Vetch Field Memories
by Nigel Davies
The Vetch Field Memories feature was an integral part of ATFV for many years and yet we barely scratched the surface when it comes to memorable moments at our spiritual home.
It’s perhaps fitting that we start this new golden era for ATFV by recalling the start of another golden era – yes, we are looking back at Tosh’s thrilling first game as Swansea City manager…
3rd March 1978
Swansea City 3 v 3 Watford
Football league Division 4
A topsy turvy season at Swansea City was heading for the buffers as, for a second time that term, Harry Griffiths looked to step down as manager. Harry’s advice to his Chairman Malcolm Struel was to find a young track-suited manager to take things forward.
Having missed out on a couple of targets Struel thought he’d landed his man when Eddie McCreadie was approached, however after sitting in the stands for a game against Newport the ex-Chelsea manager decided to decline Struel’s job offer, jetting off instead to America to boss the Memphis Rogues.
History will always look favourably on McCreadie’s snub as it opened the door for Struel’s ambitious fourth choice for the Swansea City manager’s job: John Toshack.
At 28 years of age Tosh fit Harry Griffiths’ bill as a young track-suited manager and there was the added attraction of using his still considerable striking talents on the field too, and after three rebuffs Struel wasn’t to be denied again.
On the 27th February 1978 Toshack was appointed player-manager with Harry Griffiths installed as his assistant and given a brief to turn a promising but floundering league position into promotion to Division 3.
Struel had pulled off a massive coup persuading a player still performing at the highest level to drop three divisions, swapping mighty Liverpool with all their resources for the raw potential in South Wales.
Furthermore, Struel had pulled off a masterstroke in his negotiations with Liverpool, persuading his counterpart John Smith to waive the £80,000 asking price for Toshack in return for first option on talented young Swans Alan Curtis and Robbie James. Smith believed it was good business trading Toshack for first refusal on a couple of young stars in the making but Struel saw it differently, issuing a strong reassurance to worried fans that the local prospects wouldn’t be sold.
“It’s not likely to happen,” he declared. “My thoughts on that subject are well known, but we agreed as a gesture of goodwill.”
Having pretty much duped the Liverpool supremo Struel sat back in satisfaction, convinced he’d made the right appointment…oh how right he was!
Toshack though would face a real baptism of fire in his first game as manager: a home contest against Watford, the division’s runaway leaders. The Hornets had dropped just 11 points all season and would severely test a Swans side that had crashed 2-1 to bottom side Rochdale a few days earlier, a fixture Tosh had watched from the stands.
Watford would though be faced with a tougher challenge than the one Rochadale overcame with the Swans line up bolstered by the new player manager who would partner Alan Curtis up front.
Curt, the division’s leading scorer, had made his return against Rochdale after missing 11 weeks through a hamstring injury and he’d bagged his 19th goal of the season in that 2-1 defeat.
The prospect of Wales team mates Tosh and Curt teaming up at club level was a mouth watering one and just added to the general excitement generated by the former’s installation as manager.
Tosh’s appointment coupled with top of the table opposition clearly captured the imagination of the Swansea public and more than 15,000 filed through the turnstiles to watch the new era kick off – the biggest crowd at the Vetch for six years.
And Toshack couldn’t resist playing to the packed gallery before kick off, leading his team to the centre of the pitch and waving to the crowd, a gesture that brought a rapturous response from the terraces.
It took Toshack just a few minutes from kick off to show he wasn’t just bringing theatrics to the Swansea party as his enormous physical presence played a part in his new side taking an early lead.
Danny Bartley floated in the fourth minute corner and with Watford’s defence concentrating on keeping the giant Toshack subdued, Jeremy Charles ghosted in to connect with a solid header that cannoned back off the crossbar. Watford’s let off lasted just a fraction of a second though as Kevin Moore slid through the Vetch Field mud to stab home from five yards.
The Toshack era had almost instant lift off and Watford simply couldn’t live with a Swans side infused with confidence and led by the hulking threat of their new player manager.
The home side struck at their opponents time and time again with Tosh the target man causing mayhem in the Watford box, constantly knocking down quality ball for his partner Curtis and the dangerous Moore to run on to.
Not even a debilitating knock to creative midfield influence Robbie James could knock the Swans out of their stride and it was only a matter of time before a second goal was scored. It eventually arrived a couple of minutes before the break and the crowd literally went wild when Toshack scored it.
After collecting Bartley’s pass, he burst into the Watford box but appeared to have taken the ball too wide as he teased defender Ian Bolton into making a challenge. However, with the angle seemingly against him, Toshack’s vicious cross-shot arrowed past Andy Rankin in the Hornets’ goal, the ‘keeper deceived by the slight deflection the ball took as Bolton made his challenge.
Watford were staring their first defeat for five months squarely in the face but nobody could argue that a Toshack inspired Swans didn’t deserve to be two goals ahead. The fans rejoiced as the whistle announced the end of a first half the home side had dominated and they looked forward to more of the same in the second period. The turnaround in fortunes would leave them all stunned!
With his side trailing by two and totally outplayed in the first half Watford manager Graham Taylor made a significant substitution at the start of the second, Wally Downes staying in the changing room and Luther Blissett taking his place on the park.
The tactical change brought more width to the Watford attack and suddenly an all too comfortable Swansea backline was well and truly stretched and on the back foot.
Just as Toshack had prospered in the first half from a glut of quality possession and service, Watford’s own tall and imposing striker Ross Jenkins profited from the sudden change in fortunes and he set about spoiling the Swansea party by scoring one and creating another two in a devastating 27 minute spell.
Watford’s first was of particular disappointment to Toshack as he held up his hand to take responsibility; slack marking on his part allowed Jenkins to get on the end of a Booth free kick to halve the deficit with 55 minutes on the clock.
Watford were level ten minutes later thanks to fantastic flowing four man move that perfectly demonstrated why the away side were way ahead at the top of the table.
It started when a Swans attack broke down, sweeper Pat Lally trying to take on one man too many; Roger Joslyn and Brian Pollard combined to set Jenkins away and his squared pass from the by-line was slammed in by the oncoming Mayes in emphatic fashion for the equaliser.
By this time the Swans had lost the power and creativity of Robbie James in midfield, the knock he’d taken in the first half finally forcing him off in the second. With their opponents’ driving force now absent the Hornets confidently moved in for the kill.
And sure enough the comeback was complete when Watford took the lead in the 82nd minute and again it was a Jenkins cross that did the damage, centre half Bolton popping up to drive the finish past the despairing dive of Barber in the Swans goal.
A thrilling encounter had been turned on its head by a rampant second half showing by the best side in the division, but there was still time for the Swans to supply one more twist and salvage a well deserved point for Toshack in his first match.
Once again it was a Danny Bartley delivery that brought rewards, another viciously inswinging corner piercing the heart of the Watford defence. The league’s leading scorer Alan Curtis stooped to conquer, Rankin powerless to prevent the striker chalking up his 20th goal of the season and the Swan’s third of a pulsating encounter.
There was still time for late drama as Toshack was denied a late winner, yet another powerful header being nodded off the line by fullback Pritchard in the closing minutes, and Hornets hero Jenkins being stretchered off to hospital with a nasty ankle injury in stoppage time.
The scores however remained locked at three goals apiece and at the final whistle a few hundred of the Jack Army swept onto the Vetch Field pitch to celebrate a well earned draw with their new hero Toshack.
One game in and the man that would provide so many high points in that glorious march from the Fourth to the First Division had already created an unforgettable Vetch Field Memory…
Swansea City: Barber; Evans; Lally; May; Morris; Bartley; Moore; James; Curtis; Toshack; Charles
Watford: Not listed
On This Day
March 3rd, 1978
TV: Friday night was FUN night on the BEEB with The Good Life preceding Ronnie Barker’s Porridge spin-off Going Straight. ITV went looking for laughs too with Mind Your Language followed by black husband/white wife comedy Mixed Blessings.
In the Charts: No. 1 Single – Take a Chance on Me by ABBA
No.1 Album – Saturday Night Fever – film soundtrack
In the News: Silent comedy met Silent Witness as Charlie Chaplin’s grave was found empty. The comedy genius’s body was stolen from its plot in a quiet little Swiss cemetery, robbed by two motor mechanics. The casket was eventually found 11 weeks later, reburied just a mile away, as police surveillance paid dividends when the Bulgarian and Polish mechanics tried to extort £400,000 out of Chaplin’s family for the body’s return.