Up The Swanny – INTERVIEW

It’s twenty past six on a balmy summers evening, we’re sitting in the lobby of a swanky West Yorkshire hotel, pondering titles for this article. “Swan…but not forgotten”, I proffer, punctuating the near silence.

At this point, the man himself breezes in with a confident swagger and greets us with a broad, golden toothed grin and a firm handshake. He turns to the bar and gives a rueful glare to the shutters keeping man from beer. “When’s the bar open?” he enquires, we shrug in ignorance. “I’m just off for a piss, then I’ll get us some beers in.” he utters before retiring to the porcelain commode. True to his word, he returns shortly after clutching three pints and taking a seat.

Physically, Peter Swan hasn’t changed much, the lack of blonde hair an exception, “I don’t why I did that.” he later commented, “Stan [Ternent] once told me if I did it again he’d fine me a week’s wages. I remember going to Brighton once, they’re all faggots down there and they were whistling and that, so…”

We enquire how he picked up his tan. “I was at the World Cup in France.” said Swanaldo, picking up a size five tricolore ball and running with it. “The World Cup was brilliant.” He somehow managed to get caught up in the trouble before the England-Tunisia game. “We were staying in Cannes, so we drove to Marseille for the game. We were walking down the streets and the Tunisians were outnumbering the English and we thought ‘there’s gonna be trouble here, we’ll get battered’ like, and I’d gone in shorts, flip-flops and me England shirt.

When we got nearer the ground itself about 75 per cent of the people there were English. You know that fella who caused the trouble, the bald fella with the tattoo on his stomach, well he knocked me out of the way. You could see his eyes were gone and he was just walking up and down. Then he chucked a sandwich in the middle of all the Tunisians and World War Three broke out…bricks, bottles, chairs… everything’s going crazy and I’m stood watching it all. The missus screamed and ran off somewhere. It spilled over into the reception area where all the VIPs from England were.

Viv Anderson says to us ‘Swanny, you might as well come with us and sit down, but take your shirt off.’ We then got an escort…me, the missus, Bryan Robson and Viv Anderson.

I remember the missus said ‘has it calmed down?’ So I looked out of the window and there’s coppers battering the fuck out of everyone, I just said ‘Yeah, it’s calming down.’ In the ground though there was no problems. I went to the Columbia game, that was brilliant. We went down on a shuttle, got in the arena and there’s Zoe Ball and Dani Behr sat behind us, she’s gorgeous ‘er! She has this big massive hat on and this skimpy beige vest. When the Mexican wave came round I thought ‘something’s going to pop out here, and I’ll be there to help you pack!”

Those three pints are now a distant memory and noticing that we’ve not even mentioned Hull City yet, we remedy that. Peter Edward Swan was born in Leeds on 28th September 1966. He was raised a Leeds United fan (though he held latent feelings for West Ham, for a reason he knows not why) and signed for the White Shite as a lad, principally as a striker. He left Leeds for City in March 1989, Eddie Gray paying out a record fee of £200,000 (a record that still stands) for the 22 year old. “It was a big wrench to leave Leeds, Howard Wilkinson didn’t want me to leave but we didn’t see eye to eye.” The move saw Swanny take on a new role. “I was a striker at Leeds but I occasionally filled in at the back. When I signed for Hull Eddie wanted me as a centre-half, so that’s where I played.”

The move perplexed many City fans who had earlier in the month witnessed Swan playing for Leeds in defence, being taken to the cleaners by the bustling Billy Whitehurst in a midweek game at Boothferry Park. The ordeal has evidently traumatised him as his recalls little of that game. He quickly settled in here and made 11 appearances scoring once before the 1988-89 season came to an end, bringing a close to Gray’s brief stint as manager. “I thought we were going places with Eddie and then he left.” Left, or was he pushed? “A bit of both, I think.”

Following Gray’s departure, Colin Appleton returned to do a spot of light carpentry. “I came in one day for treatment, two or three days before preseason. I walked into the dressing room to get changed and there’s this guy putting veneer up and knocking nail in, and he never said nowt. When I came out I said to someone ‘who’s that fella in there?’ and they didn’t know. Three days later at a press conference he was introduced as the new manager and I thought ‘fucking ‘ell, we’ll struggle here, a carpenters the manager.” Jesus was a carpenter, but he never managed us, whereas Appleton’s second coming saw a new trophy added to our bulging showcase, it was only the Yorkshire Cup mind.

It was while beating a path to the final against Bradford that the legendary ‘Swan Option’ was first unveiled. At a time when big centre-back/forward versatility in the form of Dion Dublin was unheard of, Swan was switched from towering rock in defence to marauding bloody-lusty striker. Against Scunthorpe at the fairly new Glanford Park, the method was used to devastating effect. The yellowbellies took the lead, but Swanny, unfettered from his defensive duties began his rampaging up front the net result being a goal, and an assist, a rattled crossbar and a 3-1 win for us.

The ‘Swan Option’ also proved a success in the League and Swanny became a firm favourite with Boothferry’s baying hordes. No mean feat for an ex-Leeds player. He struck up a fine partnership with Andy Payton and shoved in his fair share of goals. A few were quite memorable, there was two at Portsmouth in a 2-2 draw one of which was a stunning volley from outside the box which flew past Alan Knight in the Pompey goal. There was also a thumping header to equalise in a 1-1 at Bristol Rovers.

Appleton’s stay as manager was brief, his departure possibly due to his disregard for personal hygiene. “He used to train in this light blue tracksuit with a single stripe down it. After training he’d put his suit on, on top of it and then a sheepskin and go out scouting. He’d never get changed, he stunk.”
Alternatively, it may have had to do with his inability to make team selections and see them through. “One game, Colin pulled us in and said ‘Swanny, I’m playing you instead of Billy [Whitehurst] up front today’ and after talking tactics I’d gone to get changed into the number 9 shirt but Bill’s already changed…in the number 9 shirt, so I said nowt and sat down. Colin comes in and looks around, then said ‘here’s the team for today, err, Swanny, you put number 12 on…’ he wouldn’t tell Bill he wasn’t playing.”

Ah, Big Billy, it seems every man and his dog has at least one anecdote regarding the Mexborough born forward. “Billy was a dying breed, he was frightening. He wanted to be the top man and no-one was going to argue…Bill was Bill, great fella. He was fascinated with shit, he would shit in cups and put it in the freezer. He once had a mousse, and after eating it he shit in the pot, then gave it to an apprentice to take back to Grandways. He stood outside laughing while the kid, warm sensation on his hands, took it back saying it was off!”

Are there any other players that he remembers as vividly from his City days? “Dave Bamber, When we signed him Bamber bought a house in Blackpool! He wanted petrol and removal expenses paid for moving from Stoke to Blackpool. The gaffer says ‘no, you’re supposed to move to Hull’ like.” Dave Bamber was just one of the costly (in more ways than one) signings made by Appleton’s successor, Stan Ternent. Swanny’s opinions of Ternent vary a fair bit from our own. “Stan was brilliant. I don’t think he needed to bring anyone in though, but when a new manager starts he wants to bring his own men in to prove he can do it with his own players. He brought in Mail, Bamber, Hockaday and Finnegan but they made no difference. When Finnegan came I thought ‘f*cking hell, he’s hot shit him, but after that he kept tripping over the ball, I’ll never forget that.” (Finnegan later did a different kind of tripping, but I digress). Ternent’s expensive failures achieved only relegation, and the fund-frittering boss’ services were dispensed with.

Swanny left shortly after that, joining Port Vale in August 1991 for £300,000 after having played 88 times for the Tigers, scoring 25 times. The move lost him a little credit with the supporters, who viewed the switch as unambitious. “I thought it was me, and looking back it proved to be. I thought I could play at the level we were at before relegation and I wanted to stay at that level.” There is as well, the Dolan and Lee factor and he was right when he said the move proved ambitious, fortuitous also. “I once met them two. I’m always messing around and I was in the treatment room starkers, wi nowt on. There was two beds and I got underneath one of them for some reason (?!?) and stuck my legs up in the air. I’d never met the manager or his assistant before and they both walked in. I stood up, nowt on and said ‘Pleased to meet you.’ Dolan tried to sell me to Sunderland just after that.”

In addition to Port Vale he’s played for Plymouth, Burnley and Bury since leaving Hull. At Burnley he played alongside City’s midfield hero Warren Joyce. “Joycey is a weirdo. I thought he was bent at first but he’s a great lad, I got on brill with him. He never used to train at Burnley, you’d come into the dressing room after training and he’d be on the floor doing like…yoga! We’d say ‘fucking ‘ell Joyce, what’re’ya doing’ and he’d say ‘I’ve got to do it’, he’d done it at other clubs. He’s a good lad, weird but good.” Upon joining Bury he was reunited with Stan Ternent who was in charge at Gigg Lane.

Now 32, he states he’d like to go on playing until he’s 35 and then? Management may be an option but does he feel he’s qualified? And how do you go about getting into management? “It’s about being in the right place at the right time, innit? I’ve enough experience in the game. I couldn’t manage at Premier League level, though saying that you never know.”
“I’ve had eighteen managers and Stan was the best, for me, cos he knew how to get the best out of me. A lot of players (at Bury) don’t like him after last year, cos he probably says too much to ’em and they don’t like it.” “The manager’s gotta pick the players he can work with and he can get the best out of. ‘Swanny may not be the best centre-half I’ve got, but I can make him do what I wannim to do.’ I’ve got to get players that’ll do what I want them to, respect me and gerron with the job. You might have the best centre-half in the league but if he don’t like yer he won’t perform.”

“Stan didn’t buy me at Hull, yet I respected him straight away, he’s a hard man and a shouter and bawler. At Bury he had no money, whereas Hull was his first managerial job. I think he learnt from that. Hull was the first chance he had to buy and sell.” Ternent recently left Bury to take the Burnley job. I his place, Bury appointed Neil Warnock with dire consequences for Swanny. “I had problems with him at Plymouth, he’s a prick, we hate each other.” Shortly after Warnock’s installation Bury granted Swan a free transfer. “I’m speaking to clubs, I’ve spoken to Stoke and Halifax. Although Bury have given me a free, I’ve got a year left to run on my contract, so they’ve got to pay me.”

The papers in Bury linked me with a move back to Hull, I thought that’s why you rang me.” Unfortunately not. We didn’t know anything of this, but we did get word to Mark Hateley of his availability after this interview. “I could be on my way back to Burnley with Stan and Andy Payton.” he states. There’s always the possibility of taking up another profession, much to our dismay. “I’ve always wanted to play rugby (NOOOOOOO!!!-Ed) I’ve said to the chief executive at Swinton ‘what contracts could you give me?'”
At this point Swanny’s mobile rings. It’s his agent, ‘Stilesy’. The phone conversation last for about twenty minutes and Swanny sounds unhappy. “He’s fucking crap, he must be the worst agent in the league, he rings me to tell me nothing’s happening,” he sighs. “Me agent’s shit.”

Another round is ordered, we’ve lost count by now though I’m sure the barstaff haven’t, they’ve taken a credit card as assurance. The conversation now becomes more informal, though to tell the truth it’s not been very formal anyway. Yet another round is consumed and we settle the bill, “It’s a shame you didn’t come on another night, we could have gone round Wakey, Wakefield’s brilliant on a Thursday, it’s ladies’ night” he reveals. “We used to go out every Thursday when I was at Leeds.”

Since driving is out of the question for him, we give him a lift home (our driver was sober, of course). A prolonged goodbye and we are on our way home. There’s not many better ways to spend a Sunday evening than interviewing one of your heroes from your schooldays, and whereas some players shatter your deified images of them by being knobheads, Peter Swan is definitely not one of these. Rather, he’s a bloody nice bloke.

NB. Shortly after our interview, Peter Swan signed a 12 month contract with Burnley joining Stan Ternent for a third time.

Les Motherby

With thanks to Mike Scott, Steve Weatherill, Angie Rowe and the staff of the Cedar Court Hotel, Wakefield. Profound apologies to Warren Joyce!