George Swindin

Fearless Arsenal goalkeeper who returned to the club as manager
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The Independent Online

George Hedley Swindin, footballer and manager: born Campsall, Yorkshire 4 December 1914; played for Bradford City 1933-36, Arsenal 1936-54; managed Arsenal 1958-62, Norwich City 1962, Cardiff City 1962-64; married (one son); died Kettering, Northamptonshire 26 October 2005.

As one of the most composed and reliable goalkeepers of his era, George Swindin helped Arsenal to lift three League championships and the FA Cup, and that despite losing six years of his prime to the Second World War.

But when he returned to Highbury as manager, a favourite son entrusted with the task of leading the becalmed north Londoners out of a period of dismal mediocrity, the blunt, undemonstrative Yorkshireman failed to meet the challenge, and he left the club in tears.

At that point, Swindin - an often painfully honest, immensely dedicated individual, who upset certain of his charges with his acerbic, some would say tactless, manner - was sorely disillusioned, but it would be poignantly unjust if his managerial travail was allowed to obscure his consistent high achievement as guardian of the Gunners' net in nearly 300 senior games.

That he never played for his country was due principally to being a contemporary of Frank Swift, one of the most majestic of all custodians, though twice during 1947/48 he occupied the England bench as first reserve, and arguably was unfortunate to fall behind the likes of Bert Williams, Gil Merrick and Ted Ditchburn in the struggle to succeed the Manchester City hero. Swindin was not tall for a keeper and, unlike with the extrovert Swift, there was not the merest hint of flamboyance about his game. But he was fearless and agile, a safe handler and intelligent anticipator of crosses, the type who radiated an aura of security which instilled confidence in his defenders.

As a boy, he rose through the local footballing ranks of Rotherham YMCA and New Stubbin Colliery, then served Rotherham United as an amateur before turning professional with Bradford City. He made his Second Division début as a 20-year-old in a 3-0 home victory over Port Vale on Boxing Day 1934, and, although he never became an automatic choice for the Bantams, his potential attracted a £4,000 bid from Arsenal, which was accepted in April 1936.

During the 1930s, the Gunners side built by Herbert Chapman, then taken on by George Allison, was the dominant footballing power in the land and some youngsters who joined the multiple trophy-winners were daunted by the challenge. Certainly, Swindin seemed hesitant at first, maybe lacking self- belief at that early stage, but his essential strength of character stood him in admirable stead and he prevailed.

A career-ending injury to the splendid Frank Moss had created a vacancy between the Arsenal posts and, after tasting senior action during 1936/37, Swindin gradually rose above his fellow hopefuls Alex Wilson and Frank Boulton to become the club's long-term net-minder. Having languished behind his rivals for much of 1937/38, he produced a succession of commanding performances in the spring as a memorable team including the free-scoring marksmen Ted Drake and Cliff Bastin, the defensive bulwarks George Male and Eddie Hapgood and the fearsomely combative wing-half Wilf Copping pipped Wolverhampton Wanderers to lift the League title.

Swindin's momentum was jolted by the Second World War, during which he served as an Army PT instructor in Germany, but after the conflict he became firmly established as first choice at Highbury, excelling as an ever- present during the 1947/48 championship triumph, conceding only 32 goals, a League record at the time.

Two years later he was characteristically solid as Arsenal beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Final, then suffered injury and shared goalkeeping duties with Ted Platt in 1950/51, before returning to his dominant best in 1951/52. That term climaxed with a valiant Wembley rearguard action in which he was prominent as the north Londoners, reduced to 10 men for most of the match following a serious injury to the full-back Walley Barnes, lost the FA Cup Final to Newcastle United.

By now, though, there was a rising new goalkeeping star in the Highbury camp and, while the ageing Swindin enjoyed just enough outings to secure a medal as Arsenal took the title again in 1952/53, future custody of the team's net would be in the safe hands of the brilliant young Welshman Jack Kelsey.

Duly, the veteran bowed out during the next term - he conceded seven goals in his final appearance, against Sunderland at Roker Park - and, in February 1954, he was freed to join non-League Peterborough United as player-manager. Swindin took to his new responsibilities with alacrity, leading the Posh to three Midland League championships in the space of four seasons as they built impetus which culminated in admission to the Football League in 1960.

By then Swindin was back at Highbury, having turned down offers from other clubs in favour of becoming Arsenal boss in the summer of 1958. He took over a mundane side for which the road to resurrection looked long and hard, but he wrought wholesale changes in his playing staff - including the recruitment of the dynamic Scottish wing-half Tommy Docherty - and by February the Gunners were topping the First Division table. Though they had slipped to third place by season's end, still there were grounds for heady optimism, but there followed three years of frustrating ordinariness leading to Swindin's resignation and replacement by the former Wolves and England hero Billy Wright in 1962.

Swindin had been unlucky with serial injuries to key players, notably the expensive Mel Charles, which laid him open to charges of constant team-changing, and his side suffered hugely by comparison to the great Tottenham Hotspur combination of that era. Clearly, having to watch the local antagonists lift the League and FA Cup double in 1960/61 did not engender patience among Highbury regulars.

Also, Swindin was panned savagely for perceived mistakes such as the failure to sign Denis Law from Huddersfield Town and the sale of the free-scoring David Herd to Manchester United. On the credit side, he did enlist the gifted play-maker George Eastham from Newcastle, but that was not to prove enough.

Swindin had worked prodigiously in the Arsenal cause, and he cared passionately - his sorrow on the day of his departure was deeply moving - but, when he could not procure success for employers who craved it urgently, the upshot was inevitable.

There followed a few months in charge of Norwich City before he accepted an offer from the fellow Second Division club Cardiff City, newly demoted from the top flight, in October 1962. His 18-month sojourn at Ninian Park proved turbulent, with seemingly endless comings and goings by players, more chronic luck, with injuries and several disagreements with the board, as over the signing of the fading maestro John Charles from Roma against Swindin's advice.

However, he blooded a crop of promising youngsters and, immediately after he was sacked in April 1964 - having guided the Bluebirds clear of relegation - Cardiff won the Welsh Cup, enabling them to enter European competition for the first time.

Swindin was bitterly disappointed by his treatment, but he remained in love with football, going on to manage the non-League clubs Kettering Town and Corby Town. He ran a garage business and general store in Corby, later moving to Spain before returning to live in Northamptonshire.

Ivan Ponting

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