Frank Swift - Manchester City and England Legend

By Mark Metcalf, Wed 01 May 2013 20:43


Frank Swift - Manchester City and England Legend

The below is an extract about the 1934 F.A. Cup from Frank Swift - Manchester City and England Legend, a new biography by Mark Metcalf. Mark is happy to talk at Supporters Club meetings, and can be contacted on 07952 801783. The book can be purchased via Amazon by clicking here, or directly from the club shop.

The City side that captured the FA Cup for the first time at Wembley in 1934 contained arguably the club’s finest ‘keeper. Frank Swift was just twenty and had made only 27 first team appearances when he ran out to shake hands with King George V before taking his place in goal for the match against Portsmouth. What happened next was to send him on the road to stardom.

City had snapped up the Blackpool youngster from Fleetwood Reserves at a cost of £10.50 in 1932 and he made his debut in a 4-1 defeat at Derby County on Christmas Day 1933. Knocked out in a heavy challenge, Swift recovered to play the final minutes of the game and a few weeks later he made his FA Cup debut in a third round tie at home to Blackburn Rovers.

With seat tickets costing three and four shillings [15p -20p], around 4-6% of the average wage of £4 a week at the time, a crowd of 54,336 assembled at Maine Road. Most hoped to see City make it back to Wembley, where the previous season they had lost 3-0 to Everton in the Cup Final.

Swift had been at Wembley for the match, journeying down as a sidecar passenger on his work-mate, Harry Murrow’s, motorbike. Harry only had one eye and an hour into the trip at 4.00am he hit the kerb at half-light throwing the fast asleep passenger out onto the grass. Fortunately no lasting damage to either men resulted and the pair travelled on to see the match with Everton.

Armed with 2s 6d standing tickets [12.5p] the gasworks workers had been thrilled at their first glimpse of Wembley Stadium, the beautiful green pitch and the sight of the Duke and Duchess of Kent.

Standing behind the goal Swift had told his good friend only half jokingly that he would be between the posts the next time City were at Wembley.

The away side were accompanied by 5,000 of their own fans. The match was to be won by City’s wingers, Toseland and Eric Brook, whose penetrative raiding and deadly shooting saw the home side through 3-1. Rovers’ full-backs Bill Gorman and Crawford Whyte were unable to stop the pair from wreacking havoc and they scored all three of the City goals.

Things might have been different if early in the game the City keeper had not enjoyed a touch of fortune, when at 0-0 ‘Ted Harper broke through the light blue line in front of me. In my nervousness I anticipated too soon and dived before he kicked the ball. To my amazement and delight, the ball hit my right hand – and stuck. The roar of the crowd, as much as the save, helped give me confidence.’

Armed with this, Swift then played a fine game and afterwards complimented his Blackburn counterpart Binns saying: ‘No one could have kept a better goal.’ This praise of an opponent – especially goalkeepers - was typical of Swift during his long career. It was one of many aspects of his character that helped make him so popular amongst players and supporters of all clubs. As he developed as a professional he was also happy to pass on his experiences and skills to up and coming young players.

When the fourth round draw was made Manchester City were pitched against another Second Division side, Hull City. With many having travelled from Manchester to Boothferry Park there was a great atmosphere for players of both sides to enjoy.

Both teams were quickly on the attack with Herd shooting just over before Bill McNaughton, scorer of 42 goals for the Tigers the previous season, did the same for the home side. On fifteen minutes Hull enjoyed a touch of good fortune when Melville headed against his own bar but on 29 minutes ‘Swift distinguished himself by making a glorious one-handed save from Duncan’s header’. (MEN 27-01-34)

Then from ‘yet another corner Melville headed well, but Swift made a neat save and cleared in the face of a concerted rush’ (MEN) and after which City profited from the keeper’s heroics by scoring twice before half time. First some wonderful passing saw the ball fed out to Brook who crashed home a beautiful shot from a tight angle.

Then on 42 minutes Toseland fastened on to a loose ball before beating three or four defenders and finding Herd for a simple finish.

Hull were back in the match with an early second half goal when Jack Hill, capped eleven times for England, headed a fine goal. Soon after an equaliser seemed certain only for ‘Swift to play a hero’s part, especially when he gathered a shot which was almost diverted past him by a defender.’

Hull equalised on 70 minutes when Billy Dale beat his own keeper with a back header. The home side should then have won the match but after bursting through Duncan hit his shot high and wide as City survived to take the tie to a second match. This proved much easier than the first game and City progressed with a 4-1 victory.

With Sheffield Wednesday having beaten Oldham Athletic 6-1 in their replayed tie it meant Manchester City would be back in Yorkshire for the fifth round of the FA Cup. It was going to be tough as Wednesday were on a long unbeaten run.

Death at the football

The largest crowd that has ever watched a football match in Sheffield –72,841 – packed out Hillsborough for the City game.

Many years later the ground was the scene of great carnage when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives on the Leppings Lane terraces, that with fences at the front offered no escape from the overcrowded, badly stewarded terraces. In 1934 the large crowd was more fortunate, but ambulance men tending groaning casualties who had been crushed on the Spion Kop blocked the players from running down the entrance tunnel.

Swift later recalled that ‘after forcing my way through with other players, I had to stand aside to let pass a stretcher bearing a man crushed to death against the Spion Kop railings.’ This being the 1930s the game continued.

At the start it was clear that events off the pitch had affected those on it, especially amongst the City players and following a Sam Cowan miss kick the Owls Neil Dewar nipped in to find England international winger Ellis Rimmer to make it 1-0.

It took the away side till the thirtieth minute to draw level with a goal of stunning quality. Receiving the ball from a free-kick, Herd threw off the nearest players, Ted Catlin and Tommy Walker, feinted to send the ball out wide before driving towards goal and then unleashing a twenty-five yard rocket that smashed home.

City fell behind at the start of the second period when Dewar scored but again Herd came to their rescue; equalising in a scramble following a Toseland corner. A replay would be needed to decide the tie. ‘This I think was our toughest match of all on the path to Wembley’ wrote Swift later.

66,614 people were at the replay. They saw City give a glorious performance that suggested that their skill, courage and determination would return them to Wembley at the season’s end. Wednesday lost 2-0, but in general the away side were outplayed and the scoreline would have been considerably higher if not for some remarkable heroic saves by England international keeper Jack Brown.

Record crowd

City’s quarterfinal opponents were Stoke City. The Potters had won promotion the previous season and had beaten Bradford Park Avenue, Blackpool and First Division Chelsea 3-1 to make it to the last eight. Nineteen year-old winger Stanley Matthews had scored two of his side’s goals against the Londoners and was clearly set for a fine career.

An estimated 25,000 Stoke fans were packed inside Maine Road at kick-off time, with many more locked out when the gates were closed with a record attendance for any game in England outside of London at 84,568.

The match was played in glorious weather and despite the away fans enthusiasm there was little doubt that the City fans expected their side to win. With McLuckie injured, Jackie Bray was at right-half.

It was Stoke who started quickest and Matthews should possibly have beaten Swift after just two minutes. The only goal came after just fifteen minutes. Brook floated over a cross that the wind took high into the air and when Stoke keeper Roy John moved to grab it the ball slipped from his grasp and bounced over the line. There was a delay as the crowd realised a goal had been scored and then the City fans let rip a roar that could be heard miles away.

Fans of both sides were divided as to whether the scorer had aimed to score, some rating it as the finest they ever witnessed and others viewing it as a bit of a fluke. No one seems to have asked Brook his intentions and so we shall never know.

Three minutes later Stoke might have equalised but Matthews was just too slow to a loose ball and his half-hit shot allowed Swift time to make a vital save. With Busby in fine form that appeared to have ended the away sides chances but in the last minute they forced a corner. Coming up from defence Arthur Turner rose to powerfully head the ball ‘and with me standing helpless – and with 84,000 hearts in similar number of mouths, the ball curled slowly over the bar’ wrote Swift.

Seconds later the referee’s final whistle meant Manchester City were in their third consecutive semi-final of the FA Cup – Arsenal having beaten them in 1932.

Their opponents were Aston Villa, who had last won the FA Cup in 1920 when they had beaten Huddersfield Town in the Final played at Stamford Bridge.

The game was played at Leeds Road, Huddersfield. Ten days beforehand the sides drew 0-0 at Villa Park, a match in which Swift made some outstanding saves. Despite the pre-match predictions of a tight affair it was to be as one-sided a semi-final as there has been in the FA Cup. Villa’s Dai Astley had scored seven times in the earlier rounds but his eighth was to be mere consolation as the victors scored six including four from Fred Tilson.

With Portsmouth having thumped Leicester City 4-1 in the other semi then it was going to be a case of North versus South in the Cup Final.

Travelling down the night before the 1934 Cup Final, City stayed in a hotel on the edge of Epping Forest and Swift, set to become the youngest keeper to play in a Wembley final, was paired off with skipper Sam Cowan.

This was clearly an attempt to calm the keeper’s nerves. With, unknowing to the management, Cowan nursing blood poisoning of the right big toe, it meant that as the centre-half sat with his throbbing foot in a bowl of scalding hot water the pair chatted away till 3.00am before both men went to sleep exhausted.

They woke at 11.00am. It meant Swift had little time to get anxious as, suitably refreshed, he dashed downstairs to get breakfast, before going for a walk and then jumping on the bus to Wembley. He promptly dozed off, only to be rudely awakened and ordered off the bus to buy the rest of the players some chewing gum, a regular City ritual that meant the youngest team member paid for the rest.

Approaching Wembley, Swift observed the ‘hustling, hurrying excited masses’ who ‘suddenly burst into cheering as some of the more observant recognised us’ and ‘then the giant sweep up to the imposing stadium, surely the greatest sight in the world to a young footballer.’

City’s opponents had never won the FA Cup. The nearest Pompey had come was in 1929 when they lost to Bolton Wanderers 2-0 in the final. City had seven of their 1933 losing side on display at the 1934 FA Cup Final, with just four playing in their first final – Swift, Laurie Barnett, Billy Dale and Fred Tilson.

Manchester City: Swift, Barnett, Dale, Busby, Cowan, Bray, Toseland, Marshall, Tilson, Herd, Brook
Portsmouth: John Gilfillan, Alex Mackie, Billy Smith, Jimmy Nichol, Jim Allen – captain, David Thackeray, Fred Worrall, Jack Smith, Jack Weddle, Jim Easson, Sep Rutherford

Sitting in the dressing room Swift could hear the faint hum of an expectant crowd. Then the team were allowed to examine the surface of the pitch, but not practise on it, with some players expressing their disappointment at it being ‘rough.’

Having done his best to settle his nerves, Swift was then thrown into confusion when one of his teammates, too nervous to do so himself, asked the unfortunate McLuckie (who was injured) to tie his boots.

Trainer Alec Bell swiftly came to the rescue, hauling the big keeper into the washroom, slapping his face and giving him a tot of whisky. If Swift was in a state of confusion that was certainly not something Alec Herd could have been excused of. Sitting quietly reading a book he even managed to miss his teammates filing out of the dressing room to make their way on to the pitch for the game to start. Bell scurried back to remind him there was a game on and he was playing in it!

As City’s players steadied themselves just along the corridor the team from the South coast were being entertained by the famous comedy duo, Bud Flanagan and George Doonan.

Maintaining a tradition started in 1926 City players maroon strips carried a badge of the City of Manchester, a symbol of pride in representing the northern city at a major event.

Portsmouth in white shirts and black shorts were pinning their hopes on a tight defence that had conceded just three goals in their earlier Cup games with Manchester United, Grimsby Town, Swansea Town, Bolton Wanderers and Leicester City. In comparison City would attack. The game was set to be a keen tussle that some pundits believed would need a replay to decide who took home the most famous Trophy in the world.

Marching out at Wembley the sides were greeted with a huge roar and this intensified when King George V appeared to meet all the officials and players, starting with Portsmouth’s. Swift was delighted to shake the King’s hand before the teams broke to get a chance for a quick pre-match kick about.

For the referee Stanley Rous this was his penultimate game in charge and he was to use it as an experiment for what he was certain would revolutionise football. A diagonal system of scientific positioning refereeing had yet to win FA approval. After seeing Belgium referees use it in late 20s and 30s the man who was set to get the post of FA secretary wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity to shows it’s worth. It was destined to become the blueprint for all refereeing.

After the match, Rous submitted a Memorandum for discussion with the Association, and after the pros and cons had been carefully considered, the FA approved the use of the 'Diagonal System'.’ The Football League followed suit and in 1948 foreign delegates at the International Conference of Referees in London approved the adoption of the system; which has since been used throughout the footballing World.

With Cowan and Portsmouth skipper Jimmy Allen quickly getting the toss of the coin out of the way then the scene was set for the kick-off. Keen to give his young keeper a comforting confidence boosting first-touch of the ball, Matt Busby slipped the ball back to him in the first few minutes.

Busby had spotted Swift’s talent within days of his arrival at Maine Road in 1932 and had encouraged the keeper to eat and train properly. His tips on keeping goal were a big help and the pair would regularly continue their ball training after the rest of the players had departed. Busby constantly had Swift trying to save his penalties, something that was to count against the Scot at Hampden Park many years later.

With the 1934 Cup Final being played in a downpour, Swift had been unsure whether to use gloves. As Jock Gilfillan wasn’t doing so, the City keeper chose to keep his in the corner of the net. This was to prove a mistake.

Because after an uneventful first thirty minutes, in which the only winner was the heavy ground, ‘Sep ‘Rutherford, the Pompey outside-right, came coasting in and fired a ball across the goal to my right hand. I dived and the ball slithered through into the net off my fingers. I was desolate as I picked the ball out of the net.’ Swift, forever the professional, the keeper who always analysed each goal to see if he could have prevented it may have been a little harsh on himself with the Daily Mirror’s Barry Thomas believing that after tricking Barnett, the Portsmouth outside-left was too close to goal to have his shot saved.

Nevertheless it was Manchester City 0 Portsmouth 1 and it stayed that way to half-time as Portsmouth, managed by Jack Tinn, fell back on their noted defence. City’s anxiety to quickly draw level saw a number of passes go astray.

Sitting in the dressing room at half-time the young keeper was disconsolate. Having missed the previous seasons Final through injury, Fred Tilson was keen to have him forget what had gone before and promised to ‘plonk home two next half.’ The centre-forward, who the previous weekend had scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 defeat of Chelsea, was to prove as good his words, although not initially and with seventeen minutes remaining the Fratton Park side seemed set to pick up the famous Trophy as they continued to lead 1-0.

However when England international Jimmy Allen, from a corner kick, was left injured during a collision with Sam Cowan the loss of their centre-half for a few short minutes was enough to unsettle the Portsmouth defence.

Within a couple of minutes Tilson, soon after Herd had smacked a shot against the crossbar, took the ball off Brook ‘coasted over the penalty line, moved the ball to his left foot – and hit it across the goal past Gilfillan inside the far post. We were level!’ (Swift - 1948 autobiography: Football from the Goalmouth)

The match should have been won soon after, but Eric Brook, twice in quick succession failed to beat Jock Gilfillan from only yards out. If Portsmouth felt they had escaped to fight another day they were to have their hopes cruelly dashed.

With Alec Herd, Ernie Toseland and Tilson piling forward and Alec Mackie – who when he signed for Arsenal in 1922 demanded, and got, a pet-monkey as a signing-on fee - and Billy Smith coming to meet them it was Tilson, running away from the desperate defenders, who kept his half-time promise by smashing his side ahead on 86 minutes.

From the kick-off Portsmouth poured forward and when Freddy Worrall, who was the only Portsmouth player still with the club when they won the Cup in 1939, met Rutherford’s cross Swift ‘just managed to go full length and save the shot on the ground.’ (Daily Mirror) In the event it was to prove the last chance for a side that had led for so long during the match. The young keeper though feared there was much more to come and as the seconds began to tick away one or two photographers counting down the minutes roused his excitement even further.

The game was all in the Portsmouth half but he was terrified. ‘Three minutes to go’, ‘only two minutes left, Frank’, ‘one minute to go’, ‘only fifty-seconds, you’re nearly there lad’, ‘forty-seconds, you’ve done them now’, ‘thirty-seconds, it’s your Cup son’ – even writing the words you can feel the tension. Later in his career Swift was to use it to improve his game, but this was then the biggest day in his short life.

‘There’s the whistle, it’s all over’ and as the big keeper grabbed his cap and gloves and moved to shake hands with his captain, Sam Cowan, whose pre-match injury had failed to prevent him playing a great game, nothing.

Swift had fainted and only the intervention of the ambulance men and others ensured he recovered sufficiently to walk to the dais to receive his coveted medal from the King who asked him ‘how are you feeling now, my boy?’

‘Fine sir’

‘That’s good. You played well. Here is your medal, and good luck.’ Having not got one for being a member of the losing Fleetwood reserve side in the final of the West Lancashire Cup in 1932 it was his first senior medal.

Watching on proudly was the youngster’s mother who had got so excited that she had also fainted and had been brought round after receiving a small shot of whisky from the flask of Mrs Bell, the wife of the City trainer.

Back in Manchester on May Day Tuesday the players were welcomed by a huge crowd –reported by British Pathe at over one million - and were cheered to the rafters as sitting with their legs dangling outside the open roof of their coach they moved slowly through the City, displaying the FA Cup en route. A feature of the May Day celebrations had been the number of horses and vehicles lavishly dressed in City colours. The celebrations continued when the Lord Mayor entertained the players in a Civic Reception at the Town Hall, where Swift was delighted to find that via the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Lancashire the King had enquired if he was ‘alright.’

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