JOHN TOSHACK MBE is a former professional football player with Wales, Cardiff City, Liverpool and Swansea City and two-time Welsh national team manager, who also had success with Spanish giants Real Madrid and Real Sociedad.
During his career, he scored over 150 goals in the Football League in more than 350 appearances. Toshack played for Wales at schoolboy and under-23 level before making his senior debut on March 26, 1969, in a 1–1 draw with West Germany. He scored his first senior goal in his following match, a 2–1 defeat to East Germany a month later. He was part of the Welsh side that topped their qualifying group for UEFA Euro 1976, scoring three times during qualifying, before losing a two-legged play-off match against Yugoslavia.
He went on to earn 40 caps for Wales and scored 13 goals, including a hat-trick against Scotland in the 1979 British Home Championship.
He began his playing career as a teenager with his home-town club Cardiff City, becoming the youngest player to make an appearance for the side when he made his debut in 1965. After establishing himself in the first-team, he went on to make over 200 appearances and scored 100 goals in all competitions after forming a striking partnership with Brian Clark.
In 1970, he joined First Division side Liverpool, where he formed a noted forward partnership with Kevin Keegan and Steve Heighway that helped the club to win two league titles, the UEFA Cup on two occasions, the FA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. His partnership with Keegan was so effective that the two were described as telepathic.
Mounting injuries eventually led to him securing his release from Liverpool to join Swansea City as player-manager in March 1978. He led the club to three promotions in four seasons, elevating them from the Fourth Division to the First Division in a feat that led former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly to describe him as the “manager of the century”.
He resigned from Swansea in 1984 after suffering relegation and embarked on a managerial career abroad, taking charge of Sporting CP in Portugal and later Spanish side Real Sociedad, winning the Copa del Rey in 1987. Two years later, he was appointed manager of Real Madrid and led them to a fifth consecutive La Liga title with a record total of points and goals scored.
However, a disappointing start to the following season resulted in his dismissal in November 1990 and he returned to Real Sociedad. In 1994, he was appointed part-time manager of Wales alongside his job at Sociedad but resigned from the role after just 47 days having been in charge for one match, citing the strong support for former manager Terry Yorath among fans and a “political war” as reasons.
After a spell in Turkey with Beşiktaş, he returned to Real Madrid for a second time but was sacked 10 months later after refusing to retract criticism he had made of his players in a press conference following a defeat. In 2004, he was appointed as manager of Wales for a second time and remained with the side for six years, presiding over three ultimately unsuccessful qualifying campaigns.
He later managed Macedonia and Azerbaijani side Khazar Lankaran before managing outside Europe for the first time in his career with Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca and Tractor of Iran.
Toshack was born on March 22, 1949, in Cardiff, and grew up on Northumberland Street in the Canton area of the city. As a child, Toshack attended Radnor Road Primary School, where he first played football in a school trial match, and later Canton High School for Boys. As a teenager, Toshack also played rugby and cricket and was regarded as a promising outside-half before a fractured shoulder suffered playing rugby led to him focusing on football.
While at school, Toshack was selected to represent Cardiff Boys, where he played alongside another future Wales international, Terry Yorath. In 1963, Toshack scored in every match he played for the side and broke the team’s scoring record with his 33rd goal in 11 matches as Cardiff defeated Swansea 2–0 in the Welsh schools divisional final. He was later selected to represent the Wales under-15 side.
In 1965, he joined his home-town club Cardiff City, signing for them as a 16-year-old on a contract worth £12 a week with an £8 appearance bonus and a £4 win bonus. In his early days at the club, he was in charge of cleaning the boots of legendary Wales footballer John Charles.
He became the youngest ever player to play in a senior match for the club when he came on as a substitute to make a goal-scoring debut during a 3–1 win over Leyton Orient on November 13, 1965, at the age of 16 years and 236 days, a record which stood for 41 years until it was broken by Aaron Ramsey in 2007.
His performance during his debut persuaded manager Jimmy Scoular to promote him to the starting line-up for the following match and Toshack found the net again, scoring a brace during a 4–3 victory over Middlesbrough. In his first season in professional football, he scored six goals during nine appearances in all competitions.
Establishing himself in the side over the next few years, Toshack rejected a £70,000 move to Fulham when he was 18 as he felt he was too inexperienced to play in the First Division and would learn more by playing under Cardiff manager Scoular.
He scored his first career hat-trick in January 1968 in an 8–0 win over Ebbw Vale in the Welsh Cup, and went on to form one of the most prolific partnerships in the club’s history alongside Brian Clark. In the 1968–69 season, he scored 31 goals in all competitions, including three goals in a two-legged Welsh Cup final against Swansea City, finishing as the club’s top scorer and the highest goalscorer in the Second Division.
In November 1970, several days after scoring his 100th goal in all competitions for Cardiff during a 2–1 victory over French side Nantes in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, Toshack completed a transfer to Liverpool. The deal was finalised on November 11, 1970, Liverpool manager Bill Shankly paying £111,000 for the striker, a club record fee at the time.
He made his debut three days later on November 14, 1970, in a goalless league draw with Coventry City at Anfield. His first goal came a week later in a Merseyside derby at Anfield. With the game 0–0 at half-time, Everton scored two early goals just after the start of the second half before Steve Heighway scored from an acute angle for Liverpool. In the 76th minute, Toshack headed a goal from a Heighway cross that turned the game around; then Chris Lawler volleyed home, after Toshack had headed on an Alec Lindsay cross, for the 84th-minute winner.
In his first season at Anfield, Toshack scored seven times in all competitions but his noted aerial ability proved to be a key asset in Liverpool’s style of play as it helped the side reach the 1971 FA Cup Final, losing 2–1 to Arsenal.
The following year, Kevin Keegan joined Liverpool from Scunthorpe United and the pair struck up a successful partnership, which was often referred to as being telepathic, with Toshack winning balls in the air and Keegan finishing the knock-downs.
“Tosh was a wonderful player to play alongside,” said Keegan. “His aerial ability was fantastic and I always knew that he was going to win the high balls. From then on it was just a question of me reading which way the ball was going to go and from those situations we created many chances.”
After defeat in the 1971 FA Cup final and missing out on the league title by a single point in 1972, Toshack won his first major honour with Liverpool in 1973 despite missing 20 league matches due to injury. Don Revie’s Leeds United visited Anfield on Easter Monday for a match involving two of the three 1972–73 Football League title challengers. Peter Cormack put Liverpool ahead before Keegan added a late second to seal the win. With Arsenal only drawing against Southampton, Liverpool duly closed out the title with a final-game draw against Leicester City to claim their first major trophy since 1966.
Toshack also helped the side to win the 1972–73 UEFA Cup against German team Borussia Mönchengladbach. The 1973 UEFA Cup Final first leg at Anfield was abandoned due to a torrential downpour after 27 minutes and rescheduled to be played again the next day. The 27 minutes gave Liverpool manager Bill Shankly an insight into their opponents’ defensive vulnerability in the air. To exploit this, he brought Toshack into the starting team and Keegan profited with two goals set up by his strike partner in a 3–0 win. Liverpool lost 2–0 away in the second leg but won the tie 3–2 on aggregate.
Toshack also played in the 1974 FA Cup Final when Liverpool defeated Newcastle United 3–0, having scored winning goals in the quarter and semi-final matches against Bristol City and Leicester City. However, he found himself out of the first-team at the start of the following season after the club signed Ray Kennedy from Arsenal.
Frustrated with the situation, Toshack looked to move and the club accepted a £160,000 bid from Leicester City in November 1974. However, the deal later collapsed after he failed a medical and, at the age of 25, Toshack was told by specialist doctors that he only had around 12 months left to play due to mounting injuries. He was able to force his way back into the first-team soon after, but his training time was restricted in an effort to prolong his playing career.
He won a further league and UEFA Cup double in 1976 and enjoyed his most prolific season with Liverpool, scoring 23 goals in all competitions. He ended his medal haul with a further league title in 1977 but increasing injury concerns limited his appearances and a proposed £60,000 transfer to Belgian side Anderlecht broke down after a medical discovered calcification in some muscle tissue.
Toshack eventually negotiated his release from his contract at Liverpool in order to move into management. During his time with Liverpool, Toshack scored 96 goals in 247 appearances in all competitions. He was voted in at number 34 on a Liverpool website poll ‘100 Players Who Shook The Kop’, in which thousands of fans worldwide voted for their top 100 Liverpool players.
Having secured his release from his contract at Liverpool, Toshack looked to move into management and approached his former club Cardiff City over a coaching position but was rejected by manager Jimmy Andrews who questioned his qualifications for the role. Toshack instead received a phone call from Swansea City chairman Malcolm Struel and was invited to a meeting at the club.
Following this, he was appointed player-manager of Fourth Division club Swansea on March 1, 1978, becoming the youngest manager in the Football League at the age of 29. Succeeding Harry Griffiths who stepped down to become his assistant, Toshack’s appointment was seen as a significant coup for Swansea and the crowd for his first match in charge, a 3–3 draw with Watford, more than doubled from the club’s previous home match with over 15,000 in attendance.
He overhauled numerous aspects of the club’s day-to-day routine including changing players’ diets, moderating their alcohol intake and revising travel arrangements for away matches. He was an immediate success at the Vetch Field, winning promotion from the Fourth Division in his first season in charge after finishing third.
However, the club’s celebrations were muted following the death of Griffiths from a heart attack prior to a match against Scunthorpe United in April 1978. Toshack praised Griffiths for his role in helping the club win promotion, stating: “Most of the hard work had been done … chiefly by Harry. Gaining promotion would be a memorial to him”.
The following season, Toshack convinced several of his former Liverpool team-mates, such as Ian Callaghan, Phil Boersma and Tommy Smith, to join the club. Smith and Callaghan had both received offers to stay with Liverpool, although with limited playing time, but approached Toshack over a move and would train at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground before travelling to Swansea for matchdays.
Toshack led the club to a second consecutive promotion in 1979, sealing their place in the Second Division with a 2–2 draw with Chesterfield on the final day of the season, with Toshack himself scoring the equalising goal that confirmed promotion after bringing himself on as a substitute.
After finishing mid-table in their first season in the Second Division, Swansea claimed a third promotion in four seasons in 1981 after beating Preston North End 3–1 on May 2, 1981, and won the Welsh Cup for the first time in 15 years soon after by defeating Hereford United.
After achieving promotion, Toshack’s former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly heaped praise on his achievements, stating: “He’s done a remarkable job, I would say he’s possibly manager of the century.”
Once they reached the top flight, Swansea were predicted by many to be relegated, but in their first match in the First Division they claimed a 5–1 victory over Leeds United after a hat-trick from newly arrived club-record signing Bob Latchford.
Swansea topped the league at several stages of the season, leading the division with only three months remaining, but injuries to key players Latchford and another former Liverpool team,mate of Toshack’s, Ray Kennedy, saw a downturn in results and they won just one of their final six matches before finishing their first campaign in the top flight in sixth position.
During this period, he was told by the Liverpool board that he was their choice to replace current manager Bob Paisley when he chose to retire. Toshack had openly coveted the position stating: “When I went to Swansea the thing I wanted in the long term was to end up at Liverpool”. However, Paisley remained longer than expected and the position eventually went to Joe Fagan.
Swansea were relegated the following year as the club suffered financial difficulties after relatively big spending under Toshack’s tenure and then suffered a second successive relegation. He resigned in October 1983 but returned eight weeks later, remaining with the club for a further four months before departing again in March 1984.
The heavy spending during Toshack’s years at Swansea were often cited as a key factor in the severe financial issues that affected the club, which was issued with a winding-up order due to unpaid debts in December 1985.
In 1984, Toshack was appointed manager of the Portuguese side Sporting Clube de Portugal, but he only lasted one season in the post during which he led the team to second place in the league. He instead moved to Spain, taking a position as manager of Real Sociedad where he led the side to victory in the 1986–87 Copa del Rey and the league runners-up spot in 1988.
Although their following season was disappointing, finishing La Liga season in 11th position, Toshack was appointed manager of Real Madrid in 1989. Madrid were reigning La Liga champions, having won their fourth consecutive title the previous year, and their squad was described by club president Ramón Mendoza as the “best Real Madrid side for the past 25 years”.
Nevertheless, Toshack strengthened defensively by adding Oscar Ruggeri and Fernando Hierro to the club’s ranks but endured a difficult start after losing to rivals Barcelona and being eliminated from the European Cup in the second round and was under pressure from local press despite leading the La Liga table after 10 matches. However, the side soon discovered their form and they eventually claimed the league title after scoring a record 107 league goals during the season, becoming only the second team to score 100 or more goals during a single season at the time.
A disappointing start to the following season and a three-match losing streak led to him being sacked by the club after 11 matches in November 1990 and he returned to Sociedad, initially in an advisory role before taking charge soon after.
In Spain, Toshack became known as “John Benjamin”, as there was a common misunderstanding that his middle name was a Spanish-style paternal surname. He was also noted for a habit of literally translating English-language idioms into Spanish during his press conferences, to the confusion of Spanish journalists.
In 1994, Toshack was appointed as manager of the Wales national team on a part-time basis, taking the job alongside his position in charge of Sociedad after approaches for Terry Venables and Bobby Robson were rejected. Although the 10 scheduled competitive matches the team were due to play coincided with a break in Spanish league fixtures, he stated his intention that Sociedad would remain his first priority if any other international matches should clash with domestic ones.
He was appointed to succeed Terry Yorath, who had narrowly missed out on qualification to the 1994 FIFA World Cup and had expressed his desire to remain in the role but was not offered a new contract by the Football Association of Wales (FAW). On March 9, 1994, Toshack took charge of his first game for Wales, a 3–1 defeat to Norway at Ninian Park in Cardiff. Toshack had already come under scrutiny over his commitment to the role after arriving in Wales only two nights before the match and taking a single training session with the team beforehand.
With support for Yorath still strong among Welsh fans over his dismissal by the FAW, the disappointing performance against Norway saw the team jeered off at both half-time and full-time and Toshack resigned from the role after just 47 days in charge. He later claimed that there was a political “war” surrounding the team following Yorath’s acrimonious departure and he decided to “wash his hands” of the situation.
After leaving Sociedad, he spent two years in charge of Deportivo de La Coruña, resigning after the board signed two players without his knowledge, before moving to Turkey to join Beşiktaş on the recommendation of Bobby Robson, finishing sixth in his first season in charge and leading the club to victory in the Turkish Cup in 1998.
In February 1999, he returned to Real Madrid following the sacking of Guus Hiddink. Madrid agreed to pay £372,671 compensation to Beşiktaş in order to secure the move. With the club in sixth position on his arrival, they eventually finished the season in fifth under Toshack. However, the start of the following season saw Madrid again struggle and, following a 3–2 defeat to Rayo Vallecano that left them in eighth position, Toshack publicly criticised his players, particularly Albano Bizzarri, commenting that the goalkeeper conceded goals “that made me weep”.
Toshack claimed that his words were meant as a motivational tactic and refused club president Lorenzo Sanz’s request that he withdraw his comments, saying “there’s more chance of a pig flying over the Bernabeu”. The Real Madrid board dismissed him soon after. Toshack would later take Madrid to court over his dismissal and was awarded over £700,000 in compensation.
He later spent short periods with French side AS Saint-Étienne, a third spell in charge of Real Sociedad, and Italian team Catania before returning to Spain again with Real Murcia.
In November 2004, Toshack was appointed as manager of the Wales national team for the second time. Toshack’s appointment was unpopular with some senior players, with Robbie Savage claiming he could face a player mutiny if appointed. In total, seven players announced their international retirement within months of Toshack’s appointment, including Savage, captain Gary Speed, Mark Pembridge and Andy Melville. Former Wales manager Mark Hughes also questioned Toshack’s suitability for the role, stating that UEFA coaching qualifications, which Toshack did not possess, should be considered a prequisite for the job.
One of his first acts as manager was to place Brian Flynn in charge of Wales’s various youth levels, replacing Ian Rush and Neville Southall, and the pair set about rebuilding an ageing squad and uncovering players with the eligibility to play for Wales, such as Ashley Williams.
His first match in charge was a friendly against Hungary on February 9, 2005, which ended in a 2–0 win for Wales, both goals being scored by Craig Bellamy. His first competitive match in charge came one month later when they suffered a 2–0 defeat to Austria, where Toshack was blamed for making a late substitution with the match at 0–0 that allowed Austria into contention and led to two late goals. A second defeat to Austria four days later ended Wales’s slim remaining hopes of qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
In his first full qualifying campaign, Toshack’s squad was plagued by withdrawals, so much so that he chose to issue a letter to 36 Welsh players for them to show “total commitment to the cause”. With the noted retirements and regular withdrawals, Toshack was forced to use a relatively youthful side for a difficult qualifying campaign in which Wales finished fifth out of seven teams and failed to qualify for UEFA Euro 2008.
A defeat to Poland in February 2009 caused anger among supporters as captain Bellamy clashed verbally with fans and a further defeat to Finland a month later saw the side jeered off the pitch at full-time. In October 2009, Wales were unable to compile a squad for a friendly match against Finland following four retirements in the months prior to the match. One of the players, Paul Parry, cited being made to feel like a “spare part” as the reason for his decision to make himself unavailable for selection.
Despite mounting pressure to resign, Toshack remained in charge for the start of the next qualifying campaign. However, on September 5, 2010, he offered his resignation from the Wales job following a 1–0 away defeat to Montenegro in their first Euro 2012 qualifying match. During his six-year tenure with Wales, a total of 18 players retired from international duty but he also handed debuts to numerous young players, including many of the side that would go on to reach the semi-final of UEFA Euro 2016.
Eleven months after resigning from his role with Wales, Toshack was appointed manager of the Macedonia national football team. However, Macedonia won one of his eight matches in charge and his contract with the national side was terminated in August 2012 after he refused the request of Football Federation of Macedonia president Ilčo Gjorgioski to relocate to the country.
Toshack took over as manager of Khazar Lankaran of the Azerbaijan Premier League in March 2013, winning his first trophy with Khazar Lankaran by defeating Neftchi Baku in the Azerbaijan Supercup. In November 2013, however, Toshack resigned.
Seven months later, Toshack was appointed as manager of Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca, leading the club to a league title in his first season in charge and a second-place finish the following year. Toshack and Wydad Casablanca parted ways and in June 2018, he was appointed manager of Iranian side Tractor, but stayed only three months with the club.
Toshack’s son Cameron is also a former professional footballer, having made five appearances for Cardiff City, and been on Swansea City’s books for the 1989–90 season.
In 1976, while playing for Liverpool, Toshack composed and published a book of poems entitled Gosh, it’s Tosh. He also released an autobiography, Toshack’s Way – My Journey Through Football.
In 1981, Toshack won the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year and received the MBE for his services to football in the 1982 New Year Honours list. He was the subject of an episode of This Is Your Life in 1982 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.
His globetrotting career, which has taken in nine countries, saw him still working into his 70s, taking a leaf out of former mentor Bill Shankley’s book: “Shanks used to say to me ‘Retire? Retire is a word that should be struck from the dictionary! I’ll retire when they put me in the coffin and bang down the lid.’ And I couldn’t agree more.”
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