Sheffield Wednesday legend Peter Swan’s sad story a salutary lesson even for the players of today

Peter Swan probably should have played in two World Cups, including the World Cup, but some bad luck and even worse judgement in 1962 mean it is largely only Sheffield Wednesday fans of his vintage that remember him as a great defender. To football historians, his name only carries infamy.

Banned for life: Defender Peter Swan in action for Sheffield Wednesday in 1961. Picture: Allsport Hulton/Archive

Swan’s run of 19 consecutive England caps was ended when he caught tonsillitis before the 1962 World Cup, and dysentery when he got to Chile.

As damaging as that was, far worse was to come at the end of that year.

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In the days when footballers were still poorly paid, Swan and Wednesday team-mates Tony Kay and David Layne saw it as an insurance policy against their win bonuses when they bet on their team to lose at Ipswich Town in December. Unfortunately for them, their prediction came true.

International star: The England team which beat Switzerland 3-1 ay Wembley on May 9, 1962. Back row, from left: Jimmy Armfield, Bobby Robson, Peter Swan, Ron Springett, Ron Flowers and Ray Wilson. Front row, from left: John Connelly, Jimmy Greaves, Gerry Hitchens, Johnny Haynes and Bobby Charlton. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Kay was named man of the match by The People that day, and all three insist they did what they could to avoid the 2-0 defeat.

“We lost the game fair and square,” said Swan in 2006. “But I still don’t know what I’d have done if we’d been winning. It would have been easy for me to give away a penalty or even score an own goal. Who knows?”

It cost him more than he could ever have imagined.

Swan had been a cornerstone of Harry Catterick’s Owls side which finished First Division runners-up to double-winners Tottenham Hotspur in 1961.

On trial: Peter Swan arrives in court for hearing about his involvement in the 'British betting scandal of 1964', which resulted in his banning from the professional game for eight years, UK, 1st October 1964. (Photo by R. Viner/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Upon his death last week aged 84, Kay called him, “The best centre half in England at the time. He could head a ball, nothing got past him in the air, and he could play a bit. Hard as well.”

When The People uncovered the story, Swan received a lifetime ban from football.

It remains a landmark case – in British legal history as one of the first cases of a taped conversation being used as evidence, and in English football history as one of its biggest scandals.

Swan went from top of Alf Ramsey’s list, according to the great man himself, to four months in a Lincoln jail, imprisoned along with his team-mates.

Author: Peter Swan at the launch of his autobiography at Hillsborough in October 2006.

He sold cars and ran pubs until his suspension was lifted in 1972.

Derek Dooley took him back to Hillsborough on a 12-month contract that allowed him to push past the 300-game mark for the club he turned professional with in 1952 but after 17 games he essentially became an old head in the reserves, a job he did not want when he turned down a new deal to see out his career at Bury.

Swan won the FA Trophy in the first of two spells managing Matlock Town but was shunned by League football, in charge of Worksop Town and Buxton, then pubs in Sheffield and Chesterfield.

As if he has not suffered enough, Alzheimer’s took hold in later years.

Hillsborough hero: Peter Swan

Betting remains a scourge of the game, only now it is welcomed onto the shirts of the players too.

Swan’s sad story is a reminder of why every professional footballer in the land should steer well clear of it. That is why, sadly, his name needs to live on for all the wrong reasons.

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