First published in Jackmail, 15 (1991)
Think of the Swansea City side that careered through the divisions at the turn of the last decade, and who springs to mind? The legendary Tosh, the occasional genius of Leighton James, big bustling Bob Latchford, perhaps even the elegant and under-rated Tommy Craig…but Wyndham Evans? Wyndham’s name is not writ large in the annals of football history, which qualifies this boyhood hero for some long-overdue limelight.
Beginning in the Carmarthenshire league at the age of sixteen, Wyndham then played briefly as an amateur for Stoke, after which Swansea manager Roy Bentley gave him a trial, found him guilty, and sentenced him to two seasons in the Combination league, as a part-timer. Wyndham escaped by digging a tunnel to the first-team dressing room, and by turning pro in 1969.
But it was in 1972 that the love affair between Wyndham and the North Bank began, when this compact defensive powerhouse first gained a regular place in the first team. His swashbuckling style and his evident love of the game he played so well rapidly endeared him to the notoriously hard-to-please terrace faithful, well-used in those days to watching a succession of free-transfers, no-hopers and has-beens. Wyndham’s stocky frame became a familiar sight in the number two jersey, where he played the majority of his 350 plus League games, mostly in the less-than-glamorous surroundings of the third and fourth divisions. He was never one of the game’s great stylists, but he was solid and-reliable; what he lacked in footballing genius, he made up for in sheer ‘hwyl’: the nearest the English language gets to translating that is “spirit”, but that’s a poor substitute. Such was his never-say-die attitude that not many players got the better of a determined Evans.
Astonishingly, Wyndham was never capped for Wales, even in the days when the likes of Ray Mielczarek were being selected. With every international that came along I would scan the papers for confirmation that the mighty Evans had at last caught Dave Bowen’s eye, always to be disappointed as Malcolm Page, Leighton Phillips, Phil Roberts, Peter Rod-rigues and eventually Phil Dwyer got the nod ahead of my hero. Despite these continuing snubs by successive Welsh managers, he never complained . Never once bleating in the Sunday Rag about how unfair life was whilst banking the cheque; not that the rags fell over themselves to beat a path to Wyndham’s front door, but I m sure that if they did he would have told them where to go, he was/is that kind of bloke.
As the assaults on the heights of division two began in ’80-’81, Wyndham was dropped in favour of a succession of replacements. Neil Robinson, the rapidly-emerging Chris Marustik, and a donkey called Attley. Come the run-in to promotion, after a string of three defeats, Toshack wisely reinstated the ever-ready Evans, and Wyndham saw out the season, playing in the side that triumphed on that historic day in Preston. How fitting that was, how sweet that moment must have been for this stalwart club servant. I have to confess to shedding a tear upon seeing Wyndham’s grinning features on the telly.
Come the following season, and bugger me if Wyndham was not considered good enough for division one; but, refusing to be written off, Mister Reliability achieved an ambition to play in all four divisions of the league by getting a game at Spurs at the end of the ’81-’82 season; tragically, after just 25 minutes, Wyndham went into a tackle and sustained knee ligament damage, ending his first division debut in abrupt fashion.
The following year came relegation, the fit-again Evans recalled to stiffen the defence in a handful of games. In the strange season that followed, his Swansea-career seemingly over, Wyndham accepted the player-manager’s job at his home town Welsh league club Llanelli. He was there for only a short spell, as following the departure (October 1983) and subsequent reinstatement of Toshack as manager (December) the call came once more, and Evans again pulled on the white jersey, this time as player-coach. For some of us in the stand at Ninian Park that December day in 1983, it was the Second Coming; the Swans lost 2-3 despite an astonishing goal from Tosh himself, but that didn’t mar my warm glow at seeing Evans back in the side. After the second exit of Toshack the following March, Wyndham stayed loyal to the club, taking charge of the reserves. He finally hung up his boots in 1985, after a fifteen year association with Swansea City, his loyalty being rewarded with a well-deserved testimonial against Liverpool. The tears this time were of sadness, feeling that a phase of my life had passed; with no obvious successor to fill the jersey in the way Wyndham had, hard times seemed to beckon. How right my premonition was. Oh for an elixir of youth, a potion that would restored Wyndham’s prime years to him and the club in these recent years in the valley of the shadow of relegation.
Of many Evans anecdotes, one in particular captures the essence of this defensive dynamo. It is a Saturday in September 1978, and Swansea are at home to Brentford in the third division; Wyndham is marking Bees winger Doug Allder. A long, high ball comes out of the Brentford defence and sails toward their left flank; Wyndham and Allder leap together, but both mis-time their jumps, miss the ball, and collide, with a crack of heads that echoes around the Vetch Field. After receiving attention, Allder is carried off on a stretcher concussed; Wyndham Evans gets up off the turf, shakes his head, and gets back into position, thus confirming a long-held North Bank belief that he was, indeed, a man of iron.
Written by Jonathan Taylor.