Those of us who followed the Swans in the 1960s and early 1970s will have been saddened by the news of the death of Brian Evans. Rather like the death of a relative or friend, Brian’s passing signals just another little piece of the past disappearing for many of us.
I was first taken to the Vetch in April 1968 and would have seen him play that evening. In truth, my eyes were probably more directed toward Ivor Allchurch in that particular game, but over the coming seasons the little curly haired winger was to become crucial to my enjoyment of the team and the football they played.
I was aware that Brian had played for the Swans in the old second division, and was a member of the legendary 1964 FA Cup Semi-Final squad. Later searches of the record books showed that he was one of the heroes of Anfield in that epic run, and had also played before the record Vetch Field crowd against Arsenal in 1968. However, personally, Brian will always be identified as a vital component of Roy Bentley’s team that first really got me hooked as a life-long Swans fan.
In truth, many of my first few visits to the Vetch had left me underwhelmed, but from early on I appreciated the attacking skills and ball control of the man from Abergavenny. You always knew that if Brian got the ball something could happen. Without need to recourse to record books, I can still mentally picture a solo effort he scored against Lincoln in a 5-0 romp in 1968-9, as he bamboozled a couple of defenders in front of the North Bank before shooting into the double-decker end goal.
When Roy Bentley became manager in the summer 1969, Brian was to fit glove-like into his philosophy of attacking football featuring two out and out wingers. Along with Lenny Allchurch, Brian provided a stream of inviting crosses for the likes of Dai Gwyther and Herbie Williams to feast on. The club won promotion in 1970 and consolidated the following year.
Brian was indispensable to that side and if for any reason he was unable to play, the Swans seemed less of a force without him. One memorable sequence of successive home wins over Exeter (4-1), Rochdale (4-2), Telford (6-2), Fulham (4-1) and Rhyl (6-1) speaks more eloquently about the style of play of that team than a thousand words. We almost took it for granted that at some stage Brian would have the crowd roaring with excitement as he beat his man with some piece of close control before firing in a cross or shot.
With the retirement of Lenny Allchurch, Brian became more crucial than ever to the team’s creativity. He continued to torment defenders in season 1971-72, and showed his versatility by switching wings to accommodate Ronnie Rees who arrived later that season. Sadly, the team were in decline by that stage, and Brian’s final season at the club ended with relegation.
By then a full international, Brian was sold to a then ascendant Hereford United in Harry Gregg’s rebuilding over the summer of 1973. He spent his final professional seasons with the border club before returning to West Wales to earn a Welsh League Championship with Llanelli.
Brian also deservedly appeared for Wales, earning his first cap in a 3-0 win over Finland at his home ground. My personal abiding memory of Brian in a Welsh shirt was his part in the goal scored by John Toshack in a 1-1 draw with England in a World Cup Qualifier at Wembley. He also played a major role in the 2-0 win over Poland at Cardiff a few months later, an outstanding result against the side that were to finish third in the 1974 World Cup.
Probably the best eulogy I can give Brian is that he was part and parcel of the first Swans side that I genuinely looked forward to seeing play. With him dies another little piece of growing up.
Thankfully, the memories will live on in the minds of those of us who saw him play. The entertaining attacking play of the early Bentley area turned me into a Swans fan. Brian Evans was indispensable to that side and helped keep me coming back to the Vetch. I don’t think you could say much more about a player.