Friday, March 23, 2007

Peter Swan: Fighting the Past - allwell

By Jeff Gold or allwell to those in the know

Seventy-year old Peter Swan has Alzheimer’s disease. His poor short-term memory renders him unable to drive or to run his pub in Chesterfield. His long-term memories are as sharp and painful as ever.

Swan was a tough, confident footballer. With hair sculpted and shorts rolled up, he played the game with a swagger, revelling in battles both physical and verbal.

“I used to strut about the field as if I owned the place,” he said in his recent autobiography. “Supporters would boo me at away grounds. I used to love it.”

It was the early 1960s, a time when training at Swan’s club, Sheffield Wednesday, comprised little more than a few laps of the pitch; when one of Swan’s team-mates would enjoy a couple of pre-match pints; and when the maximum wage had only recently been abolished.

By the summer of 1962, Swan had played 19 consecutive games for England and was the linchpin of a Wednesday team that had just faced Roma and Barcelona in European competition. Nevertheless, his weekly pay packet was £20 plus bonuses. His England team-mate Johnny Haynes was earning five times that amount.

Jimmy Gauld was the ringleader. He explained to a Wednesday player that match-fixing was common in the lower leagues and that players were earning bundles of cash. Two forthcoming games were already set up and Gauld was after a treble.

Wednesday hadn’t won for eight games and their next match was at Ipswich Town where they usually lost. “We've got nowt to come,” said Swan when asked about their chances.

Three Wednesday players, including Swan, placed a £50 bet on their team to lose. Swan insists that the match wasn’t fixed and that they received no payment from Gauld. Indeed, money initially went in the opposite direction as they gave Gauld the stake for their bet, which remained their only incentive to lose.

It was an isolated indiscretion but one that made the Wednesday trio the most high-profile participants in a long-running conspiracy. When eventually exposed by The People it was described as the biggest sports scandal of the century. Swan was fined, imprisoned for four months and banned from football for life.

On his release from jail, Swan found work selling everything from cars to beer. Eventually the ban was lifted. Despite being 35 years old and inactive for eight years, Swan reclaimed his place in a Wednesday side now playing in the second division. But his best was behind him; after 13 games he left.

Jimmy Greaves describes Swan as a player with a fine footballing brain and outstanding ball control. He believes that, but for Swan’s mistake, this “rock in a raging sea” would have been a 1966 World Cup winner.

“I don't blame anybody, only myself,” Swan says now, but “I feel very bitter towards The People and Jimmy Gauld because they ruined my life.” They are the words of a man still fighting the past, and losing.


MotM said...

This didn't win and the hooligan piece did?

My father used to speak a lot about this, at first with bitterness, then with more understanding. This piece is beautifully judged with no preachiness but an acknowledgement that things were different then.

Do you think Peter Swan will see it / appreciate it? I hope so.

pipita said...


Im also inclined to writing football stories of the past, so I read your piece with a lot of interest. Id also heard about the Swan affair when I was a kid. It must rank amongst the most tragic football stories Ive ever heard. Sounds even worse than those young players who are forced to abandon the game because of injury

Zephirine said...

How sad. And very well written.

I would agree it's better than the hooligan piece, but that one obviously just appealed to them for some reason.

allwell said...

Thanks all, but I really liked the hooligan piece. With all three winners this week I could see why they were chosen above mine, and that's all you can ask really isn't it?

motm, I could probably reach Peter Swan with this (I know somebody who knows him quite well), but I don't think I'd feel comfortable doing so and I'm not sure he would appreciate it really.

Even if he did, I'm not sure he needs my support. His autobiography sold quite well and he received a fair bit of interest and support in Sheffield. Ian Ridley also did an extensive interview with him in the Daily Mail which, I believe, led the FA to present him with a new England blazer after he lost his original.

MotM said...

allwell - that's fair enough. It's the last sentence that prompted me really.

I think your piece is much better than any of the three winners, but each to their own.

BrazilBunch's post on Big Blogger (if true) makes a bit of a mockery of that pious introduction to Big Blogger 4 doncha' think?

andrewm said...

allwell, I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard this story. It's fascinating and you tell it extremely well.

duncan said...

wow. THAT shudda bin in the paper.

fred said...

A tragic, well-told tale. The pressures of life, the innocence of the man: a tainted hero.
Better than this, better than that? One of the best pieces I have read.


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