The best ever red's defender?
The Big Interview: Red Passion says a big 'Hello' to the prince of the 1950's Wrexham side

Aly McGowan

(Picture courtesy of The Racecourse Robins)

Background: Aloysius McGowan. According to the WFC Who's Who, 'a great servant' of the club. And…only three players have played more games in the red and white.

Setting: Brymbo. A small, unassuming house. Aly is watching Chelsea on the TV and he's just made a pot of tea.

So…Tell us about your Scottish childhood…
"I'm from Airdrie. When I was young I couldn't even get into my school team. One day, however, they were short and they asked me to play on the left-wing. From there I moved on to play for my village youth team. Eventually I played regularly at right-back - and I signed for Fauldhouse, near Bathgate. I played there for two years. The manager of St.Johnstone then asked me if I'd like to play for him. They were in the Scottish Second Division at the time; my brother, who was 16 at the time, had been signed up by Partick Thistle. He advised me to sign for St.Johnstone. The pay structure at the club was: £6 a week, £4 if you were in the Reserves, and £2 during the close season. I also worked in the pits up there - when I wasn't playing soccer!"

Your main memories of Scottish football?
"During Season 1951-2 I won a Scotland 'B' International cap. It was a game against an Irish League XI and I remember that I was presented with a special wallet to commemorate the occasion. The memories of that match are very precious to me now. Scotland won 6-0 and I played at left-back. It was easy - we just outclassed them. The match was played at Windsor Park, Belfast, and I've still got the official programme. That was the closest I got to representing Scotland at international level. I felt I had a good game - but within a short period of time I'd been given a free transfer by St.Johnstone. My time at the club had, however, been hard work. I had to
travel from Airdrie to Perth on matchdays - so that was two and a half hours each way on the train. During the week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays - I would train in Airdrie to cut travel costs."

What about your move to Wales?
"St. Johnstone had appointed a new manager - Johnny Portillo. He felt he had too many players on the books - so gave quite a few free transfers. Tommy Bannan was my contact in Wrexham - and the manager at the time, Peter Jackson, said he'd have a look at me. When I arrived in Wrexham I really felt lost. Tommy was in hospital, so no-one came to meet me. My digs were in Garden Village and, to be honest, I felt really homesick. I thought to myself: What have I done? Gradually though, I made friends and started to
enjoy every minute of my new life. In time I moved from Garden Village to a place near the railway station - and I shared my new digs with teammate Johnny Tapscott. It was great living so close to the Racecourse. Wrexham in the 1950s were a good side but I didn't think I'd walk straight into the first team. I thought I'd have to play a few Reserve games first before everything clicked."

And your main Wrexham memories?
"Playing Manchester United before the Munich crash. We lost 5-0 but it was a special occasion. I also remember playing Blackburn in the Cup - they were in the top division at the time - and Liverpool, who beat us 3-1. I've also got quite a few Welsh Cup memories: winning the trophy, playing against the likes of Cardiff and Swansea, and losing at Bangor."

What kind of player were you?
"I started on the right, but eventually moved to the left. It's not really for me to say, but I suppose I was a hard tackler, pretty strong, and I just loved playing. I also enjoyed going forward - but at heart I was a defender. The problem was that I always had my responsibilities. I might venture over the halfway line…but I'd get a rollicking from my teammates. They said I shouldn't be there! I think though that you should probably ask someone else for an objective description of me as a player."

Tell us about your teammates…
"There was Peter Jones - a full-back who always tried to play football and never wasted the ball - and Alan Fox - a good centre-half and sliding tackler - and also Arfon Griffiths, who I played with in the early-'60s. Arfon was a great passer of the ball and had a wonderful footballing brain. Don Weston - he was a great goalscorer and very fast, like grease lightning! Wyn Davies was a good centre-forward: he was an excellent targetman - you could always pick him out - and he caused a lot of trouble in the opposition penalty area. A good player, definitely.Peter Thompson was a fair player as well - another centre-forward. Clive Colbridge was a tricky winger and won a lot of penalties for us. Ken Barnes was a half-back, a great passer of the ball - he played some beautiful balls through to the forwards. He had a really good football brain. Les Speed was a hard defender and Albert Parker a tough one too. Albert played on the other flank to me."

How did you feel being a Scotsman in a Welsh side?
"Grand - I loved it at Wrexham. I got on with everybody - the local people were great. I think a really strong bond evolved between me and Wrexham. As a town, Wrexham was quite similar to the towns I was familiar with in Scotland - and obviously Wales had similarities to Scotland as a country. There was definitely a Celtic bond! Whenever Scotland played Wales I always wanted Scotland to win, but if Wales were playing an international against another country I always wanted Wales to win."

Tell us about your life in Wrexham…
"I worked in Bersham. For five years I was a coalminer - while at the same time playing for Wrexham. I earned £5 a week down the pits and this was supplemented by money from playing soccer. At the Racecourse you could earn £12 a week, £8 if you were in the Reserves and £6 during the close season. I went full-time for Wrexham in 1959 and earned £18 a week. Everybody went full-time eventually. I remember George Evans in particular. He was a Wrexham lad and also worked at Bersham. Like me, he was only part-time at the Racecourse up to 1959. He was a great workmate and a lovely guy. We had to work very hard at Bersham! But I've got to say that it was possible to work down the mines and play soccer part-time. I was quite happy with the situation. I came up from the pits at teatime and then I'd play matches at night. It was a good life - but a hard life too. I'd probably work an eight-hour day at Bersham, but the amazing thing was that because I was part-time, I'd probably train harder than the full-timers when I arrived at the ground."

What about Wrexham as a club in the 1950s?
'The atmosphere was great. I had a great time with the lads - they were all good mates. People like Billy Waters, Alan Fox and Tommy Bannan - another Scot like me.'

What about football today - compared with football in 1959?
'It was a very different life in 1959 - obviously. Things have moved on and money, in my opinion, has spoilt the game. Everything is now totally out of proportion. £40,000 a week - and they complain about the stress and the strain of being a footballer? They should have worked down a mine - that's real work!'

Thanks a lot Aly - cheers! ?R
In the second half of this interview, Aly continues his 1950s reminiscences.