerial hot seat. Once again the season opened with mixed results, though in September the team beat Sunderland 5-0 with Ivor Allchurch scoring four of the goals, including a league debut for a 17-year-old Herbie Williams. But as one young man made his debut, another one left the club. After 12 years with the club, Ivor Allchurch finally got his wish to play at the top level after joining Newcastle United for £28,000. The New Year saw the side just below mid-table in the league, and there were signs that the side was gelling. In early January the Swans side that played against Fulham created a record as 11 Welshmen started the game, all of who had represented their country. There were eight full Internationals in the team and three youth caps as the Swans secured a 2-1 win. The season would end with the team in 11th place, but all the talk was of the transfer of another star player out of the club as Mel Charles signed for Arsenal. And though the board must have been overjoyed with the money coming into the club, there was concern being shown by fans, whose support fell alarmingly over the past few seasons.

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