In this guest blog Rich Taylor looks back at the career of one of his hometown of Port Talbot’s most famous sons – Tommy Bamford.
When the footballing pundits eulogise about the many goalscoring talents to have passed through the Manchester United pantheon they have a rich seam from which to mine their memories.
From Bobby Charlton to Eric Cantona, from Frank Stapleton to Wayne Rooney, from Denis Law to Cristiano Ronaldo, the Old Trafford turf has played host to some incredible talents.
Yet these famous faces were likely unaware that they were joined in the club history books by a boy from Port Talbot.
Tommy Bamford is unquestionably the most prolific striking talent to emerge from a town that has long been a production line for professional footballers such as Alan Durban, Andy Legg, Carl Harris and, of course, the Little Wonder Brian Flynn.
Along with his Scottish strike partner George Mutch, Bamford fired the Red Devils to the Second Division title in the 1935-36 season to secure his place in the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful.
In his four seasons at the club he notched an impressive 53 goals and became a staple in the first team lineup.
Such was Bamford’s scoring prowess during his time at Old Trafford – a ratio of one goal every 1.84 games – his record has only been subsequently bettered by six other players in the club’s history including Denis Law and Ruud Van Nistelrooy; not a bad set with which to keep company.
Bamford came to the club’s attention after a stellar six seasons with Wrexham, firing a colossal club record 174 goals in 204 games. He was late to the professional game too, only signing at The Racecourse at the age of 23 after a career in the south Wales amateur leagues with Cardiff Docks and Bridgend Town. Statistics are difficult to source for that period but he is believed to hold goalscoring records at both clubs and speculation was rife that, even at such a low level of football, Manchester United were already on high alert about this prodigious Welsh talent.
They declined to approach him, however, and Wrexham were the beneficiaries, taking a chance on the nippy forward. It paid off immediately when Bamford netted six times in the final seven games of the 1929 season, earning himself a full-time contract and an opportunity to shine.
He didn’t disappoint, his pace and eye for goal propelling him into the limelight and – with it – a name in history as Wrexham’s all-time top scorer.
His exploits also caught the eye of the international selectors committee and Bamford earned himself a call-up to the infamous “Keenor and the Unknowns” Home Nations Championship fixture against Scotland at Ibrox.
Bamford arguably might have played even if the Welsh selectors hadn’t been forced to pick ‘unknowns’ due to English league restrictions on the release of players when international games clashed with a league programme.
Cardiff City FA Cup winning captain Fred Keenor, with a decade’s international experience under his belt, led a team of nine debutants and once-capped goalkeeper Len Evans to an implausible 1-1 draw in front of 23,000 Scots in Glasgow. Before leaving the Ibrox away fressing room, Keenor is reputed to have geed up his troops by reminding them:
“We have 11 players, they have 11 players – there’s one ball out there and that ball is ours”
It must have fired up Bamford more than most. Within 6 minutes of his debut he had put Wales into the lead. Remarkably for someone so prolific at club level, it was to be his only international goal in just five appearances.
His club career, however, was far from over. After another record-breaking season in which he scored 50 goals for Wrexham in all competitions, Manchester United finally came calling. Bamford signed for the Old Trafford outfit on the same day as his Wrexham team-mate Billy Bryant and was joined in the dressing room by two fellow Welsh internationals, Tommy Jones from Tonypandy and Cefn Mawr’s Tom Jones.
The rest, as they say, is history and Bamford was an immediate hit at the club forming a lethal Celtic front-line partnerships with George Mutch and Belfats-born Harry Baird.
Bamford finished his Manchester United career as top scorer in the 1937/38 season with 15 goals, helping the Red Devils to a second placed finish and, with it, promotion back to the First Division.
Aged 33, he returned to south Wales to end his career with Swansea Town before the Second World War called time on his career.
Bamford is immortalised at The Racecourse where a suite is named in his memory, and his goalscoring mastery will forever seal a place in history for this ‘Unknown’, but certainly not forgotten, hero of Welsh football.