One of football’s original and most colourful hard men, with a notorious bad temper, Grimesthorpe, Sheffield born centre half Frank Barson began his football career with Albion of Sheffield in 1908 and played for Cammell Laird from 1909 before signing for Second Division Barnsley for £5 in 1911. He made his Football League debut against Leicester Fosse in March 1912, establishing himself in the first team from the start of the 1913-14 season and becoming club captain. It was whilst at Oakwell that his notorious temper first became evident. Before he could start his first game for the Tykes he had to serve a two-month suspension following an ugly brawl with some Birmingham City players in a pre-season friendly. In January 1915 Barson had to be smuggled out of Goodison Park to avoid a large crowd who had gathered outside the ground to discuss with him his behaviour in an FA Cup tie with Everton, when he’d been sent off in a 3-0 defeat.
His career was interrupted by the First World War, but at the end of the conflict he returned to Oakwell to resume playing for Barnsley but after a very public fall out with the Barnsley directors over travelling expenses, after 94 matches he was sold to Aston Villa for £2,850 in October 1919. He won his only club honour while with Villa when they won the 1920 FA Cup Final with a 1-0 victory over Huddersfield Town at Stamford Bridge. One story about Barson concerned his appearance in the 1920 FA Cup Final, when he was warned about his behaviour by referee Jack Howcroft in the dressing room before the match started. “The first wrong move you make Barson, off you go” he was told.
While at Villa he won his single England cap against Wales in a 2-1 defeat at Highbury in March 1920.
Suspended by the club for misconduct, not for the first time, he was sold to Manchester United for £5,000 in May 1922 after 108 games and 10 goals in claret and blue. Captaining Manchester United he had an injury plagued six years at Old Trafford, winning promotion to the First Division in 1924-25 as Second Division runners up, playing 152 games and scoring 10 goals before joining Watford in May 1928 on a free transfer, where he scored once in 10 appearances during 1928-29nas club captain, his opportunities limited by a 7 month suspension imposed when Barson deliberately kicked at an opposing forward and was sent off in a match at Fulham in September 1928.
The following year he became player-coach and club captain at Hartlepools United in May 1929, scoring twice in 9 appearances for The Monkey Hangers, but he then joined Wigan Borough in July 1930, again becoming club captain. He was inevitably sent off in his twentieth and last appearance for Wigan, not for the first time in his career, indeed his suspensions alone totalled well over a year of his career.
In May 1932 he became the player-manager of Birmingham & District League club Rhyl Athletic, where he remained until his contract was terminated in March 1935. Within three months he re-surfaced as the manager of Stourbridge but an offer to return to Aston Villa as youth coach in July 1935 meant he gave up the job as soon as a replacement was found. Three months after his appointment as youth coach, he became the senior coach and head trainer at Villa Park, remaining until the outbreak of the Second World War. He became the trainer at Swansea Town from June 1947 until February 1954 and thereafter spending almost two seasons as the trainer at Lye Town with whom he finished his career in the game in May 1956. The man’s a legend, well worth reading about!
NB in the photograph Frank Barson sits in the middle with Hubert Bourne (left) and Patrick Hunt (right).