That first match was a defeat but Arsenal then won five of the next six games, scoring 24 goals in the process and there was real hope that Arsenal would return to the best of days they had under Tom Whittaker, but it was not to be, and under Swindin Arsenal never won a single opening day’s match.
Swindin took over the club in the saddest of circumstances when in October 1956 Tom Whittaker died of a heart attack. Whittaker had won the league twice and the FA cup once, as manager of the club, and served Arsenal over the years as player, assistant manager and finally manager. But Swindin had no such success
George Hedley Swindin, between 1936 and 1954, made 297 appearances for Arsenal as a goalkeeper, including two seasons when he appeared 42 times for the first team.
George was born in Doncaster and played for Rottherham YMCA, New Stubbin Colliery, Rotherham United, Bradford City (his first professional appointment), Arsenal and Peterborough United.
Swindin made his Arsenal début on September 3, 1936, in a team that include Male, Hapgood, Crayston, Copping, Hulme, Drake and Bastin.
He was one of three players used in that season in goal, and was said to be erratic at first. Despite the club again using three keepers the following year under the management of George Allison, we won the league and George Swindin got his league winners’ medal.
In the war, in common with many players, he became a physical training instructor, and continued to play in wartime matches.
In the second season after the war Arsenal won the league with Swindin in goal for every game, keeping clean sheets in 21 out of 42 games. After 1950 he was again sharing the number 1 shirt, but played in two cup finals in 1950 and 1952, winning the first.
He finally came under the challenge of Jack Kelsey but played enough in 1952/3 to get his third championship medal – the final triumph of the Whittaker era.
Swindin moved to Midland League side Peterborough United as player-manager in 1954, and took his team to several famous FA Cup runs and three consecutive Midland League titles between 1956 and 1958.
When George Swindin became manager in 1958 it is said in most histories that he made huge changes to Jack Crayston’s side that had come 12th in the previous season. But this is not quite true.
For 1958/9 the opening XI on the first day of the season were all players who were there the year before. Newcomers did arrive or were promoted from the reserves, but in this first season only Docherty (38 games) and Henderson (21 games) made a significant number of starts.
Arsenal were top of the league in February 1959, however they slipped away despite the return of top scorer David Herd after a period of injury at the end of 1958. After this the chopping and changing did start, and by the end of the year seven players had made their first start for Arsenal, but of these probably only the name of John Barnwell will be particularly remembered.
Eventually the club reached third place, but that was the high point and after that the darkness set in.
George’s record was not too great after that. 13th in 1960 (and knocked out of the cup by Rotherham), 11th in 1961, 10th in 1962 – there seemed to be no progress.
What is also noticeable is that the number of players who played 25 or more league games a year (out of 42) declined year by year under Swindin, and yet in the 10 years from 1952 to 1962 the best years were the years with the most players playing over 25 games.
By his final year as manager all the players he had inherited apart from Jack Kelsey had gone, and the regular players we were left with were McCullough, Eastham, Bowen and McLeod – the four who with Jack Kelsey made over 35 appearances in the final season.
After resigning as manager in May 1962 he went to Norwich for five months, and then Cardiff from 1962 to 1964, resigning after the club were relegated to the second division. After that he moved to Kettering Town and Corby Town, and then left football finally taking over a garage in Corby before retiring to Spain. He returned to England later but suffered from Alzheimer’s. He died in Kettering in October 2005, aged 90.
Henry Norris at the Arsenal: There is a full index to the series here.
Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever
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