JackArmy.net Talk To Tosh

Wednesday, 2 April 2003, 0:00
7 mins read

Home > Story Index >John Toshack Talks To JackArmy.net

There is a presence about Toshack. A presence that I probably cannot describe but it is there. You just get the feeling sitting talking to him that he has seen most things that football has to throw and survived him. Of course, as well as Swansea he has managed some of Europe’s biggest clubs including Real Madrid (twice) and Deportivo La Coruna. As well as of course three spells at Real Sociedad. All that on top of playing success with Liverpool and a distinguished time at our Blue friends, Cardiff City.

But it was with Swansea that he cut his managerial teeth. How much of that does he recollect? "It is twenty-five years ago this month since I first arrived in Swansea. Strangely enough, the year before the club had applied for re-election meaning that they had finished near the bottom of the fourth division as was. This is more or less where they are now so you never know in four or five years they could be top of the First Division again!

"I was only twenty-eight years old at the time and it was my first job in management. I cam here as a player-manager and there was a lot of enthusiasm about at the time. My first game in charge against Watford we had fifteen thousand people when the average gate prior to that had been about five thousand. I felt that they expected things to happen. When I looked at what the side had, Harry Griffiths had done a very very good job before in keeping the club afloat. He had also produced some exciting youngsters – people like Alan Curtis, Jeremy Charles and the late Robbie James.

"When I arrived I had an idea that with just sixteen games left I would put myself in amongst them and we will ‘go for it’. We scored a lot of goals in that period and ended up winning promotion to the third division which was a good solid start considering that the club was applying for re-election the year before and from there we just went on a roller coaster ride."

The scene for the Toshack era was set in those couple of months. Flowing football, goals, crowds and a general feel good factor was being felt by the Swansea support of that time. None more so then an 8-0 win over Hartlepool at the Vetch on April Fool’s Day 1978. John Toshack was beginning to build on the foundations he rightly credits to Harry Griffiths and the Swans were on the up.

"As we went into the third division I started to bring in players like Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan and later on Leighton Phillips from Aston Villa. We were playing a brand of football that wasn’t the norm. People said you had to have two big fellas up front and just hit long balls, flick them on and chase you know. But we played football and played our way out of trouble. I was always taught that there was a right way and a wrong way to play the game whatever level you were at and it worked, we won promotion again at the end of that season."

Toshack was someone who was capable of persuading some of his ex-Liverpool colleagues to join him at Swansea, was this something that he found easy to do? "I don’t think so. To be honest with you it was a long long time ago now and I don’t remember 100% everything that went on. I also got Phil Boersma down from Luton and Alan Waddle came in as well. Tommy and Cally were the big ones really, they were just finishing at Liverpool and weren’t first team players any more. They were 33/34 years of age but I still felt that they could do half my job for me."

Smith in particular, had an immediate impact at Swansea and many fans from that era will still talk periodically about a ‘Welcome to Wales’ tackle on Tottenham;s World Cup Winner Osvaldo Airdilies in a League Cup tie, is this something that remains in John’s memory?

"We played Tottenham in the league cup and their midfield was Villa, Airdilies and Hoddle and it was a cracking match. I didn’t play in the match at the Vetch which we drew 2-2 – we had had a big game in the league against Watford the weekend before if I remember correctly. But I did play in the replay as a Sweeper at White Hart Lane. That was one of the best team performances that I have seen anywhere ever that night. We won the game 3-1 – Smithy didn’t play because of an injury and I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It was just one of those nights when everything that we worked on came off. Sometimes you work on things and none of them come off but this night it all worked. It was a great all round team performance and Tottenham were a class act in those days.

"But it was definitely when people like Tommy and Cally came here that people started to believe that we were in business. They obviously helped me off the pitch as well. The players here had only been used to reading about that kind of player or seeing them on the television and rubbing shoulders with them in the dressing room boosted their confidence.

"The local lads were being helped on by the experience that I had bought in and as we moved up the leagues we changed the team."

Swansea were a club on the move but was Toshack confident that they could keep on moving up in the way that it turned out they did?

"Yes I did. I thought that we could keep competing – I had been brought up on success in eight years at Liverpool and to be honest I did believe. When you look at it now it is a lot easier to say it than to do it – fourth to the first – and I don’t think it will be done again. I know I wouldn’t like to have to do it again. But at that particular time I did think that we can go on and do it. It was what we set out to do. Mainly because of the education, or the mentality that I had myself."

Toshack has spoken many times in the past of the relationship that he had with Bill Shankly at Liverpool – how much of those methods rubbed off on him in management?

"Shankly left Liverpool in 1974 – the last four years I was there Shanks wasn’t there. Bob Paisley was. A lot of people talk about Shanks and the relationship that I had and it’s very romantic and nice to think that and obviously he was a help to me. What Shanks did was accept invitations from us when we played in the North West – Bolton, Blackburn, Preston he would come and watch the game. I would invite him to lunch and he’d sit and eat with us before the match and that was something he enjoyed. Of course, he’d finished at Liverpool then but he never came to Swansea to watch a match – was never down here.

"But the eight years that I had at Liverpool under Shankly and Paisley and the Liverpool regime in general stood me in good stead. Everything that I’ve done in management, the basis of it has been everything that I learnt there."

Liverpool of course back then was building a generation of success that started under Shankly and worked through Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish – was this something that Toshack was trying to do with the Swans?

"We did try to work on those lines. People that I had working with me later on – Phil Boersma, Douggie Livermore they had been Liverpool youngsters themselves and had come through the same schooling."

The foundations had been set and Swansea were a second division club again. 1979-1980 saw them build on those foundations and a mid-table finish beckoned them – was this part of the Toshack plan or did he think a third successive promotion was on the cards?

"We didn’t know. A couple of things happened. The playing side of it started getting a little bit more difficult because my managerial work was becoming more intense. The physical problem that I had meant that I couldn’t train as much as I would have liked to maintain the necessary fitness level. We brought in other important players – Leighton James, John Mahoney and the two Yugoslavs who were exceptional players and we started to build a side that could take us into the First Division and do well when we got there."

The two Yugoslavs were instant hits at the Vetch. But back in those days, foreign players were few and far between in the English game – certainly nowhere near the levels that we see now twenty years on. How did Toshack come about them?

"I was part of a Welsh team, with Leighton James, that played Yugoslavia in 1976. There is a lot of talk about this Welsh side now but people seem to forget that Mike Smith’s side of 1976 won it’s qualifying group. People talk about the 1958 side that played in the World Cup which didn’t win it’s qualifying group. They didn’t qualify they got pulled out of a hat to play Israel from which they qualified.

"Wales were in a group in 76 with Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg. Thanks to an historic win in Budapest – the first time that Hungary had ever lost in the Nepp Stadium – Wales won the group. In those days there wasn’t a three-week European Championship as such just the eight best teams went into a quarter-final draw when we were drawn against Yugoslavia and Hadziabdic played in that Yugoslav side.

"That was the first time that I came across him and when I signed him three years later it was a tip-off from a Yugoslav journalist friend of mine who said that he could be available and would like to come down for a trial. He played in a pre-season friendly against Tottenham where he had fourty-five minutes in which he was exceptional. He did a lap of honour at half-time and the crowd were absolutely delighted with him."

Part Two: Toshack Talks about 1980/81 and 1981/82

Part 3: The Past, Present and Future

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