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Centenary feature: 1967-1975

PUBLISHED

10:30 1st May 2013

. . . A hero says farewell while the club battles to stave off relegation


1967-1968
Billy Lucas’s first full season in charge of the Swans would be in the basement division of the Football League following relegation the previous year. He was aware of the difficult task in front of him, but would place his faith in the youngsters such as David Gwyther, Billy Screen and David Lawrence. But with money being another concern at the club, John Roberts was sold to Northampton Town in November. The season opened up reasonably well with the side in a mid-table position by Christmas, with the evergreen Ivor Allchurch still amongst the goals at the age of 38. The FA Cup saw the Swans progress to the fourth round with wins over Enfield, Brighton, and Doncaster Rovers. The draw was kind to the club and gave them a home tie against First Division Arsenal. The biggest crowd ever witnessed at the Vetch (32,786) saw the home side put on a good display, only to lose by a single Bobby Gould strike. But disaster struck only weeks later, when a fire broke out in the main stand, leaving it uninhabitable for the rest of the season. Swansea eventually finished 15th in the division, while Allchurch said his farewell to the club after bagging 19 league goals that season.

1968-1969
The beginning of the new season saw two significant appointments within the club. Harry Griffiths returned to take over as chief trainer after leaving his post as manager at Merthyr Tydfil, while on the playing side the return of Mel Nurse from Swindon Town would add solidarity to the defence. The side started off the season well and by Christmas were sixth in the league table. But while promotion was certainly in the back of everybody’s mind, there was a lack of goals that worried the management. January brought the tragic news that former players Roy Evans and Brian Purcell had been killed in a car crash, and the club received this with deepest regret for the loss of life of two young and popular players. In March, and with the side in a comfortable mid-table position, manager Lucas broke the news that he was resigning his post to concentrate on his business interests back in Newport. This came as a shock to the board, who decided not to advertise at the position, but to let Walter Robins take over as caretaker-manager until the end of the season. At the end of the campaign the Swans found themselves in 10th place, as well as losing a two-legged Welsh Cup final to Cardiff (5-1).

1969-1970 
The close season saw the biggest shake up in boardroom history at the club, with six new directors forming a consortium headed by Malcolm Struel, who was given the new title of Executive Director. These new boardroom members, along with President Philip Holden, Chairman Trevor Wood and Peter Walters, announced in August that the man to take over as the club’s new manager would be former Reading and England international Roy Bentley. Along with the new manager, Wales goalkeeper Tony Millington and former Swans player Len Allchurch arrived to strengthen the club’s promotion bid. The Swans’ progress was steady, with goals coming from strikers Herbie Williams and David Gwyther, while Mel Nurse was dominant in defence. By Christmas the club was fifth in the league, with gates also on the up. The FA Cup saw the side progress to the third round where they were drawn away to play Leeds United at Elland Road.  Everyone saw the game as a foregone conclusion, but on a bitterly cold day in Yorkshire the Swans played exceptionally well and deservedly took the lead through David Gwyther. And it was only in the last 20 minutes of the game that Leeds finally scored two goals to beat the 10-man Swans, who had Mel Nurse sent off. It was then back to league action and on February 24, the cub took on its new name of Swansea City with a 0-0 draw against Exeter at the Vetch Field. The team was now in the top three of the division throughout the final months of the season, finally guaranteeing promotion with victory over Newport County with a 2-1 win at Somerton Park. The manager had gained promotion in his first season at the club, using a squad of only nineteen players throughout the campaign.

1970-1971
The summer break saw Len Hill sign from Newport County and Welsh international Barrie Hole arrived from Aston Villa for a club record fee of £20,000. Hole was a cultured midfield player, whose father Billy played for the Swans and Wales in 1920. These signings were offset by the retirement of Mel Nurse, who wanted to focus on his business ventures. The opening game of the new season saw the Swans entertain Port Vale at the Vetch Field. The fans were eager to see the side continue where they left off from the previous season, but the visitors ran out 2-0 winners with something to spare. In fact, the first dozen games saw the side struggle in the league, though striker David Gwyther was consistent in front of goal during this period. Gradually, however, the side got to grips with the division, helped by the decision of Mel Nurse to come out of retirement to help the club in it’s time of need. And from October until March the Swans climbed up the division with a remarkable run that saw them equal the club record for unbeaten games. This gave them a chance of promotion, but with Mel Nurse finally confirming that he was finishing for good at the end of the season, the Swans eventually finished 11th. The FA Cup saw the side defeat Exeter, Telford and Rhyl before finally losing 3-0 to Liverpool - who needed two late goals to finally kill off the battling Swans. The season’s end would also see the retirement from football of Len Allchurch, the last link with the young Swans starlets of the 1950’s.

1971-1972
Things were quiet during the close season, with only Peter Jones arriving on a free transfer from Burnley. However, there was one significant schoolboy signing on amateur forms as Rhonda-born Alan Curtis put pen to paper at the club. The opening games of the season saw the side at the top of the division, with keeper Millington equalling Jack Parry’s record of remaining unbeaten in five consecutive games. This good form stayed with the club until Christmas, and by the turn of the New Year the Swans found themselves in fourth place. Despite being well placed in the league, the trend of low gates was a constant worry to the board. And in an attempt to try and bring some enthusiasium to the supporters, the board went out and spent a record transfer fee of £26,000 on Ronnie Rees in January. But the signing did nothing for the gates and slowly the team slipped down the league to finally finish in 14th place. If ever the new board needed the support of the Swansea public it was now, but the years of decline had brought with it an apathy that was difficult to redress.

1972-1973
The club was at its lowest point for years during the close season, the public were indifferent to the needs of its owners and Barrie Hole had decided to call it a day and retire. On top of all this, long-serving winger Brian Evans surprised everyone at the club by putting in a written transfer request that the board reluctantly agreed too. The team was led on the pitch once more by Herbie Williams, although even his vast experience could not prevent the Swans from finding themselves at the bottom of the league after the first ten games, which led to striker David Gwyther handing in a transfer request of his own. Circumstances meant that youngsters like Michael Lenihan and Alan Curtis made their first team debuts in a team that was lacking in confidence. On top of all these on field problems, off the pitch and in the boardroom the issues continued. Chairman David Goldstone resigned and joined Cardiff City, leaving Malcolm Struel to take over. The pressure was on Roy Bentley to halt the club’s slide, but the inevitable happened and he resigned to leave coach Roy Saunders as caretaker manager. The board filled the vacant manager’s job with ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg. Gregg was a no nonsense player and he took this attitude into management, where many a player would be wise not to cross this firebrand of a man. But even with a new manager the side could not get themselves out of the relegation zone, and suffered the indignity of an FA Cup exit away at non-league Margate in November. The manager promised that the club would fight their way out of the trouble they found themselves in, but unfortunately some of the players took these words literally and produced the worst disciplinary record in the club’s history. The Swans did put something of a run together in March, but it proved too little too late and at the season’s end the club finished 23rd in the league and were relegated back to the Fourth Division.

1973-1974
The club was in yet more turmoil ahead of a new season, and supporters were staying away in the thousands. It was an unfortunate situation for Harry Gregg as the manager looked to rebuild both a team, and a club. Long-serving Herbie Williams, who had played over 500 games for the club in a 17-year period, was appointed player-coach, while another fans favourite, Harry Griffiths, took over the vacant physiotherapist position. There was also some movement in the transfer market with Dave Bruton, Pat Lally and Paul Beavon joining the club, while winger Brian Evans finally left for Hereford United for £7,000 after 10 years with the club and David Gwyther joined Halifax Town for £12,000. The opening game of the new season saw the side beat Chester City 2-0 at the Vetch Field, while Herbie Williams was presented with a silver salver in recognition of his 500th league appearance before the game. But by the end of September, only six points had been won from a possible 16 on offer. Then, on a wet and windy September night, the lowest ever gate to watch a Swans game at the Vetch was recorded against Northampton Town. Only 1,301 people came through the turnstiles that to witness a dour 1-1 draw. Harry Gregg went back to his former club Manchester United and signed reserve goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer on loan, and this proved a masterstroke as the keeper steadied the defence and helped the club pull away from the division’s basement. Largely thanks to Rimmer’s influence, the Swans finished the season in 14th place, though they would go out of all cup competitions at the first round with defeat in the Welsh Cup at home to Stourbridge being a particular difficult pill to swallow.

1974-1975
The financial position of Swansea City was evident for all to see. The club was literally dying, both on and off the pitch, with no money to strengthen the squad and a £150,000 overdraft that was growing by the month. The only bright light in amongst the gloom was youngsters such as Alan Curtis and Robbie James, both of whom had other teams sitting up and taking notice. The Swans had a terrible start to the season, winning just once in the first seven games and finding themselves rooted near the foot of the table. Once again the club’s disciplinary record came to the fore with two players already receiving their marching orders, while seven others had been booked. During the early part of the season, history was created at the Vetch when schoolboy Nigel Darling came on as substitute in the final few minutes of the game against Southport to become the club’s youngest ever player at 15 years and 10 months. Controversy, however, was never far away and in late December, Malcolm Struel negotiated with the local council to buy the Vetch Field for a figure of £50,000 and a grant of £150,000. Struel was naturally pleased to safeguard the immediate future of the club, but the ratepayers of the city would protest for many years to come. The results got no better as the season progressed and in January, long-serving Herbie Williams left for Australia to take up a coaching position. Just after this the inevitable happened, as manager Harry Gregg relinquished his post to become the new manager of Crewe Alexandra. In his place the board handed the caretaker manager’s job to Harry Griffiths, finally confirming him as the club’s full-time manager in April. However, there was not enough time to change the Swans’ fortunes and for the first time in it’s history the club faced the indignity of having to apply for re-election to the Fourth Division.

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