As a rule I tend to go for the less obvious matches when selecting which game against future opponents I will look back on, but, in the week that the best young player I have seen play for Cardiff, almost certainly, made his last home appearance in a City shirt for the foreseeable future, I thought I just had to go for the game against tomorrow’s opponents in which the local player who achieved the most after leaving us played his last ever home match for City.
Aaron Ramsey may have more talent and potential than the young John Toshack did, but Rambo will do very well to achieve what Toshack has done over the past forty five years. The fall out from his, largely unsuccessful, stint in charge of the Welsh team as well as his Swansea City connection makes Toshack an unpopular figure with many City fans now, but that was not the case just over forty years ago when his sale to Liverpool for £110,000 (a record signing for them at the time) had a devastating effect – it left supporters angry and deflated, significantly harmed our promotion chances and, worst of all, set in motion a long period of decline at Cardiff City that has only been arrested in the last decade.
From the moment he made his City debut as a sixteen year old in 1965, John Toshack was always being linked with “bigger” clubs, but, until the Autumn of 1970, they tended to be middling to small First Division sides. For example, Leicester City (who were relegated in 1969) were a name that often cropped up, while the player turned down a move to Fulham in 1968 for a fee of £75,000 – the fact that Fulham were playing in the Third Division by the time he left City proves that Toshack got that one right, but it also shows that the Cardiff Board of Directors (under Chairman Fred Dewey) were eager (or should that be over eager!) to cash in on their young striker.
From memory though, there was not too much transfer speculation floating around when promotion rivals Hull City came to Ninian Park on 31 October 1970 – the goals had dried up for Tosh in the second half of a 69/70 campaign which had seen him dropped to the substitute’s bench for some of it’s final fixtures and he had only scored five league goals in the new season at that time. Although their away results had kept them up amongst the contenders at the top of the table, City, not helped by a series of costly blunders by new keeper Frank Parsons, had been having a moderate time of it at Ninian Park with just one win to show from their first six league games there. However, a superb performance in beating FC Nantes 5-1 in the European Cup Winners Cup (Toshack scored twice) had restored confidence and, three days before Hull’s visit, Tosh’s goal had been enough to secure an uninspiring win over lowly Portsmouth that lifted us up to third in the table.
One of the sides above us at that time was Hull City. Under new player/manager Terry Neill, they had made a very strong start to the season on the back of a run of six wins in seven games during which they had let in just the one goal. With only nine goals conceded in fourteen matches, you would have thought that ex Arsenal centre half Neill had few defensive problems, but, perhaps mindful of the 3-0 and 6-0 beatings Hull had suffered in their two previous visits to Cardiff, he tinkered with his team to the extent that six of them could be called natural defenders.
Within a quarter of an hour, Toshack had Neill wishing he hadn’t been so cautious – an early header had us 1-0 up and when Tosh stabbed in a superb cross from the right wing by Don Murray of all people, City were well on their way to climbing above the Humbersiders in the table. A header by Geoff Barker (who was, ironically, one of the extra defenders brought in by Neill) got Hull back into the game just before half time, but they were then taken to the cleaners in the second half by a City performance wholly out of keeping with the dank, wet conditions.
If Toshack’s first two goals had been examples of a striker being in the right place at the right time, his final goal for the club on the hour mark was something different as he took Bobby Woodruff’s flick down and then showed an example of his often under rated technique by crashing an angled volley into the roof of the net from about ten yards to complete his hat trick. City were rampant by now and midway through the half they went three goals clear when Toshack glanced on a Peter King corner for Ian Gibson to score a very rare headed goal from point blank range.
I can remember Hull’s goalkeeper Ian McKechnie being a chirpy character who often had a smile on his face, but, having conceded nine goals in his two previous games at Ninian Park, he wasn’t seeing the funny side of it that afternoon. McKechnie had blasted the ball into the crowd on the Grange End in frustration when Toshack’s third goal had rebounded straight back to him off the stanchion of the goal and his mood wasn’t improved five minutes from time when he allowed Leighton Phillips’ shot from outside the penalty area to squirm under his body for our fifth.
There could easily have been more City goals, but 5-1 was a result which made many in the country sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, much the same could be said about Toshack’s hat trick – perhaps Liverpool had been tracking him anyway, but those three goals must surely have brought things to a head for them? As it was, the transfer which shaped the destiny of the club did not take place for another ten days or so. Toshack played the following week in an excellent 1-0 win at QPR, but was then sold shortly after that – this time the player had no doubts about moving and, given how things worked out for him, who can blame him (he was scoring in a Merseyside derby within a fortnight)?
Looking back at it now, the worst thing that could have happened for City was that they crushed a woeful Blackburn team 4-1 at Ninian Park in their first game after the transfer – Peter King scored within forty five seconds and you get the feeling that this game persuaded the Board that they could take their time bringing in a replacement for Toshack. One win in the next six matches (three of which were lost) showed this was not the case and, by the time they finally stopped haggling with Sheffield Wednesday about a price for Alan Warboys and actually got around to signing him, we had dropped down to fifth place.
During January I heard people compare the situation we find ourselves in now with Jay Bothroyd to when we sold John Toshack, but, to me, the two cases are entirely different. If Jay had been sold in January, it would have been against a background which has the player leaving for nothing in the summer if he does not sign a new contract with us and, although that would have been a big disappointment in terms of our chances of going up, it would make financial sense. However, the current Board took the decision they weren’t going to sell Jay despite what the, surely inevitable, consequences of us failing to go up might be – back in 1970, City were always going to get a fee for Toshack, but, seemingly, the Board could only think in terms of clinging cash registers (Liverpool manager Bill Shankly later said that his club had been willing to pay twice as much as they actually did for Toshack).
31 October 1970
Cardiff City 5 Hull City 1
City Eadie; Carver, Murray, Harris, Bell; Gibson (1), Sutton, Phillips (1), King; Woodruff, Toshack (3); Sub (not used) Clark
Hull; McKechnie; Beardsley, Neill, Simpkin, DeVries; Jarvis, Wilkinson, Houghton, Barker (1); Wagstaff, Pearson; Sub (not used) Butler