This week we take a look at Bob Latchford, a colossal goalscorer and still a popular figure at both Everton and Swansea City.
BREAKTHROUGH WITH BIRMINGHAM
Latchford began his impressive career at hometown team Birmingham City and in May 1967 he signed his first ever professional contract in a deal worth just £8 a week.
It took Latchford a couple of years with the Midlands’ team to find the goalscoring form he’d come to be famous for - a period in which he went to the finals of the FA Youth Cup and helped the senior squad with promotion to the First Division.
In Birmingham’s first season back in the top flight since the sixties, Latchford earned the Blues a surprising mid-table finish. Playing in all but one of their first-team games that season, his 20 league goals were the main reason for their unexpected success.
In his final year with Birmingham, Latchford struck 18 times for the club before leaving in February 1974. Finishing just one point above the drop-zone, it could well be said that if not for the bearded striker’s goals earlier that season, Birmingham might have been relegated.
Manager Freddie Goodwin, four months after announcing “Sell Latchford? I’d rather have the sack!” went against his word and allowed the striker a move away from St Andrews.
FROM ONE BLUE TO ANOTHER
It was Everton who succeeded in prising away Birmingham’s best player, with Howard Kendall and Archie Styles going the other way to sweeten the deal. On top of £80,000 in cash, the valuation of Kendall and Styles brought the figure up to an estimated £350,000 – a British transfer record at the time.
With Kendall’s involvement in the Latchford deal, and news of Everton striker Joe Royle’s transfer to Manchester City, the pressure was on for the big man to succeed.
Hitting the back of the net 19 times in the 1974/75 season he quickly became a new fan favourite. His excellent start to Everton life had Goodison Park flirting with the idea that they might have found the newest addition to a history of great number nines.
This idea became a reality with the powerful striker topping his side’s goalscoring charts in five successive seasons. Achieving this, he became one of three Everton legends to do the same or more – alongside Sandy Young and Dixie Dean respectively.
The most prolific of his five-year streak was the 1977/78 season in which he claimed the First Division’s Golden Boot.
With a lack of out-and-out goalscorers gracing the league over the previous decade, The Daily Express threw down the gauntlet for a player to net 30 goals in one season. A promise of £10,000 – a huge amount in those days – provided the motivation to get there.
Despite needing all 42 league games to do so, Bob hit the final two of his 30 in a 6-0 win over Chelsea and went on to claim his prize.
In the 1997 book ‘Everton Greats – where are they now?’ Latchford told author Jon Berman: “At the start of the season I wasn’t really taking much notice of the prize. I don’t think anybody was. But as the season went by I was beginning to think that I could be in with a chance.
“By the end of the year I had scored 19 goals and as long as I didn’t pick up any injuries I thought I could do it.
“The last match against Chelsea at home was a bit special. I had to score two more to get the prize. The crowd were willing me on. When we got a penalty I had no hesitation in taking it.
“When that one went in, it felt marvellous. It was a great achievement and I was proud that I had done it.”
Of the £10,000 prize money, Bob only took home about £200 - opting instead to split the reward between his teammates, club staff and charities.
He spent another three years at Everton and by the time he left in 1981, only Dixie Dean had scored more for the club.
He is currently Everton’s third top scorer of all time - only Graeme Sharp registered more after Latchford’s time at the Club.
FOR THE OTHER SIDE
If ever an Englishman at Swansea City was loved as much as his Welsh counterparts, Bob Latchford was that man. Coming to the Vetch Field on the back of successful periods at Birmingham and Everton, Latchford kicked off his Swansea career with a debut hat-trick against Leeds United.
Going on to score 35 goals in 87 appearances, Latchford had joined the club in their debut season at the top division of English football. With a hugely successful sixth placed finish, the men in white had ignited Welsh football – finally a team from the Valleys were competing with the English greats.
Their success was unfortunately short-lived. Disaster hit in the form of poor performances and financial struggles. Following the club to two successive relegations, Latchford found himself at the lowest point of his career.
Remembering his second year as a frustrating one, he declared “It definitely soured my second season on the pitch because of the things that were happening. Everything from the top to the bottom was not right. The more games we lost the worse things became.
“Once you get on a slide it is very hard to stop. I always felt if we could have survived that season we would have been there for much longer.”
Before their eventual return in 2011 to the summit of English football, Latchford held the honour of scoring the last goal in Swansea’s top flight history.
“I hadn’t realised I was still Swansea’s last goal scorer in the top flight, it’s incredible really,” he said on the dawn of Swansea’s first ever Premier League participation.
“In all honesty I don’t remember the goal, I don’t remember many of the goals I scored in that second season in the First Division because so many things were going on at the club and they got in the way of the football.”
Regardless of his time at the club being marred by outside factors, Latchford goes down as one of Swansea’s most beloved legends, namely for his goals but also for his loyalty.
Latchford struck himself into the hearts of Swans’ fans by not abandoning the team after their first relegation, regardless of offers from Chelsea and Leicester City.
It was with their fall to the Third Division when he eventually had to leave the team - all fans, players and staff alike agreeing he was too good to stay.
A BUSY END TO A BUSY CAREER
After leaving Swansea City at 33 years of age, Latchford went on to play for a host of other clubs.
He scored 13 goals in 16 appearances for Dutch side NAC Breda before coming back to England to play for Coventry and Lincoln City.
He went on loan from Lincoln in 1986 to Newport County where he played 20 games before joining other Welsh side, Merthyr Tydfil.
It was during his time at Merthyr that Latchford scored arguably one of the most influential goals of his career. Drawing his side level in the 1986 Welsh Cup final against his old side Newport County, he earned his side a replay and eventual Welsh Cup success.
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