Vic Morgan Blog: Let’s Pool Together…

Vic Morgan

It’s Friday, so it must be time for the latest blog by BBC Devon’s Vic Morgan.

With the qualification that this is written ahead of ratification, Armageddon, resignation, or anything else that may have happened since I wrestled with this keyboard, I’d like to think positive.

Just think all is well and we go into Saturday’s game against Hartlepool in good shape on and off the pitch. After all the team could just COULD go top of League One. Wouldn’t that be a great way to celebrate any potential takeover completion.

I’d also like to think the manager is settled and new signings are ready to help us into the Championship. Not much to ask is it ? After all we’re told the club is in good shape and so it should be relatively plain sailing. I know this is a very simplistic way of looking at a very complicated situation. But as an outsider looking in that’s all I can do.

What is evident is that emotion is running high at the moment. Last Saturday’s game at Crawley was more of a Paolo Di Canio rally. Genuine feelings of fans wanting a manager to stay poured out.

Over the seasons we’ve had our fair share of leaders who’ve brought much to the table. However I think in all the years I’ve been watching the club, I can’t remember such a bond between the fans and the manager…except maybe once.

Comparisons are obvious between the situation now and that of Easter 1985. You might remember on Good Friday that Lou Macari was sacked. A weekend of true fan power followed and the former Manchester United player was back in the hot seat by the following Tuesday. Extraordinary times. Even all these years later, I can just about remember every twist and turn of that dramatic few days.

What we’re also seeing is a proper siege mentality with a massive victory over Colchester against all the odds. Illness, injury, possible takeover, the background to that win in Essex. PDC made another of those substitutions which seem to work instantly and James Collins delighted the 330 Swindon souls at the ground with the vital goal.

Would Swindon Town carry on without the charismatic Italian? Of course it would, but what a hole it would leave. Even down to that scarf waving ceremony after the game, PDC is such a part of the club. In less than two seasons he’s made watching Swindon fun again. After recent dark times we now go to games believing we’ll win.

That includes Saturday. Cheap tickets mean that there should be another large crowd. With the possible table topping scenario it should be a belter. For goodness sake if you can why wouldn’t you be there ?

Keep it loud Keep it proud Keep it SWINDON

Vic

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With all this Paolo Di Canio turmoil we were wondering if our readers would like to download a poster and show your support for the manager…

Simply download by clicking on the image below, or right click here and save the link to your computer, then find a printer, select print – an A3 or larger size would have the greatest impact - stick on your bedroom wall or at work, or just take the poster along this Saturday and wave it in the air at every opportunity; as ‘In Paolo We Trust’. Then recycle…

Di Canio Poster

TheWashbag meets Fraser Digby: Part 2 – Macari, Ardiles & Demotion

In our first in-depth interview with a Swindon Town legend, Ron Smith interviews Fraser Digby on his career and life after football. Fraser and his washbag were the inspiration for this site, so it was a great pleasure to meet and interview him.

 In this second of six parts to be published over the next couple of weeks, we talk about life at the County Ground under managers Lou Macari and Ossie Ardiles, including the impact of demotion in 1990.

What memories have you got of working under Lou Macari?

For me I always had a good relationship with Lou. He brought me to the club, he put me under his wings and he took me as one of his sons.

If he took you under his wings, did he treat you differently to any other player?

Probably not. He had his ways and means, he treated people differently. So certain people he’d have to give a kick up the arse, he wasn’t going to put his arm around Steve Foley, he give him a kick up the backside. But he knew the players and he knew how best to get it out of them.

You could see that by the players, the most successful players signed for this club, bringing in players and then selling them on, most of those players were those which Lou brought to the club. You look, it’s incredible the amount of money he made for the football club, he’s got to be one of the most successful managers of his time.

Much has been written about Lou being a harsh disciplinarian, similar to today and Swindon under Paolo Di Canio…

Do you know what that is one of the big things. I’ve heard stories about now, some of the players coming in and the way they train, no disrespect [to them] some of the training we did under Lou was a damn-sight worse than today.

Can you imagine players of today turning up for training on a Thursday morning and Lou is stood with a stopwatch by the changing rooms, we’d get the trainers on, leave the club, run down Queens Drive, left at Coate, down to Dorcan and then back down Shrivenham Road. It was five and half miles. The best lads, the people like Leigh Barnard and Chris Kamara used to do that in 32 minutes, I used to come in around 37. [As a result] the Town goalkeepers at that time were the fittest in the country because of the work that we did, so much it was phenomenal.

Now I can see what Paolo is doing with the players, it’s very similar along those discipline line. What he did with some of the boys [Simon Ferry etc] after they went out is exactly what Lou would’ve done in that situation. The only difference is Lou would’ve had them in on a Sunday morning, but actually I think Di Canio also does that – Sunday morning training, so it is similar.

So when Lou left to join West Ham was there any an opportunity to follow him out?

Yes. Although I didn’t know at the time.

It was only since finishing playing it was mentioned by the chairman that came in, Ken Chapman – who I know really well – and he said that at the time there were one or two things that had gone on that obviously I can’t repeat. The bank wasn’t doing the bank any favours so Ken had to come in to balance the books.

It was either me or Alan McLoughlin to leave the club. When Alan was going to go for a million Pounds to Southampton, if I went for a million Pounds the Club would only get half the money [as Manchester United held a 50% sell on clause] and then they would need to pay at least quarter of a million to get a half decent ‘keeper, so they’d only be left with quarter of a million. Selling Alan they had enough decent midfielder players to fill the gap, [although] you’re not totally going to fill the gap as Alan was a quality player.

So that was how it went. Alan went first for a million pounds, then there was talk about me joining West Ham for the same money, but it wouldn’t have been a good deal for the club.

The great Argentinean Ossie Ardiles took over in the summer of 1989. What were your reactions at the time?

With Lou’s ways perhaps we could only go so a certain way, when Lou left and Ossie came in he changed the mentality, he changed the personnel to a certain extent, and a lot of the team that won at Wembley in 1990 was Lou’s team; with just the added technical stuff that Ossie brought to the club. But we were fit and that was the difference.

So it is true what they say about Macari’s fitness regime…

The difference was, the reason why we did well that first year in 1990 after Lou had gone, was because we were still living on that fitness from Lou. Ossie brought in that confidence to play, the little one touch, the 5-a-sides, you know the way he used to play as a player, but we’d already that grounding of fitness.

I was there that day at Wembley, a fantastic day. All that followed made me learn the harsh realities of football, but what were your memories of victory over Sunderland.

It was a phenomenal day. We enjoyed the day. It was one of the most one-sided 1-0 victories I’ve ever been involved in! We totally deserved the win.

I remember celebrating afterwards getting on the coach, the big thing for me was when we drove back into Swindon, everyone was on the bridges, on the side of the road, you’re never going to get anything like it again unfortunately. You always remember, that for me was what really stuck out. Then back to the hotel and celebrating all day long.

Were the players party to information concerning the financial irregularities and potential consequences before our trip to Wembley?

No. It was only afterwards. The visits from the Inland Revenue and all those sorts of things, the harsh realities of it comes to the fore.

At the time when you’re playing your game you don’t expect, you expect you’ve done this football and we’ll stay where we are.

We won it on the pitch fair and square. It wasn’t as if we had been paying for players illegally. We players went out there and done our job, and got promoted.

And that’s the only one regret I’ve got in football, is that team there didn’t have the opportunity to play in the top division.

I completely agree. I still believe that the side in 1990 was a great team and were well equipped to establish themselves in Division One compared to when we did reach the top flight in 1993.

Yes. The problem [following promotion in 1993] was in 1992/93 the Sky money had started coming through and the gap was already becoming bigger between Division One and the second division. So back in 1990 we definitely had a better chance of holding our own for at least a year.

All the players in the group were younger and that would’ve helped. The likes of Colin [Calderwood] wouldn’t have gone and that’s the difference. If we would’ve kept that team together and got some more in to establish ourselves.

How did the events post Wembley in 1990 impact on the players? Looking back now what’s surprising is that there wasn’t a mass exodus.

We stayed together because we had then gone back to where we were [following re-instatement in Division Two]. I think that had we got relegated two divisions [to Division Three as originally sanctioned] it would’ve been a different kettle-of-fish.

It was a difficult, it wasn’t as if some of the Division One clubs had come in for some of the players, saying we want him or we want him, it didn’t work out that way.

I can’t see that some loyalty happening today…

Oh yes, the whole team would’ve disbanded, it’s a different kettle-of-fish today. Football has changed beyond belief, it’s a totally different scenario now.

So out went Ossie towards the end of 1990/91. Why did it turn sour post Wembley?

That following year [after demotion] we lost our way totally because Ossie didn’t want to enforce the heavy handed approach. He wanted to give the lads a bit of freedom, a bit of space, due to the disappointment of getting demoted. Really it needed someone like Lou to come in again and say right, get you by the scruff of the neck and go.

However much I loved Ossie, he ended up losing it. Because he lost the team and he got little cliques in there that tried to control things; we weren’t playing as a team like we were playing under Lou because everyone was in the same boat, he [Lou] didn’t like you going out drinking, going out eating, so many things that Lou [would've frowned upon], but we then all worked together. I remember when people didn’t like it [but] we were successful.

In what way did Ossie ‘lose it’?

He lost the dressing room really, not in a nasty way, but the fact is there was divisions in the dressing room. There were certain players that were basically influencing Ossie, I won’t name them but I know who they were. So they tried to influence him and Ossie was soft, he wanted to please everybody.

In what way would a player want to influence Ossie?

Team selection, the whole lot, training, you know. They spent a lot of time with Ossie and it was always going to go wrong. And that’s what ultimately happened and Ossie jumped ship and went to Newcastle.

Another crucial factor was the sale of Alan McLaughlin…

Yes [although] that was very much to do with the finances. Money had to be found to pay back the bank.

Read Part 1 here.

Part 3 follows on Saturday with Fraser discussing Glenn Hoddle, a return to Old Trafford and a flirt with the Premier League.

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Fraser Digby is the Wiltshire distributor for Errea Sportswear and Reusch goalkeeping products. Find out more about Fraser and what he’s up to at http://fraserdigby.com/

TheWashbag meets Fraser Digby: Part 1 – Swindon via Sheffield and Man Utd

Fraser Digby 2 6

In our first in-depth interview with a Swindon Town legend, Ron Smith interviews Fraser Digby on his career and life after football. Fraser and his washbag were the inspiration for this site, so it was a great pleasure to meet and interview him.

In this first of six parts to be published over the next couple of weeks, we talk about Fraser’s early career in Sheffield, being a teenager at Manchester United, his move to Swindon in 1986 and what qualities make a top class goalkeeper.

As a youngster, who were your goalkeeping heroes you wanted to emulate?   

You look at Shilton and Clemence, Shilton was manufactured, he worked his arse off to get to where he needed to be. For me I always liked Ray Clemence. It wasn’t the fact that he was left footed and right handed – like me – but he was natural, he didn’t make anything spectacular, what he did he did right and didn’t make mistakes, and he was one I wanted to emulate.

You are a Sheffield lad, however you started your career at Man Utd. The appeal of playing for the Red Devils is understandable, however did you ever have aspirations to play for a Sheffield club?

I was part of a really good Sunday league team and one of my teammates was a lad called John Beresford. John went onto Manchester City and Newcastle. John was the same age as me along with quite a few other lads.

Well, initially we were affiliated to Sheffield United. At the time their manager was a man called Harry Haslam and his assistant was a Uruguayan called Danny Begara. Danny lived near me and my parents in Bradway and I used to go to school with his son Simon. Danny was a larger than life bloke, small character, and he used to take me to training always down at Sheffield United. Before we all got to sign up at 14, Harry got the sack and Danny went with him and Ian Porterfield came in. And we were in a little bit of a limbo.

I got offered to go to Sheffield Wednesday with Jack Charlton as manager and played for them pre-season. Their first team keeper at the time was Bob Boulder who I’d bumped into a few Man United Liverpool matches [in the indoor legends tour] now and again. And then I was invited to Leeds, Ipswich, Southampton and then Man United, so I went there and I made a decision [to join] and I was offered schoolboy forms. Big Ron [Atkinson] was the manager there and I signed as a schoolboy at 14 for Man United. I [then] signed a 2-year apprenticeship at United, so at 16 I signed straight from school. I then signed a 2-year pro at 18.

How did the move to Swindon come about?

At the beginning of the second year as a pro, Lou [Macari] wanted me to come on loan. I’d actually came on loan the previous year when we, Swindon won the Fourth Division. I was covering for Kenny Allen and I only came for a month [in 1985/86] and that was [for Lou] to suss me out and to see what was going on.

And obviously in the September he called Ron again and said ‘I want Fraser on loan again’ and Ron said the only way that that I was coming on loan is if I was playing in the first team. I think Kenny had injured himself anyway so I went straight into the team – Rotherham at home which we won.

And obviously things went from there because Lou wanted to buy me but United wanted too much money. Lou and Swindon couldn’t afford that sort of money.

You departed United without making a first team appearance. How close were you to any action and who were you competing with for the no.1 shirt?

The ‘keeper when I was an apprentice was Gary Bailey and as I got to be a pro Gary retired through his knee and Chris Turner and Jeff Wealands were the two ‘keepers. They were there and that first season I played half a dozen reserve games, but Gary Walsh was coming through from the youth team and Ron used to play us off against each other.

And that is when I got the chance to go to Swindon and I thought well I’m going to get the chance to play in the first team and play in front of a crowd. Although to be fair we played some reserve games at old Trafford with 7 or 8 thousand – it was a different in those days.

It must have been difficult to leave Manchester United and make the big step down to the fourth tier, what made you decide it was time to leave Old Trafford…

The thing was I knew me own mind and I was switched on enough to realise that to be a United keeper you need that little bit extra.

I mean you look at the great United keepers over the years – Alex Stepney, Schmeichel, Van Saar and that is three [top 'keepers] over the last 40 years. The other ones just haven’t cut the mustard. I mean you look at the likes of Ben Foster, he was going to be the next big thing and he went by the wayside. Even Barthez couldn’t cut the mustard. There have been several other dodgy keepers at Old Trafford.

United is a different club. I knew it then. I knew I wasn’t going to be mentally strong enough at that time – I was only 19. Maybe I should have stayed around a little longer, but I just made the decision that I wanted to play. I had a lot of respect for Lou so I decided to sign [at Swindon]. It was only because Fergie did a deal with Lou that I came [in December 1986 for £32,000]. It was a great deal for the club, although not a good deal in the long run, because Manchester United got 50% of any future transfer fee!

To be at United must have provided you with a solid grounding, experience and training that you wouldn’t have received elsewhere.

Even if I hadn’t made it, those two years I spent as an apprentice at Old Trafford were probably the best grounding you could’ve wished for.

I worked under the likes of Eric Harrison, and Eric was the one who brought the likes of David Beckham, the Nevilles, Scholes and Butt through the system in later years; so I had an excellent grounding with him and the reserve team manager. You also had the likes of Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins, Gordon McQueen, Remmi Moses, Mark Hughes; these were great individuals and a great place to be surrounded by [them].

Out with the old, in with the new. At Swindon in 1986/87 you displaced the 38 year old Kenny Allen after his poor start to the season without a clean sheet and 9 goals conceded in his final two games. You came in against Rotherham, Town won and didn’t concede. It was upwards from there that season…

It was a great was to start. I remember the Rotherham game, although I must be honest I can’t remember too many games after that!

It was a great season getting through to the play-offs, playing Wigan and then beating Gillingham in the final. I couldn’t have asked for a better year for my first at Swindon to get promoted to the old Second Division and I also gained my first England u21 cap.

It was quite nice as Lou said to me he had Fergusson on the phone asking how come I had done so well!

You mention England recognition, did you think that shot of further England action had left you once leaving United?

I had represented England schoolboys while at Lilleshall. As I was part of the first England team to play in a European under 16s Championship – as they had never put in a u16s team before. Tim Flowers was in front of me and then broke his thumb, so I ended up playing the rest of that u16s tournament and we came third by beating Czechoslovakia.

Then I played u17s and youths, playing quite a few games, so obviously coming to Swindon and then getting the honours for the full under 21s was great. I didn’t really think about it and receiving a call-up. I was playing regularly and that was all I wanted.

A lot of Swindon fans see parallels with you arriving that season and our surge to promotion – similar in many ways to 2011/12 and Wes Foderingham signing. How important is a solid goalkeeper to a successful side?

You cannot underestimate the goalkeeper. You look at Arsenal, a force to be reckoned with a great back four but they had David Seaman. He never, or very rarely made a mistake. You look at every great team and you can name the ‘keeper, Peter Schmeichel at United, Ray Clemence at Liverpool. This all points to the fact that they’ve got a good goalkeeper who doesn’t make a mistake.

This just proves how few good goalkeepers there are around to make an impact on a team. England used to be able to count upon the services of a good few world class ‘keepers, but not today. What’s changed?

My honest feelings with that situation is that there have been an awful lot of foreign goalkeepers coming to England that hasn’t necessarily benefited the game. There have been some brilliant ones, Pavel Srnicek at Newcastle and Schmeichel, but lower down the quality hasn’t been there.

While imports have come to play in all positions, with a goalkeeper it’s different as there’s only one in the team. This has affected the amount of good England goalkeepers who’ve been able to develop – fighting for the one position. Previously we always had good young ‘keepers coming through in the rest of the leagues and these were predominately English.

One key moment for you in your early days at STFC was your sending off against Aldershot in the Freight Rover Trophy Area Semi-final in 1987. Town were two nil up, you rushed out, dived in and stuck out your leg and took Martin Foyle down. A rash challenge, but there was a man covering, surely not a red..?

I hit him a treat, a bit hard. He was doing summersaults. The person who got me sent off was Andy King – later Swindon manager – who was playing for Aldershot and just gave it to Allan Gunn’s ear and I was off. Jimmy [Quinn] went in goal and let three in so I said to Jimmy “it’s easy this goalkeeping lark”. I was gutted at the time as I was a young lad.

Did that early sending off in 1987 change you and your approach on the pitch? I recall you superbly rushed out to take a loose ball at the feet of a Sunderland player at Wembley.

I was always taught at a young age it’s not the mistake that you make it’s how you react to it. So if I made a mistake when I kicked him in the arse and got rid of him, then the next time I’ll make sure that I’ll read the ball that little bit quicker so I get there first. So it’s all about learning from your mistakes and I think it’s the same when you take a cross or drop a cross, it’s how you react to that mistake, so the next ball that comes in you don’t just sit on your line, you go out and take the cross. And that’s the way people judge you as a goalkeeper.

So you’ve touched upon an important quality of a good goalkeeper. ‘Keepers are frequently out of the game but you’ve still got to keep focus to react. How difficult is it to stay focused?

That’s one part of the game that you can’t teach kids, concentration. It’s funny because, you just have it and you learn from your experience, and learn as you go on. I always found that when I finished games sometimes I couldn’t tell people what had happened in the game, I couldn’t tell you the score. Because you’re just concentrating on exactly what’s going on, where your defence are, where are the attackers, where you are in relation to your goal; your mind is just focused on what you’re doing.

It’s like people say, giving you grief, I got to be honest you don’t hear anything half the time because you’re so transfixed on what you are doing. Although I did hear so idiot at Barnsley, which I won’t repeat. In the end you don’t let it get to you.

Part 2 follows next week with Fraser talking about life at Swindon Town under Lou Macari and Ossie Ardiles.

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Fraser Digby is the Wiltshire distributor for Errea Sportswear and Reusch goalkeeping products. Find out more about Fraser and what he’s up to at http://fraserdigby.com/

Going Up! 1986/87 – A Season of Firsts

1987 celebrations at Selhurst Park 1

1986/87 saw Lou Macari’s young side secure back-to-back promotions, as Town returned to the second tier after a 13-year absence. From Digby’s debut to Chalkie’s elbows, this was a season of firsts, writes Ben Beaumont.

This was my first full season as a Town fan, having opened my account half-way through the 1986 Division Four title-winning year, at the tender age of eight. Obviously, I was already hooked. The players – Colin Calderwood, Charlie Henry, Chris Kamara. The big games – especially clinching promotion at home to Chester City. The unmistakable whiff of the North Stand – pipe smoke and cheap burgers. It also probably helped that I was yet to see them lose.

Then, of course, there was Dave Bamber. Teasing his lanky way into the penalty area, ball glued to his foot, drawing a mistimed challenge from a hapless fullback. Rising, with his dishevelled curly mullet, for an unlikely long-range header. Trotting around aimlessly, socks around ankles, tumbling over his laces yet again. “You great big fairy Bamber!” was the regular heckle from an entertaining old duffer sat behind me.

You can imagine my dismay, then, when dear ol’ Bambs got sent off in an early home defeat to Notts County. I was distraught, not least because my younger self didn’t realise that Swindon Town could actually lose. I thought there were rules against this kind of thing. But at least that game did provide my first sighting of Steve White, shorts hoisted tightly round his nipples, as he scored off the bench. In any case, Bamber’s red card – totally unjust, as I recall – and Town’s flat performance characterised an indifferent start to the season, which reached an early nadir a couple of games later, at home to Blackpool.

Strangely, that game sticks in the memory more than many of the countless wins of Macari’s era. Four goals down at half-time, Town were truly dreadful. I vividly recall the tannoy playing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ during the interval, with its refrain: “Every now and then I fall apart!” From that moment on, I’ve always had an uneasy feeling when I hear that song. But that could just be Bonnie Tyler’s window-shattering screeching.

But that night was memorable for another reason. The match itself was irrelevant – the team came out and showed a bit of pride, with two goals from Leigh Barnard taking the final score to an embarrassing 2-6. But my abiding memory is of the Town End singing ‘Lou Macari’s red and white army’, non-stop, for the entire second half. Here was a collection of big-hearted souls, who knew what it meant to back your team and manager, through good times and bad. It was their spirit and humour which lodged Town firmly in my heart.

In fact, the game was a turning point in the season, and in the history of Swindon Town. For the very next league match – following a 0-3 reverse away to Southampton in the League Cup – Macari dispensed with the occasionally erratic net-minding services of the shaggy-haired Kenny Allen, and brought in a fresh-faced lad from Manchester United called Fraser Digby. It’ll be no surprise to any Town fan that Fraser kept a clean sheet in his very first game, at home to Rotherham, and went on to keep another 16 in the league alone that season. With his brylcreemed quiff and flying leaps, here was a Town legend in the making.

With Digby on side, Town’s season burst into life, as they won five games in October, and picked up just a solitary draw away to Darlington. That game is still the furthest my family have ever travelled to see Swindon. Quite a way to go for a drab 0-0. Feethams was a truly titchy ground, made remarkable by the fact that you could walk all the way around it at your leisure, and switch ends at half-time, too. Marvellous. Just after that, in a 3-1 home win over York City, I recall an improbable bicycle kick goal for Mark Jones, a tousle-haired midfielder signed that season from Oxford United. By that stage, Swindon had climbed to sixth, just outside the play off places, where they stayed until the turn of the year.

New Year’s Day brought a miserable away trip to champions-elect Bournemouth, managed by Harry Redknapp. I have two clear recollections of this game: Dean Court’s buttock-hardening wooden benches, and a huge sense of injustice. Referee Lester Shapter – still the benchmark of terrible refereeing in my family – gave them a dodgy goal with five minutes left, disallowed a Town equaliser moments later, and sent off Mark Jones for good measure. (At least, that’s how I remember it. The reality could be very different, of course.)

But the injustice, or otherwise, sparked a remarkable run, as Swindon won nine and drew one of the next ten league games, and climbed up to third in the process. This spell included another landmark in the history of Swindon Town – the first sighting of Steve White’s sharpened elbows. Against a promotion-chasing Middlesborough side that included Gary Pallister, Tony Mowbray and, err, Bernie Slaven, ‘Chalkie’ mustered all his niggly-armed, high-shorted awkwardness to free himself from his marker and drill home the winner to send my family home delirious.

The promotion run-in kicked off, literally, when we played Bristol Rovers at Ashton Gate. The game had been moved because the ploughed field at Twerton Park wasn’t fit for football – even if it was Macari-ball. That must have been some going, because the pitches that season were diabolical. Inevitably some Bristol City fans infiltrated the game and caused no end of trouble. The game itself was a right humdinger, as Town came back from 0-2 and 2-3 to win 4-3, thanks to some peachy wind-assisted goals from Quinn and Bamber. (The comeback inspired my favourite ever Adver headline: “A RIP-ROARING SPECTACULAR!”).

The win moved us briefly up to second in the league, but we weren’t really able to capitalise. True, we went unbeaten for the last 11 games, which would normally be enough, but six draws meant we lost ground to Middlesbrough, who comfortably claimed the last automatic promotion place behind Bournemouth. An assortment of moments stick with me from the run in: thunder-thighed Dave Hockaday rifling home the equaliser at home to Bournemouth; fans’ favourite Bryan Wade snaffling a point for Town away to Brentford, minutes after the supporters had begged Macari to bring him off the bench; and Bamber getting walloped by a Bristol City fan after a draw on the last day which meant City missed out on the play offs. (This was back in the days when a game against City had much more edge than a game against Oxford. Probably because Oxford were busying themselves winning the League Cup and playing in the First Division, but still.)

Much has been written about our triumphs over Wigan and Gillingham in the play offs, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Not least because I wasn’t flipping there. Inexplicably, my Dad booked a fortnight’s holiday to Devon at the end of the season. I’ve never forgiven him. So we missed it all – Wigan at home, the two legs against Gillingham, and the replay at Selhurst Park. We did at least huddle around the radio for the famous comeback at Wigan, when Macari delivered one of the all-time great team talks to claw us back from 0-2 down. But the rest we lived through Teletext. Nerve-wracking doesn’t come close. Later, I made sure that Dad bought me the VHS of the Gillingham replay, so my final memory of that wonderful year will always be the Nobby Swatton commentary as Town gained promotion: “Just ‘ark at those Swindon fans!”

By the end of the season, I still thought football was mostly geared towards letting Swindon win. It would be a few years before the pain of relegation – and Brian Hillier – taught me otherwise. But 1986/87 was an important season, not least because it saw the debuts of three true Town legends: Digby, White and Phil King. We also had our first glimpses of Alan McLoughlin (who chipped in with 11 appearances) and Martin Ling (who returned to help Swindon into the top flight in 1992/93). Elsewhere, captain Calderwood cemented his place in the centre of defence with a staggering 64 consecutive appearances. The spine of a very successful side was taking shape.

And the parallels with the 2011/12 vintage are obvious: charismatic young disciplinarian manager with strong support from the fans; hardworking Scottish captain at the heart of the team; and a young goalkeeper already setting records. If Di Canio can repeat Macari’s remarkable achievement, and get Town up to the second tier at the first time of asking, I might just forgive my Dad for booking that holiday.

Image and videos from swindo-town-fc.co.uk

Read more tales from promotion campaigns…

Going Up! 1985/86 – Lou Macari’s Red & White Army

Squad 1985-1986 1

A big-name ex-player of Italian descent in his first managerial role, leading Swindon to the fourth tier championship despite a bad start to the season, with a regime based on teamwork and discipline, breaking club records and knocking top flight opposition out of the cup on the way…. hmmm…. does this sound a bit familiar? Writes Richard Banyard.

Though there are many similarities between the classes of 1986 and 2012, the styles of the two sides were very different indeed – Lou Macari’s game based on the long ball, determination and pressing high up the pitch, as opposed to di Canio’s easier on the eye approach.

Macari had joined the Town in the summer of 1984, when new club sponsors Lowndes Lambert had demanded a big-name player-boss – Swindon were at their lowest ebb, finishing the 1983/84 season in their lowest league position since the introduction of the Fourth Division – but at first, Macari tried to shape the squad he had at his disposal – an FA Cup defeat by Dagenham the catalyst for the Town boss to realise that he needed to make changes.

After the saga over the Easter of 1985, which saw Macari lose his job before being reinstated after a fan protest, he went to work over the summer – on a tight budget, bringing in Bryan Wade, David Moss, Jake Findlay, Derek Hall, Tony Evans and most significantly Colin Calderwood and Chris Kamara. These signings added to Peter Coyne, Chris Ramsey, Colin Gordon and David Cole who he had already brought in during his first year.

The start that Swindon made to the 1985/86 season though was awful. After defeat in both of the opening two games – the second a 4-1 reverse at Hereford – Macari brought himself back into the starting eleven for the visit of Torquay, who were the only side in the League with a worse record than the Town. Despite going behind early on, goals from Coyne and Charlie Henry meant that the Town registered their first victory of the season – their second came in the next home game, when a Coyne hat-trick, including two penalties, gave Swindon a 3-2 win over Northampton.

The headlines for that game were made before the match kicked-off though. Both The Sun and The Mirror reporting on Macari’s unhappiness with his players: LOU BLASTS BOOZERS was the story after Macari was asked about his team selection, he replied that he couldn’t name it “until I’ve smelt their breath and looked into their eyes.”

Pre-season signing Jake Findlay was released soon after, with rumours abound that he was one of the players involved. Swindon lost their next three matches in the League, leaving them a lowly 21st in the table at the end of September, with just seven points – fourteen behind leaders Colchester. Adver writer Clive King described the team as being “as tough as a bag of marshmallows”. Rottweilers they weren’t.

Though things were not going too well in the League, the Town were at least getting some joy in the Milk Cup. After negotiating their way past Torquay in the First Round, Swindon were drawn against Second Division Sunderland in the Second, but despite a spirited performance in the first leg at Roker Park, they returned to the County Ground defeated 3-2; referee Neil Midgeley allowing the final Sunderland goal despite the linesman flagging for a foul.

By the time the Mackems came to Swindon for the return fixture, the Town had notched up two more league wins, including a 4-0 thrashing of Rochdale – Macari whisked the players away after the game to a secret training base to prepare. After a goalless first half, Andy Rowland gave Swindon the lead on the night, only for Clive Walker to equalise, but the drama came in the last three minutes. After Colin Gordon appeared to have levelled the tie on aggregate, Town’s favourite (!) ref Lester Shapter inexplicably disallowed the goal for a high boot, prompting Macari to race onto the pitch to remonstrate. With both Town assistant John Trollope and his Sunderland counterpart dragging Macari away, Shapter booked him – incredibly though, Bryan Wade rescued the tie with a 93rd minute leveller, and he scored again in extra time to seal the Town’s place in the Third Round.

With their tails now up, Swindon won their next three league games, including their first away successes at Burnley and Chester – making it six wins on the bounce. The visit to Port Vale at the end of October saw the Town face a side in a similar vein of form, and when the Valiants won the encounter 3-0, it appeared that the Manager of the Month award would go to Vale boss John Rudge…. that was until three days later.

Preparations for the visit of high-flying First Division side Sheffield Wednesday were hardly ideal. In addition the Vale result, first choice keeper Kenny Allen was cup-tied for the game – having played against Swindon for Torquay in the First Round. His deputy Scott Endersby, unhappy at the signing of Allen after Jake Findlay had departed, refused to play in the game unless he was granted a free transfer. Macari ignored his request, instead signing Richard Key on a non-contract basis to play in the game. With Wednesday third in the League, behind just Manchester United and Liverpool, few gave Swindon a chance – but after Peter Coyne struck in the 10th minute, the Town held on for a famous victory, and Macari snatched the Manager of the Month award from Rudge. THE BOOZERS ARE BUBBLING proclaimed The Mirror.

And from that point on, Swindon were virtually unstoppable. Though the Milk Cup run was halted at Ipswich with a 6-1 drubbing and they fell at the first hurdle in the FA Cup at Bristol City, the Town lost just twice more in the League. The last of which came on January 4th with a 2-1 reverse at Tranmere on a snowy pitch, a game that Macari believed should not have gone ahead. By that time though, the Town were already perched at the top of the league, after Macari had secured the final piece of his jigsaw, bringing Dave Bamber in on loan from Portsmouth.

Bamber made his debut in a promotion clash against Mansfield at the end of November, and the Town support was treated to a sign of things to come. The lanky frontman winning two penalties as Swindon won the game 2-1, thus entering the promotion places for the first time. Bamber won three more penalties in the Town’s next two home games – and the four straight victories in December meant that Swindon turned the year in first place. Defender Chris Ramsey was obviously finding life easy – after winning the ball during a 4-1 win over Preston, he stopped and pulled his socks up before continuing with the game!

Records soon began to tumble. Awful weather led to numerous postponements, and the Town didn’t play a single match at home for two months between mid-January and mid-March – incredibly, Swindon won all of their six away league games during this spell to set one club record, the 516 minutes without conceding a goal away from home another. When Burnley visited Wiltshire on March 15, the Town ended the long wait to wrap up another club record – the 3-1 victory their 14th consecutive home win.

It was certainly a case of when and not if the Town would secure promotion. When the Town went into April nineteen points clear of fifth-placed Stockport with two games in hand, they had their first chance to secure it when they visited Cambridge, but the 1-1 draw was not enough. The next match was the rearranged fixture with second-placed Chester – so Swindon would not only be able to finalise promotion, but victory would mean a huge step towards the title.

The game had everything. Chester set out their intent from the start. Steve Johnson, already known to Town fans as the man who had ended Jimmy Allan’s career some years previously was booked in the first ten seconds after a thunderous challenge on Chris Kamara, then minutes later, Johnson gave the Blues the ead. Bamber equalised with 42 minutes on the clock, but Johnson restored the Chester lead again before half-time from the penalty spot, after Peter Coyne had fouled Milton Graham.

Within seven minutes of the restart though, the Town had turned it around. On 51 minutes, Bamber scored a carbon copy of his first goal, heading in a Dave Hockaday cross – then just a minute later, Bryan Wade headed home to put Swindon in the lead for the first time. Leigh Barnard wrapped it up fifteen minutes later – and though the game got physical in the closing stages, with Graham sent off for Chester, Chris Kamara knocked out by an elbow and Peter Coyne missing a penalty, Swindon held firm for the win.

Eleven points clear with two games in hand over their opponents, the victory seemed decisive – one of my earliest Town memories running on the pitch and standing on the centre spot as the fans invaded. A year on from Macari’s sacking and subsequent reinstatement, the Town fans had been rewarded for sticking by him.

The following Tuesday, victory over Peterborough set a new club record for victories in a season, and it left them needing just a point for the title, which was duly secured the following weekend – an equalising strike from Leigh Barnard at Mansfield enough for the huge away following to celebrate.

There remained just one more record to chase. Two years previously, York City had become the first side to break the 100 point barrier – Swindon were now sat on 90 points, with four games remaining. Victories followed at Aldershot and against Orient, then a Charlie Henry hat-trick secured a 3-1 win at Halifax to take the Town to 99.

At home to Crewe on the final day, Swindon pounded the away goal, but found 18 year old keeper Rob Powner in superb form – the Alex holding out until the 70th minute, when Peter Coyne struck with a left-foot volley. The final moments of the game were held up by Swindon fans lining the pitch, waiting to storm it when the referee blew his whistle. The Adver headline said it all: TOWN MAKE SOCCER HISTORY.

Going Up! 1989/90… Every silver lining has a cloud

final report2 2

In our second look back to a previous STFC promotion campaign, Brendan Hobbs recalls the story of the turbulent 1989/90 season - Every silver lining has a cloud.

1990, lets recap it shall we – it was fantastic year, we had the hottest summer on record, then got involved in small scuffle in the Gulf, Mandela was released, Thatcher quit, and we all had a good ol’ knees up destroying shop fronts and overturning burning cars during the Poll Tax riots.

British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) was launched to rival Sky and with such shows like ‘Heil Honey I’m Home’ you wonder how on earth they failed.

Meanwhile in the sporting calendar, England lost on penalties in the World Cup, Buster Douglas flattened Mike Tyson, Paul Gascoigne pipped green baize miserabilist Stephen Hendry to the BBC ‘Sports Personality  of the Year’ award, underachievers Manchester United won the FA Cup, and all conquering Liverpool the League.

Oh, and Swindon Town won promotion to the First Division (Premier League to you young ‘uns) for the first time, except they didn’t, they were demoted two divisions instead, except they weren’t, they were actually demoted one. Confused? Read on.

Let’s step back to the start of that season – it’s the summer of 1989 and shrill scouser Sonia was riding high in the UK charts with the bubbly, yet faintly aggressive sounding “You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You!” On the field it was a summer of flux as Lou Macari buggered off to West Ham United and Swindon promptly replaced him with another famous, untried manager in one Osvaldo César Ardiles.

The season didn’t start well – a gloomy cloud was hovering over the club, The People newspaper had started nosing around the clubs financial affairs and managed to stumble across something that smelt very bad indeed. The new season was just weeks away when the future Town sponsors published the first of its articles concerning alleged financial misdemeanours, Chairman Brian Hillier was accused of putting money on Swindon winning the 1987 title to act as insurance against players bonuses.

Ossie was largely inactive in the transfer market so nine of the same team which tasted defeat in previous years play-offs started the new season’s opener against Sunderland. The only notable additions were rotund summer signing Tony Galvin and Ossie taking a place on the bench (one of only two substitutes allowed in those days.)

The season kicked off in front of over 10,000 fans packed into the County Ground, everyone awash with optimism and excitement – Town duly lost 2 nil. Not the best of starts and in fact we went on to only win once in the first seven games.

September arrived and Town were hovering above the relegation zone after a 4 nil thumping by champions elect Leeds United, worryingly Swindon had failed to score in 4 of those seven games.

Earlier in the month Ossie had dipped into the transfer market in an effort to cure our striking woes, it didn’t quite pay off but he unearthed a real Town legend (for all the wrong reasons) in Shaun Close.

A few fans blamed the poor form on the financial investigations into the club, personally I think the change in style, tactics and training had a big effect. Moving from the rather robust, direct game favoured by Macari to the quick, one touch stuff of Ossie was proving a difficult change for the players.

Town finally found some form in their next game and recorded a 3 nil win over Plymouth, this proved a catalyst for a big improvement in front of goal. Tasting one defeat in the next nine games Town scored a mammoth 24 goals, including a six nil hammering of Mick Mills’ Stoke City. A game which ended with both sets of fans calling for the Stoke managers head, one set quite angrily, the other very sarcastically.

Although the wind of change was gusting through Eastern Europe collapsing the Berlin Wall in the process, The People newspaper decided to largely ignore these historic events and instead publish further lurid revelations concerning Hillier – and his penchant to bet against his own club.

Despite this, Town continued to pick up valuable points and by the time the final whistle sounded in mid December after a crazy 2-1 win at the Hawthorns, Town sat just below the playoffs.

West Brom were awarded three penalties on the night, but only beat Fraser Digby once – he managed a brilliant save for one and suffered neck ache from the other – watching the wayward kick sail over the bar.

The New Year arrived and after enduring yet another Cliff Richard Christmas number one, Swindon could reflect on some valuable points won over the festive break. A fantastic home win against fellow play-off hopefuls Blackburn on Boxing Day was followed up with a draw against Newcastle and after a comfortable New Years day away win at Watford, Swindon found themselves in fifth.

Come the month of March while Britain’s militant community were busy priming Molotov cocktails and purchasing balaclavas for the Poll Tax riots, Town were on a brilliant run, suffering just one defeat in 13 – including a 3-2 win against table topping Leeds.

Swindon scored three times in three consecutive matches that month, so as cars burned and Coppers ‘kettled’ on Oxford Street, Colin Calderwood was firing home an extraordinary strike from just over the halfway line in a home victory against Port Vale.

Again though, Swindon ended up in the spotlight for the wrong reasons and eventually, against the constant backdrop of scandal and allegation, Hillier is found guilty in court and banned for six months for breaking FA Rules on gambling – lengthened to 3 years on appeal. Former boss Macari is fined £1,000 for his part in the scandal, he too decides to appeal, which is one step too far for his current employers West Ham who force him to resign.

Town soldier on but just before the last game of the season another blow hits the club when Hillier, Macari, Colin Calderwood and Secretary Vince Farrar are arrested and questioned by the Inland Revenue concerning charges of tax fraud. Calderwood is released without charge, the others are given bail.

The season eventually comes to a close with Swindon sitting in 4th, our highest ever league position. With every fan frothing with play-off excitement, Swindon travelled to Blackburn’s Ewood Park for the semi-final first leg, looking a more prepared unit compared to the side that featured in the previous year’s play-offs.

On the whole, Blackburn were outplayed over the two matches, with Steve Foley scoring an absolute barnstormer in the away leg to clinch a fantastic 2-1 win, I almost broke my ankle collapsing down the crumbling terrace under the sheer weight of celebration.

The result made the second encounter almost a formality as Swindon won by the same scoreline to book their place in the Wembley final.

I can’t remember much about the actual day, I had been to Wembley before to see a couple of FA Cup finals, but this was the first time to watch Swindon.

Town triumphed 1 nil, in a very one sided encounter, with Alan McLoughlin bagging the vital goal via a deflection. “The biggest 1 nil thrashing you’ll ever see” summarised ‘Greavsie’ when I watched the VHS recording the next day. It crowned a fantastic season for Alan, the goal was his seventeenth of the season – not a bad return for a midfielder and it also earned him a late call up to the Eire World Cup squad.

After the game, the majority of Sunderland fans were pretty magnanimous in defeat, wishing us all the best as we milled away from the ground. But the spectre of possible future sanctions loomed large in everyone’s mind – whilst queuing to get out of Wembley a Sunderland fan had a sheet of paper pressed against a coach window with “THE TAXMAN WILL GET YOU” written on it.

My heart sank when I saw it, all the euphoria and excitement I had accumulated during the day dissipated in an instant.

Post match, every TV news report of the game always started on a celebratory note but then descended into a void of depression when the language turned from ‘winners’ and ‘promotion’ to ‘irregularities’ and ‘relegation’. We made a splash on the back page of The Times the day after the final, hardly the most celebratory of headlines, no “Yeah! Swindon! Division One!”

By the time Adamski hit the number one spot with aptly named song ‘Killer’ it finally happened, our dreams were killed. With almost a feeling of perverse relief I heard new Chairman Gary Herbert telling us that the unthinkable had happened – Swindon were to be demoted two divisions and would start the 90/91 season in Division Three.

Italia 90 kicked off, I thought that might help me forget our enforced double relegation, but not even the sight of various Cameroon players merrily kicking chunks out of their Argentine counterparts could alter my mood.

Eventually on appeal the punishment was lifted slightly – with Swindon only being demoted the one division – annoying the hell out of Bournemouth and Tranmere in the process who needed to reshuffle to make way.

Alternative Rock Combo the Teenage Fanclub once advised us all “not to look back on empty feelings”, and this lyric encapsulates brilliantly the whole sorry mess. I look back now and feel nothing, I’m totally devoid of any emotions concerning that season. All we achieved was totally wiped away by the scandal that followed, no-one outside Swindon remembers the lovely football, the fantastic goals, they just remember the negative headlines, the demotions and the arrests.

So, at the end, how do I sum up such a complicated season up in one paragraph?

Well, imagine you’re playing Hamlet at the world renowned Globe theatre and you’re performing the role better than Olivier or Gielgud ever managed. The hushed audience is simply awed by what they’re witnessing, a brilliant career defining performance – and then, whilst you emotionally deliver your final, dying words you fart, really, really loudly and ruin it all – absolutely everything.

And there you have it, right there, the 1989/90 season; the one that got away. So rightly celebrate our promotion from League Two today because its ours, we won it on the pitch and these promotions are like gold dust…

Read more tales from promotion campaigns…

Hall of Shame #4: The decision to sack Lou Macari in 1985

from guardian.co.uk 4

For our next entry into the Swindon Town Hall of Shame, Vic Morgan recalls one of the most shameful decisions taken by a Swindon Town board. Vic looks back to April 1985 when Lou Macari was wrongly dismissed to the anger of the Town faithful, then reinstated days later.

It was Good Friday…a day of rest I thought.

In those days I worked for the Civil Service, and part time for the old commercial radio station in Swindon.

I’d been covering the Town since the start of the 1984/85 campaign, which coincidently, was the start of Lou Macari’s reign.

Lou’s been sacked the caller said, “what” I said.

So begun an incredible weekend, which led to an incredible period in Swindon Town’s history.

A hastily arranged news conference saw the Town board give their reasons for the dismissal of not only Lou, but also his assistant Harry Gregg. The two Manchester United greats apparently couldn’t work together, and a change had to be made. From then it was a couple of days of madness.

Swindon-town-fc.co.uk footage of the decision to sack Macari

Swindon played at home on the Saturday, but the game was secondary to the off the field story.

Lou was at the game, and conducted an interview with me in the back of his car.

It was an amazing few minutes, with Swindon fans cheering and clapping as Lou talked to me about the events of the past few hours.

That interview was never aired, and I’ll never say what was in it.

A couple of hours later, I’d gone to the Abbey Stadium to watch Swindon Robins. Yes they used to race on a Saturday in those days.

Part the way through the meeting, my wife appeared carrying our young son. Lou had been in touch….no mobile phones in those days remember, and asked if we could refrain from using our taped conversation. It was obvious that talks were underway, which might lead to his return.

And so it transpired. Harry Gregg’s days at the club though, were over.

Swindon-town-fc.co.uk footage showing Macari speaking to Swindon Cable about his sacking

On the Tuesday, another hastily called news conference. Lou Macari was back in charge of Swindon Town. John Trollope was rewarded for his loyalty to the club, as Lou’s new assistant. The rest, as they say, is history. Promotions and play offs followed.

It was three days which remain etched in my memory. The order of events is as clear now as it was then. Credit goes to the Town board for reversing their decision, but their original decision was baffling.

Credit also goes to the Swindon fans, who protested long and hard. They made their feelings known, and were rewarded over the next few seasons with some truly great times.

Brian Hillier and the Swindon Town board in 1985….take your place in the STFC Hall of Shame!

Swindon-town-fc.co.uk footage of Macari’s reinstatement

See the rest of the Hall of Shame