Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Powell was a big-hearted wing half who started his career, when he was still working as a coal miner, with Bargoed in the South Wales League before moving on to Queens Park Rangers in 1933. He played no League football for QPR in his first spell and had a short spell at non-League Barnet before returning to Loftus Road in September 1937. Thereafter he remained at the club until the middle of the 1948/49 season by which time he had played 110 League games for the club, scoring two goals. He also appeared in 25 games in the wartime season of 1939/40 for QPR.
Ivor Powell’s wedding with best man Stan Matthews (right) and Tommy Browell (second right). Ivor and his wife Joan to the left.
When World War II broke out he became a Sergeant Physical Training Instructor in the RAF and was posted to Blackpool where one of his charges was serviceman 1361317, a certain Stan Matthews. Powell was later to remark, ‘I was reading the list of new recruits on the seafront in Blackpool where we used to do drills and saw the name of S Matthews on the list. I asked him to step forward and he came out from the back of the bunch.’ This was the first meeting of two players who not only to become great friends but who were to star in Blackpool’s wartime success.
Powell made his first appearance for Blackpool as a guest player in the North Regional League game against Liverpool on 22 March 1941 when Blackpool won 6-2 and he went on to play four games for the club in the wartime season of 1940/41. As was often the case with servicemen, he also played as a guest for Bradford City, appearing six times in the 1940/41 season and he also made one appearance for his own club, Queens Park Rangers, in that season.
He returned to reappear for Blackpool in a 6-2 victory over Bolton Wanderers on 11 October 1941 and he went on to play 12 games for the club in the 1941/42 season, six in the Northern Section First Competition, which Blackpool won convincingly, and six in the Northern Section Second Competition in which Blackpool finished second.
He was in the Blackpool side for the second game of the 1942/43 season, a 5-2 victory over Manchester City, and again he played infrequently throughout the remainder of the season. He ended up playing 18 games for the club that season, nine in the First Competition, which once again Blackpool won, and nine in the Second Competition, when Blackpool fell to a disappointing 13th place. However the club did win the Northern Football League Cup and Powell was in the side for the first leg of the final against Sheffield Wednesday on 1 May 1943, a game that was drawn 2-2. Unfortunately he was unavailable for the second leg, won 2-1, and also for the challenge final against Arsenal, won 4-2 after trailing at half-time. In that 1942/43 season he also appeared three times for Queens Park Rangers.
His duties took him away from Blackpool after the 1942/43 season but in his three wartime seasons at the club he played 34 games and was a significant contributor to the club’s success. Later in life he was to comment on his time playing for Blackpool alongside Stan Matthews with ‘When we played for Blackpool I played behind him, right half to his right wing. I’d give him the ball and say, “There you go, Stan.” You didn’t see the bloody ball after that because he’d be off, up the line, weaving his way to the by-line before pulling it back into the area. I always knew what he could do and what he would do, so when I played against him for Wales or at different clubs later in out careers, I was in there with a tackle straight away. You couldn’t dilly-dally with him.’
On 25 September 1943 he was involved in a most unusual incident that featured another of his Blackpool teammates. Playing for Wales in a wartime international at Wembley he was injured early on and had to retire and England’s reserve, Stan Mortensen, took his place in the Welsh side. Wales lost 8-3 and Stan Matthews was later to write of the game, ‘He [Stan Mortensen] was sitting on the touchline with Bill Voisey, the English trainer, when Ivor Powell fractured a collar bone early in the game. Shortly after Powell was carried off, that grand old man of Welsh football, the late Mr Ted Robbins, and Mr Rous had a quick chat in the stand. Word was sent down to the touchline, and Mortensen went trotting to the dressing room. Nobody in the 80,000 crowd had any idea that Mortensen was going to change, and when a quarter of an hour later the player in the red jersey returned on the field a cheer went up from the crowd who, not knowing the seriousness of Powell’s injury, were under the impression the injured Welsh wing half was returning. Even when ‘Powell’ went to inside left the onlookers did not suspect anything unusual, as team switches are often necessary after a player has been injured. Even some of the England players did not know that Mortensen was playing on the other side, and the football reporters, whose headquarters at Wembley are at the top of the main stand, did not know of the change until after half-time.’
He was posted to India late in 1943 and, as well as seeing front-line action, he was involved in the British Services football tours in India between September 1944 and December 1945. He was in the British Forces sides that toured from September to October 1944 and from February to April 1945 and he was also in Tommy Walker’s XI that toured from September to December 1945. He returned to England in time to play four games for Queens Park Rangers in the wartime season of 1945/46.
He met his future wife while in Blackpool and in 1943 he married Joan, the daughter of Tommy Browell, the former Blackpool and Manchester City forward. At the wedding, Stan Matthews was his best man with Powell later commenting, ‘When I was training I was based in Blackpool and made a number of guest appearances for the side. We hit it off from the beginning.’
After the war he continued his career with QPR, winning the Division Three (South) championship in the 1947/ 48 season. He was transferred to Aston Villa for a then record fee for a half back of £17,500 in December 1948 and he went on to appear in 86 League and Cup games, scoring five goals, for the club. He joined Port Vale in July 1951 as player-manager and, due to a serious knee injury, he played only six League games for the club before being dismissed in November 1951.
He later joined Barry Town for a short spell before returning to League football as player-manager with Bradford City in May 1952. His appointment was said to have ‘confirmed the board’s intention to go for a ‘name’ who would also fall in the ‘tracksuit’ manager category’.
He played 83 League games and scored nine goals for Bradford City before a knee ligament injury in the game against Wrexham on 15 September 1954 reduced him to being just the club’s manager. He tried to make a comeback but was forced to announce his retirement in November 1954. He resigned as Bradford City manager in February 1955, having won eight Welsh international caps and also playing in six wartime internationals during his career.
Announcing that he had finished with football, he took over a licence in Bradford in July 1955 but in July 1956 he returned to football when he was appointed as trainer-coach to Leeds United and there followed a coaching job at PAOK in Greece. He returned to League football when he was appointed manager of Carlisle United in May 1960 and, after a disastrous first season, he led the club to their first ever promotion when they finished fourth in Division Four in the 1961/62 season. His managerial career at Carlisle United ended after the club had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Southern League side Gravesend & Northfleet in the 1962/63 season.
He became manager of Bath City in June 1964 and in 1972 he was appointed the university of Bath’s first football coach and he was to coach Team Bath until his final retirement from football on 26 May 2010, aged 93. Before his retirement he entered the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest working football coach on his 90th birthday, after 55 years as a coach. He commented, ‘If I thought I was a hindrance, if I thought I wasn’t doing my job, I would fully agree with not being here at all. But while I’m here and I get the satisfaction and the pleasure out of it and also the help of the players I have under my wing, I’ll carry on, I’m not tired of it all.’
He was inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame in May 2004 and in November 2004 he went into the history books as the longest serving coach in football history when he led Team Bath into FA Trophy action against Hitchin Town on 6 November 2004. FA historian David Barber said, ‘There is no record at this level of anyone having coached for a longer period of time. It’s a phenomenal achievement.’
Powell commented, ‘I haven’t done anything more than I would have asked of my players. Determination, will power, work rate and will to win. They have been my watchwords throughout my life.’ Speaking of his start in football he said, ‘When QPR approached me I was working down a coal mine with my father and six brothers for 12 shillings and sixpence a week. The memories I have of the mines and all those hard working people is something I shall never forget. Thinking of them – their plight has forever been etched on my mind and [has] given me the willpower to succeed.’
His final comment was ‘I’m not done yet. I thought I might be when I lost my good wife [wife Joan passed away earlier in 2004 after 63 years of marriage] but the enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed one jot. I’ve got to show my great grandchildren I’ve still got it in me, haven’t I? That, and we’ve got an FA Trophy game to win on Saturday.’
He was awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours of 2008 when he was still assisting with the coaching of Team Bath in the British Gas Business Football League Premier Division. He commented, ‘It was a big surprise when I got the letter. I’ve been in football for more than 70 years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. I’m 91 and I’ve still got something to give, I’m sure. I’ll stay in the game as long as I’m enjoying it.’
Finally, interviewed in the Queens Park Rangers programme for the game against Blackpool on 8 August 2009 he said, ‘I played for my local amateur team at Bargoed in Wales when I was working as a coal miner. It was good fun playing football compared to the very hard work down the pit. We had to go descend in a cage lift and then walk a mile and a half underground to the coal.’
He remembered joining QPR with ‘A scout saw me playing in Wales and he wired Queens Park Rangers. He made arrangements for me to go up to Loftus Road and I was signed on. It was a big move for me and I thought to myself ‘I’m never going down that bloody coal mine ever again!’
He recalled his most memorable match for QPR, ‘In the 1947/48 season, we battled our way to the FA Cup quarter finals. We beat Gillingham, Stoke and Luton along the way before losing in a replay to Derby County. We also won the Third Division South that season and I can remember being carried off the pitch shoulder high by the fans after we clinched the title at home to Swansea.’
He also commented about his first pay packet, ‘We got £6 a week in the summer. During the season, if you played in the reserves it was £7 a week, plus a £1 bonus for a win and 10 bob for a draw. The first team players got £8 a week, with £2 for a win and £1 for a draw.’
And, asked which of his former team mates would be worth £20 million in modern day transfer fees, he said, ‘I played with Stanley Matthews at Blackpool during the War and he was also best man at my wedding. Stan was a very natural player. He got the ball on the wing, dribbled and then beat defender after defender.’
Ivor Powell may only have been a guest player for Blackpool but he takes his place, deservedly, in the long history of the club (also for being one of those rare players whose middle name is that of a World War I battlefield) and his coaching achievements elsewhere are never likely to be equalled.
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