Everton are renowned for remembering their own, for delving into a rich history of superstars and silverware and honouring the club’s best. Sometimes it doesn’t work out so pleasantly. Circumstances can intervene, grievances take precedence. That was the case for T.G. Jones, the gifted, Welsh centre-half who lit up Goodison Park before, during and after the Second World War yet departed on bitter terms never to be reconciled. Once described by Dixie Dean as the “the best all-round player I’ve ever seen”, Jones’ life and career warrants closer inspection. 80 years on from the Welshman’s heyday, Rob Sawyer’s The Prince of Centre-Halves: The Life of Tommy ‘T.G.’ Jones affords us that opportunity.

The introduction begins with the plotting of an imaginary journey aboard a royal blue time machine, taking in Dean’s 60-goal season and the blossoming of the Holy Trinity before a trip to 1938 and T.G. Jones’ title-winning campaign alongside the likes of Ted Sagar and Joe Mercer. This point of departure is where I ended up having been fascinated by Jones. He was by all accounts a magnificent centre-half, one with a reasonable claim to be Everton’s best. He could flatten the biggest bruisers in aerial battles but anticipated well enough to chiefly avoid confrontation. He struck free-kicks with ruthless severity yet calmly nodded corners back to Sagar to fray supporters’ nerves. The literal descriptions of Jones as the play-making pivot of the Toffees’ three are some of the best passages. With an imported Roy of the Rovers charm, the Welshman’s exploits are utterly gripping and often hard to believe.

Tommy 'T.G.' Jones in his Everton days on the cover of Rob Saywer's new biography/The book tracks Jones’ start at Everton in the reserves beside the marginalised Dean through to his own estrangement and public feud with the club. Eventually, he turned his back on First Division football to combine coaching duties at Welsh League North, Division One side Pwllheli and District FC with a hotelier job. In between, there was an elegant league title, an RAF placement during the Second World War, and a disagreement over a Merseyside derby injury that s0wed seeds of discontent. Despite his terrific achievements in charge of Pwllheli, and indeed later at Bangor City, Jones’ return to Wales was tinged with frustration, not least due to a prospective move to Roma falling through.

Sawyer plunges deep into the archives and emerges with fascinating match reports and illuminating contemporary interviews. The tactical discussion and personal detail unearthed plays a crucial role in reconstructing Jones’ world, and shedding light on Everton’s forgotten legend. The Prince of Centre-Halves demystifies the folklore by exploring the relationships which defined Jones’ career. Sawyer both honours fans’ memories of T.G. as referenced early on in his father and grandfather’s discussions, but also probes the often jarring truth to provoke questions. Should Jones have handled it better with Everton? Could he have more purposefully sought a move abroad after the Roma deal collapsed? Did he intentionally price himself out of a step up at Cardiff?

A paradoxical pivot

Jones is presented as a complex figure, a paradox in several senses. A progressive player who became a regressive coach with little time for “the tactical side of the game” despite his clear interest in it. An early advocate of possession football who convinced himself he was old school until he was. A celebrity footballer revered everywhere he went (even during scouting missions abroad) yet weighed down by feelings of under-appreciation. Frequent holidayer who never really left Wales. T.G’s conflicted nature is reflected in the book’s lingering question: what if? What if the Second World War never happened? What if Jones was English rather than Welsh? What if his applications to become the manager of Everton then Wales were successful? What if, like compatriot John Charles, he had forged a life abroad?

Sawyer revives the partially forgotten memories of Jones’ unique talent. Compelling tributes such as a frequent comparison to Franz Beckenbauer gain credibility with every chapter. “The best right foot in the business”, according to Joe Mercer, “the most polished British defender of all time”, in the words of Gordon Watson. Top of Dixie’s list of course. Sawyer’s endeavour proves this was far more than nostalgic generosity. These sentiments were expressed right from the outset. Jones was noted for his “exceptional ability” and “all-round cleverness” as a 17-year-old making his second start at centre-back for Wrexham reserves in 1934.

His brilliance cannot be overstated nor can it be properly evaluated, but Sawyer’s contribution at least enables balanced speculation. The ’38 champions might have dominated the First Division. Jones could have been the star. He may have left a more substantial mark on Everton history and British football. Ultimately, T.G’s breakthrough proved his heyday, but what a stylish legacy to leave. “They called us the School of Science. There were games I went on the field and didn’t break sweat – it was that good”.

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Rob Sawyer’s The Prince of Centre-Halves: The Life of Tommy ‘T.G.’ Jones’ is available now from Amazon and direct from publishers De Courbertin.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789

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