David William Malcolm Frith 1929-2011

firthHis nickname was ‘Bruin’ because of the long brown overcoat that he nearly always wore.

His form in the Blackpool junior teams was such that he was quickly signed as a part‑time professional, for he continued working for a Marton market gardener during the week.

When the 1947/48 season began Blackpool had a surfeit of half backs in reserve, Kenneth Horne, for instance being singled out as ‘a player of great promise’, while the same critic added, ‘So too are the other graduate right halves, Walter Jones, Hearn, Frith and Fenton.’ In the first team at the time the half back line was always strong, beginning the season with the renown Farrow, Hayward, Johnston trio and ending with Johnston, Hayward and Hughie Kelly so it was difficult for youngsters to stake their claim.

After two seasons developing his game in the junior sides, he made his Central League debut at right half, in a half-back line of Frith, Crosland and Fenton, against Preston North End reserves on 12 February 1949 when Blackpool won 3-0 with a Dougie Davidson hat-trick. His second Central League game was at left half against Sheffield Wednesday reserves on 2 April 1949 when the game was drawn 0-0 and the half-back line read Hearn, Crosland, Frith. He returned to right half for his third and final Central League game of the season, a 4-0 defeat by Blackburn Rovers reserves on 19 April 1949.

Because of the surfeit of half backs, he began the 1949/50 season as a full back in the junior sides and was so successful that he was drafted into the Central League side for the fourth game of the season against Bury reserves on 3 September 1949 at left back. Goals from George McKnight, two, and Albert Hobson gave Blackpool a 3-0 victory. And Frith’s performance was such that he continued as a full back, alternating between the Central League side, for which he played eight games, and the junior sides for the remainder of the season. By then he was said to have ‘shown steady improvement since graduating into the Central League side from the junior teams’. He was described as small for a full back but was said to have ‘speed and a powerful kick’.

After three Central League games at left back in the 1950/51 season he showed his versatility by reverting to right back for the game against Preston North End reserves on 7 October 1950 when Blackpool lost 2-1. He was ever-present in the side for the remainder of the season, playing 33 of his 34 games at right back and one at left back.

Not surprisingly he started the 1951/52 season as the regular right back in the Central League side and went on to miss only two games through injury, playing 40 Central League games, and once again alternating between the full back positions.

With internationals Eddie Shimwell and Tommy Garrett occupying the first team full back positions it was not easy to break into the side but injury to Shimwell gave him his opportunity. Frith made his League debut at right back against Bolton Wanderers on 30 August 1952 when he was reported as ‘A sound player on whom Blackpool can always rely.’ Blackpool won 3-0 but a fit-again Shimwell returned for the following game and Frith returned to Central League action.

An injury to Garrett gave him his next opportunity in his more accustomed left back position and he was in the League side at left back for three successive games, a 3-1 defeat by Arsenal on 4 October 1952, a 4-2 victory over Burnley and a 4-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur. It was the cauldron of Highbury in the first of these games with a crowd of 66,642 present and although Arsenal won 3-1 the match report read, ‘Frith had a tough time against Milton but was never eclipsed.’ After 35,671 watched the Burnley game at Bloomfield Road, it was back to London where at White Hart Lane 53,928 watched the game. He had a few further opportunities during the season and finished it having played 10 League games, in all of which he performed admirably.

He had to wait a considerable time for his next League appearance that came on 23 January 1954 when he reverted to his roots and began at right half against Aston Villa but then injury to Garrett meant that he played the second half at left back. Blackpool won 3-2 and ‘David Frith as a half back and as a full back was completely competent.’  The injury to Garrett, coupled with a return to action at right half by Harry Johnston, meant that he moved to left back for a number of games beginning with a 2-0 defeat of Luton Town in a third round FA Cup third replay at Molineux on 25 January.

 Charles Buchan in the Daily Express wrote of that game, ‘Rarely have I seen Blackpool’s half backs play better, and really it was a reserve line on duty. John Crosland and Ewan Fenton always met the ball squarely and Cyril Robinson worked like a Trojan in attack and defence. Behind them, Eddie Shimwell and emergency full back David Frith never put a foot wrong.’ It is something of a surprise to see him mentioned as ‘emergency full back’ because by then that was his usual position, apart from the previous game, which might have influenced Buchan in his comment.

He followed this performance with a fourth round FA Cup tie against West Ham United when, in the 1-1 draw, ‘Frith after an uncertain start had another grand game.’ And he was ‘the best of the four full backs’ in the replay against West Ham United on 3 February 1954 as he was ‘able to keep his feet when others were floundering’ as Blackpool won 3-1. In between he had been in the side that lost 4-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers when ‘Hancocks, although a dangerous and hard-working attacker, did not find it easy to outwit Frith, who again had an outstanding match.’ And against Charlton Athletic on 27 February ‘David Frith often halted the Athletic’s best wing, in fact, after the first half hour this Blackpool defence was about as good as it ever needed to be.’ The game was won 3-1.

He played seven League games and four FA Cup ties in addition to his 34 Central League games in the 1953/54 season. He was also an integral part of the Blackpool side that won the Lancashire Senior Cup when they defeated Liverpool 3-0 after a 1-1 draw.

Although Frith was not on the transfer list, Plymouth Argyle manager Jack Rowley took a liking to him and another Blackpool player, Derrick Lythgoe, so on 8 January 1955 he travelled up to Blackpool intending to sign the pair.  However, his offer for the two players was deemed ‘entirely unacceptable’ and Blackpool manager Joe Smith commented, ‘We could not possibly consider the bid he made’ and Rowley’s lengthy round trip was all in vain. 

So Frith remained at Bloomfield Road and in that 1954/55 season he found competition for a full back place even fiercer. Roy Gratrix had arrived from Taylor Brothers, and before he became a classy centre half his regular position was at right back, and, in addition to Shimwell and Garrett a new star was emerging, Jimmy Armfield, with Barrie Martin, ironically signed by Blackpool from the same Highfield Youth Club as Frith had played for, was also beginning to make a name for himself. As a consequence Frith only played two League games in that season, draws against Huddersfield Town and Portsmouth in December 1954.

To add to Frith’s woes, another full back who went on to earn England ‘B’ honours, Jackie Wright, came on the scene and as a consequence of this wealth of talent at full back he played only 15 League games over the ensuing three seasons. But, whenever he appeared he never let the side down and continued with his impressive form in the Central League side, and his demeanour was such that he was regarded as ‘an ideal clubman’. And, before the abolition of the maximum wage, he was earning a respectable £11 in the summer and £14 in the winter plus an extra £3 if and when playing in the first team.

However, he could see no long-term future with the club and, reluctantly, after nearly 10 years with Blackpool he asked for a transfer in November 1957. The board agreed to his request and on 26 November 1957 he was placed on the transfer list with manager Joe Smith commenting, ‘Frith’s reason is that there are quite a few full backs on the club’s list and his future in first-class football therefore cannot be guaranteed with Blackpool.  The directors and myself appreciated this.’

Clubs were quickly alerted to his availability and in December 1957 Leicester City and Coventry City were interested in signing him. Representatives of both clubs watched him play for the Central League side against Manchester City reserves on 7 December 1957 when Blackpool won 2-1. Grimsby Town, too, were interested, through former Blackpool player Louis Cardwell recommending him to Lew Armitage the club’s assistant-manager. In the event no deal took place with any of the interested clubs.

Although on the transfer list, he was offered terms for the 1958/59 season but before the season began he was transferred to Tranmere Rovers for a fee of £1,500 on 1 August 1958. Blackpool generously allowed the fee to be paid in two instalments, £1,000 on 1 September 1958 and the £500 balance on 29 December 1958.  For his part, Frith received £150 as his share of the transfer fee plus an extra £150 as his accrued share of benefit.

His 10-year Blackpool career had encompassed 32 League games and four FA Cup ties and in addition he played in 261 Central League games, probably a record for the club at that level. The competition for places in the side, particularly at full back, was very fierce during his time at Blackpool otherwise he undoubtedly would have played many more first team games. Be that as it may, he was always an asset to the League side whenever he was called upon.

He went on to play 177 League games for Tranmere Rovers before signing for Fleetwood at the start of the 1964/65 season, a signing which brought the comment from Fleetwood fans, [He] should provide the coolness in defence which was missing last season’. He later went on to manage Fleetwood, a post he took up in November 1964 and after leaving Highbury Road he was signed as trainer‑coach for Squires Gate FC for the 1965/66 season, a move that was classed as ‘a major surprise in the amateur football world’.

After his working life he continued to live on the Fylde Coast in final retirement and became a most accomplished crown green bowler. Sadly he has passed away on 29 May 2011 after a long illness.