Frank Swift – Manchester City and England legend
£14.99 from DB Books
Frank Swift is one of the greatest English goalkeeper’s of all time. A First and Second Division, FA Cup and Charity Shield winner with Manchester City, his only League club, he represented his country on 33 occasions between 1941 and 1949. Only once did Swift, who tragically died in the Munich air crash, concede eight goals when a Shackleton inspired Avenue overturned a first leg FA cup deficit by winning 8-2 at Maine Road in January 1946.
The following is taken from Mark Metcalf’s biography on Swift. Mark is a Sunderland fan based in Halifax who watches eight to ten Avenue matches a season.
Following the end of the war, and with League competition yet to return, it was agreed that the 1945-46 FA Cup would be played over two legs. Having squeezed past Port Vale 3-2 on aggregate, Avenue was drawn against Manchester City, who only weeks earlier they had lost 6-0 to.
Playing away in the first leg, and before a crowd of 25,014, City, with two late goals, won handsomely 3-1. Swift had a decent match, using his long legs to prevent Bert Knott opening the scoring and then diverting the centre-forward’s splendid shot over for a corner. With the game tied at 1-1 and only seconds of the first period remaining ‘Swift saved City with a save which only he could have made – a magnificent backward leap to turn a header from Shackleton over the bar, when a goal looked a certainty.’ (Manchester Evening News)
The second leg was sure to be a formality. Avenue, though, had in their side a number of good players and during the war had beaten sides rated their superiors. On his day Len Shackleton – the Clown Prince of Soccer – could be almost unplayable and the match at Maine Road on 30 January 1946 was to be one of those days.
Writing in his autobiography the future West Ham and England manager Ron Greenwood, signed from Chelsea at the end of the war, recalled ‘Our cause seemed hopeless and to rub things in our coach ran into a blizzard right on top of the Pennines on our way to Maine Road for the second leg. The wind howled, the snow swirled and our coach struggled. Len Shackleton said ‘let’s turn back…..we don’t stand a chance anyway.’ That seemed a fair assessment, but we pushed on and eventually got to the ground with less than 20 minutes to spare. Our trouble proved worthwhile, even though the pitch was covered by pools of water and a gale blew across the pitch.’
It was City, though, who were blown away, beaten 8-2, with Jackie Gibbons, the former Spurs amateur centre-forward, scoring four times. It was to be a famous day for the West Yorkshire side.
Ron Greenwood: ‘The sight of the great Frank Swift picking the ball out of the net eight times is something I shall never forget. Everything went right for us. It was one of those days.’
Returning home Len Shackleton’s dad consoled him when he reported the score as 8-2. He didn’t believe his son when he said Avenue had won and it needed the sight of the score in the newspaper the following morning to convince him. City fan Geoff Ireland had seen the first match, and he too couldn’t believe the score even after seeing the result in the paper!
Earlier in Swift’s career City had on their staff a youngster, Jackie, who had aspired to be a keeper. Drawing on his experience the City keeper told him that ‘after every match in which a goal has been scored against me, I make a practice of sitting down and drawing diagrams to see where I was at fault.’
Leaving Maine Road after Avenue’s success Swift bumped into the same youngster, who was, by now, a very smart sergeant major and after a small chat the pair parted with Jackie informing the beaten keeper that he ‘had plenty of homework to do this evening!’ (Football from the Goalmouth)
To a lesser man such humour might not have been as well received, but Swift had already seen the funny side of being beaten so heavily. With the papers suggesting he was shortly to be transferred to Anfield, Walter Allison recalls some in the crowd shouting out ‘When are you off to Liverpool then?’ ‘Read it in the papers’ was the reply, accompanied by a broad smile.
Then after Gibbons – who had a record of doing well against City – had fired in the seventh Swift had been reduced to laughter. Lying prostrate in the mud the keeper heard team-mate, the newly married Bert Sproston, telling the scorer to ‘go away, Sonny Boy, there’s plenty of room to play at the other end.’
Allison also recalls, ‘at the end of the game Swift went out of his way to congratulate the Avenue players, to shake their hands. He wasn’t sour or bitter, and this was always a part of his game, he was a genuine sportsman was Frank Swift and that made him a decent man also in my view.’
Still a youngster, Allison should have been at school. When his mother discovered he had bunked off a word with his father saw him reported to Hardwick Central School Headmaster Mr Peake, who was ‘an awesome immaculately well dressed man who caned me and my brother Tom. It was worth it as Shackleton that day was a genius. Totally unplayable.’