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New book reveals the fascinating story of Flintshire footballer TG Jones

Published date: 06 July 2017 |
Published by: Jamie Bowman 
Read more articles by Jamie Bowman  Email reporter


 

In 1948, Italian football giants AS Roma launched an audacious bid to
make a young player from Flintshire one of the first foreigners to grace Serie A.

Tommy George Jones, dubbed ‘The Prince of Centre-Halves’ by his adoring fans at Everton FC, bestrode the First Division in an age of uncompromising defensive ‘stoppers’.

A forerunner of football immortals such as Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer, he was “the best all-round player” Everton legend Dixie Dean ever saw.

The Eternal City seemed a fitting stage for this most stylish of players.

And yet the move faltered at the final hurdle and Jones returned to Everton, where – unappreciated by the club’s management – his playing career petered out to a disappointing conclusion.

Rather than making his mark in Italian football, Jones would eventually drop into non-league football with Pwllheli FC and manage a hotel.

A decade later Jones’ countryman John Charles found adulation in Italy as ‘Il Gigante Buono’ and Jones was forever left pondering what might have been.

Now in 2017, a century after Jones was born, author Rob Sawyer has uncovered the true story of this enigmatic football legend in a new book, The Prince of Centre-Halves: The Life of Tommy ‘TG Jones.

Utilising a mixture of archive material and interviews with those who knew Jones and saw him play, Sawyer paints a compelling picture of a brilliant footballer and outspoken and complicated man.

“It has been a labour of love and I hope that, in doing so, I have raised the national profile of an icon of Welsh and Merseyside football,” said Rob.

Jones was born on October 12, 1917, at the home of parents Thomas George Sr and Elsie, on Chester Road, Queensferry.

Within months of his birth, the family moved to Connah’s Quay – settling in a terraced house in Pen Y Llan Street.

It was Baden Millington, a teacher at St Mark’s School in Connah’s Quay, who first spotted Jones’ talented and pushed him into competitive football.

After playing for Wales as a schoolboy he was spotted by Wrexham AFC, signing for the Reds in 1934.

“He was still underage, but they took him on as an office boy and ground staff member until he was signed professionally at the age of 17,” says Rob.

“I went through many old copies of the Leader in the records office in Hawarden and in his second game for the reserves the reporter, ‘Robin’, said he was one of the most promising players they’d ever had at The Racecourse. So it was clear early on he had a special talent even before he broke into the first-team.”

Jones would play only six times for Wrexham’s first team, including a draw with rivals Chester, before Aston Villa, Birmingham and Everton all began to show an interest in the talented teenager.

“One of Everton’s directors Jack Sharp went to watch him and reported back that they needed to buy him,” explains Rob. “Aston Villa had matched Everton’s fee of £1,400 and it was up to Tommy where he went, but because Everton was that much closer and he could commute he went for them.”

The move was met with dismay in Wrexham, but Jones was on his way with wages set at £5 per week and an additional £1 bonus when selected for the first team.

“He was 18 when he moved and they moved him to a house in the city and he really struggled to adapt,” says Rob. “Basically he was homesick so the next season they allowed him to come back to Connah’s Quay to his family and that helped him settle.

“Everton had two England centre halves, Charlie Gee and Tommy White, on their books and he had to dislodge them.

“Everton were building a new young team at that point with the old guard like Dixie Dean moving on. People like Tommy and Joe Mercer were beginning to establish themselves, so it was good time to arrive at Goodison Park.”

It certainly was. Just one season later Jones was celebrating as Everton clinched the league title in 1938-39, but the happiness was short-lived.

Professional football was interrupted by the Second World War, with Jones losing several key years of his footballing career. He joined the RAF as a sergeant.

“Just as that Everton team were clicking, the war punched a seven- year hole in his career,” said Rob.

“He was approaching his best years and suddenly the war stopped all that. It was a huge blow to Everton too as the same thing happened to them in the First World War when they were champions the year before fighting broke out.

“There was lots of wartime football and you read the reports and ‘T.G.’ was in scintillating form. But of course it wasn’t the same as proper league football.

“He sustained a really bad ankle injury and that was the beginning of the end for him and Everton.

“He was carried off the pitch and accused of feigning injury by a director, but it took him a year to get back and he was never the same player.”

The situation became so bad between Jones and his club he was unable to even make the reserves, instead secretly turning out for Hawarden Grammar Old Boys.

Finally, in January 1950, Everton agreed to his release and he began playing non-league football for Pwllheli before becoming part-time manager and running a hotel.

In 1962 he became manager of Bangor City. After winning the Welsh Cup, the team stunned Italian side Napoli by winning 2-0 in the home leg of a European Cup Winners’ Cup tie – but they were eliminated after a replay.

“He enjoyed some of his happiest times at Bangor and Pwllheli,” said Rob, who also reveals in the book how Jones played a crucial role in the formation of Connah’s Quay Nomads in his home town.

In later years Jones was a well-known figure in Bangor, where he settled with his wife Joyce and ran a newsagent’s close to the pier until his death in 2004, aged 86.

“Right until the end he was very fit, swimming every day and walking his dogs,” said Rob.

Earlier this year Jones became the first inductee into Connah’s Quay Nomads Hall of Fame, with Rob describing his achievements at the club as the player’s “greatest legacy”.

“If you speak to anyone still alive who saw him play for Everton they would always put him in the first XI,” added Rob, whose first book, Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great was published in 2014. “He was probably the greatest ball playing centre half Everton have ever had and that’s no disrespect to players such as Brian Labone or Kevin Ratcliffe.

“If he had been around today with his footballing talent, his good looks and the fact he was very articulate, he would have been a megastar and probably playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid.” 

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