Our resident historian, the king of the sixties and seventies, Mr Malcolm Johnson is back with his latest look at the players who have inspired him over the years. Today it’s the turn of Bobby Svarc.
Date of birth: 8.2.46
Height: 5ft 7in
City appearances: League: 40(5), goals: 16
FA & League Cups: 6(2), goals: 4
Total: 46(7), goals: 20
Robert Louis Svarc, usually known as Bobby, was born in Leicester of Czech descent hence his somewhat difficult to pronounce surname (Krzywicki, anyone?). At the age of 12 in his native Leicester he was good enough to play for his Secondary school’s first Xl alongside another future Leicester City and Lincoln player, the slightly older Graham Cross. He became an apprentice with First Division (Premier League) side Leicester City in October 1961, turning professional at the age of 17 in March 1963.
He made his first team debut for the Filberts as they were then known in a League Cup tie against Peterborough in September 1964, going on to play a total of 9 games that season and scoring one goal. He was however, to remain a reserve team player for the next two seasons until 1967/68 when he appeared in four league games, scoring one goal, plus an FA Cup tie with Barrow, a club that was to cross his path again a few years later.
The following season he appeared in two more league games and two League Cup ties, bringing his total first team appearances for Leicester City to 18 with two goals scored. He was then signed by Ron Gray for Lincoln City at a cost of £6,000 in December 1968 a fairly substantial fee for those days.
Although the Imps had made a good start to the season and were currently occupying a promotion place in the Fourth Division there had been concerns about a lack of threat up front with main strikers Peter Kearns and Norman Corner only mustering ten goals between them. The Leicester reserve was signed to remedy this, allowing the option for Kearns to play more in midfield. Svarc was ineligible to play in the Second Round FA Cup game at Chester and its dramatic replay and made his debut in place of the injured Kearns in a 1-1 draw at York a fortnight after signing.
He followed this up with a goal a week later as Bradford City were beaten 2-0, scoring 20 seconds into the second half and prompting the Football Echo headline: “’Sparky’ sets fans alight with dream goal in home debut”, which recognised the nickname immediately given to him by supporters unable to cope with the pronunciation of his surname. But after seven games without a goal, not helped by the controversial sale of target man Norman Corner and his replacement by the declining former ‘Golden Boy’ of football Alick Jeffrey as a strike partner, Svarc found himself on the subs’ bench, replaced in attack by the play-anywhere Phil Hubbard as City slid out of the top four.
Recalled for a couple of games, with Hubbard moving into midfield, he was substituted by Jack Lewis in the second of these, a disappointing home draw with Peterborough. Losing his place to Lewis, there were just two more first team appearances for Svarc during the remainder of the season as reserve striker Rod Fletcher now came to the fore with a burst of goalscoring that was not enough to prevent City from slipping to a disappointing 8th place.
Svarc’s total for the season was 14 games, including two as substitute, with just the one goal on his home debut.
The 1969/70 season opened with Svarc forming a new partnership up front with Rod Fletcher, two small speedy players to be supplied with through balls by new midfielder Billy Taylor. But after a disappointing home draw and two away defeats he lost his place to Alick Jeffrey, returning for one game on the wing in the absence of Dave Smith. Consigned to the reserves, he was among several players transfer listed at the beginning of November, although in the event none of them were to immediately leave the club. Svarc’s goals for the reserves were enough to earn him a recall to the subs’ bench for a game at the beginning of January.
By the end of that month a haul of six goals in three games for the reserves including a hat-trick in an 11-2 win over Halifax earned him a starting place at Exeter. He responded with a goal in a 2-1 win but after three further games without scoring he was replaced in the side by loan signing Ray Gaston. It was back to the reserves then until another hat-trick for them saw him back in the first team squad, coming off the bench for a win at Bradford (Park Avenue) and a start in a draw at Workington. Out of the side again he did at least return with a flourish with three goals in the last three games of the season as City again finished in 8th place.
Bobby Svarc’s total for the 1969/70 season came to 13 games including one as substitute, with 4 goals scored. His 20 goals for the reserves contributed largely to them winning the championship of the North Midlands League.
Not long after the end of the season City’s failure again to mount a promotion challenge brought about the dismissal of Ron Gray as manager, with trainer Bert Loxley promoted in his place. Perhaps surprisingly, especially given the signings of Percy Freeman and Derek Trevis, Svarc was retained by the new manager despite now being fourth choice striker.
For that reason, he was allowed to join fellow Fourth Division club Barrow on a two-month loan at the beginning of September 1970. An indication that the move was seen as a possible permanent one was him being allowed to play for the Cumbrian side against City, scoring their goal as the Imps returned home with a 4-1 win.
A regular in a struggling Barrow side he played 15 games for them, and despite his registering only two further goals they expressed an interest in buying him. However, being in financial difficulties Barrow were unwilling to meet City’s asking price and requested an extension of the loan period. Instead, due to an injury crisis at City Svarc was recalled – to face Barrow in the FA Cup at Sincil Bank and almost predictably scoring against them in a 2-1 win. Nearly two years after joining City Bobby Svarc now finally came good, displaying his ability to turn on a sixpence and instinct for goal poaching with a run of 17 consecutive games that brought 12 goals, scoring for five matches in a row including a goal in each of the three games in a twice-replayed FA Cup tie with Third Division Bradford City.
His run of games came to an end when a back injury kept him out the side following a home defeat to Bournemouth, becoming one of a string of players suffering injuries throughout the season. City’s lowly position in the league table then led to the replacement of Bert Loxley as manager by former Manchester United player David Herd. Svarc was back in the side for one match at the beginning of April, but for the first time in three matches involving Barrow that season he was unable to find the net in a 3-0 defeat. Returning again for the last three games of the season he scored in each one but finishing with two draws meant City had once again to seek re-election.
Bobby Svarc’s best season for City had seen him play in a total of 21 games including two as substitute, with 15 goals scored.
Certainly having done enough not to be among the players released by David Herd Svarc started the 1971/72 season partnering Allan Gilliver in attack. But after three games he was relegated to the subs’ bench with Derek Trevis taking his place up front. Two substitute appearances followed, including what was to be his last game for the club, coming on in a goalless draw at home to Reading. With the return to fitness of Percy Freeman and the emergence of Phil Hubbard as a prolific striker Bobby Svarc now found himself well down the pecking order for a first team place and after playing in just five games was allowed to go on loan to Boston United managed by his old team-mate Jim Smith.
The move was made permanent in December 1971 for a fee of £1,750, with the only other club interested in signing him being Barrow who were once again unable to afford any transfer fee. He flourished at Boston, forming a good partnership with target man John Froggatt and his total of 22 goals in the remainder of the season helped the Pilgrims to the runners-up spot in the Northern Premier League in the days when that was one step below the Football League. It was during his time with Boston, no doubt coincidentally, that he became a Jehovah’s Witness.
In October 1972 Jim Smith left Boston to take up his first managerial position with a Football League club and with a record of 17 goals for the Pilgrims since the start of the season Bobby Svarc followed him to Colchester United two months later for a fee of £6,000, becoming a full-time professional again and scoring 8 goals in the remainder of the season as the Essex side finished in the re-election zone.
In the 1973/74 season Smith inspired Colchester to a third-place finish and promotion to Division Three, Bobby Svarc finished as their leading scorer with a total of 25 goals, including all four in a 4-0 win at Chester. Easily making the step-up to the higher division for 1974/75 Svarc, joined early on by his strike partner from Boston John Froggatt, again finished with a total of 25 goals in what was probably the best season of his career.
In the summer of 1975 Jim Smith left Colchester to become manager of newly promoted Second Division (Championship) side Blackburn Rovers and sure enough in the October he was back to sign Svarc again for a fee of £25,000. Unfortunately, the striker then began to be hit by injury and was only able to play in 19 games for the Lancashire side that season, scoring six goals to add to his 5 in 10 games for Colchester.
The 1976/77 season was again an intermittent one for Svarc, but he played in a total of 37 games including substitute appearances, finishing as top scorer for the Second Division club with 14 goals.
At the start of the 1977/78 season, with the arrival at Blackburn of Noel Brotherston and former Imps team-mate Jack Lewis Svarc found himself out of the side, and after a solitary League Cup appearance against his old club Colchester another former team-mate Graham Taylor in his first season with Watford took him on loan. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury after 37 minutes of his debut in a match against Darlington on 24th September which brought about the end of his footballing career at the age of 31.
After his retirement from football Bobby Svarc remained in the Blackburn area and set up a business installing burglar alarms. He has the distinction of being mentioned in a 1995 song ‘Fear My Wraith’ by the Rock band Half Man Half Biscuit in a verse evidently referring to his Colchester United days:
“Through your children’s bedroom walls
Slowly walks the wraith of me
I read the news today, oh boy
Svarc rejects new Layer terms”
Like one or two other players who have gone on to enjoy success after leaving City (including his contemporary Jack Lewis) it’s unfortunate that Bobby Svarc only briefly hit it off during his time at Sincil Bank. Despite Ron Gray having brought him to the club he was fairly quickly left out of the side and afterwards made only sporadic appearances. Whether this was due to the style of play adopted is not clear. After Gray’s departure it was only due to a lengthy injury list that the striker got into the first team and showed what he could do during Bert Loxley’s time in charge. Then with another change of manager it appeared David Herd favoured taller more powerful strikers and he was out of favour again before making what turned out to be a wise career move in linking up with Jim Smith.
Bobby Svarc’s Football League record totalled 240 appearances with 96 goals scored.