Bill Carne spoke to Tony Jones, and took a walk down Memory Lane with one of the most successful and loyal players in the county, playing over 1,000 games...

Tony Jones epitomises all that is good in local football because throughout a long senior career as a tough-tackling centre half with Merlins Bridge he never once gave thought to switch clubs, even though he had offers to play elsewhere.

He finished his senior playing days with The Wizards and by that time he had appeared an amazing total of over 1,000 games, managed the first and second teams – and is still on The Wizards’ committee after over 30 years.

Indeed, there was one occasion when a number of his team-mates made off to pastures new at a newly-formed Scotfit although Tony stayed put – but more of that later.

But he did have one different club at junior level because, like a lot of eager youngsters in Haverfordwest, he started out as a nipper with Scarrowscant United, where Wyndham Owens did a great job of looking after some talented players.

Positions varied at first but by the time he was in the under 15s he was far and away the tallest and so it was decided that he had to play at centre half alongside Alan Pughsley as sweeper.

“We all really looked up to Wyndham and he helped me understand my role of keeping the opposing strikers quiet with some big tackles and my strength in the air.

“I was sometimes seen even then as a bit of a kicker and whilst it was true that I was always ready to give or take a tackle I felt I had a little more skill than I was sometimes given credit for,” admits Tony with a typical chuckle!

“I also made sure I never queried a referee’s decision and if I clattered an opponent I always helped them up, much to the annoyance of my brother Peter who was sometimes playing alongside me!

“I only got sent off once for two yellow cards by Phil ‘Shinner’ Cook but I still maintain it was a harsh decision, although he disagrees!

“I played at the back until we were too old for junior football and had two runners-up medals – and then joined the Merlins Bridge Youth team coached by Roy Patterson, who knew the game inside out as he helped us to the final of the Wiltshire Cup.

“I was really disappointed when I was picked as a sub for the final against Solva after playing in all the previous rounds but I was quickly called upon when Nigel Hancock got injured – and we beat a strong Solva side by one goal.

“My first-team debut came against Monkton Swifts as a very raw player but I was well looked after by the more senior players, with Billy West helping me out at the back and showing me how to really tackle, and I can’t say how pleased I was when I managed to steal unnoticed into The Swifts’ six-yard box and head in the only goal of the match!”

It was the start of a very long and happy association with The Wizards as player, captain and manager, starting off with some real characters like Tally John, Dekker Thomas, Tim Green, Dickie Thomas, Mickie Ellis and Dave Edwards, a real club man if ever there was one.

But it wasn’t all success from then on, however, because when a firm called ‘Scotfit’ established a team there was something of an exodus of players and raising a team each week was never easy, with players often plucked from local pubs to help out – and there were heavy defeats and, inevitably, relegation at the end of the campaign.

“Gradually our players eventually returned over the next two seasons,” said Tony, “and after coming third the next campaign we got promotion a year later and reached the Senior Cup Final against Goodwick.

“We caused an early shock in the first round as a late Micky Ellis goal gave us a 3-3 draw against holders Carew and we won the replay 1-0 – and later on in the semi-final goals by Dickie and Gordon Thomas (now the sports editor of the Western Telegraph) saw us beat hot favourites Monkton Swifts.

“The final against Goodwick United was even more amazing because we drew 2-2 and then a 30-yard shot from Tony seemed to have the cup in The Wizards’ hands until a Stu Wilson goal for Goodwick set up a third tussle.

“We were trailing for a while but then Gordon Thomas again found the net to help us to victory and we seemed to celebrate for days!”

The Wizards won the league the following season but missed out on a treble thanks to being pipped by a great Fishguard Sports’ team but won the Senior Cup – and after beating Welsh League sides like Skewen and BP Llandarcy played Swansea City in the final of the West Wales Senior Cup.

“It was another amazing time for us, with huge support at the Bridge Meadow before we lost – and we also reached the semis of the West Wales Intermediate Cup but had to field a depleted side because of injuries as we lost to Llanelli ‘A’.”

The only other senior team that Tony played for was the County team in the SB Williams Cup against Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Neath – and they did well against tough opponents over a long period.

“John Stenson was a great coach and I felt honoured to be county captain for a while because there were a lot of good players from all over Pembrokeshire involved.”

During one golden ten-year period for The Wizards they won the league title six times and were runners up the other years, plus five Senior Cup Final appearances, and he experienced the joy of raising his share of silverware.

“We all enjoyed each other’s company and spent Saturday evening together – and I’ve always jokingly said I thought we were the best pub side in the world!”

Ask Tony about family support and he would be quick to nominate his wife Alison, mum Tina and brothers Peter Jones and Paul Thomas, plus others too numerous to mention.

Tony played regularly until he was 37 and stepped down to help the seconds, as well as playing for the Pembrokeshire Over 40s with real characters like Bernie Armstrong, Micky Algieri, Steve James and Glyn Ruloff to name a few.

He has also been heavily involved off the field as a committeeman for over 30 years, managed the first team, did the pitch with Davey Edwards, and still remains involved, despite following talented son Alaric with Haverfordwest County.

Tony Jones is held in high regard by the county’s football fraternity and rightly so because he is also a gentleman of the game – and long may he continue to grace the game in our county!