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Exclusive interview with Alun Evans


Ron Yeats had struggled to keep up with 18-year-old forward Alun Evans when Liverpool were visited by Wolves on 25 November 1967. Evans scored Wolves' only goal in Liverpool's 2-1 victory. Bill Shankly was mightily impressed and saw in Alun a young Denis Law. Soon word spread of Liverpool scouts at Wolves' games but Shankly dismissed the rumours: 'They're very careless people who talk about these things,' he told the press. Ten months later Evans moved to Liverpool after having scored four goals in 22 matches for first division Wolves in his fledgling career. The sale of Evans was approved at Wolves’ board meeting at 5.30 pm on 16 September 1968. Evans was called to Molineux and he was straight on his way to Anfield, did his medical and had signed by 8.30 pm. Alun Evans was officially the most expensive teenager in British football history as he had been purchased for £100,000 two weeks before his nineteenth birthday.  

Alun Evans lives in Melbourne, Australia where he owns a painting company, but when LFChistory.net called him he was in Kidderminster to sort things out after the recent passing of his 94-year old mother. Alun has just turned seventy and has lived in Australia since 1978. We had wanted to interview Alun for years so it was very satisfying when David Instone, editor of wolvesheroes.com got us in touch with him to talk about his extraordinary career at Liverpool. We take Alun back to 1968.

"It all happened very quickly. I didn't have a clue until I was sent up the M6 to go to Liverpool. I got in the car with my future father-in-law and we drove to Liverpool [a two-hour drive]. We drove pretty fast as he did have a Jaguar at the time. Before I knew where I was, I was in the cauldron of Liverpool. Peter Robinson was there, Liverpool's secretary and the chairman Sidney Reakes. Shankly said I must be hungry as it had been a long day so he got me chicken and chips. That was my signing-on-fee [laughs]. We didn’t have agents in those days. I did get a 5% cut of the £100,000 Liverpool paid for me so that was nice."


The only signing-on image in Liverpool's history where the player is dining while being photographed.
Shankly hovers over Alun while Liverpool chairman Sidney Reakes looks dapper. Eggs seem also to be on the menu.
 
The handsome blond and blue-eyed kid from Kidderminster was talk of the town but even though the girls liked the look of young Alun he stayed loyal to his girlfriend who remained in Wolverhampton and he spent most of his time with other young Reds.

"I had a crew cut since I was 15 and then I grew it long. The papers called me the Fifth Beatle because of my long hair," Evans tells LFChistory in the voice of a man who has clearly lived in Australia for more than half of his life to the detriment of his West Midlands accent. "I was in digs with Emlyn Hughes and Peter Wall on the third floor of a doctor's surgery. The doctor was on the bottom floor. The people who owned the house on the middle floor and we were up at the top. I stayed in one corner of the room, Emlyn in another and then Peter. All in one room. We often went to the greyhound tracks in St. Helens, Chester and White City in Liverpool. We loved the dogs. We had a little bet. That was our night out when we went out. I didn’t get married until I was 21 so I stayed in digs with Emlyn and Peter for two, three years until then. Lesley and I then moved to Formby just outside of Liverpool where a lot of the players lived."

Evans was an expensive part of a posse of young players bought by Shankly in the late 60s as Liverpool were slowly phasing out their old stars. In 1967, 18-year-old Ray Clemence was purchased from Scunthorpe for a paltry £18,000 and Emlyn Hughes at nineteen years of age from Blackpool for £65,000. Two 21-year-old defenders were bought in 1969: Alec Lindsay from Bury for £67,000 and apparent heir to Ron Yeats' throne, Larry Lloyd, from Bristol Rovers for half of the fee spent on Evans. John Toshack at 21 was brought in from Cardiff in 1970 for £110,000 to add bite to the forward line and then in 1971 the arrival of 20-year-old Kevin Keegan for £33,000 from Scunthorpe signalled the end for Evans even though he was originally bought as a midfielder. Kevin's ability going forward was quickly noted by Ronnie Moran whose advice to Shankly was to put the young dynamic boy up front. The critics wondered if Shankly was a bit desperate to spend such a hefty sum on Evans to which Bill replied: "If Wolves had asked £200,000 I would have been prepared to pay it." 

"That was nice of him to say," Evans says. "The fee really didn’t bother me as I have always been such a down-to-earth guy. Tony Hateley moved to Coventry in the same week which made space for me in the side. I said to Shankly when I signed that I would progress in the reserves but he bawled at me that he'd bought me for the first team."


Alun and Lesley in 1969.

I looked like a railway track on my face


Shankly felt that Evans and Roger Hunt would be a good fit up front. “Alun is very like Roger Hunt in many ways and can help to give Roger a new lease of life,” said Shankly. Five days after Evans' arrival he made his debut against Leicester. A fan ran on to the field to greet him as was customary by that particular fella when new players were introduced. 

"That was something I wasn't expecting. In those days you came up from the dressing rooms, up the steps and on to the field. The next minute a lad got hold of my hand. As we ran over to the Kop he held my hand up and had a big welcome."

Liverpool absolutely destroyed Peter Shilton and his Foxes in front of the famous terrace and scored four goals in the opening 12 minutes with Evans grabbing one in the tenth minute. Evans had run towards the Kop prior to the game but after the one-sided contest he hobbled off after rolling over his ankle.

 
Evans was though ready for a return to Molineux the following week where he, Roger Hunt and Peter Thompson all helped themselves to a brace against Wolves. Evans scored his first after half an hour's play, making it 3-0. He added his second just past the hour.

"We hammered them in the end 6-0. We were leading quite easily at half-time and then the crowd was chanting, stirring up the Wolverhampton crowd: "Thank you very much for Alun Evans. Thank you very much. Thank you very very very very much..." [sings the ditty as he recognises LFChistory doesn't know this song.] It's a bit of a Liverpool song. They were chanting that, that was satisfying. Thank you very much for the Aintree Iron, the original was."



Evans scored five in his first nine games for Liverpool but he only got on the scoresheet twice in the remaining thirty games in his debut campaign. Towards the end of the season he got sent off against Coventry. Evans was fouled by Maurice Setters with a late tackle but he got up and continued until Setters fouled him again. Evans kicked him in return and Setters took a swing. The referee had no alternative other than to send them both off.


"If you've seen a picture of Maurice Setters you would think I was mad to pick a fight with him because he looked like a bit of a mugshot from prison," Evans says of his lightweight-frame fight with the heavyweight Setters.

Evans was suspended for the start of the following season that was further disrupted in a much more alarming fashion on a fateful Sunday evening in the Oasis nightclub in Wolverhampton. The date was 7 December 1969. Alun and his fiancé, Lesley, were in the Oasis that was owned by Lesley's dad, Mr. Solly Wernick.

"You are jogging my memory of something that I wouldn't care to remember. It was one of those things when you turn around and you get one of those pint glasses smashed in your face. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time." Alun didn't have a clue who the attacker was. "The guy was on remand on bail from prison for the weekend. I had a big cut over my face and my girlfriend got cuts as well on her head. She had about ten stitches on her head. My nose got cut in half. I was lucky not to lose an eye. I had to have 70 stitches and it was painful because they wouldn’t give you an anesthetic because if they give you an injection to deaden the pain your face contracts so they wouldn't stitch me up while it wasn't in a normal position. So, the pain was horrible while I was being sown together. The injury set me back for a while and I moved to my parents’ house in Kidderminster as I wasn’t a pretty sight. I looked like a railway track on my face."

Alun's father was in shock when the press talked to him the day after. "Alun was minding his own business at the time and he doesn't drink. Alun had just popped in to see the cabaret. He doesn't look pretty. There was a lot of blood flying about. He hopes to have the stitches out in ten days. His football won't be affected, but it's too early yet to say whether there will be any disfigurement." Shankly was a bit optimistic when asked to estimate when Evans could return. "He could be ready for a match possibly by next Saturday."


Evans was left disfigured after a brutal nightclub attack

While Evans was recuperating, Roger Hunt, who had been a focal point for Liverpool's attack for ten years and a good role model for Evans, was sold to Bolton. After an absence of two months. Evans returned to the team to score both of Liverpool's goals against Leicester in the 5th round of the FA Cup. The first goal he scored, after a trademark Ian Callaghan pass to the near post from the right wing, he described to the press as "the greatest moment of my life," clearly relieved he was making up for lost time. Evans had come on for injured Peter Thompson after 21 minutes. Shankly was so pleased for Evans who'd had “all sorts of things gone wrong for him" and had been "labouring under a strain” as the Scot phrased it at the time. Further progress in the cup had to wait for another 12 months as Liverpool lost surprisingly to second division Watford in the quarter-finals which lead to a significant break-up of the successful team of the mid-1960's.

Evans made a bright start to the 1970/71 season with five goals in his first six games. Again, unfortunate events halted his Liverpool career as he got badly injured during a UEFA Cup game in Bucharest on 4 November 1970. He had a cartilage operation and was out for four months. Evans' first full game after such a lengthy absence was only against Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Gerd Müller and Sepp Maier of Bayern Munich in the European Fairs Cup at Anfield. Evans played like a man possessed, scored with a good shot from just inside the box and his eventual goal spree bore the hallmarks of a prime opportunistic striker. He hooked the ball in from close range as he proved quicker than Maier and when the legendary goalkeeper parried a long-range shot, he pounced for his third. "Those goals had been building up inside me since I went out of the game last November," Evans told the papers.

"The crowd that night was absolutely amazing. The Kop... the way it was swaying around," Evans remembers. "It was a bit of a miserable night, a bit damp...but it was just a fantastic feeling. I didn't realise what a good team Bayern were. But years later you look back and go: 'Shit, these players were the top players.' I had just my head down, playing football for myself and didn't really think about Beckenbauer being fantastic.

My father came to the game. I had to meet him in the pub just outside of Anfield to go back with him down to Kidderminster. I had arranged that before the game. I went into the pub and caused a few problems. It was absolutely jam-packed with Liverpool supporters and it was like: 'Oh, deary me.' Not realising... I was mobbed sort of thing. 'Come on, dad. We have to get out of here. Let's go.' It was bit of an experience."

Many remember Evans' Bayern treble as his highlight at Liverpool but in fact it could be argued his goal in the second leg that finished 1-1 was the zenith of his career. He scored the goal as he described after receiving a "high dropping ball which I controlled on my thigh, pivoted and hit home on the volley from the edge of the penalty area." The goal was voted by viewers of ARD's Sportschau as "Tor des monats" or "Goal of the month" for November.

"Lesley and I were flown over to Cologne where I was presented with a medal at a special ceremony that was shown on German television. We stayed in Germany for three days and were then flown back. I made just sure my shot was on target. [Don’t be modest... LFChistory interjects]. "I’m not being modest," Evans replies. "In all honesty you just make sure your shot is on target. You can't really say: 'I'm just going to knock it into the top corner.' You hit the target and if you have a bit of luck with it, it does go into the top corner and it's brilliant. A lot of players can do that now. The balls are different. When you see players these days cut in and they curl it into the top corner, I don't think you saw that much in my day. You did see more in my day people like Tommy Smith really hammering the ball and it would be bashing into the net. You just hit it as hard as you possibly could at goal."


A semi-final hero with the "Anfield Iron" Tommy Smith

Evans continued to impress and didn't display any loss of form that reporters had complained about on occasion, when he scored Liverpool's first in a 2-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup semi-final. Heighway's pass split Everton's defence open and Evans slotted the ball under the oncoming Andy Rankin with his right foot.

"It was played at Old Trafford and Everton fans were at one end and Liverpool fans down the other end. Everton had a very, very good team with the likes of Alan Ball, Joe Royle, John Hurst, Brian Labone and Alan Whittle. Alan Ball scored the first goal and Brian Hall scored the winner for us. John Toshack headed the ball down to him and he whipped it in [Alun not mentioning it was actually his pass that Tosh headed]. Liverpool fans were over the moon, not only because it was a semi-final but beating Everton in the semi-final."

Evans featured for 68 minutes in the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in the final after being chosen ahead of Peter Thompson. Charlie George scored the winner in extra-time. When asked what he remembers especially from that big day at Wembley...

"My studs were too long. The Wembley turf was very lush. I was getting stuck in the grass and sort of dragging the studs out. In those days you didn't go to change your boots. You just got on with it. I wasn't expecting to get substituted, but fair enough. I was replaced by Thompson, but it didn't work out... Bloody Charlie George. We should have tied him down by his long hair."

Even though Liverpool lost, the fans wanted to give their team a welcome to remember. Shankly made a speech to the crowd and stretched out his arms in front of the fans, a legendary stance that the statue in front of Anfield has made eternal.

"We had a great reception in Liverpool when we returned from the cup final even though we had lost. You're disappointed losing, but even more so when you see a reception like that. We didn't produce the result for them, but they still turned out. The streets were lined for miles and miles when we were coming into the city on the bus. That's Liverpool supporters for you."

By the start of the 1971/72 season Evans was in his twenty-third year and the best he could achieve was to play in eight consecutive games from middle of October to the middle of November scoring two goals in the process. A new rising star by the name of Kevin Keegan was on the scene and he effectively made Evans redundant. 

"When Kevin came it was blatantly obvious that he was a very good player so I wasn't surprised when I was moving on. He was full-on for 90 minutes. He never stopped. Kevin is a very nice man. We got on very well, but Kevin got along with everybody."


On the cover of Football Monthly in November 1970

Evans' final appearance for Liverpool was ironically against his first club Wolverhampton at Molineux on 22 January 1972. In the summer Evans was transferred to Wolves' Midlands rivals Aston Villa who had just conquered Third Division. After 17 goals in 71 games for Villa, being in and out of the team, he left in the middle of the 1974/75 season for third division Walsall while Villa won promotion to First Division. Evans played 87 League games and scored seven goals for Walsall before he moved to South Melbourne Hellas in Australia in 1978 at the behest of former Wolves keeper, Dave MacLaren who was the coach of the Greek-owned team down under. Evans stayed there for four years before moving to Morwell Falcons in the same league. After breaking his leg in the final game of the season in 1983 he called it quits. Evans moved back to Melbourne and settled there.

Evans can't watch Liverpool at Anfield as often as he would like on the account of him living in Melbourne but he did pay his former home a visit when Leicester were in town on 5 October 2019. This will probably prove to be his final outing at Anfield as he must move soon back to Australia. A write-up on him was done in the match programme as it was roughly forty years since he scored on his Reds debut versus the Foxes. 

Evans doesn't really watch football as he thinks it's too much of chess-game at times and prefers the end-to-end action of Aussie Rules. 

"I just loved to play football. Apart from that I had no interest in football. I just loved to play."

Evans would have liked to have achieved more at Liverpool but says he is still approached by fans who remember many incidents from his career at the club and agrees with LFChistory that his record of 33 goals in 111 matches for Liverpool is "not that bad".

Bill Shankly was impressed with Alun Evans as a human being even though his career didn't live up to its billing.

"He [Alun] was very cute for his age, he was quick and he was also very courageous. Everything was going well for him until he went home to Wolverhampton one weekend. He was sitting in a nightclub when there was an accident. He was hit in the face with a glass and very badly cut. That incident probably changed Alun's whole life. He had a great spirit but what happened retarded his career. We eventually transferred him to Aston Villa, which effectively meant he was going back home. Sometimes when a player leaves a club there are sour grapes, but soon after I received a letter from Alun. It began: 'Dear Boss...' I was very pleased and proud that Alun had come to me for advice. That letter meant so much to me."


Alun Evans in 2017

I read Shankly's comments to Alun who hadn't heard them before. Alun still didn't want to ruminate on how that particular attack had influenced his life as he is an onwards and upwards sort of person. Alun and Bill didn't keep in touch really after he left the club but he did phone his former boss once for career advice. Alun remembers the legendary Scotsman with great fondness.

"Shankly had two daughters. I think he would have liked also to have a son he could talk to. You wouldn’t though have a conversation with him like we’re having now. All he ever talked about was football. He talked and you listened. That’s why none of the players wanted to sit beside him on the train for the away games. He would go on and on..."

The infamous nightclub attack is very likely to have harmed Alun's Liverpool career and his life as a whole. First and foremost, he wants to put the record straight.

"I know the perception is that I was a lad who must have been always out on the town because I got cut up in a nightclub. But I was never boozing... I put on weight. I didn’t look after myself and would have needed someone to give me a kick up the backside. I was just very naive and didn’t think my stay at Liverpool would come to an end. When it did and Aston Villa came in I thought it was fine because Lesley, my wife, was from Wolverhampton so we would move closer to her home. You can always look back on your life and reflect on it but I was just living in the moment. You could say I didn't live up to my potential. I reached my peak when I was twenty and then it was all downhill. [laughs].

Copyright - LFChistory.net - Interview by Arnie Baldursson ([email protected]).

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