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Street of Dreams

How Alice Street became the cradle of Welsh football

Earlier this year I read an article by a Birmingham-based journalist who was excited by the number of talented footballers who’d started life in the area. The article celebrated fourteen current and former players who all went to school with the 350 square mile West Midlands region, including England internationals Jude Bellingham, Jack Grealish, Daniel Sturridge and Joleon Lescott.

Four internationals. 350 square miles.

Not a bad story.

Swansea author Dave Brayley has a better one.

You can walk the full length of Alice Street in Cwmbwrla in just a few minutes. When you do, you’re walking in the footsteps of giants. Between 1946 and 1959, five young men from this small, terraced street rose to the top of the professional game and won international caps for Wales.

Jackie Roberts, born in 1918 and winger Ernie Jones, born in 1920, both spent what should have been their peak playing years fighting for their country in World War Two. When they returned – in Jackie’s case, having sustained the loss of an eye – they made up for lost time as stalwart professionals with Bolton and Swansea (Jackie) and Tottenham, Southampton and Swansea (Ernie) as well as playing for Wales.

Brothers John and Mel Charles shone for Wales at the 1958 World Cup. John, by that time a star with Juventus, was so versatile that he was considered by many to be both the best centre forward and the best centre half in the world. In Wales’s World Cup quarter final against Brazil, Mel marked Pele, who named him as the finest defender in the tournament.

Four of the five Alice Street internationals are sadly no longer with us, but Mel Nurse recently celebrated his 86th birthday as a hero to the people of Swansea, not only for his achievements on the field but for the leadership and generosity that saved Swansea City from extinction during the dark days when the club stood on the brink of bankruptcy.

Dave Brayley tells this story eloquently in Wonderland, the Alice Street documentary that attracted universal praise when screened at the Taliesin Theatre last month. Now available on YouTube, the film captures the spirit of a community and offers an insight into the talent that elevated five young men to the peak of their sport. Dave’s words are brought vividly to life by producer Amina Abu-Shahba and director Max Webborn, and the result is something that everyone associated with this part of Wales can be proud of.

Enjoy your walk down the street of dreams.


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