Documentaries and reality shows about British football are all the rage right now, and there have been a lot of productions in the last couple of years. Netflix Sunderland until I die covered the trials and tribulations of the north east of England, especially their struggle to get out of the third tier of English football, while Amazon Prime’s Tom Hardy recounted All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur the Spurs’ Covid-related season in 2019-20.
Meanwhile, football clubs in Wales are also attracting the attention of filmmakers. Dead Pool star Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia actor Rob McElhenney’s purchase of Wrexham Football Club last year conceded Welcome to Wrexhamset to debut on FX this summer and will detail the 2021-22 rollercoaster season of the world’s third-oldest football club.
But the last foray into the field Tosh, an independent Netflix documentary about one of Europe’s most decorated players, Liverpool and Wales star John Toshack. Here’s a rundown of what to expect.
Toshack’s return to South Wales
Toshack was born into an ordinary family in Cardiff, his father was a carpenter. Toshack first played for Cardiff City before only joining Liverpool in 1970, just before their record winning streak in cups and leagues, and forged a deadly partnership with teammate Kevin Keegan. The pair led Liverpool to three FA league titles, an FA Cup win and three European trophies before Toshack left.
But Tosh first of all, not about Toshack’s glory years in England with the Reds. We are talking about his return to his native South Wales. In 1978 he moved to humble Swansea City, then in the Football League’s fourth tier, to become the club’s player-manager at the tender age of 29.
Rapid rise to greatness
Swansea’s most famous club was in decline for much of the 1970s, racking up four-figure attendances at their dilapidated Vetch Field, hardly a fit for a player who won the European Cup last year. Or so it seemed.
What followed was a perfect example of a sports tale. Where other managers who came to the new club could sweep away the old guard, Toshack thought differently, leaving his beloved predecessor as assistant manager. Within four months of his arrival, the crowd doubled, Swansea tore apart their rivals and secured a promotion on the final day of the 1977–78 season when Toshack scored the winning goal.
The following year saw another promotion, with Toshack coming off the bench and again scoring the winning goal. In 1980, Swansea City were promoted to the First Division (the equivalent of today’s Premier League in the 1980s) for the first time in their history. This was followed by attendance records, cup victories and even participation in European competitions (as Welsh Cup winners). Rarely before and never since has a British football team achieved such a meteoric rise to greatness.
Tosh brings together a dizzying array of former sports figures and celebrities, including Toshack’s close friend and Liverpool teammate Ian Callaghan, Swansea goalkeeper during Toshack’s tenure, Leighton James, Welsh actors Michael Sheen (Underworld, Queen, Masters of sex) and Ioan Griffith (Titanic, San Andreas, Fantastic Four) and Wales rugby player Sir Gareth Edwards, who, like Toshack, played several sports in his youth and briefly played for Swansea at Vetch Field.
Swansea’s success did not last long. The 1980s saw the club fall as quickly as it rose, and by the end of the decade were back in the fourth tier. By then, Toshack was long gone and managed Spain’s most successful club, Real Madrid, with whom he won the Spanish Championship in 1990. This was followed by appearances for Wales, laying the foundation for today’s squad, which reached the semi-finals. European Championships in 2016 and will go down in history as the first Welsh team to have played in a World Cup final since 1958 in Qatar this December.
Pete Jones’ unpretentious direction is a definite plus. The camera work on the podium is smooth and well thought out. The only liberties are old stickers from football albums depicting Toshack and his contemporaries in their footballing heyday, and a recreation of a 1980s schoolboy Swansea fan’s bedroom, complete with posters, Roy Rovers annuals and football-themed bedspreads. But in fact, with such an incredible story, the creators Tosh one could be forgiven for introducing a few nostalgic notes. Swansea City may have reached even greater heights in the last decade, but is there a sweeter story than the days when the club first took to the big stage?
Tosh premiered last month and is now available on various streaming services, DVD and Blu-ray.