Swift's legacy is in safe keeping at Pool

WHEN British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a snow-covered Munich runway on February 6 1958, 23 of the 44 passengers died.

On board was the Manchester United football team as well as staff and journalists.

One of the reporters was Frank Swift, former England goalkeeper. He had covered United's European Cup match with Red Star Belgrade for the News of the World.

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Matt Busby's side had drawn 3-3 the previous night and stopped at Munich to refuel on their way home.

Aged 44, Frank Swift was dragged from the wreckage alive but died from his injuries.

Swift, who remains to this day one of the greatest goalkeepers the country has produced, was born in Blackpool, one of five children who grew up on Ibbison Street, off Central Drive.

His brother Alf is the only one of Frank's siblings still alive to tell the tale of that fateful day.

Alf, who lives on Layton Road, is 81 but the events are still fresh in his mind.

The day started in usual fashion. Alf was up early to begin work at John C Lowes, a builders' merchants on Collingwood Avenue.

Then his transport manager walked across with some terrible news. "He told me there had been an air crash," recalls Alf.

Devastated

"I said: 'Oh aye, what's happened then?' He said it was all the footballers from Manchester United and I said: 'My brother was on that'.

"I asked if it was serious. He told me it was, very serious, and that there would be a news bulletin at 6pm.

"That's how I found out our Frank was dead – by watching the news."

The family was devastated. "It was a horrible feeling. When your brother dies in a plane crash it isn't going to be anything else is it.

"The next few days were rough. All the family was very upset – my sister and my two brothers. We went to Manchester and they wouldn't open the coffin, which was one of the most upsetting parts.

"Because the coffin had come from abroad it was sealed, so we never really got the chance to say goodbye.

There were a lot of people at the funeral and the streets of Manchester were full. "There were TV cameras but we just kept out of the way and got back to Blackpool as soon as we could."

Alf was 13 years Frank's junior, the youngest in the family. The eldest child was Cuthbert. There was also Fred, who kept goal for Blackpool, and Alice.

Alf never played football, despite having two brothers who had successful careers in the game.

"My mother wouldn't let me," he explains. "She said I had to learn a trade because she had enough footballers in the family, so I went to be a mechanic instead.

"It might sound odd but I just wasn't interested. I didn't even have a kickabout with them in the back garden."

After going to Revoe and Tyldesley schools, Alf kept his promise to his mum, Jenny, a gasworks forewoman on Rigby Road.

He worked on wagons and married Wynnie in 1952 at Old Saints Church on Palatine Road. The couple are still together and receive frequent visits from their two daughters – Alwyn, a speech therapist, and Beverley, a secretary at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

Today's Munich anniversary reawakens memories, though Alf has only fond recollections of his brother.

"Frank was with Fleetwood FC and Blackpool wanted to sign him, but my mother wouldn't have that," he says.

"Our Fred was already at Blackpool and she didn't want them fighting between themselves in same team, so she made him go to Manchester City instead.

"They were both good keepers with very impressive physiques – that ran in the family.

"I think my dad must have been tall, although he died in the army when I was still young and I don't really remember him."

There's an old cutting in The Gazette library about the road on which the Swifts were raised. It reads: "They don't go in for fancy in Ibbison Street. Most of them are blunt, forthright folk."

If Alf is anything to go by, the Swifts were just that. Alf is as matter-of-fact as they come, especially on the subject of big brother Frank.

Famous

"People say he was famous but I didn't reckon much to it. He was just doing what he enjoyed doing and that was that. He loved being a goalkeeper. Being a footballer wasn't glamorous like it is now. He was never big-headed. In fact, our Fred was more outspoken.

"He wasn't on thousands like they are now. I remember him getting about 12 quid, and that was when City were top of the league.

"When I was over in Manchester he'd take me to the odd match, and once or twice I went with our Fred to watch him play for England. We went to Wembley and Hampden Park."

Born in 1926, Alf was 30 at the time of his brother's death. "The last time I saw him was the Sunday before he went to Munich," adds Alf. "Me and the wife took one of our children for a visit and that was the last time we spoke."

Half a century later, Alf and his wife received a letter from Manchester United.

"They asked if I'd like to go to the derby with Manchester City on Sunday, but I suffer from a bit of ill health so I said I couldn't manage it.

"But Frank's daughter, Jean, and her two daughters are going."

Instead will spend the day remembering a man who most of us know as one of England's finest goalkeepers.

To Alf he was just a fine brother.