Was anyone better than Frank Swift in distributing the ball from his goal?
Throwing the ball long distances was not possible for ‘keepers of the past as the leather ball could often go out of shape and on wet days it would collect water, becoming heavier.
Frank Swift of Manchester City was a giant of a man and is arguably the greatest Englishman to set foot in goal. Certainly only Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton might have any claim to be better.
Frank’s hands were certainly the largest of any English international keeper at a massive 11 3/4 inches span, enabling him to pick up the match ball with one hand. He could then hurl the ball long distances. He began to prefect his technique when he played for England in the series of WWII international’s that were held to keep up morale amongst the general public between 1939 and 1945.
Facing Scotland in October 1943 at Maine Road, England played brilliantly to win 8-0. The respected writer Ivan Sharpe later wrote it was perhaps the best performance by England since 1907. The seventh goal came when Swift launched the ball so far that it passed over the Scottish defence to allow Tommy Lawton, Swift’s great friend, to dash clear and score his fourth goal.
Swift was also good with his feet, knocking a lovely pass in 1947 up to Stan Pearson in the England forward line at Hampden Park, Pearson played a one-two with Tom Finney before netting in a match England won 2-0. Remarkably, Swift, who came from one of the poorest streets in Blackpool, played much of the match with two broken ribs after an earlier collision with Billy Liddell. Swift collapsed after the game ended.
Swift’s best game for his country was the Italy away game in May 1948. Big Frank was by now England’s first ever goalkeeping captain. From the off the Italian’s, the reigning World Champions, reputedly on bonuses of £1,000 each to win the match, surged forward.
Even when England counterattacked and shocked the 58,000 home fans by taking an early lead thought Blackpool’s Stan Mortensen, Italy swarmed all over the away defence. Swift made three glorious saves. He then showed again his remarkable throwing accuracy by making a precise throw to captain Billy Wright who sent it forward quickly for Blackpool’s Stanley Matthews to find Mortensen who sent Lawton free to make it 2-0. Swift was to make a further half a dozen saves as England went on to win 4-0, a scoreline that was ridiculous.
England played two more friendly matches against local teams in Switzerland in the summer of 1948. Swift was by now performing a series of party tricks, flicking a bouncing ball over the head of opposing centre forwards before half volleying it to Matthews’ feet on the wing near the half way line.