Frank Gordon -

Frank Gordon
FRANK GORDON – ‘The General’
Date of Birth: 1873.
Place of Birth: Swansea
Died: 1955, Swansea. (82 yrs).
Height: 5’ 8” (1.7m)
Weight: 12st (76kg)

Playing Career:
Clubs: 3rd G.R.V., Swansea Crusaders, Swansea, Glamorgan County FC.
Wing three-quarter Francis John 'Genny' Gordon will be best remembered as the captain of Swansea's 'Invincible' team of 1904-05. But in his day he was also held in great affection and high regard at St Helen's as a determined and skilful player who drew great loyalty from the teams he played in and captained. Asked in 1900 by a 'northern poacher' if he would come to join the James brothers (David and Evan) then at Broughton Rangers, Gordon replied: "The couple of years football I've got left in me I'll play for Swansea." Never a showy man, he gave the straightforward answer of a straightforward man. This reticent outlook may not have helped him to international honours, but it was highly valued at St Helen's.
Starting his footballing career quite late on Frank Gordon played for the 3rd G.R.V. (Glamorgan Rifle Volunteers) aged 19 in 1892 and then played and captained the Swansea Crusaders team in 1893-94. He turned out at centre for both these teams. In the Crusaders team Gordon played with a young Bob Dowdle, who was to go on to become trainer of the Swansea team from 1903 until 1947.
By 1894 Frank Gordon was in the Swansea seconds. His club debut was an away fixture against Llwynypia on 13th January 1894. Swansea’s 2nds were then skippered by the dependable 1st and 2nd XV forward Dick Oldham (Swansea 1890-96) and the match was lost by two tries to one. Gordon had more luck in his next match, his first at St Helen's albeit for the 2nd XV. He scored a fine try in the win over Tondu. He also scored in consecutive wins against Christ College Brecon, Mountain Ash and Cardiff 2nd XV. This form saw Frank selected for Swansea’s first fifteen, his senior debut coming in the away fixture at Newport on 17th March 1894. He was an automatic selection for the firsts from then on.
Gordon was first elected Vice-captain in 1898-99 and succeeded Billy Bancroft as the captain of the first XV for 1901-02. . He would captain Swansea over four seasons (1901-02, 1902-03, 1904-05 & 1905-06) when they won the Welsh championship twice, including the 1904/05 ‘Invincible’, Swansea finishing unbeaten by all club opposition. His captaincy in 1902-03 saw Swansea finish as runners up to Newport. Gordon sportingly stood aside in 1903-04 to allow long serving forward Will Parker the honour of captaincy. Swansea ended that season by regaining the Welsh Championship and losing just one game in the campaign As a player, Gordon was ever present through a transitional period for the club. He played during the suspension of the James brothers from 1892 to their reinstatement in 1896 and Swansea’s subsequent rise from a fallow period to ascendancy in Wales. He was a key player from 1898 to 1905 when the club was superior as a combination to any club side in Britain. So he contributed hugely as player and captain to the six Championship titles of the 'Golden' era'.
Gordon’s career at Swansea started as a wing, and he almost invariably played on the right wing until a gradual move to centre by 1902. He had a reputation as a ferocious tackler, a player with sound judgment and a cool head during play. He was nicknamed “Genny” or “the General” in reference to General Charles Gordon of Khartoum fame. Gordon had died in the defence of Khartoum from the Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad’s siege in 1885 and his image (then) as a British hero was still fresh in the public mind. Fortunately for Frank Gordon he was not appended with the General’s other associated name or he would have been Frank ‘Chinese’ Gordon!
Early comments on his play suggest Frank was a strong straight runner, powerfully built, a perfect foil for the growing talent of young Billy Trew on the other wing. While Trew obtained his tries with swerves and bewildering changes in pace, Gordon was renowned for his determination when close to the try-line and used his strength to hold off defenders, almost invariably getting across the line. He stood at 5’ 8” (1.7m) and at his best weighed 12 stone (76kg). Reports said: “It is almost hopeless to try and tackle him on the line, so determined is his dart to the horizontal.” Growing as a player within a team containing such luminaries as Billy Bancroft and the James brothers, those catalysts brought his game on quickly and he became an influential wing and centre, working off the enigmatic half-back service of the ‘Curly Haired Marmosets’ (David and Evan James) and later the incisive distribution of the ‘Dancing Dicks’ (Dicky Owen and Dick Jones). His understanding of the effective Welsh ‘four three-quarter system’ was complete. Even after his move to inside centre, possibly his best position, his strength in ball retention and accurate and timely passing allowed sprinters like Herbie Morgan, Billy Trew, Fred Jowett, Albert Freear and Willie Arnold the freedom to exploit the breaks he, along with George Davies or Dan Rees engineered for them.
Gordon did achieve recognition at county level, first appearing for Glamorgan county FC in 1895-96 and making several more county appearances during his career.
A milestone in Gordon’s career came at the end of the 1898-99 season. Not only were Swansea Champion Club of Wales for the first time since 1890-91. But on 16th April 1899 at the Bécon-les-Bruyères ground in Paris, they became the first Welsh club to play in France. It was the final match of a season that was to launch Swansea into a ‘Golden Era’ and six Championships in seven seasons. Skipper Billy Bancroft had been badly injured in Wales’ match against Ireland in March, breaking ribs and being unable to complete an international for the only time in his illustrious career. He was advised by doctors not to take the rough boat trip across the channel. So Gordon as his Vice-captain skippered the Swansea side that beat a Combined Paris Clubs XV by 30 points to 3. The ‘tour’ was arranged through Thomas Cook Travel Agents and the club took the team and about 40 self-paying supporters on the ground-breaking trip. The fixture was originally to have been against a Stade Français team but the Parisian club requested to bolster up their team with good strong players from other Paris clubs. Gordon himself scored two tries in the historic encounter, though the team returned to Wales amid a storm of controversy, for the match had been played on a Sunday!

Frank Gordon finished the 1898-99 season with an astounding 32 tries, a career best and yet it only placed him third behind Billy Trew (34) and Dan Rees (33) in a Swansea side that lost just twice in their march to the Welsh Championship.
A fully committed player, Gordon had more than his share of injuries, usually recovering quickly though, to return to the team. In 1900-01 he broke his arm twice. The first time was in the season's opener against a District XV, He returned, probably too early, for the important away match in November at Newport and played well, despite his discomfort, as Swansea were chasing another championship and Newport were the main obstacle. The match was lost but only because the forwards were off colour. Gordon gave his all and was solid in defence too. The second break was in December 1900 against Llanelli at home. Falling awkwardly when tackled by the Llanelli full-back Bob Richards, the break was to the same forearm as earlier in the season. Match reports describe chloroform and morphine being administered, so Gordon would have been in severe pain. Reports claimed he had had a presentiment about the second injury. On his attention being drawn by a friend to a swelling on the arm before the Llanelli match, Gordon replied dryly: “Oh, never mind, I’ll break it again before long.”
His sanguine acceptance of bad luck notwithstanding, he was sorely missed by the ‘All Whites’. While the three-quarter line, with Trew, George Davies, Dan Rees and speedster Fred Jowett, was blessed with an abundance of talent, Gordon was acknowledged as the most consistent back in the team. “No matter who is out of form, Gordon is always dependable.” announced the South Wales Daily Post as the injured Gordon missed the try-fest in a 32 nil win over the crack English club Tudhoe - who fielded FIVE Durham County players, but to no avail. But ‘the General’ re-joined the team after the reset and lay off, to play and play well. His come-back match against Llanelli on 23rd March 1901 saw him score a try in a 19 – 3 win for Swansea, though the Evening Express felt (unsurprisingly!) that he had lost some of his former speed. Even when he was a little ‘rusty’, the back line was always more assured with his presence.
On 9th April 1901 Frank Gordon added further lustre to his name when he played in the Swansea team that beat the Barbarians 11 nil in that invitational side’s first ever encounter with the ‘All Whites’. Gordon and Dan Rees scored first–half tries and Fred Jowett got one in the second–half. And Swansea were Champions again!
By the time of Swansea’s unbeaten run, which extended from December 1903 to October 1905, Gordon truly was ‘the General’ at St Helens and acknowledged as an inspirational captain at a time when every club side raised its game when playing the ‘All Whites’.
It was said that Billy Trew was willing to stand down and let Gordon get his Welsh cap against England in January 1901 at Cardiff. But such manoeuvring was not countenanced by the Welsh union and no serious attempt was made to implement the plan. A later ‘opportunity’ for Frank to get his cap ended with feathers flying between the Welsh union and Swansea…
In March 1905, with Gordon now into his third season as Swansea captain, he was listed as a reserve centre for the forthcoming Wales encounter with Ireland, the final match of the 1905 Home Nations Championship, which happened to be played at Swansea. The selected Welsh centres were Cardiff’s Rhys Gabe and Gordon’s Swansea team-mate and vice-captain, Dan Rees. On the morning of the match Rees informed the Welsh Rugby Union that he was unable to play. This was seen by the Welsh selectors as an attempt by the Swansea club to manoeuvre their popular captain into the now empty slot in the Welsh team, and gain him his first international cap on their own ground. With ‘All White’ Billy Trew injured and also unable to answer the call, it seemed that Gordon would play and at last gain his cap - and at St Helens. But the Wales selectors thought differently and recalled Cardiff’s retired centre, the great Gwyn Nicholls to fill the vacancy, though he received a poor reception by the Swansea element of the crowd who pelted Nicholls with mud and oranges during the team photograph. Nicholls was however, cheered from the field by the 30,000 onlookers following Wales’ win. The well intentioned moves by Swansea players to get Gordon selected may have worked against him ultimately as poor Frank Gordon never did get a Wales cap and he remained one of the Principalities most under rated players - except in Swansea.
As a footnote to the incident, the Swansea club had a doctor’s assessment on Dan Rees published in local papers, confirming the Swansea centre did in fact have a serious and painful bout of pleurisy. But it was all for nought as the moment had passed for the unfortunate Gordon. Contemporary newspapers more than once spoke of the absence of “showiness” in both Gordon’s play and demeanour. It was one of the reasons he was so popular among players and supporters at St Helen’s. It may not have served him so well in the eyes of the Welsh selectors, though it must be said that Wales were endowed with an abundance of talent behind the scrum with Dan Rees, Rhys Gabe, Cliff Pritchard and the now out of retirement Gwyn Nicholls all vying for selection at centre.
Gordon’s captaincy encompassed the close game at St Helens with the first All Blacks on December 31st 1905 where Swansea narrowly lost 4 - 3 to a Billy Wallace drop goal after Fred Scrine scored a try for the ‘All Whites’. This was New Zealand’s last game of the British part of their tour and critics were near unanimous that the better side lost; the drop goal in 1905 being worth more than the try.
1905-06 was to be Gordon’s last season as a player and a relatively disappointing one as an injury struck Swansea lost the mantle of ‘Welsh Champions’ to Cardiff. He had played well over 300 matches for the ‘All Whites’.* ‘The General’ did play in one more match for his beloved ‘All Whites’. This was at St Helen’s on 2nd February 1907 as part of a ‘Veterans’ team against the current first fifteen. The match was played to raise funds for the mother of Swansea’s international forward Bob Thomas (Swansea 1891–1901, 221 matches), who had retired but had had a serious accident at the Mannesmann Steel Works in 1905, incapacitating him and impoverishing his family. ‘Genny’ Gordon joined many of his former team mates, all hallowed names at St Helen’s, to help the family of a forward he’d played alongside for 8 years. Both the club and Gordon’s actions emphasised the loyalty the club engendered. In Gordon’s case, it was no less than anyone would have expected of him, anno domini notwithstanding. He continued his association with the club as a committee man and sometime linesman, including ‘running the line’ as a touch judge in the club’s famous win over the first Australian tourists in 1908. In the St Helen’s archives today is a committee pass ribbon that he wore while officiating at Swansea’s historic win over South Africa in December 1912. Frank Gordon was a plumber by trade. He died in 1955 (Apr-June) in Swansea, aged 82 years.
* Match stats currently available only up to 1901 at which time Gordon had made 196 appearances, all but 5 of these with the 1st XV.
By Dave Dow for the Swansea RFC Memorabilia Community Interest Company
Cardiff 11 9 0 2 374 210 46
Newport 11 9 0 2 337 214 45
Aberavon 11 7 0 4 322 243 37
Llandovery 11 6 0 5 303 287 31
RGC 1404 11 6 0 5 286 244 31
Merthyr 11 5 0 6 329 294 31
Pontypridd 11 7 0 4 239 259 30
Carmarthen Quins 11 6 0 5 232 254 30
Bridgend Ravens 11 4 0 7 186 276 18
Swansea 11 3 0 8 212 269 18
Ebbw Vale 11 3 0 8 157 263 14
Llanelli 11 1 0 10 189 353 10