As we continue to look back over previous promotions, we reach the Steve McMahon 1995/1996 title success. A season that lives long in the memory of our writer, Adam Johnson…
Everyone has dates in their minds to remember, some you dare to forget, but some live on as a moment of significance. The 4th of May 1996 is one of those.
It was three days after my 7th birthday and, more importantly, the date of my first ever Swindon game, a 0-0 draw at home to Stockport County. It wasn’t the best game of football to witness as a birthday present but I remember it like yesterday.
Stood near the back of the Stratton Bank, Arkells Stand side, and seeing the Swindon players who I knew little of, lifting a trophy whilst ‘We Are the Champions’ played through the tannoy. I was watching my local team win a league and that was enjoyable enough, even if I saw no goals.
But, with my 7 year old brain knowing little of the trials and tribulations of Swindon, that day was more a relief to those in the know than the celebration I enjoyed. A league Swindon shouldn’t have been in, but they were, and getting promotion at the first time of asking. Sound familiar?
99% of my knowledge about this season comes from a gem of a video. If you are a Swindon fan and don’t own the season review that needs to change. I drove my parents mad watching this VHS back with my brother on a regular basis when I was a kid…and a few weeks back.
Anyways, I’m not here to do Adam Johnson ‘This Is Your Life’ but to look back at a season involving the life’s of better footballers such as Kevin Horlock, Wayne Allison and Shaun Taylor.
Like reading the last page of a book, I’m going to ruin the ending…we finished top, nine points clear of second place. Who was second? Oh yes, Oxford United. They got promoted but we had to go one better.
The story of the Endsleigh Insurance League Division Two title (what an old school name) all started with a 1-0 win over Hull City. Three clean sheets brought about three straight wins including a vicious volley from Edwin Murray to seal another 1-0 win, this time against Carlisle United.
Carlisle Utd vs Swindon
A momentary blip and a 1-1 draw against Oxford stopped our 100% start and we have Shay Given to blame for ruining our run of clean sheets. That barely delayed the Swindon train as the Town steamed clear of their rivals by winning the next five, conceding only three goals and beating Bristol Rovers 4-1 with a memorable Kevin Horlock hat trick.
The end of September brought the feeling of defeat for the first sustainable time in League and Cup with two in three games. It was though the time where Swindon Town in Division Two would come close to humbling the champions of England, Blackburn Rovers, in the second round first leg of the Coca Cola Cup at the County Ground.
Town went 2-0 up through Allison and Finney but Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton stole the plaudits and it was Paul Bodin’s missed penalty that sealed a dramatic 3-2 defeat. McMahon’s side couldn’t go one better in the second leg and suffered a 2-0 loss at Ewood Park but earned praise for their performances over the two legs.
This smell of defeat wouldn’t linger around much in the season, only 4 times in the league and 9 overall. So, let’s get back on track with the victories, and a 2-0 win over Bristol City. This win along with others in October against Crewe, Brighton and Notts County, where a trademark bullet header from Shaun Taylor won the game, put Town clear at the top by eight points.
Swindon vs Crewe
Town though lost their lead at the top by drawing six out of the last eleven games of 1995, showing a lack of firepower scoring only five goals in two months, ending the year joint top on 44 points with Crewe.
These struggles in front of goal would come to an end as Town started 1996 with progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup. A 2-0 win over Woking booked a tie against Oldham Athletic, and if you know your history of this season, an eventual tie against Southampton in the fifth round.
This 100% start continued in the league as Peter Thorne scored twice to seal a 3-0 win over Bradford. Again, a momentary blip, this time against York City wouldn’t de-rail Town as they won six of their next eleven games.
One of the defeats would come against Southampton in the FA Cup. A goal from Kevin Horlock put Town in the lead, live on ITV, but a scrambling headed equaliser would take us to The Dell for a replay where McMahon’s men would leave empty handed once again against Premiership opposition.
A 3-0 derby defeat to Oxford on March 19th ended the unbeaten nine game run in the league that also took Town off the top, two points behind Blackpool, but with two games in hand it was still in Taylor and Co’s hands.
This defeat to Oxford once again sparked The Robin’s into life, a trademark in the season of an ability to bounce back straight away from defeat, to win four in five putting Town top by four points with three games in hand.
Town’s nerves would be tested in the final weeks of the season as they struggled to get that final victory to get over the finishing line. Five draws in the last seven games were enough though, and after disappointment of not securing automatic promotion v Blackpool, a 3-1 win over Chesterfield was enough. With three games spare it was the Chief, Wayne Allison, to head Swindon Town back to Division One.
Chesterfield vs Swindon
Four players, (Allison, Finney, Horlock and Thorne) would take the plaudits for their goal tallies with 63 between them but a defence of Digby, Bodin, Taylor, Culverhouse and Robinson would be the basis of an all-round excellent team campaign.
To me, this team is one of the finest in my time supporting Swindon with the likes of Kevin Horlock, a great playmaker and winger. Allison and Finney, a scoring combo of little and large. Shaun Taylor, the rock in defence and others, such as Paul Bodin, Fraser Digby, Wayne O’Sullivan and the player-manager completing a star line up.
This season will always have the other thought of ‘surely we should have gone up anyway?’ but no promotion is given to you on a plate. It was a season that did demand success with the need to satisfy fans after two straight relegations. So, to do it in such emphatic fashion, new times were awaiting and the past was behind us….we hoped.
Steve McMahon’s reign isn’t one that brings smiles to people, memories of him selling Fjortoft, a bewildering transfer policy at times and protests on the pitch to see the back of the former Liverpool midfielder.
So, stretch those mouth muscles and raise a smile to the year Steve McMahon did bring happiness to Swindon Town Football Club.
Image and videos from swindon-town-fc.co.uk