Kenny Swain is put under the spotlight.
With Pompey & ‘The Villains’ challenging to secure European football next season and with it being a bumper week of European football this week, I thought I’d focus on a player who tasted the greatest of European success with Villa, played for arguably the best English Manager of all time and was ever present in a promotion winning Pompey side.
Although one of only a handful of players to have played over a hundred games for five different clubs, Kenny Swain never started out as a footballer.
When he signed for Chelsea as an amateur Swain was still employed as a PE teacher, but it wasn’t long before he turned pro and at the age of 22 made his Stamford Bridge debut by coming off the bench in a game against Newcastle in 1974.
Over the next few years Kenny established himself as a first choice winger and had his most successful season in 1976-77 when together with his strike partner Steve Finnieston, helped Eddie McCreadie’s young side win promotion back to the First Division.
Unfortunately, top-flight football was hard to maintain for Chelsea in those days and as they struggled with relegation in 1979 Kenny jumped ship and moved to Villa for fee of £100,000.
As an overlapping full back (rather than a winger) Swain discovered his best playing position and ultimately helped Villa win the League Title and ‘The Holy Grail’ of club football, the European Cup, in consecutive seasons.
Villa’s ‘European Tour’ of ’82 was based around a solid defence and Swain played his part as aggregate wins over Valur (Iceland), Dynamo’s Berlin and Kiev saw them progress to the semi-final where a goalless draw in Belgium and a 1-0 defeat at Villa Park dispatched Anderlecht over two legs.
So, to the final, Swain and his teammates arrived at Feyenoord’s 39,000 capacity, De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam, as overwhelming underdogs. Their opponents were none other than German giants Bayern Munich.
The German champions were a formidable force, they had won the trophy three times in as many years between 1974 & 1976 and now boasted such talents as top-drawer internationals Dremmler, Breitner and Rummenigge.
From the first whistle the Bayern lived up to their billing as favourites, penning Villa back and forcing keeper Nigel Spink into a number of fine saves.
The Midlanders offered little threat, but as Munich failed to convert chance after chance, Swain (who made a crucial goal line clearance) and the rest of the defence somehow stood firm and managed to hang on until half-time.
After the break Bayern continued to apply the pressure but it was Villa courtesy of a 67th minute Peter Withe tap-in against the run of play who grabbed the all-important opener. Nerves-jangling, Villa held on to win the ultimate prize and in his first season as manager, Ex-Pompey Player & Manager Tony Barton ensured an English team won the European Cup for a sixth successive season.
But, as we know, success doesn’t guarantee anything in football. As Villa were invited European Super Cup, World Club Cup and top defend their defence of the European Cup, Swain struggled to hold a place in the starting line-up and soon found himself in the reserves.
With his career disappearing before his eyes, he needed a boost. Fortunately, one man well known for getting the best out of players in the twilight of their careers, still had faith in Kenny’s ability and after watching him play for the second string, snapped him up.
Swain joined Brain Clough’s Forest, initially on loan but it wasn’t long before the deal was made permanent.
Despite his previous successes, Swain describes his time at the City Ground as the happiest three years of his career and although he was unable to win another European Cup Winners Medal, he did find himself at the centre of one the most controversial incidents ever witnessed in European football.
In 1984, having beaten Anderlecht 2-0 at home in the first leg of the UEFA Cup Semi-Final, Swain and Cloughie’s Forest were just 90 minutes away from the Final, but the tie was far from over as Anderlecht won the second leg 3-0 in extremely scandalous circumstances.
A dubious “I never touched him ref” penalty decision given against Swain accounted for one of the goals, and although the other two were from open play, it was open play with every decision going the way of Anderlecht. In the dying seconds Paul Hart (Now Director of Youth Operations at Pompey) crashed in a header that would have secured Forest’s place in the final, only to see the referee disallow it for some unknown reason.
After the game and for years to come Swain was adamant he’d never touched the player. Cloughie meanwhile made no bones about how he believed something fishy was going on.
In 1997 (15 years later) it emerged that the Anderlecht chairman had paid the referee officiating the match a bribe totalling £27,000. Clough, as he loved telling people, was right and Forest eventually sued in 1998.
Despite his friendship with Cloughie, Swain became a bit part player and in July 1985 with a heavy heart he left the City Ground on the promise of first-team football at Pompey. At 33 it was too good an opportunity to refuse.
Swain turned up at Alan Ball’s Fratton Park to play for Pompey a side that had just missed out on promotion, being piped on goal difference by Manchester City.
Making his debut in a 2-2 draw against Hull City on the opening day of the 85/86 season Swain seemed to settle in well but despite his presence he was unable to provide that extra boost needed and in his first full season saw Pompey miss out on promotion again this time to Wimbledon by just three points.
The following season, eventually brought the prize we had all been waiting for and together with Alan Knight, as the only ‘ever presents’ Captain Swain and his Pompey team secured promotion, and returned the club to the ‘top flight’ for the first time in donkeys years.
As we know, that return didn’t last long and with a blink of an eye Pompey were relegated back to where they came.
At the age of 36, and after a brief loan spell at West Bromwich Albion Kenny left Pompey and joined Crewe, where he proved he was still ‘young enough’ to make over 100 appearances and take the honour of being their oldest recorded player, eventually bowing out at against Maidstone in 1991 aged 39 years, 281 days.
Stints as manager at Grimsby and Wigan followed but it now appears that Kenny has found his niche as coach for the England under-16s.
Although not Pompey’s greatest ever player Kenny Swain was a true pro and whatever happens this weekend I’m sure he’ll be pleased to see one of his former clubs stake a real claim for a UEFA Cup spot next season. Hopefully, that’ll be Pompey.
Written by Chix.
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