Just two years ago an FA Vase triumph with EBAC Northern League club Morpeth Town was the furthest thing from Chris Swailes’ mind
The former Rotherham United and Bury defender was diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation and effectively died three times and he announced his retirement to focus on his recovery.
A full rehab, including keyhole surgery, was undertaken before he continued his playing career at the age of forty three.
Fast forward to the present day and all of those problems seem a lifetime ago, with Swailes now a three time FA Vase winner and a Wembley goalscorer.
Indeed it was his thirty fourth minute goal got Morpeth Town back on level terms in the FA Vase Final against strong favourites Hereford.
And that proved to be the start point for a glorious performance from the Highwaymen as they overcame the odds to beat the Bulls and take the Vase back to Northumberland.
Swailes, named man of the match afterwards, explained what impact the medical issues had on him.
“It was diagnosed as atrial fibrillation and I needed surgery to correct it. That was a year and a half ago but it’s all going quite well now, it’s not a problem.
“I was on beta blockers and warfarin – 10mg a day. It was quite dark at the time but I always thought I’d get better and as it happens it has.
“Fitness has always been a big part of my life so I always knew I’d get back to that but as for playing football again I didn’t know because not many lads my age are still playing. I always knew I would get back to some physical activity. Football? I wasn’t sure”
Swailes led by example at the heart of the Highwaymen back four and their defensive display laid the foundations for a historic win.
But how it could have been very different after Hereford took the lead with just a minute on the clock.
However, the Highwaymen kept battling and matched their opponents before, according to Swailes, “turning up the volume”.
He said “We didn’t start the game until after the first ten minutes. They got the early goal, were on top and perhaps could have had another one.
“We got back into the game after 20 minutes, got the equaliser and could have scored again before half-time. After that we dominated the game.
“It’s always important to score the first goal and the heads were down a bit but not for long. We knew we could match anybody football-wise at this level. We just turned up the volume”
And when that volume was turned up it was Swailes that got them back on level terms.
Not that it would be classed as one of Wembley’s great goals.
The centre back met a Ben Sayer corner at the far post to chest the ball over the line, much to the delight of 4,000 travelling supporters.
Not that Swailes was too concerned with how he scored.
“There’s no such thing as a bad goal but I understand what you mean and yes, probably. But they all count and it was great to score it”
The Highwaymen add their names to a long list of Northern League clubs that have tasted FA Vase glory.
The likes of Whitley Bay, Spennymoor Town, Dunston UTS and North Shields have all seen their name etched on the Vase.
All told the Northern League has now won seven out of the last eight finals, including Morpeth’s triumph and Swailes believes it was their time had come.
“Northern League clubs have been here for the last eight years and I think it was our time. I thought our name was on the trophy early doors.
We beat Billingham from the Northern League, North Shields and South Shields, so I thought it was our time this year.
“Hereford have never played a Northern League side. It’s not just a physical test, but at the same time we can play a bit”
So is it time to call it a day for Wembley’s oldest finalist and now oldest goalscorer? Will the curtain come down on a career that has seen him represent the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Ipswich Town, Bury and Gateshead?
That decision can wait according to the man himself.
“It’s a bad time to talk about that. I’m not thinking about that, to be fair, I’m thinking I’m going to enjoy this evening, have the summer off and decide”
Looking at his past maybe it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Highwaymen led out on the opening day of next season by the man that wouldn’t quit.
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)