Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: Frank Swift (25)

Goal.com are counting down England's greatest players of all time, and at number 25 it's Manchester City's larger-than-life net-minder, Frank Swift...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard
No.38 - John Barnes
No.37 - Nat Lofthouse
No.36 - Eddie Hapgood
No.35 - Chris Waddle
No.34 - David Platt
No.33 - Phil Neal
No.32 - Johnny Haynes
No.31 - Peter Beardsley
No.30 - Ray Clemence
No.29 - Ted Drake
No.28 - Michael Owen
No.27 - Raich Carter
No.26 - Colin Bell

Frank Victor SWIFT
Blackpool, Lancashire
England19 caps
ClubsManchester City

One of England's best ever goalkeepers, Frank Swift was a genial giant of a man, an athletic crowd pleaser and showman on the pitch, and mischievous mimic and joker off it. Having lost seven years of his career to the Second World War, 'Big Swifty' eventually lost his life in the Munich disaster - but not before leaving an indelible mark on English football in general and the art of goalkeeping in particular.

A one-club character who spent his entire professional career between the posts for Manchester City, apart from wartime guest appearances elsewhere, he died covering the pioneering European exploits of City's great rivals Manchester United, by then working as a respected football journalist with the News of the World. 

Frank Victor Swift was born in Blackpool on Boxing Day 1913, and began his footballing odyssey along the Lancashire coast with local clubs, the first of which was Blackpool Gas Works, where he worked as a coke-keeper. He moved on to Fleetwood and was soon spotted by several League clubs - including Blackpool, for whom his elder brother Fred kept goal. But the first to offer Frank a contract were First Division Manchester City.

Joining the Citizens initially as an amateur in October 1932 aged 18, Swift signed professional forms a month later on wages of ten shillings (50 pence) a week. He made his first team debut on Christmas Day 1933 against Derby County, retaining his place with a clean sheet against the same opponents the following day - his 20th birthday - and indeed only missing one League game for City between then and the outbreak of war in 1939.


"Though I never saw him play myself, most City fans know he is still the benchmark by which all City keepers are measured, even fellow greats like Bert Trautmann and Joe Corrigan. Swifty was the Daddy!" - Brian Cliffe | Manchester

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In his debut season, Swift was a key member of the team that made it all the way to  the 1934 FA Cup final. City had lost the previous year's final to Everton, and the relatively inexperienced Swift was a bundle of nerves before the Wembley showpiece against Portsmouth.

Septimus Rutherford put Pompey ahead on 27 minutes with a goal for which the young Swift blamed himself. But at half-time he was consoled by City's centre-forward Fred Tilson, who promised the young keeper he'd score two. Tilson was as good as his word, equalising then putting City ahead with four minutes to go. When the final whistle sounded, Swift was so overcome by the release of tension that he fainted beneath his crossbar and had to revived to collect his winners' medal from George V.

Three years later, Frank, now a fixture in the first-team, collected a League Championship winners' medal. He was an ever-present as City clinched the title for the first time in their history. After an inconsistent start, they were unbeaten from Boxing Day, and several of their goals were initiated by Swift's innovation of throwing rather than kicking the ball to one of his team-mates.

He had massive hands, each with a 12 inch finger-span, and could easily catch the ball in the palm of one of them and throw it to the first available player so that City kept possession. Alex Stepney, who became a 1960s goalkeeping hero for Manchester United (and later the goalkeeping coach at City), heard about Swift's throwing tactic and adopted it himself, realising as Swift had calculated that by kicking the ball upfield you probably had a 60-40 chance of retaining possession, but that the odds improved significantly if you could throw it to one of your own players.

Standing 6ft 2in, weighing 14 stone and with those ungloved paws that earned him the nickname 'Frying Pan Hands', Swift's imposing presence between the sticks often inhibited the opposition. The great Raich Carter once remarked that Frank looked so big in goal that as a forward trying to score against him you often felt you were trying to put the ball into a matchbox. When asked what advice he could give to young goalkeepers, Swift revealed that he drew diagrams of each goal scored against him to see if he was at fault.

However, it was not all plain-sailing: the season after they won the title, City's inconsistency saw them relegated, meaning City were a Second Division side when war interrupted his career. The conflict robbed him of several of his prime playing years, although in wartime he was chosen to represent his country in unofficial international matches, and continued to play regularly for City, making 134 wartime league appearances.


Captaining his country
He became a special constable with responsibility for traffic control in Manchester, but later recalled, "On my very first day on traffic point duty, I got everything so muddled that, on the advice of a colleague, I walked away leaving the traffic to sort itself out. I felt at that moment how many full-backs must have felt when playing against Stanley Matthews."

He then joined the Army and was one several professional footballers to enlist at the Army School of Physical Training as part of a scheme devised by the FA. As the school was based at Aldershot, Swift became one of several top players to guest for the club in wartime. He also made wartime guest appearances for Liverpool, Charlton Athletic, Fulham and Reading.

Immediately after the war he made his competitive debut for England, playing 19 internationals between 1946 and 1949, including a run of 17 consecutive appearances and captaining the side in the famous 1948 victory against Italy in Turin - England's first goalkeeper skipper since 1873. He described the occasion as the greatest day of his career. Swift also represented Great Britain in a 1947 match against a 'Rest of Europe' team.

At club level, Swift set a record in 1946-47, the first season after the war, keeping 17 clean sheets in 35 appearances as Manchester City won the Second Division championship to clinch their return to the top flight.

When only 35 years old - relatively young for a goalkeeper - and still a regular for England, Swift stunned football by announcing that he would retire at the end of the 1948-49 season. He wanted to bow out while still capable of performing at the highest level. But just before the start of the following season, Swift's replacement, Alec Thurlow, went down with tuberculosis. Swift agreed to step in until City found a new goalkeeper. He played a further four games, taking his overall total for City to just under 400. 

However, the club were aware that rivals including Manchester United were eager to tempt Swift out of retirement, and to prevent that happening they retained his playing registration for several more years.

Frank had a spell as a director of a local catering company before embarking on a career in sports journalism, though he remained a frequent visitor to Maine Road and became president of Manchester City's Supporters' Club.

As football correspondent for the News of the World he travelled to Belgrade in February 1958 to report on Manchester United's European Cup match against Red Star. He was one of 23 passengers (including eight United players) killed when the plane crashed attempting to take off in snow and ice at Munich after a refuelling stop. Swift was pulled alive from the wreckage but died on his way to hospital, his seat-belt having cut into his aorta. He was 44-years-old.


FA Cup winner - 1934
Football League Division One Championship winner - 1936-37
Football League Division Two Championship winner - 1946-47
Great Britain XI v Rest of Europe - 1947
England captain - 1948
Named as one of the Football League 100 Legends in 1998, the League's centenary
Inducted into the Manchester City Hall of Fame

DID YOU KNOW...That during football's summer off-season, Frank and one of his brothers, Alf, ran a pleasure boat off the Blackpool shore for tourists, and on one such trip he met his future wife.

Graham Lister, Goal.com

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