The middle player in the photo above is Gil Reece who played for us from 1972 to 1976 after joining from Sheffield United in an unusual transfer deal which saw Alan Warboys move to the Yorkshire club with Reece and fellow Welsh international Dave Powell moving in the opposite direction along with a cash adjustment of £25,000. Cardiff born Reece had been on our books as a teenager but was released in 1962 and found his way to Sheffield two years later via Pembroke Borough and Newport County.
Reece was thirty when he signed for us and I think it is fair to say that Sheffield United fans saw the best of him as he was a regular in the Blades team which pipped us for promotion in 1970/71 and when they, briefly, topped the First Division table at the start of the following season. Reece and Powell made their City debut in a home match with Bristol City in September 1972 (needless to say, we lost!) and they must have wondered what they had signed up for when the one of their team mates had to receive treatment in the pre match kick about after being hit in the face by a shot from another City player (I can’t remember who the player who got hit was, but I am pretty sure that it was Billy Kellock, sat to the right of Reece in that photo, who had the shot)!
That incident rather summed up Cardiff City through much of the seventies when relegation scraps were the norm and although, with forty Welsh caps between them, Reece and Powell had a good pedigree, they were unable to arrest the gradual decline which would see us relegated at the end of the 1974/75 season. The injury plagued Powell had already retired by that time, but Reece was still around and, ironically, that season was, arguably, his best for the club as he finished top scorer with nine goals.
To be honest, there was something of an air of inevitability to our relegation that year – my recollection is that, although we had always managed to pull ourselves clear at the last moment in previous seasons, there was a general acceptance that we weren’t good enough and that there were only two or three times when there was any optimism around that we could avoid the drop again.
One of those occasions came after a home win over high flying Norwich City on January 11 1975 which lifted us to the dizzy heights of eighteenth in the twenty two team Second Division (that was a high as we got all season!). That victory meant that we had only lost once in twelve matches but half of these games were drawn (one of them coming at Norwich, courtesy of a Gil Reece goal, in front of the Match of the Day cameras just over a month earlier) and so our truly awful start to the campaign which saw us pick up just one win and two draws from our first eleven games meant that we had not benefited as much from our good run of results in terms of league position as we might have done.
Still, a win over a good Norwich side which featured future City players Roger Hansbury,Colin Sullivan and Steve Grapes as well as, arguably, the best striking partnership in the division in the prolific goalscorer Ted MacDougall and the clever Phil Boyer was something of an achievement and Gil Reece was the difference between the two sides on the day.
The small and wiry Reece was a versatile forward who could play on the flanks or down the middle off a target man and it was in the latter role that he featured against Norwich with Derek Showers as his attacking partner. It’s funny how some things stick in your mind after all these years, but I can remember it being one of those brilliantly bright afternoons which meant that, even in the middle of winter, your hands were always shielding your eyes if you were stood on the Bob Bank (like I was that day) until the sun went down and that City, playing towards the Grange End, put together one of their best halves of the season as they dominated the opening forty five minutes.
City’s reward came in the form of a couple of goals both scored by Gil Reece. Neither of them were anything spectacular, just a case of someone being in the right place at the right time to net from close range, but they ensured that we had a handy lead to hold on to during a second half which saw the expected Norwich improvement. MacDougall reduced the deficit with around half an hour left, but City were probably as confident at that time as they were at any stage of that season and, whereas they probably would have folded on other occasions, they were able to hang on to their lead to record one of the best wins of the campaign.
The fact that City had now beaten two of the teams who were eventually to get promoted in Aston Villa and Norwich, as well as Sunderland who would finish fourth, at Ninian Park offered proof that the side had it within them to rise to the bigger occasions, but a devastating 5-1 defeat at Millwall (who would accompany us into the Third Division that year) in their next match was the precursor for a dreadful run of nine matches without a victory. Only two more matches were won all season and just one point from our final six games meant that relegation had been confirmed before the curtain was brought down on the season with a 2-1 home defeat by Bolton.
Like quite a few other local boys down the years, Gil Reece was never really a favourite of the Ninian Park crowd – I know I was excited when we first signed him and was always disappointed that he didn’t turn to be as good as I thought he would. Maybe that was a bit unfair considering his age when he came here, but perhaps other felt the same way? Reece stayed with the club for one more year but was not a regular starter during the 1975/76 promotion campaign and left to play for Swansea City as a part timer as he began to concentrate on his Grangetown based plumbing and central heating business. He only played a couple of times for the jacks before retiring from the game in 1977 but, unfortunately, was not to enjoy the best of health in the coming years – problems caused by cysts behind his right knee meant that he had to have his right leg amputated in 2000 and he died at the age of just sixty one three years later following a long illness.
11 January 1975
Cardiff City 2 Norwich City 1
City Irwin; Dwyer, Morgan, Larmour, Pethard; Villars, Smith, Buchanan, Anderson; Reece (2), Showers; Sub (not used) Whitham
Norwich Hansbury; Machin, Forbes, Stringer, Sullivan; Miller, Suggett, Morris, Powell (Grapes); MacDougall (1), Boyer