Twenty Years Since Wembley ’93: Pitchside at Swindon vs Leicester

1993 Play Off Final - I Was There 2

BBC Devon’s Vic Morgan recalls his experience of the 1993 Play Off Final, having the fortune of reporting on Town from the Wembley pitchside…

What a game. There’s no question, Swindon versus Leicester City in the Division One Play Off Final was one of the best matches played at the old and shabby Wembley Stadium.

Having watched the two semi-finals against Tranmere from the stands and terraces, I was asked to be pitchside reporter for the final. This was a year after I’d moved to Devon to work. So I gratefully accepted the opportunity to work alongside Nigel Turner and Jed Pitman.

The semi’s were tremendous and full of incident. None more so than Craig Maskell’s slow motion goal at Prenton Park. Seemingly, nipping out for a takeaway after rounding the goalkeeper and then finally rolling the ball into the net. An agonizing few seconds.

The Monday of the game arrived and a morning of collecting broadcast gear and passes followed before a moment I’ll NEVER forget.

You see one of my jobs was to follow the two teams out of the tunnel. John Gorman led the Town out because, of course, Glenn Hoddle was playing. John gave me a quick nod as he made his way to the head of the Swindon team. I waited for the Robins and Foxes to march out and then emerged behind them to hear the most incredible noise. My legs turned to jelly.

I’ve no idea what it would do to you if you were a player. They’re used to coming out to play on football grounds every week. This though was amazing. The only thing I’ve ever compared it too is waiting for Concorde to take off. Your whole body shakes and your legs give way. Astounding.

The game itself ? Well you know the story.

I was behind the goal that the Town were attacking in the first half.

Hoddle’s beautiful opener. Curled effortlessly into the corner of the net. Further goals from Maskill and OO Shaun Taylor seemed to make it safe.

Oh no. Swindon v Leicester matches are never straightforward. Behind me the fans from the East Midlands went crazy as their team fought back to make it level. It was breathtaking, if not heartbreaking, stuff. Swindon so close, yet so far.

Then the penalty. “Chalky” ahem brought down and “Zippy” scoring. Swindon, yes Swindon, were in the Premier League. It was three years since their phantom promotion in the same stadium against Sunderland. Strange how that team has so many links with the Town.

At last we were to see out beloved Swindon in among the elite.

After the game, a frenzy of interviews. Nicky Summerbee, resplendent in a natty straw hat, relaxing on a bench in the famous Wembley dressing rooms. Nicky, a player I’d first interviewed when he was a raw youth player. Now a part of Swindon folklore. The gaffer Glenn Hoddle in a state of undress just taking the whole day in. Just a few days before leaving for Stamford Bridge. Wonderful moments.

Then the journey home and the motorway bridges full of Swindon supporters seemingly unable to believe what had happened.

“It was twenty years ago today, Sgt Pepper taught the band to play”. Glenn Hoddle our own Sgt Pepper taking over what the magician Ossie Ardiles had started. Revolutionising Swindon’s play, after Lou Macari’s glory years.

What a day, what a period of the clubs history. Twenty years ? Doesn’t seem like twenty minutes.

Vic

Twenty Years Since Wembley ’93: Swindon 352 v Leicester City 442

John Moncur Swindon.jpg

Alex Cooke takes a look back at the pattern of play in one of the most fascinating games played at the old Wembley – Swindon Town v Leicester City.

One theme written throughout this bout nostalgia has been the comment that ‘it doesn’t feel like 20 years’ since Swindon won at Wembley. Not to me it doesn’t.

Watching Swindon 4, Leicester 3 again it seems as if more than just two decades have passed. Not because of the cast of milk-skinned, sallow youths, nor the surprising physicality of a match which in my memory was played by a Town team of rake-thin foundlings in velvet slippers.

The real surprise was in the systems on show – an orthodox 442 as British as cream teas, warm beer and casual racism versus an almost continental 352. For this wasn’t the defensive five-at-the-back system since used by Steve McMahon, nor the version once deployed at Milmoor with Stefan Miglioranzi as sweeper. This was Glen Hoddle as a libero; Glen Hoddle, one of the most naturally talented English footballers of all time, sometimes in front, sometimes behind and mostly betwixt centre backs. Just beautiful.

Leicester, by contrast, were English orthodoxy personified: big man/little man up top, two wingers and one attacking full-back, one defensive one. Their defensive line was far higher than Town’s own, probably safe in the knowledge that Swindon lacked pace and relied on possession to build attacks.

Watching now – as I couldn’t then – at least partly freed from choking emotion, Town’s football is the stuff of a fevered dream – yes, a 352 but with one forward who drops off, a screening midfielder allowing two wing-backs to attack, two man-markers and Hoddle the spare man at the back.

In the middle, Martin Ling and John Moncur were intricate and inventive as the ball carriers, while Ross MacLaren was what Eric Cantona termed the ‘water carrier’ shielding the central defence but rarely allowed his cloven hooves to touch the precious, precious ball.

Wide of them was Nicky Summerbee who played as a true wing-back, galloping forward, dribbling and crossing, while also falling back to defend as a full-back. On the other flank Paul Bodin was more tentative. He needed to be played in, to arrive late, attacking space.

In this game, Summerbee was key as his ability to make what those much vaunted ‘third-man runs’, essentially charging forward as Moncur and Ling played vertical passes to ensure the forwards could lay the ball off. The way he joined the attack was also vital in holding back Leicester’s stronger left flank. Each time Town went forward, Summerbee took both the winger and full-back with him, so in effect five were marking three – Summerbee, Craig Maskell and Dave Mitchell.

This created even greater space in the middle for Town’s trio to dominated Leicester’s two. It even indirectly led to the first Town goal as although Steve Agnew diligently followed Hoddle on a rare dart forward, when the ball was switched to Summerbee, Agnew switched off. He didn’t see Hoddle drift out then in, for he had turned his back. Instead Agnew was drawn to Maskell, before Hoddle broke from behind him to end a beautiful move with a beautiful goal.

Leicester Final 1st Goal Hoddle

Hoddle was, of course, a delight throughout. For much of the game, he stayed close to Shaun Taylor: beauty and the beast. Taylor man-marked, and dominated, totemic target man Steve Walsh. And Walsh was main Leicester’s outlet – target for some very good crosses, some poor hoofs and general focal point for their 442. Hoddle’s defensive job was to ensure that whatever flicked from the Neanderthal slopes of Walsh or Taylor’s brows, he would collect and distribute simply.

Taylor and Colin Calderwood took the function of ‘toe-treaders’, playing as dedicated markers to Walsh and Julian Joachim. Interesting they followed this brief precisely, never handing over their man, instead adjusting their position to make sure strength stayed with strength while pace followed pace. And it worked, for despite the final score line Leicester created very few chances.

A further reminder of how the game has changed in the past two decades came in how Town dropped off into their own half, rather than pressure possession. So the defence was deep too, mostly likely to stop the lithe Joachim being able to accelerate into space behind them.

Now, post Klopp’s Dortmund and Bielsa’s Chile, we are used to teams trying to win the ball back high up the field and make quick vertical transitions, but not here. Despite all the goals, this was a patient game, controlled by Town completely.

At the heart of it all Moncur and Ling were revelations to my fading memory. Both carried the ball fearlessly and with remarkable intelligence of when to dribble and dart or when to pass and pause. It was their talent, not tactics which made Town’s second goal though, Moncur’s driving dribble wasn’t stopped by the Foxes’ sloppy midfield but when the defence did, he had the vision to offload and Maskell had the incision to stay wide and onside and chime in with a delightful finish.

Leicester Final 2nd Goal

Leicester Final 2nd Goal - Maskell

In spite of a small stature of so much of the side, it had some heft too. Ross MacLaren shielding the central defence (although the closely cropped shots of TV coverage make his contribution hard to judge properly) and Dave Mitchell – well, Mitchell was a monster. For all the beauty around him, Mitchell’s endeavour was vital. He might have had the beard of a geography teacher but if he wanted to show you an oxbow lake, you would have agreed. When Town tired or were trapped, he gave an outlet and retained possession, or when Bodin or Summerbee couldn’t find a simple ball he could be hit with an early cross from deep.

The combination of Town’s formation and personnel did create a problem though as the game went on. As Summerbee faded, the width evaporated. As Maskell slumped, possession higher up the field became harder to regain or retain. Also without pace anywhere in the team, the quick counter attack wasn’t an option, despite the balls that Hoddle could drop behind the Foxes’ defence. That is until Steve White came on to work the channels because even with his limited pace and Kevin Poole’s lack of judgement,

When Town slumped, part physically but seemingly mostly psychologically, Leicester were finally able to spread their wings – and their full-backs and get into the game. It might have been tiredness or shock at taking a 3-0 lead but Town’s midfield flagged. As a result Hoddle stepped forward and eventually calmed things but his side lost their shape for a while and the Foxes came back, and back, and back again to level the score.

Swindon v Leicester City – Full Match footage from ITV’s ‘The Match’

As that fight back began Leicester’s Steve Thompson seemed to have greater time on the ball just in front of his own back four. Was it a cause or just a contributory factor? It is hard to tell from the limited and low angles of much of the TV coverage but the qualities of a very good Leicester side suddenly became apparent. Finally Agnew and David Oldfield were both bold enough to get closer to Walsh, turning the striker’s headers into chances as Hoddle needed to mark one of the runners. No longer having the ‘spare’ man, Town’s became cautious of leaving gaps at the back and the wing-backs became flatter and no longer supported those in front of them as Hoddle stepped up.

While Leicester’s 442 was based largely on wing play and support from the full-backs, they also had some very good players, particularly in central midfield. However, looking back Brian Little’s tactics did little to help them. Instead of using the nippy Joachim wide and leaving Town over-manned in the middle of defence with a trio against just Walsh, he played the two centrally. Where as Joachim could have been used to keep Bodin or Summerbee back, they were allowed free, knowing that Town’s trio at the back could cover.

Little could have even switched to a full 433 using just three attackers to pin back Town’s five, evening up the midfield miss-match, pressuring the relatively limited MacLaren on the ball and forcing Town to change their game. After all, lone strikers were pretty much what sent the 352 formation into hibernation for a decade or so until sides such as Napoli reshaped and revived it.

But Little’s failings shouldn’t mask Town’s excellence. This was a superb game between two very good sides, and one whose see-sawing momentum represented the qualities of both teams: a wonderful Town side showed how possession and technique can be used not just as an attacking tactic but also a defensive one, while Leicester’s comeback showed their slightly more earthy blend of virtues but still remained thrilling to watch.

And despite the wonderful ability of this Swindon side, and of Hoddle, Ling and Moncur in particular, it is clear that they remain just like all the other Town teams before and since – it can’t be done the easy way. And that certainly hasn’t changed, even during the last 20 years.

Twenty Years Since Wembley ’93: Tranmere Rovers 3 Swindon 2 (4-5 agg)

Tranmere 2nd Leg - Final Score 5

Phil Allen made the trip to the Wirral on 19th May 1993. Here are his thoughts on that Division One Play Off Semi-Final 2nd Leg against Tranmere Rovers as we continue our celebration of twenty years since Wembley ’93 and promotion to the Premier League…

So, it’s really 20 years since the Tranmere Playoff games? I can’t believe it’s been so long and what on earth have I done with my adult life since then? Some of the memories of the 92/93 season are still as clear as the day the ball was kicked: the 6-4 thriller at St Andrews, 4 nil at Vicarage Road, beating West Ham at Upton Park, great home wins against Sunderland and Newcastle, plus taking four points off both Brizzle clubs and Oxford  – for the younger Town fans, I’m not making this stuff up, it really did happen in one season. And all of this in what is now grandly referred to as “The Championship” (League Division One in those days of course).

So after a successful season and playing some great football along the way, May brought the play-offs. At the time I was at Uni in Portsmouth (ok, so I’d joined Portsmouth Poly a year before after a spectacular but less than academically successful six-form career in Swindon, but it was now a proper University, honestly – just go with me on this one).

So the first priorities were tickets and transport. Being down in Pompey, with no car and no money posed a bit of a problem on both fronts – luckily I’m from a family of Town supporters, so big brother was on hand to queue for tickets and an offer of a free trip to Prenton Park. The next issue was bunking off Uni for two days and getting back to Swindon – not so difficult you might think, but bear in mind I’d come back for the home leg a few days beforehand, and by a combination of bad timing and one extra pint too many, had managed to get myself stranded at Bath Spa station after the last train home on Saturday night. I remember it was a balmy night and the cunning plan was to kip down on the platform and get the first train out at 6am – queue knife fight between two hobo’s on Platform 2 and suddenly it didn’t seem such a great idea…..

Tranmere 2nd Leg - Match Lineups

Anyway, I’ve been trying to remember what lectures I missed that Wednesday and Thursday back in ’93 – I think it was definitely Law on Wednesdays but no idea what Thursday would have brought. Law I was ok at, so no great loss – the problem was everyone on my course knew I was a big Town fan, so the chances are my lecturers would have known where I’d disappeared off to –but I honestly don’t remember thinking twice about cutting class for two days to see a football match, even with less than two weeks before all of my end of year exams.

So, having made a note of the times for changing trains at Bath, I headed out of Fratton Station early on the 19th to rendezvous with Rob back in Swindon, before heading north to Merseyside. It’s a strange comment on my life, but in my 41 years on this earth I’ve been to the tropics of Queensland, travelled around New Zealand, as well as being a frequent visitor to many parts of the UK, but that night in May ’93 remains my only ever visit to Liverpool (ok, not really Liverpool, but close enough for my liking). When your first visit to a city was as good as mine, perhaps any return trip would always have been a major disappointment – safe to say, I’m still not planning on finding out if it actually would be.

Match highlights

So to the match: After the great start at the County Ground on the Sunday, the mood amongst the travelling Town fans was high – some had a few niggling doubts after the 3-1 defeat a month earlier but I remember my biggest worry was meeting the team from my adopted new home town at Wembley, who had finished third and looked strongest of the four playoff contenders – also one of my house-mates was a big Pompey fan, so it would have made for an “interesting time” at home.

Sure enough, the first goal from John Moncur confirmed my pre-match confidence and the Red and White Army were in full voice.  Looking back now it’s odd – I have no recollection of John Aldridge being in the Tranmere line-up at all that day – a great striker, but I don’t remember him being a threat across either of the two games. The man who was starting to make the Town faithful sweat was Pat Nevin – he’d set up Tranmere’s first before half time and was on hand to slot home their second – at times he was running the show in the second half and every Tranmere attack was looking dangerous. Just to think, a Tranmere Swindon game included the footballing greats of Nevin and Hoddle, as well as Aldridge and my favourite Town player of the era, Mickey Hazard – heady days indeed (Hazard on the subs bench, for the statto’s amongst you).

Between the two Tranmere goals, there was the “goal” that never was – a big shout but Digby pulled it back off the line – I never did have a clear view of it from the terrace and not living in the HTV region, I don’t think I ever saw a replay of it until the dawn of the YouTube age – having watched it again recently I still can’t be sure, but anyway, all’s well that ends well!

Tranmere 2nd Leg - Digby Save

Maskell came off the bench to combine with Mitchell for the town equaliser –and the Town fans were going crazy – Wembley looked secure again and I remember that old-fashioned surge down the terracing as we mobbed the goalscorer . What a great season both strikers had up front – another oddity for me – neither managed that same level of performance before or since the 92/93 term – if only one of them had been able slot home as regularly for us the following season.

But the drama wasn’t over (it never is with the Town, is it?) – a poor trip just inside the box by that footballing great Hoddle and Tranmere were now only one behind again on aggregate. Town had no more than ten minutes to hang on but it was nail biting stuff. I seem to remember a lengthy injury time but I might have imagined that – it certainly felt like it. So finally the ref blows for full time and the feeling of relief and jubilation was fantastic as Town won 5-4 on aggregate.

Although for me, there were a couple of moments of real concern: Firstly, the rumour went across our part of the terrace that Portsmouth had destroyed Leicester 5 nil, confirming my worst fears that Pompey were on the march. Back in ’93 a smart phone with BBC Sport App was about as unlikely as travel beyond the Sun, so you had to make do with one bloke with a radio – I’m pretty sure it was before the days of Five Live too – it wasn’t until the following morning that I had the relief of knowing we’d be meeting the Foxes at Wembley.

Secondly, the Tranmere fans poured onto the pitch and after the initial commiserations with their players they made their way to the Swindon end. 1993 was before the modern age of all-seater stadiums and wall-to-wall Sky had really kicked in and for a minute it seemed touch and go to whether some of the disappointed Merseysiders would be looking to take out their frustrations as wouldn’t have been that unusual in the era – having started going to matches in the early 80’s, I’d seen a few “unsavoury” incidents over the years and you still never quite knew when things might get ugly. But to their great credit, the Tranmere faithful were gracious in defeat, even after having got so close. Both sets of supporters applauded each other with genuine mutual respect – to be fair, I’ve not seen a response like that before or since .

More highlights and news clips

On the way out of the ground, a couple of Tranmere lads were keen to swap hats with me but it was not to be – I was as keen as the next man to enter into the spirit of the evening but you need to know it was my lucky hat that had got us through that season, so there was no way I was going to let it go before a Wembley final. Also, it was a STFC beanny hat, which back in the day of the Stone Roses et al, was the thing to have as an indie kid – it remains my favourite ever bit of Swindon clothing, although now, strangely, it seems much too small.

So the long journey home – eventually rolling back into Portsmouth the following lunch-time (no doubt having emptied the cupboards of all the tins of beans) to find after Pompey had been knocked out there was no fans love-in at Fratton Park: it had kicked off big style (as we used to say) and living only 100 yards from the ground there was still broken glass being swept up and at the other end of the ground was a burnt-out car. My housemate couldn’t have had a more different night to me. Well the rest is history – the residents of Portsmouth never seemed to worry about me walking around their city in my Town top, or the Wembley flag in the front window for the next month or so – I think they must have been more than happy with our victory over Leicester.

We had our one season in the top flight and Tranmere had another couple of pops at the Premier League but never quite made it.  20 years later, we both find ourselves in League One. Have things changed being a Town fan? Well maybe the quality isn’t quite what it was in the second tier and perhaps we now, at least in the short term, haven’t got so much to look forward to. But come May 2013 I’ve found myself travelling to a tense play-off semi-final again with my brother. Another close run thing right to the last kick of the game – maybe thing don’t change that much after all. Perhaps we had the rub of the green in ’93 which we didn’t this year: with Vickers’ gifts in the first leg, the disallowed “goal”at Prenton Park and Chalkie White’s penalty hero scenario at Wembley. Over both semi’s with Brentford this term we didn’t seem to get anything out of the officials or the opposition and managed to provide a couple of gifts of our own along the way. Come to think of it now, I guess the strongest team just came out on top then and now.

Here’s to another 20 years!

Videos and match lineups courtesy of Swindon-Town-FC.co.uk

Follow Phil Allen on Twitter @chisieweirdo

Twenty Years Since Wembley ’93: Swindon 3 Tranmere Rovers 1

Tranmere 1st Leg - Final Score 4

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.

Tranmere 1st Leg - Match Lineups

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’:

Tranmere 1st Leg - Clubcall

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:

Tranmere 1st Leg - Offisde

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.

Tranmere 1st Leg - Final Score

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

Videos and match lineups courtesy of Swindon-Town-FC.co.uk

New T-Shirts Range to Celebrate Twenty Years Since Wembley ’93

1993 Play Off Final - I Was There 1

To celebrate the upcoming 20th anniversary of Swindon Town’s 4-3 victory of Leicester City in the 1993 Division One Play Off Final we’ve a new range of t-shirts to mark this special occasion in our shop.

The new range includes… a commemorative ‘I Was There’ design featuring the famous twin towers, TV commentary quotes as each of the four goals went in and a choice of your favourite Wembley goalscoring heroes that May Bank Holiday.

Remember… proceeds from the shop will go towards sponsoring an STFC first team or youth player for the 2013/14 season. Thanks to your previous support we were able to sponsor youth teamers Josh Helm and Mark Francis this campaign.

Check out the new designs via this link…

1993 Heroes - Bodin T-Shirt 92-93 Hoddle! Wembley T-Shirt 92-93 I Was There! - T-Shirt

FA Youth Cup Report: Swindon 0 Liverpool 5

FA Youth Cup 1

Swindon crashed out the FA Youth cup at the 3rd Round stage for a second successive year after being thrashed by the Under 18s of Premier League outfit Liverpool. Writes Ben Wills.

Swindon boss Paul Bodin named an unchanged side from the one that knocked Cirencester out in Round Two after a 6-1 victory. Liverpool on the other hand played a 4-5-1 formation with the recognisable name of Jordan Ibe on the left flank and Jack Dunn playing the traditional number 10 role behind the striker Jordan Sinclair. Manager Steve Cooper in fact played an entirely different XI against Middlesbrough last week, focusing entirely on this game.

Swindon actually started the brighter with a number of early crosses that all went in the arms of Liverpool ‘keeper Ryan Fulton and sadly didn’t create any shooting opportunities. However, like it seems to be with the senior team the youth have the same problem, dominate the game, and then concede and that’s exactly what they did in the 9th minute.

Jerome Sinclair picked the ball up on the left hand side, he skipped past Luke Murden and Jake Johns before firing a shot that hit Josh Helm’s near post which then hit Helm’s back and into the net, the Swindon goalkeeper unfortunate but it goes down as an own goal. Swindon could’ve leveled seconds later after Mark Francis broke free of the Liverpool defence but his low squared ball couldn’t find Waldon and was cleared away.

Swindon’s best chance of the game was probably in the 15th minute. A cross by Murden found Waldon to the left of the 6 yard area in space but he could only head it into the side netting and was never troubling Fulton. An indication on how strong Liverpool were defensively. Swindon were perhaps a bit fortunate to not concede a second own goal when danger man Jordan Ibe used his blistering pace to collect a cross field Jack Dunn pass and then fed left back Maguire whose low cross inside the box was deflected wide by Oakley.

Just 3 minutes after this incident though Liverpool did grab a second goal. On the 24th minute mark, Ibe collected a Murden header away and the Swindon players simply couldn’t cope with his speed. He sprinted away from Ferris, took it away from Oakley and from the ‘D’ he let fly and his shot sailed into the top corner. Helm had no chance.

Liverpool didn’t have to wait much longer for their third either. A last ditch chipped pass by Liverpool captain Lussey found that man Ibe on the left who showed another part of his game, precise passing, by slotting the ball between two Town defenders into the path of Dunn who skipped past Oakley and firing past Helm for 0-3 using his weaker right foot. Seemingly game over after just 27 minutes. Jack Dunn celebrated this goal with the away side’s physios as he’s had a long battle with injury this season, you wouldn’t know it if you saw him play on Tuesday.

Liverpool were really on the front foot now, the right winger Kris Peterson got the ball near the touchline, took a heavy touch past a defender and then executed 2 step overs, darting into the box but could only fire over from a tight angle, he deserved a goal and in truth, he should’ve got it. Still only 30 minutes played.

Swindon just couldn’t handle the pace and the movement of the Premier League side, again just a minute after Dunn had the time and space to hit a 30 yard pile driver at Helm who could only parry and then smother at the second attempt.
One of Swindon’s limited chances came just before half time. A Murden throw from the right found Francis just inside the area, he passed to Ferris on the right wing who played a first time cross to Waldon who got a toe on it and Francis was there to hit a tame shot at Fulton from close range.

Brendan Rogers seems to have kept his promise by implementing his passing philosophy into the youth set-up and we saw this throughout the match as Liverpool passed Swindon off the park but this system really paid off in the 44th minute as Liverpool scored another goal after some sensational passing play.

14 passes were involved in the goal. This started with Peterson on the right flank and ending with a Dunn pass to Sinclair, who in turn found Peterson again on the right who played in Dunn again by the penalty spot in acres of space and Dunn scored his second of the night – with a powerful side foot strike again in the top corner and Helm again clutching thin air. This move started at 43:15 and ended at 43:52, taking just 37 seconds to have 14 passes and a shot, real Premier League pedigree on show at the County Ground.

The half ended 0-4 to Liverpool with an attendance of 1,533 seeing a really impressive display, from one team anyway.
Liverpool started the second half as they finished the first, a 33 pass move eventually made its way to right full back Ryan McLaughlin who was bundled over by Matty Jones for a free kick in a dangerous position.

Liverpool did get a fifth in the 51st minute when pressure from him, Curtis Da Costa passed straight to Peterson who dragged 3 Swindon defenders to him, leaving Sinclair free, onside, with all the time in the world to take a touch and then slotting the ball past Helm and into the back of the net.

Liverpool set out to embarrass Swindon further with Jack Dunn having another long range shot which was needlessly tipped wide by Helm who didn’t shower himself in glory during this match. From the resulting corner the ball was worked through to Peterson whose cross was flapped away by Helm only as far as Dunn, who was then fouled. Two blocked shots came in from Dunn, one by the wall and the second by the rest of pack and was then cleared.

3 of the 4 danger men combined yet again for another chance in a matter of minutes. Sinclair picked out Dunn in the centre circle whose precise pass found Peterson with left back Jones in no man’s land, Peterson then flicked it past Jones and struck a left foot shot straight at Helm who again could only parry it out for a corner. A final Liverpool chance in this 3 minutes completely dominated by the away side was a 25 yard shot from Lussey was palmed away to the left by Helm.

Swindon did manage to create a chance of their own after these seemingly never ending Liverpool shots on goal when on the counter attack the ball was worked out to the left to Simpson. He took two touches before playing a wonderful lofted pass into Waldon who let it bounce twice before shooting high and wide over the bar with a half volley.

Fulton was finally called into some serious action when a poor goal kick from him was optimistically flicked by McLaughlin but it hit himself and went into the path of Francis. Francis then dribbled away from Lloyd Jones and past McLaughlin and his low cross was eventually claimed by Fulton after 3 players were desperately trying to get to it (Fulton and Heaton for Liverpool, Waldon for Swindon).

Liverpool were still trying to get more goals, the Swindon defence again leaving too much space for a Dunn pass to slide a ball between them with McLaughlin in space who fed Ibe on the edge of the area but the former Wycombe man could only shoot over.

Swindon had a moment in the 62nd minute that really summed their night up. A dreadful and complacent kick by Fulton went straight to Da Costa 30 yards from goal and his header went to Waldon who could’ve either shot or ran at goal with space in front of him. He decided however to turn away from goal and pass it to Ferguson who slipped and Liverpool regained possession.

Liverpool decided to sit back for the last section of the match, showing their superiority by passing it round the Swindon team without really creating any chances or giving any away.

Liverpool did fashion four more chances before the end however with a 5 minute flurry to try and make it 0-6. In the 85th minute substitute Sam Gainford stole the ball off Murden, ‘Cruyff turned’ round him passed to Jack Dunn who took it round a defender and from a cute angle hit the inside of the post and away, so nearly his hat trick.

Gainford was involved in the next chance with his cross being headed away by Jones and then fellow Liverpool sub Connor Randall blasted over a half volley from the edge of the box. The game finished with Lussey curling a shot straight at Helm from 20 yards out and a third sub Seyi Ojo shooting wide from 30 yards.

With Swindon’s FA Youth Cup dream over, they can now focus on defending their league title, their next game is at home to fierce rivals Oxford, the perfect opposition to face to get back to winning ways. Liverpool on the other hand can continue their FA Youth Cup journey.

FA Youth Cup Report – Swindon 6 Cirencester 1

FA Youth Cup

Swindon recorded a second successive 6-1 victory in the FA Youth cup on Tuesday night and booked a third round tie against the youth of Premier league side Liverpool in the process. Our FA Youth Cup reporter Ben Wills was at the County Ground. 

Despite the emphatic score line it was the away side Cirencester who started the game more brightly and created a few half chances although none of them gave Swindon ‘keeper Josh Helm much trouble.

Swindon did create the first meaningful chance of the match when a cross from the right hand side was headed over by Waldon. Two minutes later, Cirencester got their first real chance when right winger Naoki Montoya found right back Mason Thompson who whipped in a cross to number 9 Jack Smith but his free header was directed straight at Helm. Cirencester should’ve took the lead then, and they also should’ve took the lead 5 minutes later after a cross from the left hand side was headed over from close range, this time from Bond, Alex Bond.

Swindon were lucky to still be level at this stage and they responded from this early pressure in the perfect way, by scoring. A left sided free kick from Jake Simpson (who missed the 6-1 victory over Sholing due to being in the Jamaican development team) was headed in by Waldon for his first of the night. This goal had a hint of fortune about it due to the fact Ciren goalie Luke Berwick thought it was going wide and therefore didn’t attempt to save it. 1-0 to Swindon.

We didn’t have to wait long for the game and Swindon’s second goal, just 7 minutes later a chipped through ball by Simpson found Ferguson who skippered Swindon again in Oakley’s absence. Ferguson beat the offside trap and knocked the ball past the on-rushing Berwick, off the inside of the post and into the back of the Cirencester net.

Swindon were in cruise control now and should’ve bagged a third just 4 minutes later when a swift counter attack in which attacking right back Luke Murden started, found Simpson who in-turn found Ferris who used a great deal of pace to get away from a defender before firing straight at Berwick when in truth he really should’ve scored. Swindon eventually added to their lead when a cross from Matthew Jones found Waldon in the box for a simple finish. Both teams had a half-chance before the break but neither of them came close to finding the net. Half time: Swindon 3-0 Cirencester.

Swindon got off to a flying start in the 2nd half scoring their first chance of the half just 3 minutes in. A cross by Murden was knocked down by Ferris’ chest and Ferguson struck a fierce half volley to make it 4.

Cirencester’s first chance of the half was a strange one, a shot by danger man Asa Cox was blocked by Curtis Da Costa and Helm was forced to tip it wide for a corner, this was punched out and away by the Swindon number 1.

The short travelling visitors tried to work their way back into the match with three long range shots all of which flew over, one by Cox, one by Thompson and one from Bond.

Meanwhile, Swindon striker Waldon was after his hat trick and came relatively close when another chest down, this time by Ferguson, was shot wide from 20 yards.

It wasn’t all going Swindon’s way though, centre halves Johns and Da Costa were far too casual in their own area and a Da Costa clearance was charged down by Jack Smith and was blocked over the bar, manager Paul Bodin was apoplectic with rage on the touchline.

20 minutes from time and Swindon got their 5th. Waldon’s strike partner Ferris side stepped past a defender and fired a left footed shot past the Ciren goalkeeper to crush their dreams of playing Liverpool in Round 3 if they weren’t already.

Cirencester did get a consolation a few minutes later when substitute Gareth James made a jinking run on the right hand side of the box before smashing in from a narrow angle. Swindon didn’t let them enjoy this though as just a minute later the duo of Matthew Jones and Conor Waldon combined again with Jones crossing for Waldon to head home for his hat trick and claim the match ball.

Cirencester had one more ambitious chance and that was a fierce but miss-hit volley from 25 yards after a corner was chipped in to the edge of the box.

The game’s drama ended on 85 minutes when Swindon centre mid Ryan Rawlins was sent off for a two footed challenge on Cox which left him having to be carried off the pitch. Cirencester’s misfortune continued though as they didn’t even get the advantage of having the extra man due to the fact they had already made all 3 subs.

The game concluded with a superb last ditch challenge from Swindon sub Liam Walsh following a low cross into the area, if this wasn’t done, Cirencester’s very own number 12 Will Picter would’ve scored with ease. There was still time for Adam Mace to have a free kick tipped over by Helm as well before the end.

So Swindon continue their cup run and for the second year running face Premier League opposition at home, hopefully this time they will be able to conjure up an upset and avenge the 1-4 defeat to Man City last year.

Follow @BenWills17

FA Youth Cup Report – Swindon 6 Sholing 1

FA Youth Cup

Swindon under 18’s served up a treat for the paying fans at the County Ground on Halloween night with Sholing not scaring the reds as often as they would have liked. Writes Benjamin Wills.

Swindon had a number of key players missing for this FA youth cup 1st round tie with skipper Aaron Oakley and Louis Thompson both named on the senior side’s bench for their 2-3 loss in the Capital One cup the previous night and Jake Simpson, son of Fitzroy was in the Jamaican development squad. Despite this though there were still some familiar faces in the town line up such as right back Luke Murden, striker Conor Waldon and captain for the night Alex Ferguson.

This Halloween fixture got off to a terrifying start for visiting Sholing after just one minute a pass back to goalkeeper Kieran Cottingtan was sliced horribly by the Sholing number one and went out for a corner which came to nothing. Sholing had the first clear cut chance of the match when Luke Murden dallied on the ball and was tackled by Coby Wilson who fired straight at Swindon ‘keeper Josh Helm from 20 yards.

Swindon had the ball in the back of the net seconds later though when a cross from the right was slid in by Mark Francis, disallowed for offside though. Just two minutes later however Swindon did legitimately take the lead, Aaron Ferris crossed in from the left and Conor Waldon scored a powerful header which flew past the ‘keeper and into the back of the net.

Sholing drew level 10 minutes later when number 8 Kieran Palmer was played in by Michael Lamb and he blasted a shot past Helm into the Swindon net.  The away fans’ joy was short-lived though as Town pulled ahead again just 4 minutes after. A cross by Murden from the right hit Portuguese defender Curtis Da Costa before landing at the feet of an unmarked Waldon for his second of night; Sholing’s calls for offside were ignored.

The first and only booking of the night occurred on 28 minutes and it was a coming together of the two goal scorers Waldon and Palmer, Palmer was the guilty party and was booked for a strong challenge on Swindon striker Waldon which left him hobbling for a short period.

Swindon had three free kicks in succession, the one from that challenge, one that flew wide from left back Matthew Jones from 30 yards and another again taken by Jones but this time from the right that was fumbled to Waldon who should have done better with the rebound.

5 minutes before the break Swindon extended their lead and looked to be out of sight when a Ferris corner was headed across goal by Murden and was then finished off with a header from Matthew Jones for 3-1 which was the half time score.

Swindon weren’t content with the two goal lead though and they wanted to continue Sholing’s nightmare with more goals, it should’ve been 4-1 after 55 minutes when yet another Murden cross was headed into the path of Ferris who had two bites of the cherry but both his shots were blocked before it was hoofed up field by the Sholing defence. Swindon continued to waste good chances and none more so when Mark Francis used blistering pace on the counter attack but fired a tame shot wide from the edge of the area.

Town skipper Alex Ferguson missed a sitter with twenty minutes left when he fired straight at Cottingtan after beating the offside trap from Waldon’s intelligent pass. Ferguson didn’t have to wait much longer for a goal though as just a minute later with Murden again crossing in and finding Ferguson around the six yard box and he slid it under ‘keeper Cottingtan and into the Sholing net.

The robins thought they should’ve had a penalty when Ferguson seemed to be tripped but the ref said no crime was committed.

As Sholing tired and Swindon seemed to get stronger the goals flowed in the last 15 minutes. Ferris supplied the next goal on what was a very impressive display for the speedy and skilful left winger, from the right of the box he played in substitute Callum McCormack (no relation to Alan) who fired a shot from the edge of the box low to the goalkeeper’s right hand corner.

Swindon had another penalty shout turned down when another sub Lee Marshall was blocked off the ball before going down but again the ref said no.

The rout was completed in the last minute when Waldon and Francis combined and then played in Marshall who slotted in from close range to make it a super six for Swindon.

Manager Paul Bodin will no doubt be very happy with how his young side performed despite the downpour at the County Ground in this largely one-sided encounter under the floodlights and will be hoping Town can have another successful youth cup campaign which last year ended with a 4-1 loss vs. moneybags Man City in round 4.

Town now face either Cirencester Town or Mangotsfield in the next round.

Swindon team

  • 1)      Joshua Helm
  • 2)      Luke Murden
  • 3)      Matthew Jones
  • 4)      Jake Johns
  • 5)      Curtis Da Costa
  • 6)      Ryan Rawlins
  • 7)      Liam Walsh
  • 8)      Alex Ferguson
  • 9)      Connor Waldon
  • 10)  Mark Francis
  • 11)  Aaron Ferris

Subs

  • 12)  Lee Marshall (for Walsh ’60)
  • 15) Callum McCormack (for Waldon ’74)
  • 14) Luke Matthews (for Rawlins ’75)

Sholing

  • 1)      Kieran Cottingtan
  • 2)      Brandon Diaper
  • 3)      Joe Griggs
  • 4)      Elliot Trigell
  • 5)      Hugh Dathan
  • 6)      Rhys Ferguson
  • 7)      Michael Lamb
  • 8)      Kieran Palmer
  • 9)      Matthew Gray
  • 10)  Coby Wilson
  • 11)  Callum Parker

Subs

  • 17) Bradley White (for Trigell ’58)
  • 15) Matthew Spicer (for Wilson ’65)
  • 14) Billy Evans (for Diaper ’75)

Follow @BenWills17

TheWashbag meets Fraser Digby: Part 6 – Regrets, His Greatest & Hall of Shame #17

Spall Tracksuit 2

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 final part, Fraser talks about his biggest regrets, his greatest matches, saves and inducts our 17th entry into our Hall of Shame.

You served at Swindon for twelve years and have made the third highest number of appearances of any Town player. There probably isn’t going to be another long serving player like you anytime soon.

I would be surprised because the things have changed, the whole parameters of football have changed. I think they said at the time, what was that ’98 that they didn’t think that many would have testimonials. When you see the likes of Giggs and Scholes at some of the bigger clubs, but then you see the likes of the mercenaries who come across for maybe 3 or 4 years. I don’t care who you are or whatever league you are in I think you are going to struggle to match 10 to 12 years.

What was the greatest match during your time at the County Ground?

For me the two Wembley games were the best games to have played in.

Memorable games were ones I always had against West Ham United as I always seem to play well against them. I remember we had a cup game at the County Ground – FA Cup Fourth Round 28th January 1989 Swindon Town 0 West Ham United 0 – and that was certainly my best performance in a Swindon shirt. I saved a point-blank header from David Kelly… it was just one of those games where they threw everything at us, and me, but I saved it.

Then in the Premiership the 2-2 draw at Anfield was a big highlight, particularly getting a standing ovation from The Kop at the end of the match.

Your biggest regret?

That 1990 team didn’t get into the First Division. All the events were out of our hands, nothing to do with us.

The other regret was not going to Real Madrid! I had all the Sunday papers on the phone saying they heard Real Madrid were watching me. I think it was Lou to be fair, to take the pressure off him at the time. There was some bloke with a sombrero on in the stand – they put two and two together and got five. Real were after a ‘keeper at the time and for some reason my name got banded about.

Best player who you’ve faced?

The player who I enjoyed most was Alan Shearer. In the Premiership he kept scoring hat tricks, but he scored two in both the games against us. Up there at Ewood Park I had a great craic with him, I remember saving a shot from Shearer late on that would’ve got him his hat trick.

He was a fantastic player, who scored the goals and was difficult to read, someone who I had a good battle with. There was no way I’d let him score a hat trick against me; I told him that as well!

Best backline in front of you?

That’s got to be David Kerslake, Colin Calderwood, Shaun Taylor and Paul Bodin.

Then, when Glenn came in as sweeper. Although it was a different way of playing then, with the backpass and everything, rolling the ball across the box, I could pick it up, it was a different way of playing.

For me the change to the backpass rule killed it for me. I preferred it when I could take the ball and roll it out, with Glenn picking it up short, he’d pass to Kerslake, pass back to me which I’d pick up and throw it to Bodin.

What was your best quality as a goalkeeper?

Consistency. Didn’t make many mistakes. That was the bit I prided myself. That is the requirement for any top goalkeeper – don’t make the mistakes.

Do you remember any particular goal scored against you and think that was fantastic?

Well…because he keeps reminding me after all these years…Ian Wright’s [for Arsenal] at the County Ground.

I was with a business colleague last year who had just been with Ian Wright doing some coaching, when he mentioned he would be seeing me Ian said ‘tell Fraser about the one I did him up!’. Even when I went to Palace and Wrighty came into training he’d be reminding me of it all the time. I said to him ‘didn’t you score anymore goals?!’ To be fair it was a great goal.

Best manager you’ve worked under?

I’d have to say Lou. But I’ve got to be honest, the one manager who did something that no other manager did was Terry Venables.

We [Crystal Palace] were playing away at Swindon and he called me into the office – bearing in mind he had been the England and Barcelona managers – and sat me down with Terry Fenwick and he wanted to know everything what was happening with Swindon, what I thought about the team, what their strengths and weaknesses were, and I never had that before, no other manager has ever asked me for me view before. That’s one thing that’s stuck in my mind about Venables, the training was also brilliant, he was a great coach and he was a great bloke to work for.

Obviously – while he was only my boss for two months – Sir Alex Ferguson, because I’m rather biased towards United anyway.

But Lou really stands out, because Lou was the one who sent me on my way in the game.

Greatest save you ever made?

The save from a header by Ged Brannan in the Play-Off Semi-Final second leg at Tranmere. He’s headed it and I’ve gone full length and saved it, pushed it onto the post. The best save I’ve ever made.

We have our own Hall of Shame; who or what would you induct into the STFC Hall of Shame as our 17th entry?

It would have to be the red Spall tracksuit that we had around 1989/90. Got to be! That was the most hideous thing I’ve ever worn in my life! That’s got to go in on its own….actually that and Steve White’s shoes…don’t tell him that!

Ossie striking a pose in the tracksuit

So then your washbag…

Yes! It’s still getting a mention!

The story was aired on Danny Baker’s weeknight show about someone being in the changing room and taking a tortoiseshell comb out of your washbag…

I actually don’t ever recall having a tortoiseshell comb in my washbag, but I must have done otherwise he couldn’t have nicked it!

That whole exposure and story was incredible. That season when the songs all came out, people were just phoning me saying have you heard this, then there was another one. I decided to surprise Danny and ended up signing on his show. It’s funny because anyone I meet now says they’ve just been on Google and watched that clip and they absolutely piss themselves laughing! It’s just gold, I made a fool of myself!

I was talking at the game the other day to someone who worked with Danny, the bloke’s a genius, absolute genius, he’s just so clever how he puts things together and how he did that, all those songs – I think 36 in the end – based on the washbag. My favourite is the Barry Manilow track. It was unbelievable the amount of people who wrote in versions of the washbag song. When I met Danny, Izzy had told me she’d received another four that day, it gripped it, really popular!

I’ve actually ‘the washbag’. The wife brought it for me for my 21st birthday! I don’t use it anymore, it’s sat in my wardrobe at home.

Thanks for the interview Fraser!

Read Part 1 discussing his early career

Read Part 2 discussing life under Macari and Ardiles

Read Part 3 discussing Glenn Hoddle, a return to Old Trafford and finally reaching the Premier League

Read Part 4 discussing tough times at STFC under Steve McMahon

Read Part 5 discussing life after Swindon at Crystal Palace, QPR and retirement

—————————————————————————————————-

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/

Taking the long view on short corners

Swindon Town Corner Flags 17

Many Swindon fans loathe them as much as substituting Alan Connell but short corners deserve their place in Town’s armoury, says Alex Cooke.

We should blame Shaun Taylor. From the 1992/93 season onwards, when that slab of Devonian muscle piled in 13 goals, mostly off his Neanderthal brow, Swindon fans have expected – no demanded – that Town should score from corners.

It looked so simple back then: Bodin, Taylor, goal! So why do the team now bother with all these mimsy, complicated, wasteful short corners?

The truth is that we hark back because we only remember the corners that went in, not the hundreds that were too deep, too high, hit the first man or dribbled out for a throw-in. The reality is that short corners as much part of a corner taking as Shaun Taylor and his smashed headers, and we need to embrace them for six good reasons.

1. Swindon aren’t very effective at corners

Pre-Gillingham it had taken Paolo Di Canio’s team 265 corners to score just 6 goals in League Two – that means a remarkable 2.3% of Town corners result in goals. Or to put it another way, just 9% of our league goals this season have come from flag kicks.

So far the six corners converted in the league have been against Southend (a), Dagenham (h) and two each against Rotherham (h) and Torquay (h). Five have come from direct balls lifted into the box, only one (against Southend) was from a short corner. So 16 % of Swindon’s goals from corners have come from short corners, but that is only part of the story…

2. No one is very good at corners

Look at Opta’s stats from the Premier League last season: Blackpool were top scorers from corners with 12 goals – 6.5% of their goal total. At the bottom of the table came Wigan with just 2 goals in 38 games from corners (1.2%). Or to put it another way the Lactics scored from a corner every 28 and a half  hours. Which makes Swindon’s goal from a corner every 11 and 1/4 hours seem at least slightly better. If hammering corners into the box worked, we’d surely see a far better return than this.

3. Defences now have the upper hand at corners

The vast majority of corners, long or short, don’t end with a shot on goal, let alone a goal. Data from the 2010 FIFA World Cup proves that even at the very highest level just getting a shot away after a corner is rare. There were 145 goals scored in the 2010 tournament and of the 627 corner kicks taken, with just 271 reached an attaching player (43%). Of those, a lowly nine goals were scored. That’s a ratio of one goal scored for every 70 corners taken or 1.44%.

There a have been many reasons proposed for the growing ineffectiveness of corners over the years: ‘keepers are taller and fouls more easily drawn, defences are bulkier and better organised, and side at all levels have become willing to pull the entire team back to mark up. The move to mix zonal – and man-marking has also helped – making defending proactive, rather than just reactive. Gone are the pointless ‘men on the post’ to be replaced by aggressive, zonally positioned players, such as the way Chelsea use Didier Drogba, who attack the ball as it enters the box without worrying about having to react to someone else’s run.

4. Swindon aren’t a big team

Town do have some tall players but not enough of them, especially compared to other sides in League Two. Only Aden Flint, Oliver Risser and Jon Smith are tall enough to loom over others but they aren’t physically imposing or aggressive to fill the Shaun Taylor role. So when Swindon swing the ball in they are looking for the heads of just one or two players, when sides such as Southend and Macclesfield have seven or eight players well over six-foot.

It isn’t just in the basement league in which teams have given up hammering the ball into the area in hope, Michael Cox of Zonal Marking.net estimates that Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona take around 70% of their corners short.

5. Swindon’s delivery of ‘long’ corners isn’t very good either

Without height or power on their side, Town have to rely on the accuracy of their delivery – and you only need to see some of Swindon’s direct freekicks to realise they don’t have that.

In-swinging corners – reported as the most effective of all by Ken Bray in How To Score – demand precise delivery. In his book, Bray highlights that at the most statistically effective in-swingers need to arc no more than 2.3 metres away from the goal-line before they bend back in enter the six-yard box. This ensures that the ball is far enough away from the ‘keeper to prevent them claiming it easily but close enough to the goal to make sure near-post flick-ons and carry a real threat.

The problem is that when Town attempt to deliver such a ball it is easily cut out, just as it was against Plymouth when Simon Walton, their Machiavellian number 8, positioned himself on the near-post edge of the six-yard box. From here it was easy for him to attack the ball before it could reach the on-rushing Town players and clear the in-swinging corners of Ronan Murray and Raffa De Vita.

6. Short corners make things unpredictable

Corners are clearly tricky to convert into goals – the evidence is clear – so the need is for something different, and that is precisely what short-corners provide. They stop the opposition relying on the same tactics, the same positioning and the same scouting reports.

Swindon excel in the variety of their corners, and a look at the 11 corners Swindon took in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final reveals how unpredictable they can be.

The team used six markedly different methods to deliver the ten corners from the left in the match: there were short corners played to the advancing full-back to cross or put back to the taker to chip over, deep crosses for a man moving out to head back and driven near-post balls for a trio to rush onto. For each Lee Holmes varied the length of delivery, height and even the speed, chipping some, driving others.

While none resulted in a goal, the variety and subtlety was impressive. Outwardly Swindon set-up each one almost identically; a man on the edge of the six-yard-box, three on the edge of the area looking to run in, another man wide, supporting the corner taker and one other hovering on the far side of the 18-yard box. Only for one corner were Town set up differently with Joe Devera rush out of the box from a deeper position to connect with Holmes’ out-swinger.

However, Town’s variety forced Chesterfield to change their marking slightly: each time they placed a defender to close down the wide player, cutting off the short corner, Town played it long. When that man was pulled back to help mark the trio on the edge of the box, Swindon looked short. Only the most blinkered Town fan could accuse them of not being drilled on corners. Accuracy was more of an issue though…

Whatever the fans’ opinion on the use of short corners, it is the variety that they give which allows any corner to work – short or long. Like the spin bowler who occasionally delivers one that doesn’t turn, short corners make the more obvious, more direct deliveries dangerous.

Short corners draw markers out of the box while longer crosses drive defenders back leaving space for the short corner; it’s set piece tug of way, pulling the opposition this way then that. So whatever the County Ground crowd feel about them, long or driven corners need short corners just as much as Shaun Tayor’s headers needed Paul Bodin’s delivery.