To have missed seeing the 1958 World Cup through the tragic accident of being born twenty-five years too late is one thing. But to not feature, having played regularly for Wales in the preceding ten years, is quite another. Yet such was the lot of Alf Sherwood — “King of the Sliding Tacklers” — who won 41 caps from 1946 to 1956, but missed out on the national team’s finest hour.
He had known personal triumph in the Wales shirt, however, leading the side to a 2-1 victory over England at Ninian Park in 1955. This win was Wales’ first over their imperial overlords for 17 years, and, though the nucleus of the side would go on to Sweden, Sherwood would not be among them. Goals from Derek Tapscott and Cliff Jones had put Wales ahead, before a John Charles own goal gave England hope early in the second half. But, marshalled by Sherwood, the defence held firm; Sherwood himself choked the last of the English attacks, nicking the ball from the toes of the late Nat Lofthouse.
Sherwood played his whole career in Wales, making 381 appearances for Cardiff City before moving on to Newport County. Sherwood’s time at the Bluebirds saw them promoted from the Third Division (South) in the first full season after World War Two, and then, after several near misses, another promotion into the First. Cardiff stayed in the top flight for for five seasons, only returning to the Second after Sherwood had departed.
An uncompromising and intuitive defender, quick of both mind and limb, Sherwood also deputised as goalkeeper in those days before substitutions were permitted. His most notable moment in nets came against Liverpool at Anfield in 1954, when a double save from a late Billy Liddell penalty not only secured a 1-0 win for Cardiff but sent Liverpool down to the Second Division. (Where they would remain for eight seasons, before a certain Bill Shankly guided them back to the top flight.)
Dropped from the Wales team toward the end of 1956, Sherwood went on to play more than 200 games for Newport, eventually leaving the game aged 40. Having spend some of the war as a miner — Sherwood, along with Jimmy Savile and Eric Morecambe, was one of the Bevin Boys — he retired from football completely and returned to work for the National Coal Board. The disappointment of missing out on Wales’ Swedish adventure, which by all accounts remained his greatest regret, must surely have been tempered by the esteem in which he was held by his peers. No less an authority on full-backs than Stanley Matthews named Sherwood his most difficult opponent.