The Gentle Giant, Mark Jones was born on the 15 June 1933 in Wombwell in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the third of seven children – the son of miner, Amos Jones. The centre-half signed for United as an apprentice after leaving school in 1948. Of course, back then, a footballer was not only a footballer, most of them had day jobs, in Jones’ case, he was a bricklayer, for a while at least.
Jones was describes as ‘having a penchant for pipe smoking‘ during the time he was looking to make his name at United – something he did because he played well. His United teammates called him Dan Archer, a character from the radio show, The Archers – I am sure some of you out there will remember this. On the football pitch, Jones was destined to become something that he wanted to become – a big name of the era.
“Jones was a commanding centre half, strong in the tackle and in the air. His best game was probably helping get a 0-0 draw in Dortmund on a poor icy pitch.”
John Charles may have been coined as The Gentle Giant, but it was a nickname for Jones also. He was described as a ‘seam of Yorkshire granite‘ which stood between the goal and the opposition centre-forwards, something that he should be very proud of today. Just 24 when the Munich air disaster took his life, his playing career was ahead of him, but he had achieved a lot in the game at the time.
Jones has also been described as ‘archetypal pivot, broad of beam, crushing in the tackle and majestic in the air.’ A player that would have been feared by the opposition. During his time at United, which saw him involved in eight seasons of football, Jones made a total of 121 appearances for United, scoring one goal, which came in the 1955/56 season. He competed against Jackie Blanchflower for a place in the team.
United won two Football League Division One titles with Jones in the team. his first three seasons seeming him earn a few appearances here and there, his fourth none at all. In the fifth, he was trusted more, making himself a mainstay in the team from the 1955/56 season, the first season he was involved in winning a league title for the club, retaining is during the following season (1956/57).
“England sides were picked by committees and Billy Wright had a lot of friends! Mark is another player, that when the Babes are discussed, it is all about Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne etc. They were a complete side, however, and the likes of Mark Jones made them complete. This should never be forgotten.”
United were seeking to win the league title for the third time running in the 1957/58 season, but a fateful day in Munich made sure that would not be part of the picture. Jones, destined to play for England, never made that feat either, which is just another thing this country has suffered. Many of the players killed on this day, were either playing for England or would have.
In terms of Jones, his character will always live on and the memories, of those that played with him, against him and those that saw him play, will live on.
A broken plane, a broken dream, a broken heart, a broken team, no word said, a silent vow, we loved you then, we love you now. We’ll never die.
Written by John Walker