Peter Swan may have won promotion and trophies with other clubs but, as he told Leon Wobschall, nothing surpassed his first senior strikes for his home-town football club
PROUD Loiner Peter Swan remembers his most goalden footballing moment as if it was yesterday – and just wishes he could re-live it on screen one day.
The date was February 1, 1986 and the strapping ex-Hunslet Parkside pupil thought all his birthdays had come at once after grabbing a brace in boyhood club Leeds United’s emphatic 4-0 home victory over Stoke City.
Swan was the talk of the town after starring in that success, in the old second division, in front of a paltry Elland Road crowd of 10,485.
It was a largely dark and inauspicious time for United who finished that campaign in 14th spot – below the likes of Wimbledon, regular rivals Oldham Athletic and South Yorkshire foes Barnsley, not to mention West Yorkshire neighbours Bradford City.
But that particular winter’s afternoon meant the world to Swan, who grabbed his first goals in the famous White jersey joyously in front of the Kop at the age of just 19.
The powerhouse competitor, equally at home at centre-back or ‘up top’, perhaps had bigger milestones to celebrate in his long playing career – such as achieving promotion and cup successes with Port Vale, captaining a famous footballing institution in Burnley and defying the odds in the second-tier with Lancashire minnows Bury.
But none felt sweeter than his first goals for Leeds.
The 44-year-old, now a media pundit covering the fortunes of Hull City, where he holds cult hero status among Tigers supporters, told the YEP: “The Stoke game is the one that sticks out for me. I’d love to get the video of it but, to be honest, I don’t know where I can. I’d really like to dig it out though.
“My son, George, signed a scholarship with Manchester City this week and I was just saying to him I’d love to show him those two goals I scored at Elland Road.
“Scoring two goals at home was one of the highlights of my life, really.It’s something you dream of and to score two goals in front of the Kop as well – two headers – was fantastic.
“I remember actually being stood in the net when I scored. Some thought I stood there with my arms out wide, but I saw a picture later in the paper where my feet were six inches off the floor...I was just hovering, it was a fantastic feeling.
“It was fantastic for me and my family, who were all Leeds fans and still are now.
“There’s nothing better than playing for your hometown club.Especially one like Leeds United – which is massive as well.
“I celebrated that night! I remember being in the tunnel straight after the game – we didn’t have mobile phones then – and I went straight to the payphone in the corridor to arrange to go out with my mate.
“My mate on the phone said later that he knew I hadn’t got changed because he could hear lads walking past with their boots on! That’s how quick after the game I was arranging my night out!
“That’s how life used to be. Sit in the players’ bar (after the game), a couple of pints, then home and straight out on the razz...starting at the Pig and Whistle and ending up in Tiffany’s.”
While Swan’s reasons for remembering that Potters clash are self-evident, the lumbering, if raw, young striker learned an even more invaluable lesson in his footballing education that day.
It served him well throughout a career – the bulk of which he served in the tough environment of lower-league football, where you either sink or swim – in which he took no prisoners.
Intimidation often reigned, especially in the late 80s when aspiring young centre-halves and forwards had to learn to look after themselves or perish, but fortunately two of Swan’s early team-mates were past masters in self preservation. Indeed, some would say legendary hard nuts Noel Blake and Billy Whitehurst held first-class degrees in being able to look after themselves.
However, it was the man who failed to stop Swan grabbing his scoring double in early 1986 – Stoke and ex-Wolves stopper George Berry – who first extolled the virtues of getting your retaliation in first, both physically and verbally.
Swan added: “I’ll always remember George marking me that day. He was a big ‘growler’ of a centre-half; one of the old-fashioned types who are probably not around now.
“To play against him, and for him to say what he was going to do to me if I went past him, was something I’ll never forget.
“But it really me set off; he basically bullied me and I was pretty scared, thinking ‘what are you going to do to me? And how am I going to handle this?’
“But I scored two goals at the end of it and, from then on, that set me up in footballing life. It made me realise that if that scared me so much, I could use it as a tactic when I was playing against younger players. It’s a tactic people don’t use much now, but if you can get one up on your opponent you use it.”
All told, Swan had a five-year association with Leeds before heading east along the M62 to Boothferry Park, Tigers boss and Whites legend Eddie Gray signing him for a then club-record fee of £200,000 in March 1989.
And while Swan missed out on the Whites ending their eight-year top-flight exile in barnstorming fashion under Howard Wilkinson in 1989-90, his memories of his time at Elland Road are ones he will always savour. None more so than having the opportunity to be a player for a man who simply lived and breathed Leeds United – the incomparable Billy Bremner.
Swan enjoyed his best goals return at Elland Road under the Scot in 1987-88 when he struck 11 times, including an autumnal run of five in four games.
His seasonal haul included a strike in a 2-0 Yuletide victory over a young Middlesbrough side destined for promotion in front of a massive crowd of 34,186.
That monster gate, at a time when attendances across the country were in sharp decline, was beaten shortly after on New Year’s Day 1988 when 36,004 saw United vanquish another high-flying side, county rivals Bradford City, by the same margin.
That was Leeds’ sixth successive league win and it naturally provoked plenty of promotion talk.
But United – fresh from a nearly season the previous term – fell away again and ended up in seventh spot, denying Bremner the promotion he so dearly craved.
Swan said: “Billy was a brilliant man-manager and he used to sit down and love taking the mick.
“He gave me my first chance and put a lot of trust in me as a kid. I remember how he spoke before games, he just relaxed you, and when things went wrong, he’d just put his arm around you and say ‘listen, don’t worry, we’ll work on it in training’.
“You just thought to yourself you were playing for him and no-one else. Even if no-one else liked me, as long as I was doing it for him and he was paying my wages and I was making him happy, it made me feel special.
“I remember we had some quality players at the club then. Earlier on, we had the likes of Denis Irwin, Terry Phelan and John Scales, who went on to do well in cup finals, and we had Mervyn Day behind us, who also played in an FA Cup final as well. John Sheridan obviously went on to play in a World Cup and Batts (David Batty) and Gary Speed were around at the time and came through a bit later.
“I got 11 goals one year, which I was pleased with, but it would have been nice to go up for Billy.
“I remember scoring one against Middlesbrough, on Boxing Day I think, when their keeper Stephen Pears came rushing out of his goal. I don’t know how I got there first – someone must have pushed me – but I ended up lobbing him.
“I spoke to him a few years later and he said when I was bombing in towards him, he was scared I was going to smash him when he rushed out, so he stopped and I just lifted the ball over him.”