Centenary feature: 1939-1951
1st May 2013
The players who began pre-season did so with a new manager in charge. Neil Harris left the club to join Swindon Town, and the experienced Haydn Green replaced him. The new man publicly stated that big money for signings was not going to happen and that more must be done to encourage the youth to push into the first-team. The glorious summer of 1939 also failed to hide the dark shadows being cast by the activities in Nazi Germany as the whole country couldn't escape the possibility of a second world conflict. The league season opened with a game against West Bromwich Albion - a clash that created history with all the players wearing numbers for the first time as Albion won 2-1. However, disaster struck in the last game of the season at Newcastle when, after suffering an 8-1 defeat, the country was informed that it was at war just 24 hours later. Unlike the First World War, league football was cancelled immediately and conscription was introduced to all able men of an age. At the time no one would know how long the conflict would last but professional football was low on the list of priorities at this present time.
The Football League chairmen agreed that it was in everyone's interest to keep the clubs active, and set about arranging a series of friendly matches and a regional wartime league. Understandably, as a result of prevailing travel difficulties during these years, the Swans were restricted to playing the likes of Cardiff, Bath, Bristol, Aberaman and Lovell's. The side was made up of promising youngsters and players who were stationed in the area at the time and with this chaotic organisation in mind, it is no surprise to find that the games were frequently high scoring matches. Swansea Town's games were played at the St. Helens rugby ground because the Vetch Field had been requisitioned by the military for anti-aircraft purposes.
After five long and bloody years, peace finally came with the end of the Second World War. With this in mind, the football authorities realised that clubs had major rebuilding to do and proposed that two leagues be formed from teams who had made up the First and Second Divisions prior to war. These leagues would be split between teams from the North and teams from the Midlands and the South. This meant that the Swans would appear in the Football League Southern section with games against the likes of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Spurs and West Bromwich Albion. This 'Victory Season' as it became known, brought in large crowds to the Vetch, with people flocking to matches up and down the country ready to enjoy themselves after years of war and austerity. Green was able to blood many youngsters during these games while more were still awaiting demobilisation from the forces. One player who took full advantage of this was 24-year-old Trevor Ford from Townhill. He was an aggressive centre forward who put fear into opposing goalkeepers with a devastating shot and an eye for goal that saw him finish with a total of 40 goals for the season.
The first competitive season in eight years opened with a home defeat to West Bromwich Albion but even with the crowds flocking to the Vetch Field and Trevor Ford scoring goals, the team was losing on a regular basis. One of these was a 6-1 defeat at home to Bradford Park Avenue, and as a result of this Green travelled to Ireland in an effort to strengthen the team. When he returned he brought with him Norman Lockhart and Sam McGrory - players who would make a mark with Swansea Town in the months and seasons to come. Both players would score on their debuts against Southampton and this gave the manager the confidence to return to Ireland and sign another player, this time fill-back Jim Feeney. The football was attractive, but the results continued to go against the team. This added pressure on the board and they acted by selling the club's star player, Trevor Ford. Aston Villa paid the Swans £10,000 for his signature, with Tommy Dodd moving in the other direction. This was good financial business for the club, but it wasn't enough to stop the club, along with Newport County, from being relegated at the end of the season to Division Three (south).
With regards to strengthening the squad, manager Green again travelled overseas, this time to Ireland and returned with winger Jack O'Driscoll from Cork City. Other notable signings were George Eastham and Rory Keane as the boss looked to compliment the growing Irish contingent at the Vetch Field. It had been over 20 years since the club last played in this division, and there were high hopes of a quick return back to the second tier. The season began with a loss away to Bournemouth and after the opening half a dozen fixtures the team seemed to struggle to come to terms with the new division. A series of poor results led to Green resigning from his position at the end of September. At the time it was seen as a man who had lost the dressing room, but time was to show him in a much better light and a shrewd operator in the transfer market. The board moved quickly to appoint legendary manager Billy McCandless, a strict disciplinarian with the unique distinction of earning promotion from this league with both Cardiff City and Newport County. By the time of the appointment the team had recovered somewhat to sit mid-table in the league. With the season coming to an end and the team finally finishing a creditable fifth, the manager went out and spent a club record fee of £11,000 on Billy Lucas from Swindon Town. This was seen as a major signing for the club, with much expected for the following season.
The close season saw McCandless move in the transfer market to sign striker Stan Richards from Cardiff City. His former employers considered Richards past his best but after the Swans' showing the previous year, the manager believed the club could take a chance on this robust centre forward. The season opened in spectacular fashion for the team, and after ten matches the Swans were top of the league, with Stan Richards netting nine goals. The half back line of Paul, Lucas and Burns were operating as a collective unit while in front of them McGrory and O'Driscoll, along with Richards, were causing havoc for defences. The crowds were turning up in their thousands week on week, and by the turn of the new year the side sat on top of the table with points to play with. A 2-0 win over Newport on April 15 meant that with seven league games to play the team had guaranteed promotion back to the Second Division. This was a truly remarkable season for the club, with the championship being won for only the second time and many records being created during the season. One of these was going through the whole season at the Vetch without losing a game. In fact, except for drawing 2-2 against Southend in April, the team won every other game. The only disappointment of a remarkable season came in the Welsh Cup final when the side surprisingly lost to Merthyr Tydfil at Ninian Park. Still, the club was back in the Second Division after only two seasons away, and with a side that all the supporters could be proud of.
After the euphoria of the previous season, supporters were waiting with eager anticipation for the start of the new campaign and to see how the Swans would fare back in the Second Division. McCandless was quiet on the transfer front, only bringing in brothers Cyril and Gilbert Beech to the from Merthyr and signing local schoolboy goalkeeper Johnny King on amateur forms. The season opened up on a beautiful, sunny day in August with a 2-1 victory over Preston North End at the Vetch Field. Then after the opening ten matches and further victories over Leeds United, Southampton and Coventry, the club found itself fourth in the league. But by Christmas the team had lost its early season impetus and were safely ensconced in mid-table. A Christmas Eve clash at the Vetch against Cardiff attracted over 27,000, with many witnessing the debut of a young, fair-haired youngster. The player in question was Ivor Allchurch.
The FA Cup saw the Swans drawn at home to First Division Birmingham City who they beat 3-0 to set up a tie away to Arsenal. The Gunners were a side with stellar names such as Mercer, Compton and Barnes and they gave the home team a fright before going down to a 2-1 defeat. The end of the season saw the club finish a very credible eighth, while success for the first team came in the Welsh Cup with a 4-1 defeat of Wrexham. Along with this came triumph for both the Reserves, who won the Football Combination Cup, and the Swansea Schoolboys who won the English Schools Trophy for the second time after defeating Manchester Boys 1-0 at Maine Road.
Pre-season at the club saw Roy Paul, the outstanding half-back for both club and country, fly out to Bogotá in South America to sign for a local side. The promise of big money enticed him but after only two weeks he was back home, disillusioned with the situation he had brought on himself. The following day, the board of directors met and placed him on the transfer list where he eventually signed for Manchester City for £18,000. The start of the season saw the team struggle to win games, and as a result the side gained only five points from the first ten matches. The promotion side of only two years previous had only Lucas and Weston remaining, while the youngsters in the side required time to adjust to the rigours of the division. One of these youngsters, goalkeeper Johnny King, made his debut in December against Birmingham City and although the result was a 5-0 defeat, it would be the start of a 12-year career in between the sticks for the popular stopper. Slowly the side came to grips with the division and with the shrewd signing of Manchester City forward Ronnie Turnbull, the team moved away from the foot of the table to eventually finish 18th. The season had been a struggle for the club but with youngsters like Ivor Allchurch and Johnny King establishing a first team place and with reserves Tom Kiley, Len Allchurch and Terry Medwin knocking on the first team door, the future looked bright.