Brendan Hobbs recalls the 1993 Division One Play Off Semi-Final 1st Leg against Tranmere Rovers which took place on 16th May 1993, as we continue our celebration of twenty years since Wembley ’93 and promotion to the Premier League…
With all the disappointment surrounding Swindon’s recent play-off defeat – our third attempt to leave this division in ten years, it puts into perspective our achievements twenty years ago – especially when you consider it all happened in a higher division. So to all those younger fans out there its worth reading on, because back in May 1993 we really showed how to win the play-offs – with exciting, edge-of-your-seat football and classic rollercoaster matches.
At the end of the 1992/93 season after a particular gruelling campaign Town finished up 5th in Barclays League Division One, which is the Coca Cola Championship in old money. Swindon’s form was not good going into the play-offs (sound familiar?). Without a win in the last five games of the regular season it was anybody’s guess as to whom Swindon would end up facing. When the dust finally settled a date was set with Tranmere Rovers – by virtue of the Wirral team finishing one place and three points better off than Swindon.
As soon as the two-legged fixture was arranged I remember looking up the aggregate score for the two regular season games. Omens were good, Swindon won the home game 2-0 and lost in the away 3-1, which would’ve made an aggregate score of 3-3 and a Town advance on the away goal rule.
The 2-0 home win was particularly fortuitous as it came in a re-arranged fixture – terminal floodlight failure put paid to the original game, a match in which Swindon were losing 2-1 at the time.
With Tranmere finishing higher in the league than Swindon they had home advantage for the second leg, which left Swindon hosting them on Sunday 16th May 1993.
16th May, twenty years, and without sounding too clichéd, how time has flown. But surely nothing’s changed that much? I was a mere slip of a lad aged 19, I had flowing luxuriant shoulder-length hair (what was I thinking?), I wore Doc Martins, was a total indie kid and went to Level 3 on a Saturday night. Good times.
Talking of music, Ace of Base were topping the charts with their parental based conundrum “All That She Wants” and at the cinema we were all yelling “Fuck it, take the money” to Woody Harrelson in his adultery based conundrum “Indecent Proposal”. The population of Ireland were still out getting drunk after celebrating their latest Eurovision Song contest win – and before you ask it was this wailing, damp-eyed sub-ballad that clinched the title.
Anyone remember watching it? I wonder if a heavily pregnant Mrs Oxlade-Chamberlain decided to put her feet up and sit through the whole bloated three hour suck-o-rama, lovingly stroking her growing bump which was due to flop out a wailing Alex in three months’ time.
Strangely, his Dad Mark netted against Town in a 3-1 win earlier in the campaign – I wonder how he celebrated when he got home? Am I suggesting a dismal Swindon display was the indirect catalyst for the production of one of England’s brightest stars… well, yes, yes I am. Give it another twenty years and a young Dave Donaldson (son of Clayton) will be scoring a hatrick in the World Cup final, you heard it here first.
In football, the second tier was crammed full of soon to be non-league teams with Cambridge, Luton, Oxford and Grimsby (who finished a creditable 9th) playing alongside Swindon that season. Rubbing shoulders with soon to be Premier Leaguers Newcastle, West Ham and Sunderland, funny old game etc. Oh, and Bristol Rovers finished bottom.
Manchester United wrapped up their 8th Premier League crown and Fergie’s first, fending off late challenges from current top tier relegation fodder, Aston Villa and Norwich. Every manager in the top flight bar one, (Wimbledon’s pseudo-paddy Joe Kinnear) were British, 16 out of 22 were English – now who said nothing much has changed in twenty years?
Anyway, back to Sunday 16th May, after spending eternity deciding whether to wear my hair up or down (Christ almighty, *weeps quietly*) I donned my ‘potato print’ green away top and left the house early so I could safely secure my regular spot on the Shrivenham Road terrace, none of this reserved seating nonsense back in those days.
Hoddle shuffled his pack from the final league outing of the season, a 1-0 defeat away at Barnsley. Paul Bodin replaced the teenage Kevin Horlock at left back, John Moncur returned for Micky Hazard and David Mitchell once again teamed with his regular striking foil Craig Maskell. The Aussie replacing Channel Islander Chris Hamon – cosmopolitan times at the County Ground. Hoddle played despite a long standing groin strain injury as did Ross MacLaren who was doubtful with an existing hernia problem.
The return of Bodin to the defensive line was going to be key to any success Swindon could dare to enjoy, despite all the free flowing football and attacking vigour, Towns defence was our strongest area.
This was highlighted when on the day of the first leg The People newspaper released their ‘First Division Clubcall (remember that?) Merit Marks Winners 92-93’:
Town were fired up for this match, Micky Hazard had already been quoted in the national media stating that Swindon ‘will explode’ in both play-off games and he was certainly right in the first encounter.
On an overcast day, with occasional showers Town went at Tranmere from the first whistle, and with the game only 1 minute and 43 seconds old the ball was in the back of the Tranmere net. A typical chaos inducing cross from Nicky Summerbee was met by Steve Vickers, normally Tranmere’s Mr Dependable at the back, yet in a state of total panic bought on by the burly presence of David Mitchell, he misread the bounce of the ball and headed into his own net, 1 nil.
Roared on by a delirious home crowd and barely a minute later Summerbee found himself in an almost identical position on the right and delivered another cross, this time there seemed no danger as it deflected off the full back and looked comfortable for our friend Vickers to deal with. But no, whether the centre back was still reeling from his own goal or the sight of David Mitchells Grizzly Adams beard honing into view he inexplicably fed the ball into Ross MacLarens path.
If you were ever going to accidently lay on a long range opportunity for someone in the Town team, then Mr Blobby would’ve been the worst choice. With a right foot like a traction engine/howitzer (insert Partridge-ism here) Blobs fired a low fizzing drive at Eric Nixon, who belied his second place in the Clubcall best goalkeeping stakes by allowing the ball to squirm away; it was almost as if the leather sphere had been temporarily transformed into a bunch of eels. The ball fell kindly to Mitchell who despite great pressure from Dave Higgins guided the ball into the empty net, three minutes played 2 nil. What could go wrong?
Well, Tranmere got straight back into the game via a fourth minute John Aldridge header, only for referee Allan Gunn to disallow the effort for a non-existent push on Summerbee. A huge let off for Town, but not for ITV officials who fell foul of profanity watchdogs as they broadcast live Aldridge’s ‘disappointed’ reaction to the decision.
Swindon vs Tranmere Rovers Highlights and News Clips
With Tranmere slumped on the ropes Swindon continued to push – looking for a third which would certainly put them in the driving seat, they didn’t have to wait long as it came just before the half hour. That man Steve Vickers miscued an attempted clearance straight to Craig Maskell who showed great control before releasing Mitchell with a delicious through ball. The entire Tranmere backline mechanically stuck their hands in the air for an offside decision they felt sure would come, with a certain Pat Nevin particularly incensed by the non-flag.
But instead of getting his head down and chasing down the ball he runs full pelt with one arm aloft, Mitchell advances towards goal, pulling Nixon off his line before unselfishly squaring the ball to Maskell who coolly slotted home his 22nd goal of the season, 3 nil.
Nevin appealed even harder when Mitchell crossed the ball to Maskell. Now, presumably as a respected pundit these days he surely knows that you cannot be offside if you’re actually behind the passer? Well, when this perceived misdemeanour goes unpunished, Nevin wheels away and sprints towards the linesman with such determination you’d have thought he was off celebrating a winner in the World Cup final. Watch it on the video, it’s quite amusing.
I met a Tranmere fan about ten years after this game and the first thing he mentioned to me was our ‘offside’ third goal, well Rob Parrett if you’re reading this:
The second half started as breathlessly as the first with Glenn Hoddle swinging in a peach of a freekick, David Mitchell rose brilliantly to head the ball goalwards only for the effort to cannon back off the crossbar. Mitchell was having a storming game, underlining his massive importance to the team. There was still a chance that if Swindon made it to the final Mitchell wouldn’t be there because the Australian national team wanted him for a crucial World Cup qualifier against New Zealand – which was on the same day as the final.
Town continued to pressure, with both Ross MacLaren and Martin Ling going close in quick succession, Tranmere were wobbling and it looked as if their legs would buckle at any moment and concede a vital, tie-ending fourth. But quickly the tide turned and it was Swindon who looked nervous and took their foot off the accelerator.
In The Times newspaper the next day reporter Rob Hughes quoted a snippet from John King’s (the Tranmere manager) inspirational half time team talk “This is a whole season’s work, you can’t pack in now, get after them!” And get after Swindon they did, the whole mood of the ground changed as Tranmere started to look more and more dangerous.
This new-found attacking spirit eventually led to a lifeline, courtesy of a truly wonderful strike by John Morrissey. Always a source of attacking trickery and pace, Morrissey turned Bodin inside out, creating enough room to fizz a curling effort beyond the clutches of an outstretched Digby. So good was the strike that I bet even now he still wishes that every day is like Sunday (16th May)….. baddum tish.
He then squandered a far easier chance ten minutes later before allowing his apparent frustration get the better of him by launching a horrific hacking challenge on Martin Ling which drew a yellow card from Gunn. If the same tackle happened today he would’ve received a straight red, no mistake.
The game finished perfectly poised at 3-1, (Man of the Match – Steve Vickers) the away goal making a huge difference to my mood. At 3 nil I would’ve been confident, but the door was left open and guaranteed a tense second leg.
John King mirrored my thoughts by saying “We are confident we can get to Wembley. We’re in the same position as Portsmouth. They need to win 2-0 to go through against Leicester, and everyone’s calling them the favourites.”
Most of the post-match interviews with Hoddle however didn’t concentrate on the match result, but instead focussed on where Hoddle would be plying his trade next year. “I’m just concentrating all my energies on getting Swindon Town to Wembley” he said on a self-repeating mantra to a particularly tigerish Daily Mirror reporter who constantly found a different way to ask the same question.
Second half sub Micky Hazard was confident on both finely balanced subjects, firstly saying that based on the first leg result: ”We have the tremendous incentive of knowing that if we make it Glenn will stay. He has been linked with Chelsea for weeks but he is incredibly important to Swindon.” And when pressed on whether he was relishing the prospect of potentially playing his former club Portsmouth in a final “I am afraid they will be disappointed because I am 100 per cent convinced it will be Swindon who are in the Premier next season.”
So onto Prenton Park for the second leg, where all will be decided and knowing Swindon, it certainly wouldn’t be easy…
And there you have it, the story of the first leg – all this happened twenty short years ago and on reflection perhaps a lot has changed. My long hair is gone, it’s now short and slightly grey, I’ve got a wife and two kids, I’m still an indie kid at heart but tragically Level 3 has closed down, but life as they say, still rolls on.
Swindon vs Tranmere Rovers Full Match