50 Years Ago: 1964/65 February – Jimmy Hill…Pillock

1964 Stratton Bank - 50 Years

Mike Minihane continues his look back 50 years to events at the County Ground. Following Swindon Town’s first season in the ‘big time’ Division Two during 1963/64, Town looked to consolidate. However football isn’t that simple…

Top of the Charts:  You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’; The Righteous Brothers

January had certainly given us a glimmer of hope that we might avoid the dreaded drop. But February looked to be a tough month in which to pick up points, with three of our four games being away from home. Despite our recent couple of successes on our travels our away form overall was dreadful. However our first opponents, Huddersfield Town, were even worse than we were, being second from bottom of the division.

Our cautious optimism didn’t last long however as Huddersfield took a fourth minute lead and added a second goal before half time and a late goal from Dennis Brown was all we could muster in reply. A 1-2 defeat was disappointing to say the least, if we couldn’t pick up points at Huddersfield what chance was there?

The following Saturday saw us at Derby County. In fifth place and going well they were a much more daunting prospect. We were quite right to be worried, Derby took a 2-0 first half lead and then added two more soon after the break. Again, our late reply, through Mike Summerbee was a mere consolation in a 4-1 thumping. Our two away defeats had seen us fall to nineteenth place, only one point above the relegation zone.

We desperately need to get something from our only home game of the month against Coventry City who of course were managed by the kipper-tied showman Jimmy Hill. Jimmy had brought great changes to Coventry with his ‘Sky Blue Revolution’ and had guided the club to the Third Division Championship the previous season. They were continuing their good form and were comfortably in tenth place. Apart from changing the team’s colours to sky blue he also penned ‘The Sky Blue Song’, somewhat bizarrely sung to the tune of ‘The Eton Boating Song’. After leaving football management in 1967 he went on to a successful career in broadcasting, racking up over 600 appearances as presenter of BBC1’s Match of the Day. I thought he was a complete pillock and couldn’t stand him, although of course it didn’t stop me watching Match of the Day.

At this time I was working for Swindon Borough Council (in an extremely lowly position). On the Monday after the game the talk at work was about an altercation that had occurred at the match between Hill and the Mayor of Swindon, who was a nice old boy, very popular in the town and very well-respected. It seems that the Mayor had the misfortune to be sitting near to Hill at the match. A Coventry player committed a bad foul and there was a subsequent scuffle between him and the victim. The Mayor was, quite rightly, outraged and when Hill started shouting the odds said to him ‘your man started that’, to which Hill replied, ’yes, and he’ll finish it too!’

1964-65 Feb Results

On this occasion however justice was done as Town ran out 4-1 winners with two splendid Ernie Hunt goals from distance and others from Mike Summerbee and, of all people, full back Owen Dawson. As a manager Hill was not the greatest loser and perhaps it was a smart move on his part to become a TV football pundit. He never liked us. I clearly remember an edition of Match of The Day when we were in the second division. It was early in the season and we were in second place having won two and drawn one of our three games. Reviewing the table he referred to us as ‘Swindon, that up and down team’. What was he on about? We were unbeaten, albeit after only three games.

Most importantly the Coventry win had given us a big boost and lifted us to 16th place. The last game of the month was at Cardiff City who were also struggling, another game from which we needed to take something. On paper they had a good side with four Welsh internationals playing on the day – John Charles, Peter Rodrigues, Ivor Allchurch and Barry Hole. It was a close game but, as usual, we came away with nothing from a 0-2 defeat, so it was back down to 19th in the table.

With only ten games left and some daunting fixtures in store things looked worrying to put it mildly. We had however played superbly against Coventry and were still picking up points at home. We might yet get out of trouble if we could grind out a few points away from home, however ugly it might be. The problem was however, that we didn’t really do ugly. We were just too nice for our own good.

1964-65 Feb Table

Table and results from Statto.com

50 Years Ago: 1964/65 January – A Glimmer of Hope

1964 Stratton Bank - 50 Years

Mike Minihane continues his look back 50 years to events at the County Ground. Following Swindon Town’s first season in the ‘big time’ Division Two during 1963/64, Town looked to consolidate. However football isn’t that simple…

Top of the Charts:  Yeh Yeh; Georgie Fame

After such a dismal end to 1964 we were all hoping for better things in the New Year. The visit of Charlton Athletic, only a couple of points better off than Swindon Town, was a cause for optimism. Perhaps we could start the year on a winning note and turn things around…

Charlton included Mike Bailey who would go on to an illustrious career with Wolves, winning a couple of England caps along the way. A close game seemed to be heading for a goalless draw until a late goal from Mike Summerbee gave us the lead and five minutes later a second from Don Rogers made sure of the points and gave us a very welcome 2-0 win and two precious points that moved us a couple of places up the league, a good start to the 1965.

The following Saturday saw us in entering the FA Cup straight into the third round for only the second time in our history. We were drawn home to mid-table Ipswich Town and the chances of progressing to the fourth round and a possible lucrative tie seemed realistic.

1964-65 February Results

When Ipswich ran out I was struck by the elderly appearance of one of their players, a little grey haired guy called Jimmy Leadbetter who looked about 60. My mate and I thought this was hilarious and immediately christened him ‘Pensioner’, giving him quite a lot of stick in the process. Of course Jimmy made us eat our words by setting up a couple of goals for Frank Brogan to give Ipswich a 2-0 lead and a late consolation goal from Dennis Brown was all we could manage in return. A 1-2 defeat and the prospects of a cup run gone. Not to worry, now we could concentrate on the league and ensure our status as a Second Division club, which of course was what really mattered.

So it was back to the league and the daunting prospect of a tough away game to Manchester City at Maine Road. No one expected us to get anything from that. It’s well known that if you wait an eternity for a bus eventually two come along together and so it proved. Having secured our first away win at Leyton Orient in our previous away fixture after a fourteen month wait incredibly we beat City 2-1 on their own ground, with Dennis Brown and Mike Summerbee the scorers. Summerbee had a great game and it was little surprise when City signed him at the end of the season and, of course, he went on to become one of their all-time great players.

Portsmouth, our visitors the following Saturday were in an even worse position than we were, being rock bottom of the league, five positions below us. It was a game we really needed to win to put some daylight between us and the relegation places. In a dire stalemate they got the point they came for with a goalless draw. An opportunity had gone begging and the point dropped would come back to haunt us at the end of the season.

The final fixture of the month was at promotion-chasing Norwich City who were in third place in the league, hard on the heels of Newcastle United and Northampton Town. We didn’t expect to get anything there and so it proved, although with two of their goals coming in the last ten minutes the game was closer than the 3-1 score suggested.

January had been our best month since October, with two wins, one draw and only one defeat in the league. We were up to seventeenth in the league and there was the start of a belief that perhaps we might just pull it together and stay up for another season. But could we maintain it?

1964-65 February Table

Table and results from Statto.com

Developing the Swindon Town Stars of Tomorrow…

Tom Smith Header

Calvin Hothi interviews Swindon Town youth team player Tom Smith to ask how are the club developing the stars of tomorrow? 

With the current emphasis on youth, a major part of the future is developing our own players through the academy and consistently producing players of quality to make the first team squad. With the help of Swindon Town first year scholar Tom Smith, I delved into the depths of the STFC academy as he revealed how the young Robins are being developed into the stars of tomorrow.

Tom Smith is a first year scholar at Swindon and can operate in the sweeper role along with a more natural centre midfield position. His own breakthrough this season has often been overshadowed by the appearance of Lee Marshall to the professional scene; which itself is quite an achievement.

At the age of 16 that players are taken on scholarships, they are faced with the challenge of juggling training with continuing their studies at college. This can be quite a struggle for some and the average week for a scholar is quite full.

When asked to describe a typical week for him Tom explained, “We mainly do skills sessions throughout the week. 8:30 start every day. Monday we have college in the afternoon. Wednesday we have a whole day of college. Thursday and Friday are devoted to preparation for the game on Saturday. That is going through our formation which is called shape. We go through set pieces. The team is normally named on Friday.”

Staying in shape and keeping their fitness in line is a major part of any section of the game whether it be youth, professional or semi-pro. Many academies over the countries have adopted the approach of diet plans but as of yet it is only something being considered by the academy staff, “As of now we haven’t really been given anything for diet , however we had a meeting. And we are getting more information on that soon. We roughly know what to eat , breakfast – slow release energy foods , and some protein. Lunch – protein and carbs . Dinner – more protein / salad”

Preparing young players for the jump to the first team is one of the most important parts of any academy. Taking match days in the wrong way could potentially lead to not being in the correct mindset and under performing.

When questioned about a his match day routine, Tom says “We report for games at the County Ground for departure at a time set by the coach. We leave together on the mini bus. Arrive at ground one hour before kick off. Pitch check. Music is normally played in changing room to get pumped and mentally prepared for game. We have to fill out an objective sheet – which are goals that we want to achieve in the game. Get changed , then go out for warm up . We then get into keep ball to get used to moving the ball . Stay out for kick off and Complete the game .”

One of the most influential impacts is the opportunity to train with current professionals and learn from them. This is the advantage of being part of an academy to a professional team. The chance to regularly train with and watch internationals like Massimo Luongo and Yaser Kasim can only benefit players coming through the ranks. It also gives the chance to take advice on from a manager and set of coaches with years worth of experience in the game.

“Me personally , have been involved with the first team quite a lot for a first year scholar. I mean the first team coach is great for involving youth team . So we get a lot of experience when training with first team , the style of play , the tempo that they play at and the physicality.”

This is a far cry from the Paolo Di Canio reign where the youth team was often shunned away and dismissed with the manager taking very little interest in what the scholars had to offer. Mark Cooper is very different to this however, he can regularly be spotted attending U18 games and development squad taking a keen interest in who deserves the chance to move up.

Smith and Marshall have been included in Matchday squads against Scunthorpe, Luton, Gillingham and Fleetwood to name a few teams. This paired with Will Randall’s involvement aids the experience and development of them massively, a point agreed by Tom Smith, “Being involved with the first team gave me huge experience , in terms of being in the dressing room , putting on the kit . Warming up on the pitch , being in front of a crowd and being on the bench. Even staying overnight at Fleetwood. In terms of development , it helps me deal with pressed situations better”

While the involvement of scholars sometimes cannot be helped due to low squad numbers, it does represent a massive incentive for players coming through the academy currently that should they work hard enough an opportunity is there.

A number of the current crop of second year scholars will find out over the next few weeks whether they have a future with the Robins. One thing they can be assured is that they will be given a chance to impress.

Players like Tom Smith, Lee Marshall, Will Randall can look up to the achievements of the Thompson brothers, Connor Waldon, Billy Bodin and Miles Storey to name a few the academy has churned out.

Tom Smith himself is only at the start of this progress, going onto the second year of his scholarship next year he will continue to develop and shows a lot of promise. Keep an eye out for his inclusion in match squads in the future with his bright ginger locks making him someone hard to miss. He showed immense maturity beyond his years while I conducted this interview and his feet are firmly planted on the ground for someone with such talent at a young age.

Images courtesy Billy Gibbs and Calvin Hothi

Swindon Town 3-1 Chesterfield: Your photos via Twitter #stfcpics

2015.01.17 Chesterfield - Kay Brown 2 Header

Swindon Town remain top of League One following a 3-1 victory over Chesterfield. Here’s a selection of your photographs of the matchday submitted to us via Twitter #stfcpics.

For future games please tweet us your photos to @thewashbag or use the hashtag #stfcpics

Click on the images to view the slideshow…

50 Years Ago: 1964/65 December – A Christmas Miracle

1964 Stratton Bank - 50 Years

Mike Minihane continues his look back 50 years to events at the County Ground. Following Swindon Town’s first season in the ‘big time’ Division Two during 1963/64, Town looked to consolidate; however football isn’t that simple…

Top of the Charts: I Feel Fine – The Beatles

Our first game of the month was at Northampton Town who had been promoted with us two seasons previously, they as Champions and us as runners-up. Since that time our fortunes had gone in dramatically different directions. Northampton were proving to be the Division’s surprise package and deservedly led the table. In contrast we were down in 20th position, also deservedly. Given our dismal away form no one was expecting us to get anything out of this fixture.

It came as no surprise then that we lost, although only 1-2 and that after we had taken the lead through Dennis Brown’ first goal for the club after his transfer from Chelsea. Two late goals however were to be enough to give the Cobblers the points and we duly slipped from 20th position to 21st and into the relegation zone. Dennis went on to become a big favourite at the County Ground scoring 37 goals in 92 games. He was certainly one of my favourite players with his ability to create space for himself and always looking likely to score. His scoring brought him to the attention of other clubs and in February 1967 he moved on, but why he went to Northampton Town I’ll never understand!

A home game to Bury gave us the chance to seek some revenge for the 1-6 drubbing we’d had at Gigg Lane in the first game of the season and to put our two previous heavy home defeats to Bolton and Newcastle behind us. We were rewarded for a much better display with a 2-0 win and two precious points, the goals coming from Don Rogers and Keith East, his second in four games since he’d broken into the team. For some unfathomable reason East didn’t play again that season but the following season he was to become a scoring sensation scoring nine goals in two games, still a Town record. Captaining Bury that day was Gordon Atherton who had a fine game. He clearly impressed the Town hierarchy because during the following week he signed for Town and made his debut the following Saturday at Leyton Orient.

1964-65 December Results

The following Saturday the miracle of Christmas arrived. We were at Leyton Orient, with Gordon Atherton making his debut. Whatever else he certainly brought us some luck because Dennis Brown gave us an early lead and then went on to score two more for his first ever hat trick in League football and we ran out 3-0 winners. Some statistics are required to put this miraculous away win in perspective. We had lost our ten previous away games in this season. Taking the previous 1963/64 season into account we had failed to win away in almost fourteen months, our last victory being at Plymouth Argyle in October 1963. Since then we had played twenty four away games, drawing two and losing twenty-two.

Heartened, we looked forward to our home Boxing Day clash with third-placed Norwich City; could we make it three wins in a row? As it turned out we couldn’t, as although playing well we fell to the sucker punch of a very late Gordon Bolland goal. The miracle of Christmas had moved on. We were however back up to twentieth in the League, and with two wins out of four and two clean sheets by our standards it had been a decent month. That said, we were still in deep trouble and looking very likely to drop back into Division Three.

1964-65 December Table

Table and results from Statto.com

Fleetwood Town 2-2 Swindon Town: Your #stfcpics

2015.01.03 Fleetwood - Garry Trinder 1 Header 1

Swindon Town now lead League One following a comeback at Fleetwood Town to draw 2-2. Here’s a selection of your photographs of the matchday trip to the Fylde peninsula via Twitter.

For future games please tweet us your pics to @thewashbag or use the hashtag #stfcpics…

Click on the images to view the slideshow…

Confessions of a Swindon Town Press Officer…

Press 1

In the final part of our Swindon Town ‘Confessions’ series, Jason Ludditch reflects on his time as the Press Officer at the County Ground, being gatekeeper to information; seeing waving man bits; and putting banana skins on the cover of the matchday programme…

Any current or former employee of a football club could confess to a multitude of sins they’ve seen or experienced. There really is nothing quite like it. Football and all those who play a part in it, from the players to coaching and behind-scenes staff, board members and all those on the periphery… it’s all utterly compelling.

Club parties, team nights out, away days, events in the players’ tunnel, training ground and boardroom – club employees have a front-row pass to the lot. However, this pass comes with a certain degree of trust. So, if you’re expecting tales of debauchery, misdemeanor and more you might be slightly disappointed!

First and foremost, it is a privilege to see the inner machinations of a football club. No two days were ever the same. One day you could be helping another department, perhaps printing names on the back of shirts in the club shop, on another you’d be driving members of coaching staff to the bookies to place a bet on the nags, you never really knew what you’d be doing.

Some of us would often be asked to drive new signings to their hotel or digs. This was awesome, of course, but a real eye opener. In many case, these guys were younger than my 21-24-year-old self at the time – and moving away from home for the first time. Not surprisingly, some would be nervous about moving to a new area and living on their own. It’s not always as glamorous as you might expect.

Arguably the best memory I have is sharing desk space with Fraser Digby, while the most famous person I encountered was John Motson. Motty wanted a lift from Swindon station when he came to cast his expert eye over a training session in the build up to the FA Cup defeat against Oxford in 2002. We were poor, we lost, and they drew Arsenal in the next round. However, shooting the shit with Motson was epic, even more so listening back to some of the nuggets of info we’d discussed beforehand.

I would often attend training sessions, which would be incredibly revealing. They provided a fascinating insight into group dynamics; not all players get on well, y’know, far from it in some cases. You’d find out which players were loners, for example, or those who were troublemakers. You’d see what went into the planning of sessions, how players interacted with the coaching staff and catch a glimpse of those on trial before anyone else knew about them.

There are worse ways to make a living, but it wasn’t without its pitfalls.

For example, you wouldn’t believe the lengths some players would go to avoid doing an interview or community appearance. Some would purposely sneak from a different exit, others would take so long getting changed you would have to give up waiting. Some players were better at this than others. I remember once having to chase a lad around a golf course on print deadline day in an effort to get an interview and makeshift photo shoot [the photographer didn’t have time to hang around].

It was certainly easier developing relationships with some players than others. Some are complex characters. A training ground is like any office… you get all sorts.

Then there’s the precarious nature of the interview subject. One year, we produced an A4 programme for a pre-season triple-header. Sadly, on print deadline day, the cover star was sold, giving us hours to find a replacement. Whether he knew he was off or not, who knows, but things in football can change quickly… quite often with players unsure of their own futures.

On another occasion, one interview had to be cut short thanks to the repeated high jinx of a teammate [who will remain nameless] but who repeatedly ran out of the dressing room and around us waving his man bits.

Talking of programme covers, who remembers Ilkeston Town in the FA Cup in November 2000? Swindon’s form was sketchy to say the least (one win in nine) and there was an overriding sense of negativity. This game was a potential ‘banana skin’… but quite why we decided to put an actual picture of a banana skin underneath Danny Invincibile’s foot on the front page is still beyond my comprehension. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. I was almost sacked, and was given a good canning by the gaffer live on air.

It’s probably safe to say the press department had a love/hate relationship with players and management staff. They loved us when we won, hated speaking to us when we lost. I can still recall the sense of dread when greeted by one manager’s customary aggressive ‘what do you want’ on a Monday morning following defeat. There was never a right time to call, no correct questions to ask.

Winning and losing is everything when you work in football. The highs are high but the lows can be brutal. As a fan, if your team loses you’re probably annoyed for one night, maybe a weekend. Defeat lingers long in the air in any football club office. A win sells programmes, items in the club shop, hospitality packages, sponsorship and tickets. For a press officer, it means players are more willing to do interviews and community projects. It means press enquiries are largely for the right reasons. The pressure to win, and for everyone to succeed in their particular role, is immense and constant.

The office itself was intriguing. When board members popped in and out mischievously on their mobile you always knew things were afoot, whether it was a new signing or something more sinister. And rumours would always spread like wildfire, from the kitchen to the maintenance staff and back to the office. Simply seeing who popped in to see the manager on a weekday, or the boardroom on matchdays, would be enlightening.

Funnily enough, the media team – gatekeepers of information to the supporters – was often the last to find out anything. New signings usually had to be signed and sealed before we were allowed to a) find out and b) unleash the news. The club secretary or secretary to the chief exec often knew more. In my case, they’d never spill a bean.

The most precarious part of working in a football club office was answering the phones. Our system at the time was antiquated and I once saw the manager pass through and pick up a call from another manager enquiring about the availability of his job, which he had not yet vacated!

On another occasion, someone from accounts answered a call from Sir Alex Ferguson. With our manager in the office the accountant, not knowing who was on the other end of the line merely said: ‘Got Alex on the phone for you,” The accountant never lived it down.

Arguably the worst part of being a press officer at a football club has to be dealing with negative events. Christmas parties and team nights out gone wrong, everyday mischief or worse, dealing with local/national press when the club is embroiled in financial/takeover/political chaos. Everyone wants to know what’s going on. Everyone wants to speak to the key protagonists, who often don’t want to be contacted. Quite often, you’re in the dark and if it involves a takeover or financial difficulty your own future can be in doubt.

Sometimes you can know too much. Other times, when you’re put in a position where you have to promote, publicise or defend something you might disagree with… it’s often you that has to contend with any collateral damage.

You only have to look at the club’s official social media to see what sort of comments current staff has to deal with, and that’s with the team chasing promotion! I can only thank my lucky stars Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist ‘on my watch’.

So, spare a thought for the humble press officer. Better still – buy them a pint. Then you’ll get some real confessions…

Read our other STFC Confessions…