2010 STFC Review: May

I don’t suppose you need much reminding what occurred in May. It was a truly memorable month and culmination to the season of many moments of agony and ecstasy.

With Town 4 points behind Leeds, the visit of Brentford to the County Ground required a home win coupled with both Milwall and Leeds picking up no more than a single point each to take it to the final day.

After bottling it in recent weeks Town just about pulled it out of the bag and secured a narrow 3-2 victory over the Bees. After Ben Stevens got the second Brentford goal with half an hour to play, it was a nervy final third of the game, compounded by the 12 minutes injury time after Balkestein suffered a serious head injury.

As results elsewhere went in our favour we were back in with a shout of finishing 2nd, however so were Leeds, Millwall, Charlton and Huddersfield.

At Millwall we started brightly and then it all went wrong as Millwall showed just how well organised they were, as we would find out a few weeks later…

Whatever happened at The New Den promotion for either team depended on the Leeds result. As news reached us that Leeds were ahead and then had won… the season was to continue…

Charlton came to Swindon for the first leg of the semi final. It was difficult to separate the two teams in the two previous games this season… it would be no different in the play-offs.

Town took the upper hand with a 2-1 victory, denting Charlton’s pre-match hopes for a draw.  Even Vincent Pericard turned up and put in a performance!

The second leg was a rollercoaster ride of emotions. 2 nil down at half time, desperately looking for options and a way back into the game, only for Gordon Greer to be rightly dismissed for a connecting high foot on Deon Burton…a classic image, although not forgotten as we could’ve done with Greer for the final…

Strangely Town found it easier with 10 men and were more than a match for Charlton, Danny Ward grabbing the all important goal to make it 3-3 on aggregate. After this goodness knows how we held on and Charlton didn’t progress… well that’s football.

So it went to penalties, Charlton skipper Nicky Bailey missed, we scored all 5, Wembley here we come!

from swindontownfc.co.uk

As for the final…we didn’t turn up and Millwall wanted it more to avenge their final defeat the year before, they deserved their 1-0 victory. For us it the match will always be defined by one moment…

from uk.eurosport.yahoo.com

Final Disappointment

I’m at a bit of a loss what to write. Thoroughly disappointed is perhaps the most apt way to describe my emotions at the final whistle, as Town players laid dejected and spread on the Wembley pitch, soundly beaten.

from swindonadvertiser.co.uk

Yesterday morning was full of excitement, not nervousness as I’d thought. Before I knew it, we’d arrived at Wembley Stadium Station and in the shadow of the arch, on an unusually damp and cold May Bank Holiday weekend.

Millwall fans arrived by every means, including by open top bus, using the height and lack of roof advantage to great effect with an aerial bombardment on Town fans outside the Greyhound Pub.

This was my second visit the the new Wembley. The first, and first football match played in the rebuilt ground, was the England versus Italy u21 game which ended 3-3. So I knew what to expect, but I was still overwhelmed by view of the bowl on the way out of the concourse to take our seats, with our overpriced meal deal.

The less said about the first half the better. From the off it was the worst performance I’d seen this season. Millwall were more determined and ready, quickly moving to deny us any meaningful possession and always first to the ball. Our efforts were only speculative, from distance and I can’t recall the Millwall goalkeeper Forde making a save.

Soon into this opening play I realised there was something lacking.

Wembley is such a difficult place for a team to perform when behind and under performing. The cavernous stadium swallowed what little atmosphere was generated by the dispersed Town faithful, lost amongst 32,000 Swindonians in the west end at Wembley.

Of course, with our average attendance only just over the 8,000 mark, there were many, rightfully, out for the day to support their hometown club. These supporters, more than others, really needed the team to inspire them, to get them going, by at least a few shots on goal and a period of sustained pressure, but nothing materialised either on the pitch or in the stands. Ultimately there wasn’t any inspiration, so it was only expected that the Millwall fans dominated and drowned out the Town support throughout the game. This of course only perpetuated the cycle, resulting in the Town eleven looking anxious and playing a tense game. Millwall were soon 1 nil up.

Even though Town came out firing straight after Wilson’s half time words, it was actually Millwall who remained resolute, having the better chances again, where for a time the 1-0 scoreline flattered us. They continued to stifle the midfield and restricted JP McGovern and Ward on the wings. We did manage to test Forde through Jean-Francois’ header, but one clear opportunity stood out.

It came from perhaps the only Millwall mistake of the game. Charlie Austin took advantage and was clear through on goal, one on one with Forde, but his shot went wide of the post when almost nailed on to score. After seeing the replay today the ball clearly bobbles at the crucial moment, but I didn’t notice this at the game and I went away doubtless that this was our lost opportunity.

I could criticise the pitch, but I won’t. Both teams played on the same surface and there were times Millwall, Morison I think, had a few scuffed shots which could equally be down to the poor quality surface. Also, as readers will recall, I pointed out a few weeks back after Portsmouth beat Tottenham in the FA Cup Semi, the state of the Wembley pitch was far from ideal in our greatest moment in 1969.

In the end, despite another last minute Austin effort which was turned past the post, we cannot blame Austin for missing the great chance. As Wilson said post match, he is clearly responsible for getting us to Wembley in the first place. Also, the fact there was only one excellent opportunity stands out is a clear indication of the poor team performance, as we didn’t create it, we didn’t create anything.

So after the final what have we learnt? Well.. we have completed the whole season failing to win a game after conceding first, that is now 19 games. This team mentality needs to be addressed over pre-season, as this tag is one our opposition are clearly aware of and use to full effect. Also… Millwall wanted it more and got what they deserved.

Despite the loss and obvious disappointment that I’m feeling still a day later, I’m proud that we finished the season at Wembley, except for the result, manner of the defeat and losing the unbeaten records which were perhaps unique to us.

Swindon v Millwall Preview: The Final

Last season Town secured their League One status in the penultimate game of the season and eventually finished a deceptivly reasonable 15th, 4 points clear of the drop.

Despite a renewed optimism around the Robins, the club was brought back down to earth as 2009/2010 started with a 5-0 demolition by Gillingham on the 8th August.

So after 49 games, 23 wins, 16 draws, 9 defeats, 76 goals, 60 conceded, 2 red cards, 30 yellow cards and most importantly 5 converted penalties against Charlton Athletic, Swindon Town play Millwall on Saturday in the final game of the season, a winner takes all encounter, for the right to play in the Championship.

from mirrorfootball.co.uk

“Surprise package”, “underdog” and “plucky” are a few terms that have been used to describe our assent into the top six and push for promotion this season. This isn’t going to change going to Wembley, with Millwall firm bookie and media favourites.

This wider and misguided view of the team doesn’t bother me. We all know the team have found a new confidence this season. Whether this is because of pressure on our opponents or because they really have nothing to lose is questionable, but we can’t really be using that “nothing to lose tag”, for this is a Wembley Play-Off Final.

Swindon do have the neutral support. Who is going to support Millwall, as they say themselves, “We are Millwall, no one likes us, we don’t care”.

So with Millwall being put under pressure and expected to banish memories of their 3-2 defeat by Scunthorpe at Wembley last season, can Swindon capitalise and enjoy the day?

from swindon-town-fc.co.uk

I rightfully want to put some pressure on Town. We have an unbeaten Wembley record of 3 appearances and 3 wins (1969, 1990 & 1993) as well as an unbeaten record in the Play-Off Finals (1987, 1990 & 1993). To win and secure promotion is of course a great achievement in-itself, but perhaps equally will be to defend and extend our illustrious records.

Whereas much has been made this week of Millwall’s wretched record in the Play-Offs of 5 appearances, 4 semi-final defeats and 1 final defeat before this season. This is of course compared to our 5 appearances, 2 semi-final defeats and 3 final victories, including 10 game wins along the way. Swindon have the history behind us and I think that’s a good an omen as any, as well as provide a mental advantage.

As much as Swindon Town have history behind us, our manager, Danny Wilson, has yet to sample a Play-Off Final victory, after having missed out by losing the 2004 final with Bristol City. So lets hope managerial game 801 for Wilson is memorable for the right reasons.

Captain Gordon Greer gave the referee no option but to give a red card for his challenge and is likely to be the only missing key player on Saturday. The club is being cautious over the remaining fitness questions, perhaps with the hope of surprising Millwall when the team sheet is published before the game, but with the long gap since the semi-final all the players have had the chance to recover, so expect to see Sheehan, Lucas and Paynter.

The final provides several potential player permutations…

  • Can Jonathan Douglas finally and deservingly score his first goal in a Swindon shirt, the winning goal in the 92nd minute?
  • Will Vincent Pericard come of the bench and score 15 goals in the match to keep his promise?
  • Can JP McGovern take his assist tally for the season to an incredible 20?
  • Does Lescinel Jean-Francois play and guide Swindon to victory, in doing so capping off a season in which he has demonstrated great professionalism despite personal tragedy?
  • How will the five loanees of Ward, Darby, Ferry, Nouble and Sheehan help shape the victory. Also can you recall when Town secured the loan signings of five quality players as well as them adapting so well into the team?
  • Is there another Paul Bodin, who will step up and rise to the occasion?

And of course, the fairytale…

  • By only appearing at Wembley in the League One Play-Off Final, Charlie Austin will fulfil an astonishing rise up the football pyramid after starting this season with Poole Town of the Wessex League. But, can he finish it off by scoring the winning goal or a hattrick to send Town up?

With a few days to go I’m getting more excited, more nervous and more tense. If I’m feeling like this now, let alone on Saturday, goodness knows what it’s like for the squad!

To give me some comfort and reassurance, I will be wearing my lucky socks and lucky Swindon training top, despite the fact I will be hot and bothered in these winter clothes. But I can’t break with ritual now, despite how pathetic and probably futile these rituals actually are on affecting the result!

So then, here we go, it’s all come down to this… one match, to Wembley, 30,000 plus Swindon Town fans in our lucky west side, to win, to win on penalties, I don’t care how, keep the record alive, keep believing, Come On You Reds Up The Football League We Go!!

Wembley Memories

With Saturday fast approaching, I keep recalling more about my two previous trips to Wembley to support Town. The first in 1990 for Town against Sunderland and then in 1993 against Leicester City in the Play-Off Finals.

The 1990 Wembley final was just before my 9th birthday, so details are a bit sketchy. At the time I was in the Cubs. The Play-Off Final weekend coincided with our annual camp in Dorset, so I wasn’t going to be able to go to Wembley. A few days into the camp I started to feel unwell and sooner than I could wish to be leaving, my dad had driven down to pick me up.

1990 Play-Off Final Ticket

Looking back I think I was wasn’t feeling great, but I was definitely putting it on, in an attempt to leave our tented village and go to Wembley. It worked out perfectly as the very next day, after a good night sleep, I was fine after all and off to the County Ground with my dad to get our tickets!

As for the match itself, I can’t remember much of any action. The things that stick in my mind was being excited about entering the ground then realising I was actually inside one of the twin towers, then coming out of the concourse, seeing the vast Wembley bowl in front of little me and realising how far I was up above the pitch. I’ve never seen so many people and I remember being fascinated by the actions and reactions of this immense crowd, more than the match itself.

After the final whistle when Ardiles, McLoughlin, Digby and co. were celebrating I just remember being held aloft on the shoulders of a Wembley steward to catch a glimpse of the team as they paraded the trophy.

So whilst any memories of the actual match action are long gone, what happened next was unforgettable I can remember everything of the aftermath, the gathering at Farringdon Road park and the march around the town centre to protest of the decision of the league. Only one good thing came out of the day protesting…. I found out I was allergic to red pace paint!

I can’t believe it’s now 20 years ago, how time has passed.

As for 1993, by now I was in the Scouts and as usual the Play-Off Final weekend again coincided with the camp, again in Dorset, Brownsea Island etc….. You’ll be aware of the Scouts moto “Be Prepared”, well this time we were, with a group of 15 Town fans in the scout group buying tickets before hand and heading up to Wembley in our minibus and with seats right behind the goal.

1993 Play-Off Final Ticket

Nothing could prepare me and everyone else for the rollercoaster that was the Leicester game. Hoddle finishing off an excellent move to take Town one nil up just before half time. Going 3 nil up we all thought this was over but only for a resurgent Leicester to score 3 goals in 11 minutes to make it a nervy finish. Then for Paul Bodin to be the hero, calmly slotting home a penalty. Then cue the celebrations. We are up this time.. up where we belong!

After the game us Scouts headed back to Dorset. In doing so I missed out on the opportunity to meet Jimmy Greaves, who was parked close to my parents in the old multi storey at Wembley. Greavsie said it was one of the best games he’d ever seen and signed their programme.

Greavsie's autograph

Now this is my biggest regret and probably why I left the Scouts a year or two later, I missed the journey back to Swindon and passing all the Town fans on the bridges over the M4, and missed the victory parade a few days later. Gutted!!

Now it’s 2010, we are at Wembley again in the League One Play-Off Final versus Millwall. I’m not in the Scouts any more, so I’m not in Dorset this weekend. A few months ago, when these play-offs were a distant dream, I’d only gone and booked to take my fiancé and her parents to the Chelsea Flower Show on the 29th May!! After realising the League One game was going to be on Saturday thankfully I managed to get the tickets changed! See you all at Wembley!

I’ve scanned the Swindon sections from both Wembley programmes from the 1990 and 1993 games, including Jimmy Greaves’ autograph on the Leicester programme! Warning these are large files so they may take some time to download.

> 1990 Wembley Programme

> 1993 Wembley Programme

Come On You Whites?

I’m in two minds about the revelation yesterday that Swindon will be playing in our white away strip at Wembley, which is now just one week away.

Millwall are playing in their traditional blue, so there is no clash which means we aren’t obliged to switch from our traditional red.  So as Nick Watkins confirmed yesterday, the decision was our choice, not a commercial decision and was made by Danny Wilson and the squad.

Of course, a white strip is synonimous with our greatest achivement, beating Arsenal in the League Cup Final at Wembley in 1969. Although our two recent trips in both 1990 and 1993 to the second tier Play-Off Finals saw Town play in red on both occasions. So should we be so hung up about not wearing red?

Well for one I, and the vast majority of the 36,000 Town fans behind the western Wembley goal will be in red. We’ll also be chanting Come on You Reds!! So it just makes plain sense for the players kitted out in the home strip.

Perhaps, they’ve still got a few too many white away shirts in the stock room of the club shop, so they want to shift them? Although I believe Watkins when he said it wasn’t a commercial decision.

The Town squad have performed so well in their 3rd blue kit this season and had, until now, obviously favoured wearing it.  Only picking up two defeats at Fulham in the FA Cup Third Round and in regular time at The Valley on Monday night, albeit winning on penalties. So I’d assume, if the blue didn’t clash with our opponents then they would have picked the 3rd kit.

Also, one more thing, originally Swindon Town wore white shirts and black shorts. Wearing the addition of a blue sash when colours clashed. It was only when Town joined the Southern League back in 1894 that our colours changed to red and black quartered shirts. In 1897 the colours changed briefly to green shirts with white sleeves, only to revert back to red and black in 1899, then through various incarnations to the red and white kit we know and wear today.

So I’m willing to give white it’s chance and let’s be honest, its only a colour, it’s part of our history and perhaps we have more to celebrate wearing it than we believe.

WEM-BER-LEY WEM-BER-LEY!! Town Beat Charlton On Penalties

There is definitely something about the Play-Offs. There is no more satisfying way to experience being promoted than through the annual end of season fight for promotion, which Swindon have previously won in 3 of 4 attempts. Whilst we are not in the Championship just yet, we now are potentially 90 minutes away from the second tier of English football for the first time in 10 seasons.

from swindontownfc.co.uk

Last night was a rollercoaster ride of such a wide range of emotions that I’ve only recently experienced, as well as becoming accustomed to, watching England in the World Cup or Euro Finals.

It was always going to be tough and I by no means thought the game was over after the first leg with such a slender single goal advantage. But I couldn’t prepare myself for what I, all other Town fans and of course Charlton supporters experienced during those 120 minutes and more.

Drama, guile and determination were evident in this classic encounter with Charlton Athletic at The Valley. What a game. It was full of nervy and edge of your seat moments for the whole match.

Lets face it, it is undeniable that Charlton were dominant, but how can Town rob / stun Charlton, depending on your point of view, that extra time victory on penalties after what preceded?

We lost first choice keeper David Lucas to injury after only 1 minute. We came back from the potential abyss after being 2 goals down at half time. A man down for a significant chunk of the second half after Gordon Greer’s fine black belt karate kick and follow through on Deon Burton which sees him miss the final. Smith’s fine and timely saves from the 20 Charlton shots on target, as well as the others agonisingly, for Addicks fans at least, just past the post and not to forgot the others that hit the woodwork. How didn’t the dominant Charlton score more to finish the game?

So it all changed after a persistent Swindon got the deserved goal back from a nonchalant and compossed effort from ever improving Danny Ward, sent me and the others watching in the Legends Lounge wild. We were back in the game after it had been looking as if despite our pressure our luck just had deserted us. Even though Greer was sent-off it seemed to inspire the team. Then after Charlton stepped up the pressure leading up the the dying minutes of regulation time, the sending off of Llera evened up to 10 men each, but importantly removed Llera, who of course scored the last minute equaliser back on Boxing Day.

Extra time couldn’t separate the teams. Town were backs against the wall for most of the extra 30 minutes with the tiring Austin leading the line as best he could. If only we could have had that extra outfield substitution that we lost when Smith replaced Lucas.

When the referee blew the final whistle at the end of extra time I was so relieved we overcame the Charlton pressure and heart stopping moments, but now we headed into the unknown and lottery of the penalty shoot out. Would it be the goalkeepers to the rescue or will the taker bottle under the pressure?

I won’t go into detail about the penalties as you can probably real-off all the takers in order right now, but I think it’s best shown from the perspective, reactions and emotions of both fans through these Youtube clips. Firstly dejected Charlton fans behind the goal where they were taken, secondly the contrasting view, jubilation and pandemonium from the Swindon end. Brilliant!

So after an amazing game Town progress to the Wembley final on May 29th and will meet Millwall or Huddersfield. Right now I don’t care who we may play! Well done Swindon, well done the squad and Danny Wilson for inspiring the team and the town. Come on You Reds on your march to the Championship! If Poxford can get promoted….so can we!

*Update* – Now the ticket details have been published here is a Wembley seating plan