Danny Williams’ first spell in charge at Swindon from 1965 to 1969 is, by my definition, the most successful spell by any Town manager in the Football League, FA Cup and League Cup.
His overall record is second to none and provided an entire generation with lasting memories of the 1969 League Cup win, an achievement sadly that is extremely unlikely to ever be equalled.
So how did the one club man from Rotherham propel Swindon Town into the national limelight with one of the most famous Wembley upsets of all time?
Back in 1965 our long serving manager Bert Head was dismissed after relegation from Division Two. Bert’s lasting legacy was his youth policy, his Babes’, with players whose names roll off your tongue - Keith Morgan, Bob Woodruff, Ernie Hunt, Roger Smart, Mike Summerbee, John Trollope, Don Rogers - Williams had the basis of a great team already at his disposal.
One of Danny’s first tasks was to replace Summberbee and Hunt who left for Division Two and high fees, plugging a gap in the perilous finances. Whilst not direct replacements Williams brought in Joe Butler, Mel Nurse and Peter Downsborough who would go on to become mainstays over the next 3 years and beyond.
In the, League Town maintained their eye on promotion throughout the autumn, only for a run of 4 winless games see a 9 point gap open to 2nd place. Even 4 wins from 5 games wasn’t enough as Hull City and Millwall romped away at the top and Town clawed back a solitary point. From then onwards Town could recover and secure a much needed lengthy spell of winning games. The gap increased month by month to finish 7th and 14 points adrift with 51 points, hindered by a run of seven winless games at the end of the campaign. In one marked change from a year previous, the board rejected advances for 19 goal Don Rogers, and the rest, as they say, is history…
A similar pattern repeated itself in 1966/67. An inconsistent season ensured Town finished in 8th with 50 points. This was despite 24 league goals from Don Rogers as well as 10 and 15 from inside forwards Brown and Penman. If 66/67 didn’t bring an improvement in league position it gave us two things. First, Stan Harland signed from Carlisle United in pre-season and became club captain immediately and was soon to become our talisman at Wembley. Secondly this year would be remembered for the spectacular FA Cup run to the 5th Round. Knocking out a World Cup winning West Ham side in the 3rd Round after a replay, only to depart the competition in a second replay at Villa Park versus Nottingham Forest.
1967/68 continued in a similar vein. Again Don Rogers banged in the goals – 25 in the league – and Town progressed well by making it to the 4th Round of the FA Cup, although Town were inconsistent, drawing a record 17 games, tailing off in the second half of the campaign to finish 9th with 49 points. Within all this mediocrity where were the signs of what was to come?
After Peter Noble joined mid way through the 1967/68 season, two further vital pieces in the jigsaw were added in the summer of ’68. Central creative midfielder John Smith arrived from Torquay and defender Frank Burrows from Scunthorpe United. These three proved to be the difference as Town didn’t conceded for the opening six league games and cemented a top two position, that they would keep for the vast majority of the season.
Interspersed amongst the league campaign it took eleven League Cup games to send Swindon to Wembley. It started with a home victory over Torquay with two second half goals from Smart and Noble. A draw at Bradford City sent the 2nd Round to a replay, and what a game, coming back from two behind with four goals, then to concede and hold on for a 4-3 win. Division Two Blackburn Rovers were no match with a single Don Rogers goal ensuring Town made it through to the 4th Round for a third time.
Next up Division One Coventry City saw Town surrender a two goal lead to force a replay and an effortless 3-0 victory, after all three goals came in the first 23 minutes. The Quarter Final paired Town with Division Two Derby County. After a goalless draw a third replay in five rounds was needed, with Rogers’ fifth goal in the competition so far securing a 1-0 win and a first major cup semi-final since 1912.
Division One Burnley over two legs stood in the way of a first Wembley final. For the first time in the competition that season Town secured an away win. The 2-1 result in late November thanks to Harland and Noble either side of half time looked good enough given Town’s unbeaten home form in all competitions. However two weeks later in front of 28,000 at the County Ground Burnley scored two goals in quick succession. Despite John Smith pulling one back the Clarets managed what no other side had done and defeat Swindon at home. With extra time not yielding a winner and the aggregate score at 3-3 the tie moved to a replay at The Hawthorns. There the game consisted of even more twists and turns. Smith gave Town the lead with a seventh minute free kick, a lead held on to until the last minute when Burnley equalised. In extra time the match immediately swung Burnley’s way as Frank Casper made it 2-1. Minutes later a Bellemy own goal made it 2-2 on the night, then Peter Noble made it 3-2 and secured William his place at Wembley.
The mighty Arsenal awaited on that famous March day. You don’t need me to describe the action. Sit back, relax and enjoy history in the making.
Back to the league following Wembley, Town slumped to a third straight defeat and surrenderd their top spot to Watford. With eleven games remaining it was a fight to the end. Crucially at the end of March Watford visited the County Ground and took away a narrow 1-0 win, the only home defeat in the League, to open up a two point lead at the top. From then onwards Town won six of the remaining eight games, securing promotion back to Division Two in the penultimate game. With Watford losing their final game at Mansfield Danny Williams missed out on a first league championship for Swindon merely on goal average 2.18 to 2.03. Those 27 wins and 10 draws in 1968/69 is equivalent to 91 points in today’s money, our third highest points tally in a season.
With success brought Williams the chance to manage at a higher level and return to his native South Yorkshire to take over at First Division Sheffield Wednesday in July 1969. Unfortunately the success didn’t carry as Williams guided the Owls to relegation in 1969/70 and he left in January 1971. After a three year spell at Mansfield, Williams returned in March 1974 for a second shot as Town manger.
Danny brought unimaginable success to Swindon however he never was able to replicate that success elsewhere. He should’ve listened to the ITV commentator at the end of the 1969 League Cup Final…
The life of a manager has it’s trials and tribulations, and goodness knows there are few moments like this.
So there it is, Danny Williams is number 1 in this countdown. For many he’s always arguably been Swindon’s greatest manager, this objective statistical analysis helps to add weight to that fact.
Don’t forget to vote in the managers month poll.
- Leagues: 4 seasons in Division Three
- FA Cup: 15 ties & 11 tie wins | Best 5th Round in 1966/67
- League Cup: 13 ties & 10 tie wins | Best Winner in 1968/69
- Achievements: Division Three runner up 1968/69 & League Cup Winner 1968/69
|League Pld||Won||Drn||Lst||For||Agg||League Pts||P/G||League Score||FAC Score||FLC Score|
|TOTAL SCORE: 423.2|
Click here for a full list of the managers in the countdown so far and their scores.
See my earlier post for an explanation of how the scoring works.
* Header photo from mirrorfootball.co.uk and video from swindon-town-fc.co.uk