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.