August 2013: Enter Swindon manager no.3 of the year…. Mark Cooper

Mark Cooper

2013 is nearly over and it has truly been an eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part six…

August

The season started bright and early against recently relegated Peterborough United. Caretaker manager Mark Cooper made just a few changes to the Town squad that featured against Brentford in the playoffs – in came Alex Smith, Grant Hall, Alex Pritchard, Tijane Reis, Yaser Kasim, Jack Barthram and Ryan’s Harley and Mason, out went pretty much everyone else.

The fixture was going to provide a stern test for the team widely tipped by most as relegation fodder, but our young team equipped themselves brilliantly and in the end were unlucky to not get at least a draw. The one nil reverse courtesy of £1.5 million pound man Britt Assombalonga showing the difference between the two sides on the pitch and off it.

Town were still busy exploring the transfer market, allegedly making several cash bids for Bournemouth Striker Wes Thomas, which were all rebuffed by the Cherries but Town did cause a further stir in transfer circles by opening a dialog with the eponymously tattooed football bad boy Nile Ranger, who was seeking a glorious return to the club on a free.

The opening home game of the season was against Stevenage, this was the first time the majority of fans could see their new heroes in the flesh. Buoyed by the glowing report coming out of Peterborough we all trotted along not quite knowing what to expect. However I don’t think even the most optimistic of Swindon fans expecting to witness such a delightful passing display, by the 90th minute the ‘Ole’s’ were quite deafening – and the score line was only one nil!

The much scoffed at Yaser Kasim, recently released by Brighton following unsuccessful loan stints at non-league Macclesfield and Luton pulled the strings in midfield like a seasoned ten year pro, offering the vision of Pirlo coupled with the tackling of Diego Simeone. Massimo Luongo provided the match winner with a fantastic strike in front of his visiting Aussie parents.

Town then travelled to Shropshire for an encounter with Shrewsbury, a lucky venue in recent years, but on this occasion defensive errors cost the team dear as they slipped to a clumsy two nil reverse. The travelling fans at least got a glimpse of the newly acquired Nile Ranger, who despite lacking match fitness turned in a decent performance.

On the 20th August the inevitable managerial appointment was made. Since MacDonald’s departure the mantra of ‘not Mark Cooper, not Mark Cooper, not Mark Cooper, not Mark Cooper’ had been growing louder and louder, like the repetitive locomotive chatter of the 7:38 to Paddington. But since the start of the season, the drone of these clattering wheels had dissipated to a barely audible murmur. People were quietly impressed with what they were seeing: neat passing football played by some really talented individuals, and by what they were hearing: genuine press conferences which showed player support and provided interesting tactical insight, a welcome change to random head shaking rants and raves.

Something that was impossible to think of at the start of August, was now gathering momentum – the Swindon fans were actually warming to Mark Cooper. His confirmation as the main man at the club was greeted with genuine joy.

The next home game was against pantomime rivals Gillingham, a thoroughly enjoyable encounter despite the two all score line, again some lovely, entertaining football was on show. I mean, any game in which your two full backs score has got to be good hasn’t it? Nathans Thompson and Byrne netting for the Town.

August was brought to a close with a thumping five nil home win against Crewe, Ryan Mason scoring a fine hat trick and a first club goal for the impressive Nile Ranger completing the rout. A Massimo Luongo goal was sandwiched somewhere in-between. Again though, it was the quality of the football that won the day, slick and at times breath-taking.

There was still time left in the month for Swindon to add to their potential firepower with the arrival of proven lower league striker, Nicky Ajose, on loan from Peterborough.

Read the rest of our review of 2013

June & July 2013: Building a Business Plan for promotion…

Steve Murrall 4

2013 is nearly over and it has truly been an eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part five…

June & July

Although Swindon missed out on any Play Off orientated silverware, the club did win a prestigious award in the close season, with Marcus Cassidy receiving the plaudits as groundsman of the year for League One.

I think a lot of people take pitch quality as a given these days, especially armchair fans who frequently watch the endless bowling greens of the premier league. However if you’ve been to any away games in this division and seen some of the rubbish prepared elsewhere by our rivals you can really appreciate the brilliant nature of our pitch.

Marcus and his team thoroughly deserved the award and in some sense a share of any success we had on the pitch, because without his dedication and hard work us fans would’ve probably spent most of last season craning our necks upward to watch the long balls fly, rather than the ‘on-the-deck’ stuff we’ve been treated to.

The shock waves of all the recent boardroom upheaval and the inevitable financial pinch that followed was starting to be felt as Town were already asking office staff to step forward for voluntary redundancy. But it wasn’t all bad as we were informed that extra income streams were already being explored with Steve Murrall conducting Business Plan presentations, and earlier the announcement that a series of summer concerts were to be held at the County Ground. Some vast income sums were being bandied about, in some outlets it was reported that Town were set to clear a million pounds, guaranteed.

The line-ups were not exactly inspiring on either of the arranged days, certainly not to my taste but I was convinced the people of Swindon would provide a healthy attendance as concerts involving Bryan Adams and Elton John had previously been a roaring success in the past. Maybe not on this occasion though, whether it was down to poor advertising or poor weather conditions neither day looked well attended – with some of the images coming out from the CG suffering a power cut painting a pretty depressing picture. Like some cutting edge news reporter I did speak to an eye witness who attended the Revival Tour evening, who said and I quote “The best entertainment I had all night was when two girls engaged in some ‘foxy boxing’ over a bottle of tango, I threw money” classy stuff.

Big Summer Sessions

Away from the concerts, also joining the various office staff in leaving were two of our best performers from the previous season, with Aden Flint completing his protracted move to Bristol City and Alan McCormack packing his bags to join our recent Play-Off foes Brentford.

Also going, was the often cited ‘big earner’ [definition required] Gary Roberts, as he cleared his locker and was released by the club, straight into the welcoming arms of League Two Chesterfield. He was soon joined by fans favourite Simon Ferry and horrifyingly for this writer, Joe Devera who both eventually joined him in League Two with the financially frail Portsmouth. Tommy Miller and Raffa De Vita also found themselves unemployed, with Raffa only enjoying temporary visits to the Labour Exchange as he quickly joined ambitious Bradford City.

A few fans scoffed at the calibre of club that all of our released players ended up at, as many were always branded as ‘Championship Quality’, but they all joined good clubs, whereas in the past our released players tended to join only Supermarine or Chippenham.

So with office staff leaving, players leaving, some of our new board decided to get in on the act with Hooper and Rice, all part of Jed McCrory’s original consortium, leaving to pursue that always mysterious and oft cited “other business interests”.

Like some reasonably priced, disease free prostitute, it seemed the exit door was currently the only thing getting some constant action, so it was a relief when Swindon finally started bringing in some new talent with Fulham utility man Alex Smith the first in, presumably nodding to Gary Roberts et al whilst they made their way out.

It was evident that Town were pushing for a more youthful set up for the new season, with Spurs youngster Jack Bartham and former loanee Nathan Byrne joining on free transfers. In some quarters fans immediately and mistakenly translated the term ‘youthful’ with ‘cheap’ and the various forums and comments sections already started getting clogged up with some gluey despair.

Some bright moments pierced the gloom however, Foderingham signed a new contract, keeping the stopper at the County Ground until 2015, or until someone offers a big fat cheque for his services. Also bolstering the ranks were further Spurs youngsters Grant Hall, Ryan Mason and Alex Pritchard.

Portuguese Free Agent Tijane Reis was snapped up and it was reported that Town acted like some back-alley slapper having ‘beaten off’ many big clubs to secure his signature. The Tottenham influence also grew with Massimo Luongo returning on loan, having enjoyed Swindon hospitality the previous season. Town also added in the boardroom with Sangita Shah and Lee Power joining McCrory’s team.

Things seemed to be settling down nicely, the squad of talented youngsters was offering intrigue and maybe a little bit of hope to supporters and a few were getting quite optimistic with the new season looming into view.

So Kevin MacDonald decided this was the perfect time to quit, astonishing stuff. I’m not sure what annoyed me more about his resignation, the turmoil it would cause within the squad or the damage it would do to the new season prep? It was going to be neither of these, because the one thing that drives me insane more than anything is ‘new manager rumours’. Every out of work manager starts being linked (Steve Cotterill), or ex-Town players (Shaun Taylor, Luc Nijholt) or one that falls into both categories (Martin Ling), the barmy suggestions (Poyet – yes this was a serious suggestion by certain fans) or the inevitable, the perennially linked Paul Tisdale.

Kevin MacDonald

The Spurs links were unavoidable, with many suggesting that any one of Tim Sherwood, Les Ferdinand or Chris Ramsey were nailed on for the top job. The Adver saw it differently, announcing that Paul Hartley or a returning Glenn Hoddle were favourites for the position. Mark Cooper was put in temporary control of the team as managerless Swindon didn’t hang around in the transfer market, adding Yaser Kasim, Rossi Branco, Ty Belford and Ryan Harley to the ranks.

With no manager in place, it became apparent that these transfers were made by the Director of Football Lee Power, maybe in consultation with Mark Cooper. Many fans were outraged that a managerless club could make such signings – and that no manager would join a club in which they seemingly had no say in the transfer market. A large percentage seemed totally unaware that most European clubs and global giants operate in exactly this way; it’s a way to ensure continuity and provide control, stopping any future Di Canio style scenarios – expensively splurging on players quickly followed by an equally expensive mass exodus when it all goes wrong.

Read the rest of our review of 2013

Big summer sessions image from swindonadvertiser.co.uk

50 Years On: 1963/64 December – Swindon in the big time for the first time

1963-1964 Squad Crop

Throughout this season Mike Minihane will be taking a look back at Swindon Town’s first season in the ‘big time’, following the promotion to Division Two for the 1963/64 season. Mike continues with a review of December 1963…

Top of the Charts – I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

After a fairly dismal November where we’d not won a game and score only two goals we were all hoping for better things in December. Only one of our opponents, Portsmouth, was in the top half of the table and two, Norwich City and Scunthorpe United, were third and fourth from bottom. First up was an away game at Swansea Town (yet to become a ‘City’).  Quite a few of us went down on Rimes Coaches, Swansea were in the bottom half of the table and this was a good chance to try back on track. The journey was interminable, there was no M4 then and we seemed to go in the most circuitous route possible, driving up and down any number of dismal South Wales valleys. After what seemed to be about two days, we finally arrived.

We shouldn’t have bothered. Swansea set about us from the off and their centre forward Keith Todd, who’d just be recalled to the side, justified his selection with a very well taken hat trick. The only Swindon player to emerge with any credit whatsoever was Bobby Woodruff who pretty much played Swansea on his own and was described in one match report as ‘a future international in the making’, and although that didn’t happen he did go on the have an illustrious career with Wolves,  Crystal Palace and Cardiff City.

A week later we were at Scunthorpe United who we had taken apart so superbly on the opening day of the season. Scunthorpe were third from bottom and relegation candidates. Before a pathetically low crowd of just over 5,000 they achieved only their fifth win of the season with a convincing 3-0 win, their third goal coming from a Bobby Woodruff own goal. This was our fifth game in a row without scoring and our second consecutive 0-3 defeat. We certainly weren’t doing much away from home.

The following Saturday brought a home game against Portsmouth and a chance to get a desperately needed win and confidence boost. Pompey’s centre forward was Ron Saunders who had a justifiable reputation as a prolific goal scorer with a record of better than one goal every two games. He was to go on to a successful management career with a number of First Division clubs, including Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, all of whom were known for their somewhat dour style during his tenure. He didn’t score in this game though as Town, in an understandably rather nervous performance, ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Ernie Hunt and John Stevens. The relief around the ground was huge, finally a win and some goals!

1963/64 Swindon Town squad with manager Bert Head Back row: McPherson , Wollen, Atkins, Turner, Harvey, Morgan, Lloyd. Third row: Plumb, Trollope, Hallett, French, Hicks, Smith, Smart, Dawson, Summerbee. Second row: Thorburn, Shergold, Griffin, Rogers, Hellin, Stevens, Leggett, Huxford, Woodruff, Sproates, Peapell. Front row: Lewis, Tabor, Harber, Darcy, Cousins (trainer), Head (manager), Morse (secretary), Colsell, Hunt, Ling, James. Seated: Critchley, Hedges, Corbett, Wrintmore, Hedges

1963/64 Swindon Town squad with manager Bert Head
Back row: McPherson , Wollen, Atkins, Turner, Harvey, Morgan, Lloyd.
Third row: Plumb, Trollope, Hallett, French, Hicks, Smith, Smart, Dawson, Summerbee.
Second row: Thorburn, Shergold, Griffin, Rogers, Hellin, Stevens, Leggett, Huxford, Woodruff, Sproates, Peapell.
Front row: Lewis, Tabor, Harber, Darcy, Cousins (trainer), Head (manager), Morse (secretary), Colsell, Hunt, Ling, James.
Seated: Critchley, Hedges, Corbett, Wrintmore, Hedges

Our opponents for the two Christmas fixtures were Norwich City who with a decent run had pulled themselves up from 19th to 14th in the table. They were a team in form and would be tough opponents. Norwich had recently signed Ron Davies from Luton Town for £35,000. He was rightly regarded by most as the best header of the ball in the Football League. He scored better than one in every two games for Norwich and  was to go on to an illustrious First Division career with Southampton where his scoring record was exceptional, including  four goals, all headed, at Manchester United in 1969.

In an exciting game at Carrow Road in front of almost 21,000 fans, Town led 2-0 at half time through John Stevens and Bill Atkins. The second half was to turn out to be a different story however with Davies amongst the scorers as Norwich ran out 3-2 winners.  Despite the defeat it was a creditable performance and gave grounds for optimism for the return fixture two days later. A great start saw Bill Atkins give Town an early lead but two Ron Davies goals gave Norwich the lead. However this time it was the Town’s turn to come from behind with a late equaliser from Mike Summerbee giving Town a deserved draw.

It hadn’t been a good month but the rot had been stopped and at least there had been some goals to cheer. Town were still fifth in the League, behind Leeds United, Sunderland, Preston North End and Charlton Athletic. January promised to be an exciting month with a home 3rd Round FA Cup tie against Manchester City and a home game against the leaders Leeds. We’d come down from expecting to win every game as had been the case in August and September and a degree of realism had settled in. We were certainly enjoying the ride though!

1963-64 December Table

Images courtesy of swindon-town-fc.co.uk

Table from statto.com

May 2013: Play-Off comeback, penalties and agony…

2013.05 Play Offs

2013 is nearly over and it has truly been an eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part four. There’s a few more to come, this is only…

May

The playoffs loomed in the shape of a two legged tie against a hugely deflated Brentford side. The Bees had a chance to gain automatic promotion with practically the last kick of the regular season but were denied when on loan striker Marcelo Trotta missed an injury time penalty. Their misery compounded by their rivals on the pitch and in the league table, Doncaster, sweeping up the other end to net an improbable winner. Heart-breaking for the fans, but at least they had a second chance against a meandering Town displaying such patchy form.

The opening fixture at the County Ground promised to be a tight one, and that is exactly what was delivered, although the frenetic opening ten minutes gave no indication of this with Adam Rooney getting the first opportunity within the first thirty seconds of the kick-off courtesy of a defensive slip.

In the end the first leg’s score line was decided by a moment of brilliance and a moment of madness from the same player, Massimo Luongo. Following good work from Simon Ferry on the right, the on-loan Tottenham youngster curled a delicious effort from just outside the box into the bottom corner, leaving the goalie grasping thin air. A massive moment, a moment of delirium and also a moment that changed the game.

After a couple more efforts you started getting the distinct impression Town were happy to defend the lead and more importantly as time went on, we looked less capable of doing so – you can only imagine how PDC would’ve reacted.

Sure enough, in the fourth minute of added on time, the constant attacking threat of Harry Forrester received the ball in the box, his bad touch took him away from goal but also into the lunging tackle of Luongo. The ref didn’t hesitate pointing to the spot, if only he had done that earlier as Town themselves had two very good shouts for a penalty turned down. Kevin O’Connor made no mistake from the spot.

Half time, deep breath.

The second leg was played out in glorious sunshine and with the game evenly poised who knew what to expect. I wasn’t expecting a fast start from Town and my optimism was rewarded with some sluggish passing and lacklustre movement, not the greatest of first half performances, with the lively Brentford ramming home their dominance with two easy goals, game over.

Or so we thought, Adam Rooney powered in an effort just before half-time to give us hope for a big turnaround in the second half. But Gary Roberts conspired to kick that dream out of us as immediately after kick-off as he sent a lazy, wafted cross field ball to no-one except a rampant Clayton Donaldson, who practically ran the length of the field to score, game over.

Or so we thought, the lovely Joe Devera pounced in the six yard box to reduce the arrears and we braced ourselves for a Town backlash, a veritable siege on the Brentford goal. It didn’t come and in fact it was the Bees who looked more likely to sting.

Or so we thought, step forward Aden Flint, in the 95th minute, with a penalty shout still ringing in everyone’s ears, that wonderful scarecrow of a man rose like a soaring recipient in a line-out to nod Town level. Now I never went to Griffin Park, so I’ll leave it up to the words of Richard Banyard, mastermind of the excellent http://www.swindon-town-fc.co.uk site, who summed it up beautifully in his match report:

“As I tweeted earlier, when I think back to yesterday, I can’t help but smile. Obviously not because of the result – but the celebrations after Aden Flint’s thumping 95th minute header will live far longer in the memory than what followed. As that ball hit the back of the net, all hell broke loose just behind it – I hugged my dad, I hugged a couple of other complete strangers. You haven’t celebrated a goal properly if you haven’t drawn blood before, or at the very least smashed your sunglasses. I feel a bit sorry for the armchair fans of Utd/City/Chelsea or whoever, who don’t get to experience that kind of raw emotion. These people just don’t know football, not really.”

The only thought going around in my head now was how Brentford would react, denied at the death in the regular campaign, denied at the death in the play-offs, surely this would leave them beaten?

Unfortunately any chance of Swindon snatching the win disappeared after Nathan Byrne’s red card in extra time; the Town resolutely resigned themselves to defending the status quo, holding out for a penalty shootout.

We all know what happened, so let’s not dwell, but it still annoys me to this day that it was left to young Miles Storey to take the crucial kick, whilst ‘senior pros’ like Alan McCormack declined to take one, seemingly shying away from the responsibility.

It capped off, on reflection, a fine season. With lots of highs and lows and off field hassles to keep the various modes of social media at a constant fever pitch – it certainly was action packed and it served as a reminder of what makes watching Swindon an absolute ‘pleasure’.

It was probably best that we didn’t get promotion, what with all the boardroom distractions rumbling on. I feel we would’ve been ill-prepared for an assault on the Championship and any pursuit of consolidation in that league could’ve been detrimental to our long-term health – but we will never know. Brentford wouldn’t know either as they were beaten by surprise package Yeovil in the final, a team we beat with ease twice in the regular season.

So, what would await Town next season? Well, the close season alone provided a few surprises…

Read the rest of our review of 2013

March & April 2013: It was the turn of the KMac…

Kevin MacDonald

2013 is nearly over and it has truly been an eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part three. Well done…

March

A new month and a new managerial appointment. The announcement of Kevin McDonald’s installation as manager was just barely audible against the background screams of angst from kneejerking supporters disappointed by the lack of vision shown by the board. No Mourinho, Zemen, Giggs or Carragher? A disgrace!

In fact this to me seemed the most visionary appointment of recent times, a coach who had an amazing track record of nurturing young talent was being drafted in with the aim to produce quality players to sell on and make us self-sufficient. But what the fans wanted was another rookie who’s could lurch us close to financial oblivion and provide no legacy whatsoever.

Anyway, McDonald or KMAC as he was now being dubbed got off to the perfect start with an away win at Coventry City, a Wes Foderingham inspired performance which saw us come from behind to nick all three points at the death. With Darren Ward, free from the shackles of management grabbing the winner.

A defeat away to promotion rivals Brentford followed a disappointing draw at home to Walsall, the only remarkable thing that came from these two encounters were back-to-back Simon Ferry goals. The forums were full of chatter concerning the fact that now the wee Scot was free from the tyranny of PDC obviously KMAC was getting the best out of him. He wasn’t to register another strike in a Swindon shirt.

A good win at fellow playoff hopefuls Yeovil Town raised spirits briefly, but two uninspiring back-to-back home draws against Notts County and Oldham well and truly steered our ship onto an unavoidable course for the iceberg.

In an effort to get the good ship Swindon back on track McDonald raided Tottenham’s reserve squad and borrowed Dean Parrett, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Byrne. All were drafted in on loan deadline day as a previously embargoed Town had been stymied right up to the final minutes in any efforts to bring in reinforcements.

APRIL

April was a grim month, Town were outclassed by a strong Doncaster team hell bent on the Championship. A totally listless display, which left Town floundering around like a landed fish on the riverbank – we sort of knew we needed to be in the water but didn’t have the skills or the know how to achieve it. The one nil reverse was the first in a three game losing streak which couldn’t have happened at a worse possible time. Defeats away to Milton Keynes and Sheffield United pretty much condemned us to the playoffs and our automatic promotion chances were finally holed below the waterline, cue Celine Dion, cue Kate and Leo.

At least we finished the home league programme on a high, with thumping wins against Crewe and Stevenage, 4-1 and 3-0 respectively.

Our final league game, away at the soon-to-be relegated Scunthorpe, provided a perfect allegory for the entire season. Through hard work and effort we finally took the lead late on with a James Collins strike, but then immediately after that soaring high, we totally and without warning, capitulated – and conceded three in the final moments – to a relegated team no less. Soul destroying.

February 2013: The end of Paolo Di Canio’s Circus

Paolo Di Canio's Circus1

2013 is nearly over and it has truly been an eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve made it to part two…

February

Two things went off the rails in February, our promotion push and Andy Williams’ eye for goal. The much maligned striker had scored six times in January, he was to only score twice more before the end of the season.

With boardroom shenanigans’ getting more and more prominent a stuttering Town and tearful Paolo grabbed an away point from a televised encounter against Crawley, with Adam Rooney getting the leveller from the spot. Di Canio was apparently ‘considering his position’ at the club and on the very next day he announced that he was ‘ready to walk away’.

Unfortunately for us he didn’t say that he ‘was ready to walk away unless fans waved promotional flyers and posters begging for him to stay at the next home game’.

A win in Essex against Colchester briefly raised our choking spirits, before being deflated at home in a one all draw against relegation haunted Hartlepool – Simon Ferry getting a rare strike only to see it cancelled out by the all too common Andy Monkhouse effort. We all waved our promotional flyers and posters, but it didn’t do any good, Di Canio’s mind was already made up despite being ‘overwhelmed’ by the fans efforts.

The zenith of our season was to come in the next game following a fantastic three one win away at a fading but still strong Tranmere Rovers side. A team prepared and charged by Paolo and regimented on the side-line by Fabrizio Picarretta, Town grabbed a win that was to put them top of the table; it also included a fabulous strike from Gary Roberts.

Paolo Di Canio's Circus

A hushed silence enveloped my house after the final whistle as we huddled around the radio listening to an emotionally charged Picarretta give his press statement, my emotionally charged brain tried to fend off his words but eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that this really was the end. It was the end of a truly terrifying and exhilarating rollercoaster ride – the last wonderful performance of the Di Canio Circus had been staged, the ringmaster was off.

McCrory wasted no time installing fall-guys Darren Ward and Tommy Miller as some sort of caretaking dream team (because joint managers always work well) but Town’s February limped to a close with a home draw against Preston and a dire home defeat to Bury. Just when we should have been capitalising and consolidating our position at the top we were too busy capitulating and consigning ourselves to the playoff places.

Read the rest of our review of 2013

January 2013: A Black month at Swindon Town

andrew-black-horsemeat 3

2013 is nearly over and it has been an eventful year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; this is only part one…

I wondered for an age about the style in which I was going to write this review. Perhaps in a sensible and reflective way, offering emotional insight and a deeply personal view on events? Maybe I could be all hard and analytical, mechanically walking you through each month in turn? Or perhaps I could adopt a lazy, flippant and meandering style in which I write a substance-light, totally factless piece purely to entertain myself and maybe one other person. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one I’ve adopted, but to give you a clue, it isn’t going to be that different to the rest of my output to date!

I did think I could get all ‘I love 2013’ over this piece, the general public seem to lap up all that recapping nostalgic crap these days.

I can imagine a ‘talking head’ with Dick or Dom or some random woman from Pint of Lager and Packet of Crisps Please. Or maybe some unknown miscellaneous beauty who no one knows but the subtitle at the bottom of the screen cryptically says something like “Pixie Troublebottom, Presenter and Model”. Can you imagine all these ‘C’-listers rambling on about how PDC once punched the dugout and then swore a lot and how they all laughed?

Nah, me neither, so I ditched that idea, so here we go….

Can you believe that it’s almost a year ago that we notched those two back-to-back 5-0 scorelines against table topping Tranmere Rovers and Portsmouth? It does seem pretty recent to me, especially the Tranmere game as I was amazingly hung-over after attending my works Christmas party the previous night.

Now that little event was quite memorable, we had an awful, mass-produced Christmas ‘themed’ meal. Where I’m still convinced to this day that the menu stated the meat we were about to enjoy was merely ‘Turkey Flavoured’ and that the veg was actually fresh.

Unfortunately the meal wasn’t the only thing to lack any kind of good taste as that evening we were treated to some ‘top-class’ live entertainment as well. This came in the form of a ridiculously bad comedian who’s opening gambit was to tell a terrible joke about a plumber and the size of his huge tool, which received zero laughs apart from a couple of childish guffaws from two at the back who were obviously the reincarnations of Kenneth Williams and Sid James.

He counteracted the silence by stating that we were all going to ‘struggle’ throughout his routine if we hadn’t laughed at that. There you go; we were to blame for him being crap.

After an uncomfortable twenty minutes his set finally finished, no laughter, the silence was only punctuated by loud stomach groans and a few barely audible Christ Almighty’s, – not sure whether that was due to the cavalcade of bad material we were witnessing or the vicious turkey related stomach cramps we were experiencing.

After the ‘comedian’ we were treated to a psychic, who seemed to not pick up via the spirits that he was truly awful. Not quite Clinton Baptiste, but pretty close.

He rambled on for what seemed like eternity, with most of the audience wondering if they should all make a dash for the loo before a queue formed due to all the turkey flavoured goodness that was currently hopscotching through our colons. He came out with some bizarre personal claims directed at an obviously suffering data entry clerk who he had dragged out onto the stage. Her only crime was that instead of being doubled up with abdominal pains like the rest of us, she briefly made eye contact with him. But according to the performer, her aura was strong and the spirits had picked her out.

As his set came to a shambling end, he made some bizarre predictions for the future (first contact with a superior alien race was nailed on for August apparently) but seriously, if he had predicted that this time next year we would’ve had as many managers and chairmen as Bristol City have had wins I would’ve snapped and rushed the stage in an effort to put an end to such ludicrous buffoonery.

But in reality, if you reflect back to the Tranmere drubbing of last year, none of us – not even a woeful psychic could’ve predicted that in one calendar year:

  • Only three players from the entire Tranmere match day eighteen would still be here. (Fods, Ward, Nathan Thompson)
  • Our beloved manager would have left in a huff, got a premier league job, got sacked (Well maybe we could’ve all predicted that one)
  • Our beloved board, benefactor and entire club directorship would’ve collapsed
  • We’d have had three different Chairmen and owners
  • We’d have had three different Managers

So here goes for a review of the year 2013, when all hell broke loose and the dust is only beginning to settle (I hope).

JANUARY

What better place to start than the 1st of the month and our second consecutive 5-0 walloping. Town were starting to find some form with first table topping Tranmere being bullied around on the County Ground pitch and then Portsmouth.

The game was close for the first hour before an inspired/desperate substitution from Paolo who threw on James Collins for the ineffective Chris Martin (currently troubling the top scorer charts in the Championship at the moment, now who would’ve predicted that?)

Collins’ introduction provided Town with a fresh impetus and the team went on to score four times in a remarkable twelve minute spell – with Collins himself grabbing a hat trick and Danny Hollands adding another. James wasn’t content with just the match ball as he notched a fourth in the final ten minutes, leaving the full-time scoreboard displaying an improbable five nil result.

A fantastic performance that as well as inspiring the whole team, also enlivened the flagging fitness DVD market as Collins cashed in on his remarkable 30 minutes of fame.

collins 12 minute hat trick

Meanwhile, off the pitch, PDC was demanding backing from the board to boost further forays into the transfer market. Happy with the loans of Chris Martin and the impressive Danny Hollands, Paolo wanted to push on with strengthening his squad for the final assault on promotion. He was to be disappointed.

Back to the match action, hopes were high of repeating the five nil feat for a third consecutive game against a visiting Carlisle, but the Town faithful were left disappointed due to a poor, listless display with very little obvious effort and endeavour from the boys in red. Town scraping through by a 4-0 scoreline – the sales of football related fitness DVDs plummeted.

Next up was a tricky tie away at a resurgent Bournemouth, who were busy climbing quickly up the table using the bodies of vanquished foes as a step ladder. The game ended in a one all draw and despite monsoon conditions it was an entertaining game with the Cherries taking the lead before being pegged back by Andy Williams’ well taken opportunists strike following a David James rick.

The main news coming out from the game was that PDC had apparently rampaged across the touchline and destroyed the away dug-out. Typical of the inflammatory hyperbole that constantly surrounded the Italian, it turned out that it was the goalkeeping coach who accidentally dislodged a pane of Perspex. Nothing to see here.

Three days later though, the Town faithful were hit with a hammer blow. Apparently our beloved benefactor Andrew Black was getting itchy feet and was looking to get out of Dodge, immediately. The fact that Black wanted to remove himself from the club was no great secret, but suddenly there was a timeline with a very firm deadline at the end. “Swindon Town consider administration as club searches for new investors” trumpeted the Adver, following this up the following day with an interview with Black explaining his reasons to befuddled fans.

On the field, Town were to finish January unbeaten with another home win against Shrewsbury reinforced by a creditable draw away at Leyton Orient, the external influences seemingly not having an effect.

We were told by the Adver that several interested parties were vying for the coveted purchase of the club, with a fourth party joining late. Di Canio was very pleased with the state of affairs “There is positive energy. I can’t promise anything because I can’t sort out the situation on my own, but I know that we are in a very good position at the moment and I hope that we can go through.”

Fans had images of various oil rich Sheiks, natural gas laden Oligarchs and far eastern billionaires all vying for a piece of hot Wiltshire action. In reality though, we all sort of knew it would be a bunch of sports centre owners, scrap merchants, disqualified bookies and lower league football chairman scrabbling around purely for a bit of one-upmanship to brag about at the golf club.

Matt Ritchie

On the 30th January the comments section of the Adver was white-hot with activity from many obviously disturbed individuals as first the paper calmly announced that Ritchie was to be sold, to Bournemouth of all places. Shortly afterwards the club issued another statement saying Andrew Black had flogged the club – to an unnamed consortium. Not a single, disgustingly rich individual you understand but to a consortium. Perhaps Mr Sports Centre, Mr Disqualified Bookie and Ms Scrap Merchant had all sold their 52 plate Jags to club together to buy the club.

Not quite, but Town were now in the grasping hands of one Jed McCrory, chairman of Banbury United and self-confessed fan of lower league football. To some he was a saviour, who stopped Swindon suffering further financial heartaches, to others, a chancing wide boy who was only out to line his own pockets.

On the field the form we showed in January was that of a nailed-on promotion side, but unfortunately it was never sustainable in the current climate. Like a passenger on the Titanic who turned to his wife and said ‘I swear I saw something big and white on the horizon’ Town fans were starting to get an inclination about the real turmoil that was to come…

Header image courtesy BitterGillespie

50 Years On: 1963/64 November – Swindon in the big time for the first time

1963-1964 Squad Crop

Throughout this season Mike Minihane will be taking a look back at Swindon Town’s first season in the ‘big time’, following the promotion to Division Two for the 1963/64 season. Mike continues with a review of November 1963…

Top of the Charts – You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers (for the entire month)

November 1963 promised to be a tough one with league games against some high quality opposition, as well as a League Cup Third Round tie with First Division West Ham.

First up was a home league game against Southampton, which turned out to be a bit of a Paine. We didn’t like Southampton. Their fans always seemed to think their team were bigger and better than they were. Also their star player, Terry Paine, particularly annoyed us; firstly because he was a good player and secondly because he obviously knew it.

Quite a few Saints fans had made the trip to the County Ground, contributing to a gate of almost 22,000. There had been heavy rain and the state of the pitch helped us take an early lead; as a back-pass stuck in a puddle and Jack Smith stabbed home a predatory goal after eight minutes. All was looking good at this point but Southampton started to get a foothold in the game and Terry Paine started to show why he’d been called up for the England squad; giving our left back John Trollope a torrid time.

Shortly before half time Paine waltzed down the right, John Trollope launched himself into a totally mis-timed sliding tackle and went hurtling off the pitch into the barriers leaving Paine to run on to beat Mike Turner with ease for the equaliser. It was hard to take and got harder in the second half when Paine set up an easy goal for some young up and coming striker called Martin Chivers, whoever he was. It was our first home defeat of the season, all the more unthinkable in that we’d given the points to Southampton of all people. Just over two weeks later Terry Paine scored a hat-trick at Wembley in England’s 8-3 rout of Northern Ireland.

Terry Paine

Terry Paine

The following Saturday we faced a tough trip to 6th placed Middlesbrough, where few of us expected to get anything. However we atoned somewhat for the Southampton disappointment with Ernie Hunt’s late goal giving us a 1-1 draw and a very well earned point. Next up was a home game against another half-decent side from the North East in the form of Newcastle United, who were under-performing and down in 17th place. Playing for the opposition that day was Willie Penman who was to become a great favourite when he joined Town in 1966 and went on to be a part of the 1969 League Cup winning team. He didn’t score that day however, and neither did anyone else in a fairly drab 0-0 draw.

The following Tuesday promised some great entertainment with the visit of West Ham United in a League Cup Third Round tie. West Ham had a strong side out with some experienced professionals like John Bond and Peter Brabrook together with young talent in the form of Ronnie Boyce, Martin Peters and, of course, Geoff Hurst.  Like many games we’ve had with the Hammers it was a thriller. We didn’t know what hit us as Ronnie Boyce and Peter Brabrook put the opposition two up within the first 15 minutes but goals from Don Rogers and Jack Smith put us on equal terms by half time.

The Hammers led again through a Geoff Hurst goal but seven minutes from time Ken McPherson headed home from a corner to give us a relay at Upton Park the following Monday. After a thrilling six-goal cup tie and a decent result against a First Division side, we went home pretty happy. The replay put us in our place however with West Ham, bolstered by the presence of Bobby Moore, cruising to an easy 4-1 win with goals from John Byrne, Peter Brabrook, Geoff Hurst and Tony Scott, with Don getting our consolation goal.

1963/64 Swindon Town squad with manager Bert Head Back row: McPherson , Wollen, Atkins, Turner, Harvey, Morgan, Lloyd. Third row: Plumb, Trollope, Hallett, French, Hicks, Smith, Smart, Dawson, Summerbee. Second row: Thorburn, Shergold, Griffin, Rogers, Hellin, Stevens, Leggett, Huxford, Woodruff, Sproates, Peapell. Front row: Lewis, Tabor, Harber, Darcy, Cousins (trainer), Head (manager), Morse (secretary), Colsell, Hunt, Ling, James. Seated: Critchley, Hedges, Corbett, Wrintmore, Hedges

1963/64 Swindon Town squad with manager Bert Head
Back row: McPherson , Wollen, Atkins, Turner, Harvey, Morgan, Lloyd.
Third row: Plumb, Trollope, Hallett, French, Hicks, Smith, Smart, Dawson, Summerbee.
Second row: Thorburn, Shergold, Griffin, Rogers, Hellin, Stevens, Leggett, Huxford, Woodruff, Sproates, Peapell.
Front row: Lewis, Tabor, Harber, Darcy, Cousins (trainer), Head (manager), Morse (secretary), Colsell, Hunt, Ling, James.
Seated: Critchley, Hedges, Corbett, Wrintmore, Hedges

The following Saturday saw us travel to Huddersfield Town for an unremarkable 2-0 defeat and a week later we shared a rather dire 0-0 home draw with Derby County.  It had been a bad month with no win recorded in five league games and two cup games. What was particularly worrying was that the goals had suddenly dried up; we’d only scored two goals in the five league games during the month and failed to score in the last three.

Probably reflecting this, the attendance for the Derby game was less than 16,000, the lowest of the season to date.  We were however still 4th in Division Two, behind Leeds United, Sunderland and Preston North End, illustrious company to say the least, and that was way beyond our wildest expectations at the start of the season.  December beckoned; surely we’d get back to winning ways…

1963-64 November Table

Images courtesy of swindon-town-fc.co.uk

Table from statto.com

Hall of Shame #26: Tooting and Mitcham United 2-1 Swindon Town

Tooting and Mitcham vs Swindon HoS 3

We continue our Swindon Town Hall of Shame by inducting our second FA Cup horror story. Pete Marsh recalls an infamous FA Cup Third Round defeat in 1975/76 to non-league Tooting and Mitcham United…

It happened during 1975/96, a season best remembered for avoidance of relegation from Division Three by hammering hapless Aldershot 5-2 in a ‘four-pointer’ as they were then.  This was along with the departure of Peter Eastoe and the eventual return of ’69 hero Don Rogers.  The home form that season was reasonably good, the away form left a lot to be desired.  The FA Cup run, such as it was, had all started off plenty of expectations…

Swindon had initially breezed past Newport County 3-0 in the First Round. In the Second Round, Town were drawn away to non-league Hendon.  That trip to North London gave some insight into to the sufferings of Scott and his colleagues on the way back from the South Pole.

I don’t remember ever being so cold at a football match.  I wasn’t the only one as I witnessed a frozen Peter Lorenzo in the BBC radio car; that turned out to be a converted London taxi fitted with a giant antenna.  He was slumped forward in the driver’s seat wearing fingerless gloves similar to those famously worn by Albert Steptoe.  Later, his match report shivered through his own tribulations mentioning in-passing a penalty scored by Will Dixon that narrowly won the tie 1-0.  To this day, I don’t know why the penalty was awarded with the action at the opposite end to the Town supporters…

More action was to follow, though.  Some of the locals apparently in an attempt to stave off hypothermia decided to chase the Town supporters to the two parked coaches, along with a hail of missiles.  This was despite the potential victims including women and children.  In the coach that had remained intact, we heard that the other coach had suffered broken windows.  There wasn’t a cop in sight. Well, it was a very cold day, but ironic considering the proximity of the Metropolitan Police College.

On the following Monday, the draw for the Third Round was another tie with a non-league side. This was one that few had even heard of and to make it even more the perfect draw, it was to be played at the County Ground and against Tooting and Mitcham United of the Isthmian League Division One.  Our trek that would’ve made Ernest Shackleton proud was to be rewarded with a golden opportunity to make into the Fourth Round for the sixth time in nine seasons.

Besides being the era of the Morris Marina, the mid-seventies were at a time when Reg Dwight was top of the charts across the world, including each side of the Atlantic.  Reg was the biggest name in pop music, and his fame and fortune were making the Beatles seem like a garage band.  Well Reg wasn’t really Reg, he was Elton.  It would’ve been too much like a Monty Python sketch to have a pop superstar named Reg.  There we are, a bunch of trivia of no consequence until after the 2-2 draw at the County Ground.

The team that played Tooting and Mitcham included only John Trollope, Frank Burrows and Joe Butler from the 1969 League Cup winning side.  There were exciting players including David Moss, Trevor Anderson and Peter Eastoe – who was soon to depart – also Tom Jenkins was available for selection – a Dave McKay signing he was often on the bench as at the time the only sub.

Swindon were cruising into the Fourth Round with just minutes left on the clock, with Eastoe and Dixon were the goalscorers. As recounted on Match of the Day with great glee, Tooting and Mitcham United then abruptly woke up and scored two goals in rapid succession to take Town to a replay in Morden as it finished 2-2.  Then the media avalanche began. Tooting and Mitcham were managed by Roy Dwight, Reg Dwight’s cousin.  Not only that, Roy had received an FA Cup winners medal with Nottingham Forest after, along the way to the final, coincidentally knocking out Tooting and Mitcham.  Hopefully, all the hype surrounding the Elton John connection was to be immediately forgotten after the replay…

Suffice it to say, Tooting and Mitcham ran out 2-1 winners in the replay at Sandy Lane.  Their team for both ties included Ron Howell, a former Town player signed in the wake of the Dave McKay apocalypse.  Howell hardly had pulled up any trees during his time in Wiltshire.  To make matters worse, Tooting and Mitcham scored all three goals after Dave Juneman scored for the hosts and Bobby Green’s own goal for Swindon. The winner came from Tooting winger Alan Ives, whose great solo run saw him beat several players before scoring, which Don Rogers’ replacement Tom Jenkins almost nearly, but seldom, did in previous games for Town.

The following month Tom Jenkins was transferred to Peterborough, after not having the chance to change the tide of either game.  Of course, the defeat of the Division Three side by the heroic part-timers from South London managed by the cup winning hero cousin of Elton John, made Swindon Town seem like a candle in a hurricane.  Previous giant-killing manager Danny Williams was put on the spot in various interviews in the aftermath grumpily stating that his players were ‘professionals’…

Perhaps, in hindsight, a cup run may have resulted in distraction and relegation for Swindon.  The Town survived in Division Three by the skin of their teeth by a single point.

Meanwhile, Tooting and Mitcham United were defeated by Bradford City 3-1 in the Fourth Round. That run through to the Fourth Round proper remains The Terror’s best run in the FA Cup and they’ve only made it to the First Round proper on three further occasions – the most recent being a 0-5 defeat at Stockport County in 2009/10. Later that 1975/76 season United would finish 7th in the Isthmian League Division One and remain within the Isthmian league system to this day.

For the disappointment, especially for those who made it back from the icy wastes of Hendon, and for all the media hype surrounding Roy and his cousin Reg, the 1976 defeat by Tooting and Mitcham United should rightfully take its place in the Swindon Town Hall of Shame.  Let’s be thankful that Adele wasn’t born in Macclesfield…

Read more tales from the Swindon Town Hall of Shame…

Follow Pete Marsh on Twitter @GreenPumice

Hall of Shame #25: Nottingham Forest 7-1 Swindon Town

Trent End Nottingham 5

After being thumped by Macclesfield Town at the weekend I thought I’d cheer you all up with our long awaited 25th entry into the Swindon Town Hall of Shame… a total demolition job by Nottingham Forest and a hammering that fortunately hasn’t been equalled since. Writes Ron Smith.

This trip to the City Ground in February 2006 will haunt me forever. The 7-1 scoreline in favour of Nottingham Forest was bad enough for any Town fan in attendance at the City Ground that cold winter afternoon, however it was my decision to watch this unfolding debacle from the Trent End which truly rubbed salt into the weeping wounds.

After a pathetic start to the campaign set Town adrift at the foot of League One, results from November had slowly started to improve under Iffy Onoura. With Jamie Cureton finding his scoring boots, Swindon soon had vertigo after rising to 16th in the table a week prior to this trip to the East Midlands.

Our opponents rightfully never let you forget that they had “Headed into Europe and Won the Cup Twice”, yet Forest were back in the third tier for the first time since the 1950/51 season and had been struggling under the hated Gary Megson. A 0-3 defeat at Oldham Athletic on the 15th February signalled Megson’s departure, so Forest turned to the temporary management of Assistant manager Frank Barlow and coach Ian McParland – who later appeared at Swindon under Paul Hart’s ill-fated spell. With both sides seemingly on a par in mid-table, this meeting appeared to provide Town with the opportunity to register a first ever victory at the City Ground in 11 attempts.

Iffy Onoura

Never being one to turn down the offer of a Forest supporting friend with a spare season ticket, I opted to take my seat alongside several thousand in the Trent End.  It was a magnificent vantage point in the front row of the upper tier, slap bang in the centre, which I thought would be a great position to watch Town and the 1,188 strong travelling supporters tucked away in the Bridgford End Lower Tier celebrating a first win at the ground…

I regretted the hospitality as early as the third minute as Forest ran riot. A beleaguered Swindon never recovered from a long range shot striking the crossbar only for Town’s defence to show no enthusiasm in clearing the ball, allowing Nicky Southall to half-volley the opener into the top corner past Rhys Evans.

A true mark of any pathetic performance is how many goals that an opposition defender scores. In this case Wes Morgan – who presently has a strike rate of a goal every 27 matches – scored twice and another one for Ian Breckin was thrown in for good measure.  Headed goals from Morgan and Breckin from corners fired Forest 3-0 up at half-time, with the Town backline of Andy Nicholas, Sean O’Hanlon, Jerel Ifil and Jack Smith looking desperate having been pulled apart.

The rout continued quickly from the re-start. Nicky Southall bagged two more in the 51′ and 55′ minutes to provide what turned out to be his final hat trick in professional football. His second of the game was simple enough tap-in as he waltzed into the six-yard box unchallenged.  His third and Forest’s fifth followed Nathan Tyson’s bursting run down the left flank to unselfishly pick out Southall, again without a Town player in several yards, to strike at goal.

With Forest leading by five goals to nothing, by this point it was clear Town had thrown-in the towel, however there were 35 minutes to go and Forest were unstoppable by Iffy Onoura’s hapless side. After Morgan scored his second from another corner, Jerel Ifil received his marching orders for Swindon when he desperately lunged at Tyson for putting the mockers on him throughout the game.

Strangely the sending-off ruined the goalscoring fun for Forest as Town made the next mark when journeyman striker Trevor Benjamin netted a consolation for Town. I initially tried hard not to celebrate the only bright spot in the game, but eventually joined in with the patronising cheering with the Forest support. I even joined in with the Mexican wave…

In the end the hosts had to wait until 90 minutes for Jack Lester to finish off the rout as his deflected effort looped into the net to complete a memorable afternoon’s football for all but one in the Trent End…

Nottingham Forest used this victory as a springboard, picking up 28 from 39 points in the temporary duo’s 13 games in charge, to narrowly miss out on the play-offs.

Meanwhile Swindon secured ten points from their remaining 11 games to slump to a finish well into the relegation zone, finishing four points adrift of safety, but it really could’ve been greater. For those Town fans at the City Ground that day we all knew that the 2005/06 season would end with relegation…

408 matches later, 7 years and 260 days and Swindon Town have yet to be hit for seven or lose by a six goal margin…

Swindon Town’s seven goal drubbing at Forest… take your place in the STFC Hall of Shame.

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