Not many Welsh footballers, men or women, win a European football trophy. There are fewer than 30 in total, with Cliff Jones the first in the Sixties and then Ollie Burton not far behind. Josh Thomas met one of those who led the way with a winners’ medal for Newcastle United back in 1969.
It meant everything,” says 78-year-old Ollie Burton, recalling being one of only 28 Welsh players in both the men’s and women’s game to have played in the final of a European club competition.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Newcastle United’s victory over Hungarian side Újpesti Dózsa in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which was the Magpies’ last major honour and their only European triumph.
“It was like getting your first Welsh cap,” says Burton, whose European milestone came long before Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush or Jess Fishlock had even laced up a pair of boots.
“To come from a little place like Chepstow, some people would say, ‘that’s not Wales’, I would say ‘it is’, (he adds with a laugh) and actually to play and win a European final is absolutely fantastic. People still talk about it.
“I know teams win one quite often now, but in those days it was a bigger competition and there weren’t many competitions in those days. It was a major achievement and we were thrilled.”
Today, Burton lives in the place of his birth, 33 miles east of Cardiff. In his bedroom there is a picture of both Burton and George Best, who he says was “the best player” he ever played against, adding the former Manchester United legend was “exceptional . . . out of this world.”
It was at school where former Welsh international Burton first fell in love with the game and Burton remembers one game, in particular, from his youth.
“I was chosen to play for Wales schoolboys at Wembley against England schoolboys. I’d never been to London. I’d never been out of Wales,” he recalls.
“It was amazing. We were introduced to Field Marshall Montgomery and we had to shake hands with him.
“I’d only read books about him and to play at Wembley at 15, I couldn’t believe it.
“The furthest I had been was Newport and after playing for Wales schoolboys I got chosen to play for the Wales youth team and then Newport County took me on.”
Like John Charles, Burton could operate as both a forward and in defence, and it was at the Exiles where he made his name.
He would go to make his debut at Coventry City’s Highfield Road in September 1958 as a 16-year-old at the expense of Dudley Peake, who got injured after a lorry smashed into the coach as they were travelling to the ground.
After a successful two years with County, where he scored eight goals in 53 appearances, a move to Norwich City followed. But Burton admits he almost didn’t make the move to Norfolk.
“I said, ‘I’m not sure about Norwich. I like Chepstow, Newport and Cardiff.’
“In the end I did go up there and I stayed there for a few days and I did sign for Norwich City.”
During his time with the club, where he went on to be inducted into their Hall of Fame, Burton was part of their famous cup run in the newly founded League Cup as they became the second winners of the competition in 1962. It was Norwich’s first major honour as they beat Rochdale in the final, 4-0 on aggregate over two legs.
“It would have been better if it was against a top team, but even so to win it was something special. And we had beaten top teams along the way.
A year after the Cup triumph, in 1963, Burton moved to the North East, after nine goals in 73 matches for Norwich, to sign for Newcastle United. They had just lost 5-0 at Norwich.
After travelling to Peterborough to meet up with the Newcastle directors, a deal was agreed with a weekly wage at £20, but Burton told me what happened next.
“We were just about to have the meal and I said ‘£20? Is that all you are going to give me?’ And they said, ‘yes.’
“I said to my manager, ‘Come on, let’s go. I’m not signing for £20 a week.’
“Anyhow, they phoned me up later on and said they would meet me in London and I said, ‘Have you changed your mind?’
“‘Yes’ they said. ‘We won’t give you £20 a week, but £35 a week’. That was quite a bit back then so I said, ‘yeah that’s fine’.
“So, they asked me to sign and I said, ‘wait a minute, I want 10% of the transfer fee’ and they said ‘we can’t do that’ and I said ‘do you want me to walk out again?’ They said ‘no, go on then – sign’ and 10% was £7,500.
“I felt I was a millionaire then and I went to Newcastle and I bought a lovely house.”
Burton would go on to make his first appearance for Wales against Hungary at Ninian Park the same year as his move and said it was “fantastic” to play for his country, despite feeling he could have picked up more than the nine caps he received.
“It was out of this world,” added Burton.
“I would have played more, I was so disappointed.
“I loved playing for Wales and I knew a lot of the Welsh lads such as Wyn Davies, he played for Wales with me and Newcastle.
“Because we were in Europe and playing here, there and everywhere my manager at Newcastle (Joe Harvey) said, “Don’t play for Wales because you will only get injured and we need you for Europe.
“I said, ‘Oh no, I want to play” and he said, ‘Look, Ollie. Your club is more important than playing for your country.
“I phoned the Welsh FA up and I said, ‘I can’t make it, I’m injured’ and I had to do it again because we were still in Europe and tell them that I was injured a second time.
“They said, ‘Ollie, you are always injured!” and after that they didn’t select me again.
— Newcastle United News (@nufcnews2019) June 20, 2019
“We did go on to win the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup but I would have still wanted to continue playing for Wales. It was sickening, really.”
Despite finishing in 10th place, Newcastle sealed passage into Europe for the first time in the club’s history during the 1967/68 season.
Due to the rule of only one club per city, Newcastle qualified for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup ahead of both Tottenham and Arsenal, as Chelsea finished higher of the three London clubs.
Newcastle overcame Feyenoord in the first round after a 4-2 win over two legs to set up a tie with Sporting of Portugal, where they secured a 2-1 aggregate victory.
They then faced Spanish opposition in Real Zaragoza.
Northern Ireland v Wales 1969
George Best shoots
Ollie Burton blocks
Gary Sprake waits pic.twitter.com/xKLlMWJDBq
— The League Magazine (@Theleaguemag) March 31, 2018
After losing the first leg 3-2 at La Romareda, Newcastle picked up a 2-1 victory in the return in front of a sell-out crowd at St James’ Park to move into the quarter-finals on away goals.
And after a 6-4 aggregate win over another Portuguese side, Vitória, in the last eight, Rangers stood between Newcastle and a place in the final against Újpest.
“We beat a lot of good teams to get there,” says Burton, who scored eight goals in 229 matches for Newcastle.
“We played Glasgow Rangers at St James’ Park and we were winning.
“There was 60,000-odd there and some fans started to throw beer bottles. The referee said he was going to call the game off.
“I said, ‘You can’t do that. We’re winning!’
“So, we went off for a while, then went back out and we won. We got into the final and we went on to win the Cup.”
Two goals from captain Bobby Moncur and Scottish international Jim Scott gave Newcastle a 3-0 first leg lead over Újpest.
However, the Hungarian champions, who were chasing a treble after winning both the Nemzeti Bajnokság and Magyar Kupa, fought back to take a 2-0 half time lead to put the match firmly in the balance.
“All of sudden we got our game together and we beat them,” recalls Burton after second half goals from Moncour, Preben Arentoft and substitute Alan Foggon secured victory.
Former #Wales international Ollie Burton popped in to see Ryan Giggs and the squad ahead of tonight’s match against Hungary.
— Wales (@Cymru) June 11, 2019
However, just two years later the competition drew to a close in 1971. UEFA took it over and a new tournament was established, which would become the UEFA Cup, before being rebranded as the Europa League in 2009.
The Hungarian connection has continued for Burton, though.
Along with four of his former Newcastle teammates, he headed to Hungary for an FAW reception at the national side’s hotel before their European Championship qualifier with the Hungarians last summer.
“We were invited, a party of us out to Budapest, and they presented me with a Welsh shirt on behalf of the Welsh players and management.
“It was a wonderful gesture and there were even some supporters from Chepstow out there, which made it even more memorable.”