Friday, 5 December 2014

Wolves 'keeper Malcolm Finlayson on his own favourite keeper - Frank Swift

Malcolm Finlayson died recently. The Wolves keeper was a big help to me when I was writing many of my football books including a biography on Frank Swift. Here are Malcolm's words from that book. 

Future Wolves star picks up some tips at the Scotland -England wartime international at Hampden Park on Saturday 17 April 1943. 

Amongst the massive 105,000 crowd was a 12-year-old up-and-coming ‘keeper, Malcolm Finlayson from Alexandria, Dumbarton. He had already seen Swift play in the Scottish war-time League for Hamilton Academical in a 2-2 draw against Dumbarton and had become a big fan. 

‘I was that impressed that whenever he was playing locally, and I could afford to go and watch the game, I made it my business to do so. In those days most Scottish grounds had a semi-circular terrace directly behind the goal so that you could get close to the action and the players. Wanting to improve as keeper I watched everything he did and more or less tried to base my game on his,’ says Malcolm.

It clearly didn’t do him any harm, as after a short spell in Junior football with Renfrew, he was asked to go on trial with Second Division Millwall in February 1948. 

He did so well ‘the Lions’ immediately signed him up as a professional and sixteen days later he made his debut in a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion. It was the start of a fabulous 16-year career in which during his time with Wolves, between 1956 and 1964, he won 2 League Championship and one FA Cup winners’ medal. In one famous game for Millwall against Walsall he was rushed to hospital from the Den with his team losing 3-1, only to return patched up during the second half and play on to help the side win 6-5. 

‘What I liked about Frank Swift was how he commanded the area. Of course ‘keepers are the only players who can see all of the action and I followed his attitude, which was that if I am coming for the ball then defenders should get out of the way – or else! He wasn’t a shouter, but at corners and free-kicks he would let players know where he wanted them. He also punched the ball well, and when he chose to catch the ball he usually did so,’ says the man who on his retirement from playing football became a successful businessman. 

On this particular day Frank Swift didn’t have a great deal to do. What Finlayson particularly remembers is a high ball into the box with both Swift and Wallace, noted for charging down everything, seeking to get to first. When the keeper did so ‘he then stepped to one-side and ruffled the Scots centre-forward’s hair as he flashed past.’ 

Wallace was later involved in a moment of controversy in this game when at a free-kick he grabbed Cullis where it hurts. Cullis collapsed and required treatment and Wallace never played for England again.

Finlayson, who even now regrets not having the courage to approach Swift to ask for his autograph when he later saw him get off the train in Dumbarton, has still kept the cutting from a local south London newspaper that, soon after making his Millwall debut, called him ‘the second Frank Swift.’ ‘I wasn’t, as he was the best keeper I ever saw play, but I was still delighted.’

The article that so pleased Malcolm Finlayson soon after he first played for
Millwall. It was Malcolm who sent me the article more than sixty years later!

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