He’s a hero to Cardiff City fans of all ages but no modern footballer could ever be as close to ‘real life’ as Phil “Joe” Dwyer.
Insisting, had he not been a Cardiff legend, he would have been an obsessed fan travelling up and down the country to watch his beloved Bluebirds. And his empathy with the everyday fan doesn’t end there.
In this compelling autobiography, the all action defender describes his working class upbringing in Grangetown, a solid defensive header away from the Ninian Park pitch he came to know so well, before unveiling a story which would not be out of place in the Roy of the Rovers comics he loved so much as a boy.
A million miles from the modern-day football millionaire, during his Cardiff City days, Dwyer lived in suburban Llanedeyrn, next door to a Bluebirds fan and opposite his team-mate turned drinking buddy John Buchanan. The 10 times capped Wales international, who once stood up to a Millwall fan when attacked on the notorious Den pitch in the 1970s, says the only Ferarri he knew was the bakery on Wellfield Road.
After finishing football, Dwyer had no champagne lifestyle or lucrative media career to fall back on, he joined South Wales Police as an officer pounding the Barry beat where thousands of the Bluebirds followers who idolised him lived and worked.
A highlight in the Phil Dwyer story is the time he spurned a move to European giants Panathanikos, of Athens, in the late 1970s because his manager Jimmy Andrews didn’t want to lose his captain. The family man also admitted that he called off the move because he didn’t want to uproot his wife and child from their Cardiff home – imagine that in 2011!
Revealing the story of his seduction into the world of football, which started when he and his mates sneaked into Ninian Park’s Grange End to watch matches for free, Dwyer claims: “Football was a drug. The whole experience intoxicated me”
It was this obsession with the leather ball that saw the music, drugs and fashion of the 1960s pass the focused footballer by as he was totally focussed on being a professional.
This dream started to appear real when the youthful Dwyer played in front of 100,000 at Wembley for Wales schoolboys before joining the Cardiff City youth team – a day he describes as: “one of the happiest days of my life.”
From this point in the book on the captivating story develops of how one of Cardiff’s favourite sons became woven into the fabric of the football club he supported from birth.
But like any footballer, Dwyer talks fondly about the Cardiff City dressing room banter, which often centred around club stalwart Harry Parsons.
This ‘banter’ earned him the nickname “Joe” because his teammates thought he looked like Everton’s Joe Royale. The name stuck and features in the title of this autobiography.
Further evidence of this, is littered throughout the book as the cheeky author jokes about how his best man Gary Bell was always “too tight to buy a pint” as well as falling short of detailing all of the “expletive laden tantrums” of iconic manager Jimmy Scoular.
It is, no doubt, of interest to current fans that there are great parallels that seem to run between Scoular and current incumbent Malky Mackay. Both serious Scots are seen as sticklers for fitness and discipline.
On the day of Scoular’s sacking, Dwyer gives an emotional account of how he was shocked and devastated to see the manager he respected so much slumped in his chair unable to accept that he was no longer a part of Cardiff City Football Club.
Then as his career at the club evolved, ‘Joe’ became ever more involved in the story of the club’s rise and fall through the divisions.
From missing the famous 1971 win against Real Madrid, due to being on Wales youth duty, to defending team-mate John Toshack for leaving the club during a First Division promotion push, to meeting his idol Billy Bremner in the centre spot as they faced up as captains for an FA Cup tie. The Dwyer story really is boy’s own stuff.
A playing career highlight for the tough tackling defender came when he scored for his country past the legendary Peter Shilton, of England, at his home ground of Ninian Park.
But this story isn’t all glory. By 1982, Phil was struggling with injury and sent down to Torquay United for a trial before raising his game and earning another contract at Cardiff City under manager Len Ashurst, who apologises for his lack of faith in the foreword of this book.
Eventually a row with controversial manager Alan Durban saw the Welsh international packed off to Rochdale in 1985, where he ended his football career before making the unusual move of joining South Wales Police.
The stories of tramping the South Wales streets are just as compelling as the football tales before the emotional story of the author’s exit from the force, after pleading guilty to drink-driving an unmarked police car, put a sudden end to the unique career change.
Later working as a solicitor, Dwyer finishes the story by telling how his love for Cardiff City never died as he watched his beloved Ninian Park knocked down after seeing the team play in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth.
On the final pages, the Bluebirds hero picks his all time Cardiff City 11, installing himself in the centre of defence as captain.
The Autobiography of Phil ‘Joe’ Dwyer is a must-read for all Cardiff City fans, especially those who remember the Grangetown warrior in action.
*Phil Dwyer will be signing copies of the book at the Trust Office of the Cardiff City Stadium before the Bluebirds’ Championship clash with Nottingham Forest on Saturday, November 26. He will be there from 1.15pm until 2.45pm.