Mart’s Main Men
#1 Robbie James
by Martin Jones
We all have our favourite players and for those of us of a “certain age” many of them were legendary players from the swinging sixties and seventies. Martin Jones has been a Jack since the late ‘60s and in this new ATFV feature Mart takes a nostalgic look back at some of the players that made the biggest impression on him, starting with the imposingly robust Robbie James…
The first time I ever went to see the Swans they were known as Swansea Town. The occasion in question was Swans legend Ivor Allchurch’s Testimonial match against the then mighty Leeds United on the 25th May, 1968; I was 10 years old.
I can’t remember the score, but I know that it was on that day I got the football bug. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than watching your football team live at the ground. The atmosphere at the Vetch was incredible that day – it rocked my world as a young fan and it continues to live in my memory to this day.
Fast forward several years and I’m an avid Swans fan watching my side in the lowest division of the Football League. In the 1976/77 season, under then manager Harry Griffiths, the Swans just missed out on promotion to Third Division on the last day of the season despite a thrilling 2-3 away win at Cambridge; Colchester’s 2-1 victory over Bradford meant the Swans missed out by just a single point.
When the John Toshack era commenced at the Vetch during the following season the Swans were sitting in fourth place in the Fourth Division and would go on to seal promotion on the final day with a 2-0 triumph over Halifax Town at the Vetch in front of 16,000 supporters. Poignantly there was sadness mixed in with the joy for those thousands of fans as Harry Griffiths, by then serving as assistant to Tosh, had died suddenly the following week.
Few players already on the books at Swansea City at this time would go on and play in all four divisions under Toshack’s management…one of those was, of course, Robbie James.
Robert Mark (Robbie) James was born in Gorseinon, Swansea, on the 23rd March 1957. His debut game for the Swans was against Charlton Athletic at Vetch Field on the 28th April 1973, resulting in a 2-1 win for the home side.
Robbie went on to play a mammoth 483 games in all competitions for the Swans, scoring a massive 118 goals…Robbie was, and still is, my favourite Swansea player of all time.
Robbie was a hard working midfielder who always gave (in my opinion) 100% every game he played. He had that strange running style that tormented the opposition and he was a fierce tackler. He was involved in the majority of games in the Toshack era and helped the Swans earn promotion three times in four years during that time.
During his Swans years he scored some utterly memorable goals, not least the second goal in the 2-0 win against the mighty Manchester United at Vetch Field at the end of January 1982. Robbie was also instrumental in the win against Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the same season, plundering both goals in a 2-1 victory.
When the ‘Golden Era’ came to shuddering halt with relegation from the top flight at the end of the 1982-83 season Robbie left the Swans and was transferred to First Division Stoke City for £160,000. Robbie only stayed one season at Stoke and played just 48 games for the Potters, scoring six goals before leaving to join First Division rivals Queens Park Rangers for £100k. James remained with the West London club for three years, appearing 87 times and bagging five goals.
One of highlights of Robbie’s time at Rangers was playing in a League Cup Final at Wembley, although the day was soured by a 0-3 defeat to their opponents Oxford United.
Next came an inglorious period with Second Division Leicester City, Robbie failing to score for the Foxes in his 23 appearances.
I vividly remember the time Robbie left Leicester to re-join his beloved Swans in 1988, and again we saw the all-action, tenacious and committed player we’d all grown to idolise in his first spell with the club. A further 90 appearances followed over the next two years with a further 16 goals added to his personal tally.
Over the next eight years, after his time with the Swans had come to an end, Robbie would go on play a further 223 times in spells with Bradford City, Cardiff City, Merthyr, Barry Town and Llanelli, scoring 12 goals in the process.
Robbie wasn’t just a significant force at club level, he was an influential figure at international level too. Between 1978 and 1988 Robbie featured 46 times for Wales, scoring seven goals. That number of caps over ten years is quite an achievement as there were far fewer international games played in those days!
As his career wound down Robbie moved into non-league football, taking over as player manager of Merthyr Tydfil for a short spell and then switched to the same dual role at Llanelli Town in 1996, after a player only stint at Barry.
The story has a tragic end at this point as Robbie sadly collapsed and died on the field whilst playing for Llanelli against Porthcawl on the 18th February 1998. Today a bust of Robbie is proudly displayed at the Liberty Stadium along with the ‘Robbie James Wall of Fame’ – a fitting tribute indeed.
Robbie James was one of Swansea’s greatest players… The greatest EVER in my opinion…