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: Oh, Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
September had been a bad month with two wins and five defeats but at least it had ended on a high with the 4-1 demolition of Huddersfield Town, even if they were bottom of the league. The following Saturday saw the visit of Derby County who were sixth in the league and going well. It started badly as Eddie Thomas gave the Rams an early lead and we all feared the worst but we rallied and by half time were 3-1 up thanks to two Ernie Hunt goals and a rare goal from full back Owen Dawson. Soon after half time Ernie Hunt completed his hat trick to give us an unassailable 4-1 lead. Derby scored with a late penalty but the 4-2 score line represented an emphatic and deserved victory.
Two consecutive home wins with eight goals scored went a long way to restoring belief and it was with optimism that we went to Highfield Road the following Saturday to face Coventry City. Our away form hadn’t improved however and we were soon two goals down, but thanks to a quick reply from Ken Skeen and an Ernie Hunt penalty we were on terms at half time. The game could have gone either way in the second half but thanks to a late goal the Sky Blues ran out narrow 3-2 winners. The performance however suggested that we were improving on our travels.
Southampton were our next visitors and our games with them were always strongly contested as was the rivalry between the two sets of fans. For once Terry Paine and Martin Chivers didn’t score and with five minutes to go the score stood at 1-1 with Ken Skeen having got on the score sheet for the second game running. Then, with time running out, up popped Keith ‘Gladys’ Morgan with his only goal of the season for the winner. Victories over the Saints were always sweet.
The pattern of good home form and poor away form was now well entrenched. Away we’d lost all six games; at home we’d won six and lost one. We had yet to draw a game. This was well before the era of three points for a win however and we were down to 14th in the league. With our next visitors, Cardiff City, languishing at the foot of the league we approached our next home fixture with justifiable confidence. On paper Cardiff had a decent side with four Welsh internationals including a young Peter Rodrigues and a rather older Mel Charles.
We started very well with a goal from the in-form Ken Skeen and another from Mike Summerbee to give us a 2-0 half time lead. Then, thanks to a very poor refereeing decision, things started to go wrong. Trollope brought down their winger, Greg Farrell, at least a yard outside the penalty area. To the fury of the crowd the referee gave a penalty which Barry Hole stepped up to take. I have to concede that his penalty was one of the best I ever saw as he ran up to take it with his right foot and then switched to his left, rolling the ball into one corner as Norman Oakley went the other way. Not long after however Peter Leggett who had come into the side as right winger to enable Summerbee to operate as a central striker, restored our two goal advantage. Leading 3-1 with just over twenty minutes to go we should have been able to see it out but it wasn’t to be. City threw Mel Charles forward to take advantage of his well-known ability in the air and he duly obliged with two excellent headed goals for a final 3-3 score. It had been an entertaining game with six goals scored but given our away form we were not in a position to drop home points.
In an attempt to shore up the defence we’d signed a new keeper, Frank Haffey, a somewhat eccentric ex-Celtic player and Scottish international whose claim to fame was conceding nine goals in Scotland’s 9-3 defeat to England at Wembley in 1961; which gave birth to the joke ‘What’s the time? It’s almost ten past Haffey’. Perhaps not surprisingly it was his last game for Scotland.
Frank was what in current terminology is known as a ‘big unit’. In those days the opposing centre forward would always clatter the keeper whenever a cross came over. In Frank’s case they just bounced off him. He made his debut in our next game away to Preston which we lost 1-2 with Summerbee getting our late consolation goal. The following Saturday he made his home debut against Ipswich Town and helped us to a convincing 3-1 win, courtesy of goals from Bill Atkins, Mike Summerbee and an own goal. Frank was only to play four games for us; he left the following month after a rumoured bust up with Manager Bert Head because he refused to dive on the car park concrete surface during training. He went on to move to Australia where he became a cabaret singer. You couldn’t make it up!
So the Jekyll and Hyde pattern continued. Of our four home games we had registered three wins and a rather unlucky draw; away we had lost twice. This was not too worrying as long as our home form remained. However with home games against Bolton Wanderers and high-flying Newcastle United and a trip to Middlesbrough to come in November some of us were starting to feel nervous.