The best ever red's defender?
The Big Interview: Peter Davies finishes his chit-chat with '50s legend Aly McGowan

Aly McGowan

(Picture courtesy of The Racecourse Robins)

Click here for part one of the interview

What do you remember about the Wrexham side in the 1950s?

'We were a banker at home - but we didn't win many away! We probably played in front of average crowds of about 12,000. There were 30,000 at the Racecourse for the Manchester United match - but that was an exception. It was certainly the biggest match I ever played in. The atmosphere was tremendous. In that match I think I was up against David Pegg. United had a lot of other good players: Taylor, Coleman and Duncan Edwards, of course. He was a left-half - big and strong.'

Any other memories of that game?

'I remember we hit the post early on - and could actually have been three goals up. But we missed an open goal and after that they just killed us. We were murdered. We'd been on a good run before that game - but it ended rather suddenly. However, it was a great experience to play United, even though it affected our season quite badly. We had a really bad run-in after that!'

Which other big games do you recall?

'Liverpool. That was a good match. We gave them a good scrap but they beat us 3-1 in the end. I also remember a game away at Blackburn - when we won after extra-time. I think Mickey Metcalf got a hat-trick for us.'

Did you score many goals yourself?

'I remember two! One was at home. We were losing 1-0 but turned things round to win 2-1. Arfon was on the right-wing; he crossed it in and I scored with a diving header. Not bad for a full-back! The other was away at Accrington Stanley. It just shaved my head! The thing was - I wasn't really expected to score goals. That said, I did get my fair share of own goals!'

When did you retire from the game?

'It was 1963 - when I broke my ankle. I just jumped for a ball and fell - and ended up with a serious fracture. I think I dislocated my tibia and fibia; I was in plaster for almost 18 months. I was 33 when I had to hang up my boots; I think that without the injury I could have gone on until I was 35. I tried to carry on at second-team level - but it just wasn't the same. I also played a few games for Bethesda Athletic. But while I was at Wrexham I was never dropped - and that's a fact I'm very proud of. I missed the odd game through injury - I remember one in particular against Watford - but I was never left out because of bad form.'

You worked as groundsman at the Racecourse when you finished playing. Tell us about that…

'I did it for seven or eight years but I didn't really enjoy it. I looked after everything, including the floodlights - an important job because at this time Wrexham played in a special floodlit league. I was also in charge of some of the apprentice players like Mickey Thomas, Joey Jones and Dave Smallman.'

Tell us more…

'Mickey was on the groundstaff. He was alright and, yes, a real character. Joey was pretty idle actually - I could never get him to do any work! Together they were a real pair. They were supposed to go to college one day a week - but I don't think they ever went! I think they were probably on the train - on their way back to the North Wales coast. These two eventually got into the first team under John Neal.'

How were Mickey and Joey supposed to help you with the ground?

'I just wanted them to help with small things, like divots. But they were pretty naughty most of the time so I had to give them both a kick up the backside. Some days I used to keep them back - they just hadn't done enough work. But I suppose they haven't done too badly, have they? They both became international footballers! And Mickey's as bald as me these days!'

What did you do after your spell as groundsman?

'I worked as a bar steward in one of the Catholic clubs in Wrexham. That was a full-time job - I did that for 10 years. I could still feel my ankle though. It's still stiff, even though the pain has gone now.'

Did you dream of being a footballer?

'Yes. I wanted to play for Celtic - but never managed it! I suppose I always wanted to play for Scotland as well, but I didn't get the chance. My brother Jimmy was probably a better player than me. He played until he was 41! He was a right-back with Partick Thistle; sadly, he died a few years ago.'

Tell us about your Christian name…

'Aloysius? It's an Irish, Catholic name. I think it comes from St.Aloysius. My Mum was very religious. I came from a big family - there were 11 of us - and I don't think they knew what to call me! I've still get one brother and one sister who are still alive - and I really enjoy going back to Scotland to visit them.'

Do you watch Wrexham today?

'No. The last game I saw was about 10 years ago. I think they lost 5-0 at home! I hate seeing Wrexham lose at home because in my day we were almost invincible at the Racecourse. I've got no desire to watch football anymore. I see the odd game on TV but I think I'd prefer a good Western these days!'

How do you feel that football has changed since the 1950s?

'I don't think there have been that many changes. The ball is lighter nowadays, the clothing less heavy - and the wages a lot higher! I suppose that, overall, the game is probably speedier today; but, saying that, my old teammate Don Weston could run 100 yards in 10.1 seconds. Not bad! And so could a few of the other lads. I don't think current players train as hard as we used to. There's also the small matter of foreigners in the modern game as well.'

Who were your heroes in the '50s and '60s?

'Billy Wright was my idol; also, people like Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, George Best and Bobby Charlton.'

Do you still keep in touch with people at the Racecourse?

'I talk to Pryce Griffiths occasionally. I also see John Neal - he lives in Rhosddu. I saw quite a few people at the 125th Anniversary do - including Mickey and Joey! Billy Waters stayed with me that weekend. In my house I've got lots of photos of players on my walls, of people like Peter Thompson and Don Weston. They make me very nostalgic.'

Are you in contact with your old teammates?

'Yes, we all try to keep in touch, but a lot of them are crippled now by injuries they got as players: Idris Price has got bad knees, George Evans, Les Speed and George Jones likewise, and Peter Jones has just had his hips done. Billy Waters is living in Swansea and Tom McNab in Australia. I see Ron Hewitt occasionally in town, Alvin Williams is a golf club steward somewhere on the coast and John Anderson isn't well.'

How do feel about Wrexham, the town?

'I never thought I'd still be here today! It's a very friendly place and I get on with most of the people here. I've got friends in Brymbo and I always go down to town on Fridays. I play dominos for Lex on a Friday night - it's a very friendly club.'

People tell me that you were the best Wrexham player of the '50s and '60s. How does that make you feel?

'Just a little embarrassed.'

Thanks a lot Aly - cheers!

aly mcgowan: top trivia

Favourite drink: Vodka and lemonade

Favourite food: Steak

Favourite TV programmes: Everything - but especially horse racing, Only Fools and Horses, athletics and Westerns

Favourite holiday destination: Scotland

Favourite newspaper: The Sun for the horse racing coverage

Favourite sportsman: Linford Christie

Best player you played with: Arfon Griffiths, Ken Barnes

Best player you played against: Cliff Jones, Spurs left-winger - a good player

Childhood hero: Jimmy Delaney of Celtic - an outside-right who eventually moved on to Manchester United