Fred Stewart

Football's Pioneering Managers: Fred Stewart

Continuing this series' focus on pioneering and innovative football managers who did much to change the game, Dr Neil Carter recalls Fred Stewart, who led Cardiff City to unprecedented success in the 1920s.
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Fred Stewart (1873-1954) was secretary-manager during the most successful period in the history of Cardiff City FC. In 1927, Cardiff beat Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup Final. Cardiff’s success was all the remarkable as rugby union was the national sport yet 150,000 people turned out for the victory parade back in the city.

It marked the culmination of Cardiff’s golden period. Two years earlier they had lost 1-0 to Sheffield United in the final, while in 1923/24 they had finished runners-up in the First Division to Huddersfield Town, agonisingly missing out on the title by a goal average difference of 0.024. Under present rules they would have won the title.

Stewart had been appointed by Cardiff in 1911 and would eventually take charge of 605 games over a 22-year period. He remains the club’s longest-serving manager. Stewart, aged 23, had succeeded his brother as the secretary-manager of Stockport County in 1896. The Hatters joined the Football League in 1900.

He is also the longest-serving manager in Stockport’s history, with two spells, 1896-1903 and 1904-1911. Stewart’s background was as a coal merchant and he continued to build up this and other businesses throughout his career at Cardiff. By the time he left Ninian Park, he had a confectionary shop and a corn and seed merchant business.

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Cardiff City 1927
Cardiff City 1927

The Cardiff City squad of 1927 that clinched the FA Cup.

Stewart was typical of contemporary managerial figures who were largely administrative figures, hence the title, secretary-manager. They ran the club’s daily business and handled players’ contracts and transfers. However, they rarely had involvement in training or tactics.

These were left to the trainer and senior players with the team selected at the directors’ weekly meeting. Cardiff’s directors were more attracted to his business skills than his football knowledge, and he acted more as an intermediary between employer and employee.

However, while some secretary-managers remained aloof from the players, Stewart took a more paternal approach. Captain Fred Keenor described him as ‘a father, friend and counsellor to all the boys’. Cardiff rapidly declined. It was a decline that reflected South Wales’s economic fortunes during the inter-war years, which also witnessed a number of Welsh clubs folding.

Cardiff were relegated from the First Division in 1929 and then relegated to the Third Division South by 1931. In March 1933, Stewart resigned with the team struggling to avoid the need to apply for re-election to the league. He never worked in football again, thereafter, preferring to concentrate on his businesses.




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