John Fantham

John Fantham

John Fantham

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JOHN Fantham, who has died aged 75 after a protracted illness, was Sheffield Wednesday’s leading post-war goal scorer with 166 goals. In the history of the club, only Andrew Wilson (1900-1920) achieved a higher tally.

Brought up in Pitsmoor, Sheffield, Mr Fantham had a family footballing heritage, his father John (but always Jack) played for Rotherham United, Stockport County, Chester City and Exeter City.

He went to Burngreave Secondary Modern school where he excelled at sport, playing football and cricket for Sheffield boys and cricket for Yorkshire boys.

He was so good at cricket that he might have become a professional, but chose football instead.

A real all-rounder, when he later took up golf, he mastered that with the same consummate skill he had shown as a cricketer and footballer.

Stocky, he was 15 when he joined Sheffield Wednesday in 1955 as an amateur, but after just one season he was offered the chance to sign up as a professional.

Starting with the club’s youth team, he then joined the reserve side, and following Albert Quixall’s transfer to Manchester United in September 1958 – a great shock to all Wednesday followers – he came into the first team, usually playing inside-left.

For the next decade he was a regular in the first team, taking the number 10 shirt from the veteran Redfern Froggatt who moved across the pitch to where Quixall had played at inside-right.

In 1959 Wednesday won the Second Division title, and in 1961 were runners-up to Tottenham Hotspur in Division One.

They reached the quarter-finals of the FAIRS Cup in 1962 and played in the 1966 FA Cup Final, losing 3-2 to Everton.

Mr Fantham made one full international appearance for England, playing against Luxembourg at Highbury in 1961, England winning 4-1.

He played for the U-23 side and went on FA tours to New Zealand and the Far East.

He would have made many more representative appearances had his rival for a place in the England squad not been one Jimmy Greaves of Spurs.

Mr Fantham was widely recognised as one of the very best forwards: He was quick, strong, brave and accurate, with a goal scorer’s natural instinct. He could, and did, score any sort of goal, from the simple tap-in to the spectacular 30-yard power shot.

But this was a team man, and one whose positional sense and anticipation made him very difficult to play against.

In October 1969 he was sold to Rotherham United for £4,000 and played two seasons with the Millers, scoring eight goals in 51 games.

Finally he was at Macclesfield Town for a brief spell, retiring in 1972.

It was the end of his footballing career, but not of his involvement with the game because he joined Hallam FC on the coaching side as assistant to another former Wednesday player, Jim McAnearney.

When asked if he would help train the first team, Mr Fantham at first hesitated, saying he didn’t think he could do it.

The next day he changed his mind, and there followed some of the very best training sessions the club ever had.

His initial diffidence had been typical: He was quiet and unassuming, and also very astute, with a wry sense of humour only occasionally glimpsed.

He was also an accomplished businessman. While still with Wednesday, he opened a hairdressing business on Sheffield’s Division Street which thrived, and after retiring from football he founded John Fantham Tools which still operates today.

He was a fine golfer, holding the course record at Beauchief Golf Club for some years.

Mr Fantham is survived by his wife Carole and their daughters Tracey and Stephanie.

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