In 1948 Roma launched an extraordinary £15,500 bid to make T.G. Jones among the first foreigners to play in Italy. At the eleventh hour, the deal collapsed over currency details. Jones, the prince of centre halves, an unruffled, elegant defender, remained at Goodison Park.
Jones bestrode the First Division and the Welsh national team in the 1930s and 1940s, winning the First Division title in 1939. But for the Second World War he would have become a household name, and might have been considered among the finest players of all time. On Merseyside and in North Wales he was considered a true giant, but despite his title medal and caps, his greatest accolades were bestowed upon him by his fellow players and fans.
Born in Connah’s Quay, Jones played for Flint Schoolboys and Wales Schools before joining Wrexham in 1934, aged 17. Scouted by bigger clubs, after just six first-team games he was signed by Everton in 1936 for £3000. At Goodison Park, he linked up with youngsters like Joe Mercer and, later, Tommy Lawton, but initially he struggled to arrest Everton’s decline.
He made just one appearance in the 1936/37 season, but the following year established himself in place of the sometime England centre half Charlie Gee, a traditional, uncomplicated centre back. Jones was a defender with the skill and composure of an inside forward. Cool and relaxed when in possession, few defenders of his ilk had been seen before. A forerunner of Franz Beckenbauer, Jones’s forte was dribbling out of trouble, and spraying the field with passes.
‘He had the great capacity to stroke the ball around,’ recalled Tommy Lawton. ‘He also had the best right foot in the business and so complete was his positioning and balance that he always seemed to receive the ball on his right foot.’ And yet little ever got past him. ‘His calmness in a crisis was supreme,’ said Lawton, ‘Built as he was, he was very good in the air but also delicate and sophisticated on the ground.’
‘I think he was the only player I ever knew who could dribble a ball on his own six-yard line and come out with it still between his feet,’ said the Liverpool player Cyril Done. ‘He was a brilliant footballer. I jumped up to head a ball with him once, and he came down, fell awkwardly and hurt his ankle very badly. I’m not sure if he broke it. A lot of people seemed to think that I had injured him. I was very upset at the very idea that I could be considered as injuring the great T. G. Jones.’
ALONG WITH Lawton and Mercer, he was instrumental in Everton’s renaissance, lifting the 1938/39 League Championship. One of the most attractive and youthful sides of their era, Everton looked set to dominate English football into the 1940s.
War, however, changed everything, and Jones worked in a factory, while still turning out for Everton during the seven years that the Football League was suspended. He also added 11 wartime appearances for Wales to the 17 full caps he earned.
When normal play resumed in 1946, Everton had lost Lawton to Chelsea and Mercer was on his way to Arsenal. The departure of his friends (Jones was best man to both) was a blow to him and Everton, who plummeted into mediocrity.
JONES, nevertheless, continued to illuminate Goodison Park during these years of decline. In 1947 the Liverpool Echo’s Ernest ‘Bee’ Edwards wrote: ‘Jones is the finest centre playing football today. He is a class by himself. Everything he does has the hallmark of a consummate artist. He is the essence of style, neatness and precision and a gentleman on and off the field. I have never seen him guilty of shady action. He is a credit as well as an ornament to the game.’
BUT NOT EVERYBODY agreed and Jones fell foul of Theo Kelly, the club’s prickly manager. Amazingly he made little over a dozen appearances in 1947, the bulk coming at its end. Five times through 1947 he asked to leave and each time met the same negative response. The spat with the management then broke out into an unprecedented public argument. ‘Could it be,’ asked Jones in the local press, ‘that having lost Tommy and Joe, when both might have been kept if different methods had been adopted, they are frightened of public opinion if they let me go?’
In fact Jones had a long-standing dispute with the Everton hierarchy, dating to a wartime game in which he was accused by a director of feigning a serious injury in a Lancashire Cup game with Liverpool. His bitterness was compounded by the fact that the injury kept him out of action for six months.
1948 saw Jones back in the first team and the arrival of Cliff Britton as manager seemed to coincide with better times. Then the Italian giants AS Roma came in with a lucrative offer, including an undisclosed lump sum in advance, a contract from two to four years (depending on his wishes), a wage of £25 per week (double his Everton salary) plus bonuses and a house in the best part of Rome. He was even offered a coaching job upon his retirement. Jones verbally agreed but the deal collapsed.
In August 1949, Jones was reinstalled as captain in place of Peter Farrell but, a handful of games in, lost his place to Jack Humphreys, then David Falder. The situation got so bad that at times he was unable to make the reserve side and would secretly turn out for Hawarden Grammar Old Boys. Finally, on 26 January 1950 he asked for his release, which was agreed.
ON LEAVING Everton, Jones became Pwllheli part-time manager and ran a hotel. In 1962, as manager of Bangor City, the Welsh Cup winners, he ventured into the European Cup Winners’ Cup and, incredibly, won the home leg 2-0 against Italian giants Napoli, losing 1-3 in Italy. Alas, there was no away goals rule, and at the replay at Highbury Bangor fought gallantly but lost 3-1.
Later, Jones ran a newsagents’ shop in North Wales, and filed a weekly column for the Liverpool Daily Post. He was, said Stanley Matthews, ‘a beautiful player’. But the ultimate epithet came from Dixie Dean: ‘He had everything. No coach could ever coach him or teach him anything. Tommy was the best all-round player I’ve ever seen.’