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Death of former Bradford City boss Ivor Powell aged 96
Former Wales international Ivor Powell, who died this week aged 96, will be remembered as a hard but fair man during his two and a half years as City player-manager in the 1950s.
His death brings to an end an extraordinary football career spanning almost 80 years as a player, coach and manager.
Goalkeeper Geoff Smith, who was handed his league debut by Powell, remembers a dedicated football man who demanded high standards from his players.
Keighley resident Smith recalled: “Overall, he was a fair man; hard but fair. He gave you a chance. If you made a mistake, he would stick by you and give you another chance.”
Smith has good reason to be grateful. He was still an amateur when Powell gave him his league debut at Scunthorpe in January 1953 and he stayed in the side until the end of the season, becoming a part-time professional that summer and a full-time pro two years later.
Smith, who played non-league football in Lancashire for Nelson and Rossendale before joining City, went on to make 270 league and cup appearances, including 200 consecutive league matches, before retiring.
He said: “Ivor Powell took me on and signed me. I wasn’t really good enough but the club were short of players and he gave me a break and stuck by me.
“He was still a great player when he was at Valley Parade and controlled that left-half position.
“Unfortunately, he thought everyone should be as good as he was. He was a hard task master and if you did anything wrong in training, he would make you practice it over and over again and again.”
The former Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa half-back – midfielder in the modern game – was 36 when he joined City, then in Division Three North, as player-manager in 1952.
He had lasted just four months in his first managerial job at Port Vale the previous season but showed at Bradford what a fine player he must have been in his prime.
Tough in the tackle, he dictated play with his astute use of the ball as he tried to inspire less-gifted players around him. But he could not bring success to the club.
They finished a disappointing 16th in his first season and, although hopes of promotion were raised as the team put together a club-record run of nine consecutive wins in the second half of the following campaign, they failed to win any of their final ten matches and finished fifth.
City made an encouraging start to the following season, winning five of their opening seven matches, but then Powell was carried off with knee ligament trouble during a 2-2 home draw against Wrexham in mid-September.
Despite numerous attempts at a comeback, he never played again. Without Powell’s leadership on the field, City’s form slumped and he left the club the following February.
Powell became trainer-coach at Leeds United in 1956 before returning to management with Carlisle in 1960, leading them to promotion from the Fourth Division.
He was appointed manager at non-league Bath City in 1964, settled in the city and from 1973 he worked as football coach at the university, helping Team Bath to reach the FA Cup first round in 2002.
In 2004 he was inducted into the Welsh Hall of Fame alongside other football legends such as John Charles and Ian Rush, as well as snooker player Terry Griffiths and cricketer Tony Lewis.
Powell was still coaching at the university until he retired two years ago and was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest working coach on his 90th birthday. He was awarded the MBE in 2008.
Like many of his generation, Powell’s career was badly disrupted by the war. He played either side of it with QPR, whom he helped to the Third Division South championship in 1947-8.
The following season he left to join First Division Aston Villa for £17,500 – a record fee for both clubs – and was captain during his two and a half years at Villa Park.
In all, he made 278 appearances, scoring 16 goals – including 83 for City, for whom he scored nine times – and won eight Welsh caps.