Mike Minihane inducts the sixteenth entry into our Swindon Town Hall of Shame, someone who you’ll find in the Luton Town Hall of Fame and one of the most revered footballers ever to grace the Kenilworth Road pitch…
When Swindon confirmed their first ever promotion on Tuesday 14th May 1963 by beating Shrewsbury Town 1-0 at the County Ground a young Shrewsbury player caught the eye. He was a gifted winger who was Shrewsbury’s best attacking player on the night. Anyone watching could see that the lad had great talent and ability. His name was Graham French.
He was already an England Youth international and a bright future looked assured. Tommy Docherty the Chelsea manager was apparently interested in signing him but for some reason didn’t pursue it. Many town fans thought that this was just the sort of player we needed and there was terrific enthusiasm, and some disbelief, when Bert Head bought him in the close season for around £15000.
When he didn’t start in the first game of the 1963/64 season it was a bit of a surprise, but then again we did have Mike Summerbee and Don Rogers filling the two wing places…surely Graham would get his chance soon, he was certainly too good to be on the sidelines. I remember seeing him playing for the reserves a few times, he knew he had great talent but didn’t seem too bothered.
Rumours started to go around – he’d had an argument with Bert Head and hit him over the head with a chair; he was a bit of a ‘problem’, a gambler and drinker with a fondness for partying.
He finally got a game at home to West Ham in a 3-3 draw in the League Cup on November 19th, the team being reshuffled to accommodate him with Mike Summerbee playing centrally and Don and Graham playing wide. He kept his place in the league game at Huddersfield on the following Saturday which was lost 0-2 and then again in the replay at West Ham on the Monday which resulted in a 1-4 defeat. He was dropped and went off the radar.
His final chance came in March 1964, playing four games over the Easter period when Don was injured. It didn’t help things that we lost all four games. Two of these were against Cardiff and some of us went down to see our 0-1 defeat at Ninian Park. On the way back on the coach another rumour was circulating, Graham had been seen shortly after the match, hammering on the door of a local bookie’s.
At the end of the season – after 7 appearances including 1 draw and 6 defeats – he was sold to Watford for whom he played four games before moving to non-league Wellington Town (a forerunner to AFC Telford).
He was given a chance by Luton Town in 1965 and played over 180 games for them scoring 22 goals, including an appearance against Swindon in a 2-0 Hatters victory at Kenilworth Road in November 1968.
One of his 22 goals for Luton - against Mansfield Town on 18 September 1968 – is still being regarded as Luton Town’s greatest ever goal. He collected the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and set off on a mazy run through the Mansfield team. He then drew the goalkeeper off his line, rounded him and slotted the ball into the net. This was one of many great moments for French in Bedfordshire, later seeing him inducted into their Hall of Fame.
A shooting incident in a pub in 1970 resulted in him serving a three-year prison sentence and obviously put a stop to his football. Although Luton gave him the chance to rejoin them after his release he never made the first team again and eventually left to play in the USA.
Graham French was a tremendously talented individual but his inclination to start games the worse for wear and the lifestyle he chose were not conducive to professional football. His five league games for us cost around £3000 each in terms of the transfer fee alone, a not insignificant amount of money in that era.
He could have been a great player for us but chose to squander his gift. So, for wasting the talent and opportunity to grace the Couny Ground that so many others must have envied, Graham French take your place in the Hall of Shame.