Swansea City FC: 1970s manager Harry Griffiths remembered

Harry Griffiths instructs the Swansea City team in training Harry Griffiths: the unsung hero behind John Toshack's success with Swansea City

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Ask most casual football fans who engineered Swansea City's rise to the game's summit in the 1980s and the odds are that most of them would say John Toshack.

But long before Toshack had kicked his last ball for Liverpool, Harry Griffiths - his predecessor as manager - had hand-reared the backbone of the side which would later make such a splash in the First Division.

Throughout his 29-year career in football, Griffiths spent all but three of them at The Vetch; as player, coach, physio, groundsman, manager and assistant manager.

A measure of his dedication came when in order to ensure that Liverpool striking legend Toshack joined the club in early 1978, he stood aside as manager to make way for the new player-manager and became his assistant.

Tragically Griffiths died of a heart attack on 25 April 1978 - 35 years ago - aged just 47.

Start Quote

I can't explain how hard it was to lose someone like Harry, and especially so young”

End Quote Alan Curtis Footballer and manager

But his wife Gwen, and children Nicholas and Helen, were at least able to take some comfort from the knowledge that he died in the place he loved best of all - the Vetch Field dressing room.

He had just watched Swansea beat Scunthorpe, to take them to the verge of the first of the three promotions in four years for which the club is most famous.

It was Griffiths who brought 95-goal Alan Curtis to Swansea from Pentre in 1972 and in an attempt to combat his homesickness even moved Curtis into his own house.

Curtis said: "Harry was my football father, no two ways about it, but the whole Griffiths family also became my family."

"And it wasn't just me. At times there'd be six or seven of us living there as extra brothers to Nick and Helen.

"Gwen would cook our meals and wash our kit - in the days when we had to train and play in the same stuff - and I'd be with Harry from the moment he kicked me out of bed to the time my head hit the pillow again.

"In fact on the rare occasions when Harry wasn't around, he'd be at the Vetch repairing advertising hoardings or painting the railings, that's how much he was in charge of everything that happened."

Liverpool striker John Toshack Liverpool striker John Toshack (right) joined Swansea as player-manager in early 1978 with Harry Griffiths stepping down to become his assistant

Griffiths joined Swansea as a combative 18-year-old full-back.

In his 422 appearances for the club between 1949 and 1964, he scored 72 times, earning him a solitary Wales cap in 1953.

Start Quote

This is Harry's team, not mine - it's his triumph - he "was" Swansea City”

End Quote John Toshack His eulogy to Harry Griffiths

When then-manager Trevor Morris told him he was surplus to requirements in 1964, Harry left for a spell at Merthyr Tydfil.

But when his former teammate Billy Lucas took over at the Vetch three years later he had no hesitation in bringing back his friend as a coach.

Before he had a crack at the top job in 1975, Harry did stints as coach, caretaker manager, physio and even groundsman, often unpaid because of the disastrous state of the club's finances.

According to Curtis, it was Harry's experience of these hardships which convinced him that youth was the way forward.

"It wasn't just me who he discovered: Jeremy Charles, Robbie James, Wyndham Evans - the backbone of that team which beat Leeds 5-1 in 1981 had been nurtured for almost a decade by Harry.

"He knew that Swansea couldn't compete financially and that if we were ever going to achieve anything then it was by working hard to bring through our own youngsters. And look how right he was."

In 1976/77 Swansea missed out on promotion from Division Four on the last day of the season and, fearing the same would happen again without an injection of experience, Harry stood aside when striker Toshack expressed a desire to launch a managerial career in the land of his birth.

'Hairdryer'

But he stayed on as Toshack's assistant and was vindicated as the side he built finally clinched the title.

Curtis added: "I can't explain how hard it was to lose someone like Harry, and especially so young.

"The only thing which comforted us in those first few days was knowing the last thing he'd seen was the fulfilment of everything he'd worked 30 years to achieve."

"Harry was a big guy. He'd give you the hairdryer if you deserved it but most of the time he loved a laugh and a drink and a fag.

"We were all celebrating and jumping round the changing rooms and someone said 'you're quiet Harry, butt?', and that was it; he'd gone."

A planned victory parade to mark the team's promotion was cancelled out of respect.

Toshack read the eulogy and acknowledged who was behind the Swansea's success.

He said: "This is Harry's team, not mine. It's his triumph. He 'was' Swansea City."

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