Swans and Dragons: Leighton Phillips

21st November 2017

In a regular website feature, we look back at former Swansea City players who have also turned out for Wales at full international level.

Leighton Phillips was born in Neath on September 26, 1949 and was raised as a Swansea Town supporter.

During the 1963-64 season, he watched a number of the Swans’ FA Cup ties during the famous run to the semi-finals of the competition that included a memorable victory over Liverpool at Anfield in the last eight.

At this time, the 14-year-old was representing Wales as a schoolboy international.

Phillips’ professional career began at Cardiff City, where he rose through the ranks before eventually making his first-team debut in a 2-2 draw with Rotherham United in January 1968 – scoring with his very first touch of the ball.

The first of his five appearances for Wales Under-23s came in a 1-0 win over Scotland at his beloved Vetch Field in January 1971.

Phillips was back at the Vetch that April when he made his senior debut in a 3-1 defeat against Czechoslovakia.

He also featured in all three of the Dragons’ British Home Championship matches that year, including a 0-0 draw with England at Wembley.

After winning three Welsh Cups with Cardiff City, Phillips moved to Aston Villa in September 1974.

Villa were promoted back to the top flight in his first season at the club after finishing second in the old Second Division, although he missed out on their League Cup final victory over Norwich City due to being cup-tied.

However, two years later, he featured in each of the three matches required to settle the League Cup final against Everton, with Villa prevailing 3-2 after extra time in the second replay at Old Trafford.

Phillips started all six matches as Wales topped their qualifying group for the 1976 European Championship. He then lined up in both legs of the play-off against Yugoslavia, which the Dragons lost 3-1 on aggregate as they were denied a place in the semi-finals.

In November 1978, Phillips was presented with the opportunity to join his boyhood club, Swansea.

After four goals in 140 appearances for Villa, the defender agreed to make the drop from the old First Division to the Third by joining John Toshack’s ambitious team and, in doing so, became the Swans’ record signing at a fee of £70,000.

Phillips and the Swans enjoyed two promotions over the next three seasons. Toshack’s men returned to the second tier for the first time since 1965 in his debut campaign, before Phillips featured in 28 league matches during the 1980-81 campaign as the club was promoted to the top flight for the first time.

However, Phillips never got to play First Division football for the Swans as just three matches short of 100 league appearances for the club, he departed for Charlton Athletic in the summer of 1981.

The curtain came down on his international career that same year.

Phillips’ final home appearance for Wales came in a 0-0 draw with the former USSR at the Racecourse Ground, while the last of his 58 caps came in the corresponding group fixture that brought a 3-0 defeat in Tbilisi.

In 1983, Phillips signed for Exeter City but retired from playing later that year after making just 10 league appearances for the Grecians.

He returned to live in the Neath area following his retirement, working locally as a financial advisor.

He has been a season-ticket holder at Swansea for many years and speaking to Jack Magazine back in 2014, he commented: “There are some footballers that don’t enjoy watching games when they are not playing but I love it.

“I’ve got to pinch myself to see Swansea City competing with the best teams in the country and in one of the best leagues in the world.

“As is said so often, what has happened to Swansea City over the last decade or so is a fairytale.”