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City DNA #32: The captain made of Welsh granite

City DNA #32: The captain made of Welsh granite
It’s no exaggeration to say Roy Paul was Manchester City’s very own Captain Fantastic.

An inspirational figure to colleagues and fans alike, he was a true leader and without doubt, one of the best players to wear a Manchester City shirt.

Born on 18 April 1920, Paul would have been celebrating his 100th birthday today. 

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One of 12 children, he lived in the mining village of Ton Pentre in the Welsh Rhondda Valley and discovered early in life that he would have to fight for everything, from a space to sleep in the family home, to food, clothes and pocket money.

After leaving school he, like many of his friends and family in the Welsh valleys, became a miner and seemed likely to spend much of his time beneath the ground. His talent at football, however, soon offered him a pathway out of the pits and Swansea offered him a contract when he was aged 19. He gratefully accepted the opportunity.

At Swansea, he learned his trade under the watchful of captain and former Scotland international Bill Imrie. Only World War 2, it seemed, could stop his steady, inevitable rise to the top and bite a sizeable chunk out of his of his career in the process.

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Initially, Paul returned to mining but struggled to re-adapt to what was a hard, unforgiving life. Instead, he used his fitness and athleticism skills and volunteered for the Royal Marines where he became a physical training instructor, based in Devon, India and South Wales.

He continued to play wartime football for Exeter City and Swansea when he could.

By the time the War ended, he’d had to wait six years for his full senior Swansea debut and under the tutelage of ‘The Centre Forward’s Graveyard’ Frank Barson (as he was known) – Paul added a new, steely edge to his already-physical game.

Barson gave Paul one-on-one sessions in tackling, protecting himself in challenges as well as teaching him one or two tricks that would make life uncomfortable for any centre-forward he faced.

Paul was a tough as the coal face he used to mine and a fearful opponent for any striker. He would make 159 appearances for the third-tier Swans and quickly became their most prized asset – so much so, when the third tier Swans faced a powerful Arsenal side in a 1950 FA cup tie, the Gunners immediately placed a bid for Paul, so impressive was the Welsh defender. That bid was turned down, though Paul would later anger the Swansea board when he accepted the offer of a trial with Colombian side Millionarios and a lucrative contract if all went to plan.

Paul remained in Colombia for just 10 days before deciding it wasn’t the life he had been expecting heading home to South Wales where he was promptly transfer-listed – and the recently relegated Manchester City wasted no time securing his signature for £19,500 on the same day Ken Barnes signed for the Club.

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The fact he was 30 years-old when he signed is proof of how highly new City manager Les McDowall rated the talented half-back. Paul finally had the platform his ability deserved, and the Welshman was immediately handed the captain’s armband and led City to promotion in his first season at Maine Road. He had high expectations of his team-mates, often criticising anybody he felt who wasn’t pulling their weight and making sure they knew he wasn’t happy.

Barnes would later say: “Roy’s style was more about power than guile – he was brilliant in the air and a born leader.”

Paul was, in many ways, playing catch-up with his career with World War II interrupting his progress and shaving more than six years off his playing days – had this not been the case, Paul would surely have reached the top far quicker and would even today be regarded as one of Wales’ greatest players.

A genuine ‘Roy of the Rovers’-type player, Paul went on to be one of the greatest captains the Club has ever had and led the Blues to the 1955 FA Cup final, where Newcastle United would triumph 3-1. Paul, ever self-critical, blamed himself for the loss and - just as Sam Cowan had done before him in 1933 - vowed to take his team back and win the cup the following season.

True to his word, 12 months later, the 36-year-old Paul lifted the FA Cup after beating Birmingham City 3-1 in ‘The Trautmann Final’. He played one more season before age took its toll on the old warrior and retired from the professional game.

He was only the second Welshman to skipper the Blues to FA Cup glory – the first being Billy Meredith – and the triumph was reward for a career that undoubtedly deserved more. Paul left for Worcester City in June 1957, believing the pace he’d lost made it increasingly hard to defend the way he wanted and after clocking up nearly 300 matches for City, the Club reluctantly agreed with his decision.

Uncompromising and inspirational, Paul, who died in the spring of 2002, remains one of the Blues’ greatest leaders.

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