Mark Cooper and the Swindon Town sack race..?

Sack Race 7

A home defeat for Mark Cooper’s Swindon Town on Saturday after leading MK Dons at half time was enough for an increasing number of supporters to demand chairman Lee Power removes the manager. With Cooper still in the Town dugout, Ron Smith asks whether now is the right time to change manager?

One victory in ten games in all competitions plainly isn’t acceptable, yet I remain in support of Mark Cooper’s management at Swindon Town. I appreciate a number of readers won’t agree and that view was made very clear on social media and BBC Wiltshire after the MK Dons match. That match saw a stumbling second-half performance during which the Franchise’s resurgence and eventual goals looked certainties, such is a low confidence in the Swindon side to hold onto a lead, let alone push on to deliver a convincing victory.

Town’s current position 8th in League One and eight points off the play-offs isn’t a crisis for a side where the pre-season objective was “to avoid relegation”. A canny transfer strategy involving the recruitment of young players from the Premier League (Spurs) and ‘rejects’ from any level originally looked promising as a means to provide a competitive squad with budgetary constraints. Two-thirds of the way through the season and unfortunately this youthful optimism has suffered from burnout and a lack of experience to push through the winter months to secure a play-off berth. As a result, Cooper is in an unusual position – fighting for his job while perhaps overachieving.

Looking back at previous Swindon sackings since John Gorman was fired after an away defeat at Bristol City – perhaps an ominous sign to come for Cooper – eight of the nine sackings resulted from a period of poor form relative to their overall points per game record. Jimmy Quinn’s final ten games marked a minor improvement relative to his whole 18 month term in the dugout. Should he be unjustly sacked now, Mark Cooper’s recent ten game record is the joint fifth worst record amongst this motley crew. With just three defeats from the ten games, Cooper’s side is the toughest of these to beat.

Final 10 Games (All Comps) W D L Overall League Pts/G Final Ten Pts/G Lg Pos When Sacked
John Gorman 2 2 6 0.86 0.8 16
Steve McMahon 3 2 5 1.33 1.1 16
Jimmy Quinn 4 0 6 0.95 1.2 24
Andy King (1) 2 3 5 1.2 0.9 20
Andy King (2) 2 1 7 1.36 0.7 23
Iffy Onoura 2 4 4 1.14 1 23
Maurice Malpas 2 3 5 1.17 0.9 17
Danny Wilson 0 3 7 1.38 0.3 20
Paul Hart 1 3 6 0.63 0.6 24
Mark Cooper? 1 6* 3 1.38 0.9 8?

No recent Swindon manager in a league position higher than 16th has been sacked. Both John Gorman and Steve McMahon departed with Town in 16th in Division One, two and three points respectively above the relegation zone, soon to be dragged into a relegation fight. The remainder have also have been sacked after being embroiled in relegation scraps, or following relegation. Performance in the cups was also a factor, with Maurice Malpas being sacked for a league position three points off the relegation zone and an early knockout from three cup competitions.

Given that Swindon haven’t sacked managers in their recent history for being in a position as strong as Mark Cooper, why should supporters argue for his dismissal? Perhaps the short-sightedness of the Premier League and the winning-at-all-costs attitudes, which broadly equates to changing the manager at least once a season, is creeping into the mindset of supporters lower down the pyramid?

In the end there has to be a sound business and footballing reason for Lee Power to dispense with Mark Cooper. With Town three points away from achieving the magical 50 points – that has been enough to avoid relegation in the previous eight League One seasons – and a run of wins away from being within a very outside chance of a top six finish, even securing a mid-table finish wouldn’t represent a disaster.

I acknowledge there’s criticism about the style of play with “boring” being the most common description I’ve read, but I certainly don’t find Town boring. It’s always captivating and fascinating for whatever reasons, and of course, frustrating to watch at times recently.

There has been a noticeable downturn in goals scored per game and the frequency of victories since mid-November, a period during which discontent about style were largely silenced. A few months later and the criticism is more vocal highlighting what Town’s style under Cooper seemingly needs, in the eyes of the masses, are goals. Or alternatively, a complete about-turn in strategy to reimplement Di Canio’s ‘loved’ 4-4-2 direct football. Actually the difference between the two manager in respect of average goals per game is quite narrow, Di Canio achieving 1.6 compared to Cooper’s 1.5 per game.

If Cooper was given the boot you have to ask what could any successor achieve that Cooper couldn’t at this point in the season? Could you give yourself a better chance of winning promotion now? Certainly not. Indeed, looking back at our recent history following sackings, the sacking didn’t avoid the eventual fate the decision was seeking to stave off.

In the end, time is what’s needed for a manager who was surprisingly thrust into the role in August. It seems wrong to equate Cooper to some of our greats at this point in time, but you must remember the early promise of Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon in 1991/92 being top in November only to suffer a winless eight game run and defeats in March before finishing 8th; patience led to great rewards. Bert Head’s youthful side took five years to secure promotion, similarly Danny Williams built slowly with 7th, 8th and 10th placed finishes before glory. Therefore, Power’s strategy, with Cooper at the helm, is perhaps best judged next season. They know there will be a nucleus of the existing squad to continue working with while adding talent in the summer and changing the pre-season routine to avoid the fatigue that’s crept in.

Having written this, I do fear for Cooper’s future and whether he’ll be able to get the vital victories to win over the negative reactions.  Swindon have very tough games coming up in March including Wolves (h), Bristol City (a), Preston (h) and Sheffield Utd (h) which, results depending, will define everyone’s commitment to realism and whether we are prepared to ‘endure’ at least one season of mid-table mediocrity for once.

The more fundamental problem is that the damage could’ve already been done with the negative reactions so far, but only you can change that. This, or even this season, isn’t the right time for a managerial change. So give him time and support our manager.

Right, I’ve had my say. Time for you to complete this poll and please add a little more to be debate in our comment section.

*The JPT Area Final 2nd leg is counted as a draw as the tie was decided by a penalty defeat.

Image source

Life after the great success…

Heartbreak

Some supporters have had the joys of experiencing Swindon’s rise to the top of English Football through the late 80’s and early 90’s. However, some haven’t been as fortunate and have only dealt with the aftermath that followed. Adam Johnson is one of those fans…

‘‘And surely that means it’s the Premier League for Swindon Town…’’ Words that to me are a fantasy but too many are a reality.

That playoff final in 1993 v Leicester doesn’t exist in my life as a Swindon Town fan. Neither do the names Hoddle, Ardiles, Macari, Calderwood, Moncur, Jan Aage Fjortoft and others of Town’s stint in the top flight.

As a result, you should feel sorry for those of us who this applies to. Not because I haven’t enjoyed being a Town fan since 1996 but who knows whether it’ll happen again. It very well could, it also very well may not.

So you have an idea of my span as a Swindon fan, my first ever game was when Town lifted the Second Division title after a 0-0 draw v Stockport. All I really remember is Wayne Allison hitting the bar in front of me in The Stratton bank as a 7 year old.

In the time following that Premier League season, it’s been interesting. No, interesting doesn’t sum it up. It’s been exciting, depressing, exhilarating, exhausting, outstanding, confusing, moving and tearful.

We aren’t alone as supporters in having these feelings towards their club but the last 19 years have brought about the following, deep breath, 4 relegations, 5 near relegations, 3 promotions, 3 playoffs, 4 mid table finishes, 14 managers, 7 owners, 2 administrations and 2 near cases of liquidation.

We’re the first ever club to go into administration twice and the first club to go from the Premier League to League Two. I wondered when watching Harchester United on Sky One where they got the script from as football couldn’t be that ridiculous. Maybe it can.

I’ve often used the phrase ‘well, at least it’s never boring’ when describing why I support Swindon Town. We may have spent 11 out of the last 18 years in the equivalent of League One but that has possibly been the only stability at SN1 along with Curly Withers…

The interesting thing is that you may expect me to write about how we as younger fans have had to put up with a lot for little success on the pitch. Actually, I’m not at all.

I look back between 94 with McMahon to 2013 with Kevin MacDonald with names like King, Malpas, Evans, Todd and Di Canio wedged in between and don’t look back with regret. You may question my sanity but it’s true.

Of course there are moments I wish never happened such as Adam Virgo’s goal in 2004, David Cotterill scoring at Ashton Gate in 2006 to send Swindon down to League Two, the famous Wembley bobble, numerous boardroom struggles & the selling of my Swindon idol Kevin Horlock when I was seven.

However I still look back on the past with a slight smile of memories gone by. Fans get very attached to their clubs and after the hard times, when you finally have that moment of success, the reward is much greater.

One of my favourite nights as a Town fan was the Playoff Semi Final v Charlton at The Valley. It was 17 years since my first trip to The County Ground and I’d never seen Swindon play at Wembley, let alone be promoted from League One to The Championship.

People probably expect me to say the Stephen Darby penalty but actually I was a fit of nerves, it was when Danny Ward scored that little dink through the legs of the Charlton keeper that brought us back into the game. A dream that looked like being snatched away unfairly, like Brighton, was back in the realm of possibility.

The celebrations won’t be repeated for a while as that was 17 years’ worth of hope spilling over. It’s the pain such as going to Ashton Gate to see Town relegated and travelling to Stockport to see Swindon throw away a 3-0 lead with 15 minutes to go that gives you the ammunition for such crazy celebrations. It’s a relief as well as joy.

I can think back to Danny Invincibile’s volley v Peterborough, when I was a ball boy so had free range to run on the pitch, Rory Fallon’s overhead kick v Bristol City, Darius Henderson’s double at Ashton Gate, Andy Gurney’s free kick at Elland Road, Aden Flint v Brentford and although none of these memories have brought Championship football back to SN1 we cherish them.

Sure I haven’t seen Swindon finish higher than 17th in the old Division One but when you look back over the numerous tribulations Swindon have been through, we can be sensible and say we’ve done well to have a club, let alone one penalty away from a 2nd League One playoff final in four years.

A club that has been in administration and almost gone out of business twice is still seen as having Championship football potential. I have no way to think of what it was like in the past, this is just what Swindon Town is to me.

Swindon Town is my local club that have normally been in the 3rd tier of English football and aim for higher. Someday we may get there. As a football league fan you learn it’s dangerous to have expectations, not everyone can get promoted.

Every fan dreams of The Premier League but in my mind Swindon Town are a top half League One club. To others we may be underachieving in League One, I don’t know, but anything above League One would be a bonus in my mind.

Am I gutted to have zero experience of the 93 playoff final? Yes of course. The thought of Swindon Town being a Premier League team doesn’t fit into my brain and I probably won’t need to process that information in my lifetime, although I bet that’s been said before…

Video of the Week: Portsmouth 0 Swindon 1 – 31st October 1997

Video of the Week

Flying high at the top of the Division One table, Swindon visited Fratton Park on a Friday night live Sky Sports televised match.

After Chris Hay gives the Town the lead, Swindon’s young goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall suffers a gashed scrotum after a collision with Pompey defender Robbie Pethick. With no keeper on the bench, Mildenhall is forced to continue – an incredible series of saves and lucky escapes seeing the Town scrape to a fortunate 1-0 win – a victory that moves them to the top of the table with 28 points.

A few months later, following a 16 game run without a win, Town are mid table and only finish the season four points above the drop with a return of 52 points. Pompey finish 1997/98 in 20th with 49 points. Some team called Manchester City were relegated to the third tier and since haven’t really recovered…

Match Lineups

Video of the Week is courtesy of swindon-town-fc.co.uk

TheWashbag meets Fraser Digby: Part 4 – McMahon and the end of an era

Steve McMahon 1 3

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 fourth of six parts to be published over the next couple of weeks, Fraser talks candidly about his most difficult years at Swindon under Steve McMahon and the reasons why he left the County Ground after 12 long years.

After John departed following the defeat at Bristol City, Steve McMahon arrived. A young player manager, who I see it was eager to stamp his authority on the job, by any means. What were your impressions of Macca?

Steve McMahon started his managerial job like he played his football. One of the first things he said which got right up the players’ noses when they found out about it was that basically there were only four players at the club that he wanted to keep, the rest of them could go.

Now when you are battling relegation you need all the players sticking together and when you hear that you think fuck you – you know what I mean? So I don’t think he managed to endear himself to the players early on.

Were you one of the four?

I don’t know to be fair because he brought in Frank Talia to try to dislodge me. He tried that one.

We were bemused by Macca’s decision to sell Jan to Middlesbrough. This turned out to be the first of many tough and unpopular decisions by the manager, is it true to say he ripped the heart out of the club by selling / sacking club legends?

You look at the players, for me, personally, that he got rid of and you look how popular they were with the fans. So Jan had endeared himself with the fans, he was the first to go. And then Shaun Taylor goes. And then Paul Bodin goes. And I think I was the final one that finally left. And that was it.

Macca’s replacements were always moulded in his own image…

They weren’t up to the standard that we had been used to.

The fans had become accustom to decent football, entertaining football and even under Lou it was entertaining, it wasn’t the prettiest but it was entertaining. And then McMahon comes in and he narrows the pitch by about five yards. And he wanted the team to play the way that he wanted to play. He played himself to start off with – dunno how many times he got himself sent off…

Our Division Two title season saw some of the best football at the County Ground, yet looking back all the ingredients were there for it to happen – with money to spend and yourself, Taylor, Bodin etc. As a writer on The Washbag once wrote about Macca ‘a blind chimp could have got Swindon promoted in 95/96′… Is that fair?

I’m glad you said that not me!

Like under Hoddle your place as the no.1 again came under threat with Frank Talia. In many supporters’ views he was another keeper who realistically wasn’t up to displacing you.

Competition had been brought in before.

Yeah Frank [Talia] come in but Frank was a good laugh. He was comical, we had a few good trips away. I got on alright with Frank.

Frank wasn’t a typical, orthodox ‘keeper. He would make saves look spectacular when an easier one would suffice.  But he was a good lad, I got on with him, he made me laugh. The thing was he was after my position, you know?

Was he brought in as your replacement?

I think McMahon tried to get me out of the place, that was my feeling. I think that’s how it looked with a number of the players with Shaun going and Paul and Jan going. He wanted to have his people in and that was it.

Frank’s arrival was your second main competitor – after Hammond – for the no.1 jersey. How do you cope with competition? 

By that stage I was mentally strong enough to deal with it. And I think that is the thing, I’d leant a lot in my career and by that sort of age I was mentally strong enough to deal with it.  So I knew the characters, I’d worked with some good managers so when I bad one came in I knew where he was coming from.

There were quite a few things that went on off the field too that I didn’t necessarily agree with and so I’d got the markings of him and I knew who he was.

The thing was I didn’t want anything to do with that side of it, because I’d been in Swindon for quite long I’d got a lot of friends outside the of the game so I’d isolated myself from the rest – and I don’t think that went down particularly well

So that only made the situation worse for you in terms of building any trust with Macca and visa versa…

It’s not the matter of whether I liked him or respected him or not, I just continued going about it professionally, so my felling for him had nothing really to do with it.

Did he make any effort to fix that relationship with you? And how did he treat others in the squad?

No.

We never really communicated and when he did communicate with other players – Chris Hay being one – I didn’t agree with his management style.

I always listen to a lot of people and I see what goes on – being the manager of a football club is no different to being the manager of any other business: you know the people that need a kick up the backside, you know the people that you put your arm round – it’s how you are as a manager, its’ how you are as a person. How you deal with other people – how you react to them, or interact with them – and that is the big thing.

So I learnt a lot form the managers I worked with going into my business life. I saw the way that there were managers and I saw the way that they managed people. And football is just like any other walk of life.

Ultimately you proved Macca wrong by getting player of season, twice…

I had the final laugh!

One of your moments you’d like to forget was Swindon versus Stevenage in the FA Cup . One kick was held up by the wind, Boro were quickest to react and Grazioli scored…

[animated} oh that was a great one, I loved that one! You know what disappointed me more than anything else, it was like a force ten gale and I was trying to clear the ball out and I’ve hit one ball once I’ve drilled it low and its has basically stopped on the halfway line, lifted up and blown all the way back to row z. And I've just stood there with my arms folded just going ‘what am I supposed to do’. And then another time I’ve drilled it and the ball has got knocked down and Grazoli’s gone through four of our defenders and scored and I’ve got the blame for it.

Were you under instructions by Macca to kick directly upfield?

We couldn’t have just played it short because they’d have lost the ball and I’d have got grief.

It was just one of those games, the weather was against us. You know what I mean? You’ve always got to have one of them in your life.

1998 was your testimonial year to celebrate your 10 plus years of service to the club...

I’ve got to be honest with you. I had McMahon as a manager and I wish it was with any other manager other than him. Because the events and the people supporting the events were fantastic – we had a racing day at Cheltenham and Johnny Francome came along and did a speech, we had the jockeys, we had the cricket team, we had the penalty shoot-out in the parade ring. It was a fantastic day out but very few of the players were allowed to go.

That was the thing and even with the game [against Manchester United] he’d turned round and said ‘there aren’t many big names here’. But at the time, Fergie wanted to bring some of the bigger names, but he had to get the players back for a game for Karel Poborsky as part of a deal for him to come to United. So they had the Charity Shield, the Poborsky game, so I had some of the younger lads. Even then you look at some of those younger lads at that time and there were some good names there. [For me] it was a great one. Whatever happened, it was a great day. To think we had the second highest crowd of the season that day – the highest being Sunderland on the final day when they were gunning for promotion.

I recall Macca stating you were one of the top two or three  ‘keepers outside of the Premier League and he couldn’t imagine the team without you, and couldn’t go out there and purchase a ‘keeper as good as you…

I don’t know, I might’ve read it wrong, but that was the way I saw it. And I just felt, they’re not appreciating me enough.

Was the decision to leave also a culmination of the Macca years wearing you down?

Yes, I just I ought to go. Rikki [Hunt] hadn’t offered me [a suitable deal] and I wasn’t enjoying it, I knew he’d brought Frank in to try to get rid of me, and I just thought time to go. I had my testimonial – enjoyed that – but I wasn’t enjoying it [anymore], so time to go. And if they’d offered me more money then I might have gone ‘okay..’, but they didn’t. I really believed at the time, I was quite shocked with what some of the players were on, I thought I’m slipping down so off I go.

Did you feel hard done by the club, perhaps even taken advantage of, over the years because of your loyalty?

As I say, that was how I felt at the time, whether that was right or wrong I don’t know. I don’t want to slag them off too much, but it was a difference of opinion and that was how I felt at the time…

Read Part 1 – discussing his early career – here 

Read Part 2 – discussing life under Macari and Ardiles – here

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

Part 5 follows next weekend with Fraser 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/

Going Up! 1995/96 – When Steve McMahon brought joy to Swindon

1996 Division Two Champions 2

As we continue to look back over previous promotions, we reach the Steve McMahon 1995/1996 title success. A season that lives long in the memory of our writer, Adam Johnson…

Everyone has dates in their minds to remember, some you dare to forget, but some live on as a moment of significance. The 4th of May 1996 is one of those.

It was three days after my 7th birthday and, more importantly, the date of my first ever Swindon game, a 0-0 draw at home to Stockport County. It wasn’t the best game of football to witness as a birthday present but I remember it like yesterday.

Stood near the back of the Stratton Bank, Arkells Stand side, and seeing the Swindon players who I knew little of, lifting a trophy whilst ‘We Are the Champions’ played through the tannoy. I was watching my local team win a league and that was enjoyable enough, even if I saw no goals.

But, with my 7 year old brain knowing little of the trials and tribulations of Swindon, that day was more a relief to those in the know than the celebration I enjoyed. A league Swindon shouldn’t have been in, but they were, and getting promotion at the first time of asking. Sound familiar?

99% of my knowledge about this season comes from a gem of a video. If you are a Swindon fan and don’t own the season review that needs to change. I drove my parents mad watching this VHS back with my brother on a regular basis when I was a kid…and a few weeks back.

Anyways, I’m not here to do Adam Johnson ‘This Is Your Life’ but to look back at a season involving the life’s of better footballers such as Kevin Horlock, Wayne Allison and Shaun Taylor.

Like reading the last page of a book, I’m going to ruin the ending…we finished top, nine points clear of second place. Who was second? Oh yes, Oxford United. They got promoted but we had to go one better.

The story of the Endsleigh Insurance League Division Two title (what an old school name) all started with a 1-0 win over Hull City. Three clean sheets brought about three straight wins including a vicious volley from Edwin Murray to seal another 1-0 win, this time against Carlisle United.

Carlisle Utd vs Swindon

A momentary blip and a 1-1 draw against Oxford stopped our 100% start and we have Shay Given to blame for ruining our run of clean sheets. That barely delayed the Swindon train as the Town steamed clear of their rivals by winning the next five, conceding only three goals and beating Bristol Rovers 4-1 with a memorable Kevin Horlock hat trick.

The end of September brought the feeling of defeat for the first sustainable time in League and Cup with two in three games. It was though the time where Swindon Town in Division Two would come close to humbling the champions of England, Blackburn Rovers, in the second round first leg of the Coca Cola Cup at the County Ground.

Town went 2-0 up through Allison and Finney but Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton stole the plaudits and it was Paul Bodin’s missed penalty that sealed a dramatic 3-2 defeat. McMahon’s side couldn’t go one better in the second leg and suffered a 2-0 loss at Ewood Park but earned praise for their performances over the two legs.

This smell of defeat wouldn’t linger around much in the season, only 4 times in the league and 9 overall. So, let’s get back on track with the victories, and a 2-0 win over Bristol City. This win along with others in October against Crewe, Brighton and Notts County, where a trademark bullet header from Shaun Taylor won the game, put Town clear at the top by eight points.

Swindon vs Crewe

Town though lost their lead at the top by drawing six out of the last eleven games of 1995, showing a lack of firepower scoring only five goals in two months, ending the year joint top on 44 points with Crewe.

These struggles in front of goal would come to an end as Town started 1996 with progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup. A 2-0 win over Woking booked a tie against Oldham Athletic, and if you know your history of this season, an eventual tie against Southampton in the fifth round.

This 100% start continued in the league as Peter Thorne scored twice to seal a 3-0 win over Bradford. Again, a momentary blip, this time against York City wouldn’t de-rail Town as they won six of their next eleven games.

One of the defeats would come against Southampton in the FA Cup. A goal from Kevin Horlock put Town in the lead, live on ITV, but a scrambling headed equaliser would take us to The Dell for a replay where McMahon’s men would leave empty handed once again against Premiership opposition.

A 3-0 derby defeat to Oxford on March 19th ended the unbeaten nine game run in the league that also took Town off the top, two points behind Blackpool, but with two games in hand it was still in Taylor and Co’s hands.

This defeat to Oxford once again sparked The Robin’s into life, a trademark in the season of an ability to bounce back straight away from defeat, to win four in five putting Town top by four points with three games in hand.

Town’s nerves would be tested in the final weeks of the season as they struggled to get that final victory to get over the finishing line. Five draws in the last seven games were enough though, and after disappointment of not securing automatic promotion v Blackpool, a 3-1 win over Chesterfield was enough. With three games spare it was the Chief, Wayne Allison, to head Swindon Town back to Division One.

Chesterfield vs Swindon

Four players, (Allison, Finney, Horlock and Thorne) would take the plaudits for their goal tallies with 63 between them but a defence of Digby, Bodin, Taylor, Culverhouse and Robinson would be the basis of an all-round excellent team campaign.

To me, this team is one of the finest in my time supporting Swindon with the likes of Kevin Horlock, a great playmaker and winger. Allison and Finney, a scoring combo of little and large. Shaun Taylor, the rock in defence and others, such as Paul Bodin, Fraser Digby, Wayne O’Sullivan and the player-manager completing a star line up.

This season will always have the other thought of ‘surely we should have gone up anyway?’ but no promotion is given to you on a plate. It was a season that did demand success with the need to satisfy fans after two straight relegations. So, to do it in such emphatic fashion, new times were awaiting and the past was behind us….we hoped.

Steve McMahon’s reign isn’t one that brings smiles to people, memories of him selling Fjortoft, a bewildering transfer policy at times and protests on the pitch to see the back of the former Liverpool midfielder.

So, stretch those mouth muscles and raise a smile to the year Steve McMahon did bring happiness to Swindon Town Football Club.

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

Read More Tales from STFC Promotion Campaigns

Hall of Shame #8: Joey Beauchamp

Joey Beauchamp Swindon HoS 6

Seeing that we’re travelling down the A420 on Saturday, now seems an appropriate time to induct the most hated player to wear the famous red of Swindon Town, Joey Beauchamp. Richard Banyard provides the biography of the Oxford United legend.

It’s over seventeen years since he left the Town, and more than ten since he last donned an Oxford shirt, but to this day his name is still sung at the County Ground (coupled with various expletives, of course). It had to happen at some point…. as a man who should have been destined only to play in the yellow and blue, Joey Beauchamp is the inevitable new addition to the STFC Hall of Shame.

Oxford born and bred, Beauchamp came up through the youth ranks at his beloved United after being spotted playing for local junior side Summertown Stars; before making his debut for the U’s on the final day of the 1988/89 season.

After a short loan spell at Swansea in 1991, his first introduction to Swindon came in the Anglo-Italian Cup early the following season (a game that the Town won on penalties) – five months later, he capped a good performance against the Town with two goals in a 5-3 victory for the U’s – Oxford’s first win against Swindon in eleven attempts. Gradually, his performances in a yellow shirt began to attract the interest of bigger clubs – when Oxford were relegated to Division Two in 1994, they were forced to off-load their star man.

With the U’s in severe financial difficulties, Premier League West Ham and recently relegated Swindon both showed interest in Beauchamp – and initially it appeared that the Town would get their man. This was until Beauchamp’s agent advised him not to sign and to wait for a better offer from Upton Park.

When the Hammers also had a bid accepted, Beauchamp initially rejected the move – reports later suggested that the winger had fallen out with Oxford boss Denis Smith before the club’s managing director told Beauchamp the stark truth, that if he did not sign for West Ham, Oxford would be in danger of going under. Eventually, Beauchamp signed, becoming the Hammers’ first million pound player in the process.

The transfer was to become infamous. A quick Google search for ‘Beauchamp West Ham’ reveals a plethora of results – listings of the “worst transfer deals in Premier League history”, “football U-turns”, “shortest transfers of all time”, and “worst ever West Ham signings” litter the screen. Almost immediately after signing, Beauchamp regretted the move – not willing to relocate having just purchased a property in Oxford, he found the daily commute to East London too much to handle.

“(Beauchamp) broke down in tears on his way to training on his first day because he was homesick,” said then assistant manager, Harry Redknapp. “Joey’s just got to get on with it. There’s nothing else he can do. He knew we wanted him to live nearer and then he suddenly decided he’s not going to. He admits driving up every day will make him tired and if that’s the case then I don’t see how he can do it without affecting his form.”

With the PFA telling him that he should take his time before making a decision, Beauchamp said, “The last thing I want to do is leave Oxford. I love the place so much. To be honest, I’ve not known which way to turn. It’s been a very traumatic time.”

To this day, many Hammers fans still hold Beauchamp partly responsible for manager Billy Bonds’ decision to resign – with a power struggle taking place behind the scenes, Redknapp suggested that Beauchamp’s antics were pivotal to Bonds’ decision in his autobiography: “Matters had still not been resolved by the time we played Portsmouth in a pre-season friendly. Beauchamp turned up late, made no effort on the pitch and it was the final straw for Bill.”

Interviewed some years later, Bonds described the signing as “a total disaster” and pulled no punches in his assessment: “He said he couldn’t settle at West Ham, that the club was too big for him. The boy was a total wimp, and it was disastrous for the club…. What could I say to the kid? I couldn’t threaten him. I just told him he’d better keep his nut down because the fans weren’t going to be too happy with him.”

After Bonds departed, Redknapp was promoted into the manager’s seat at Upton Park, and he was quick to deal with the situation. With Swindon boss John Gorman still interested, a deal worth £800,000 was quickly concluded – the Town parting with £300,000 plus Adrian Whitbread in exchange for Beauchamp – an interesting decision considering Swindon’s defensive frailties the season prior. Beauchamp’s time in East London had lasted just 58 days, and he had failed to make a single competitive appearance.

The reaction among the County Ground support was mixed – some were excited that a player with such potential was joining, others were unable to see past Beauchamp’s love of and connections with the enemy. At the other end of the A420, many Oxford fans were also unhappy with Beauchamp’s defection to their bitter rivals. Two days after signing, Beauchamp made his Swindon debut, coming on as a substitute in a 3-2 defeat at Tranmere.

Though Beauchamp obviously had talent, he didn’t show it often enough in a Swindon shirt. His performances were far too often inconsistent and he would regularly drift out of games. When he notched his first Town goal in a 3-2 win over Wolves in October 1994, it felt like it could have been a turning point. After scoring, Beauchamp sprinted fifty yards to jump into the arms of manager John Gorman to celebrate his 60th minute winner. Was he finally settling in?

Six weeks later, any chance that Beauchamp may have made a success of his County Ground career were effectively over. With Swindon plummeting down the table, another 3-2 defeat at local rivals Bristol City prompted the Town board to relieve Gorman of his duties – a week later, Steve McMahon was appointed as the new boss.

Not one for an inconsistent flair player, it was perhaps surprising that Beauchamp played in the vast majority of the remaining games in that season – less so that McMahon failed to get the best out of him. Though Swindon reached the semi-finals of the League Cup, their league form was awful, and come May, the Town succumbed to their second successive relegation. By this point though, McMahon had already placed Beauchamp on the transfer list.

Starting the 1995/96 season out of the side, Beauchamp was given a reprieve after coming on to score in a League Cup tie against Cambridge, and he started the game at Carlisle the following weekend. Four days later though, it was Oxford who would visit the County Ground – and though Beauchamp was only named on the bench, the Swindon fans taunted their local rivals, singing “Where’s your Beauchamp gone?” or for “Super Joey Beauchamp” – the roar when he entered the field as an 82nd minute substitute was far and away the best reception he ever got in a Swindon shirt.

As it was, he played just three more minutes for the Town after that game – early in October 1995, it was announced that a deal had been agreed for him to move back to his hometown club. McMahon presented the deal as being “worth £300,000” to the club – in reality, only £75,000 of this was the transfer fee – the rest being the saving of his wages.

The return to Oxford alone would surely have been enough to ensure that Beauchamp would be inducted into the STFC Hall of Shame, but he thoroughly cemented his place in it before the season was out.

With both clubs vying for promotion places, the Town’s visit to the Manor in March 1996 was a crucial encounter. With Swindon sitting eleven points above their rivals with two games in hand before the game, Oxford desperately needed a victory. As it was, the match proved to be one of a few blotches (albeit a big, ugly one…) on the Town’s otherwise impressive season – the 3-0 defeat their worst reverse of the season. To top it all, it was Joey who netted the final goal in front of the travelling support. At a time when the furore around Mad Cow Disease was at its peak, days after the game, Oxford fans produced tasteful commemorative “Mad Ox” t-shirts: “B.S.E. (Beat Swindon Easily).”

Come the end of the season, though Swindon comfortably won the division, Oxford finished in second place, just a point ahead of Blackpool – against whom Beauchamp scored a goal that was later voted as the best ever seen at the Manor.

for those of a sensitive disposition, look away now

The ’69er fanzine entry

Click image to enlarge

Swindon got their revenge the following season, when Beauchamp and Oxford returned to the County Ground in October 1996. Beauchamp coming in for some vitriolic abuse from the stands (the “Super Joe” chants from the previous season being replaced with another two syllable word that begins with ‘W’ and ends in ‘anker’) whilst being blatantly singled out for rough treatment by the Town’s players. Mark Walters appearing to aim a kick at his head after a tangle on the floor and Ian Culverhouse tripping him up, left Beauchamp becoming visibly more annoyed, especially as the only intervention that referee Gurnan Singh made was towards Beauchamp for protesting!

A match report by the Sunday Mirror captured the essence of the “bruising” derby – describing an “ill-tempered match where football played second fiddle to a series of petty vendettas” and that “Beauchamp was mercilessly barracked by Swindon’s biggest crowd of the season… he even appeared to become a target for the players.”

McMahon gave a telling interview afterwards, stating, “I was delighted he got so much stick. I don’t want him coming here and people clapping him. It’s our job to make it difficult for the opposition to play and if it means giving people the bird that’s absolutely fine by me.”

Beauchamp’s performances took another upturn when back at the Manor – so much so that he was eventually voted as Oxford’s best player of the 1990’s. In November 1998, it again looked like he would leave, as the U’s agreed £800,000 fees with both Nottingham Forest and Southampton – and again it was reported that Beauchamp’s transfer fee would save the club. This time though, Beauchamp failed to agree personal terms and he remained at the Manor – and with a 20% sell-on clause, Swindon missed out on a £145,000 bonus.

Beauchamp returned to the County Ground three more times in his Oxford career – suffering two 4-1 defeats in 1997 and 1998 and a 2-1 reverse in October 2000. At the Manor, there were three victories for Oxford, before his final appearance in the A420 derby in March 2001, when he entered the fray as a 72nd minute substitute.

With the U’s marooned at the bottom of the league, 1-0 down and reduced to nine men, Beauchamp endured the taunts from the away support for the remaining eighteen minutes – then in injury time, Steve Robinson wrapped the game up with his second goal of the game…. a perfect end to our association with the latest inductee into the STFC Hall of Shame, Mr Joseph Daniel Beauchamp.

More from the Hall of Shame

Before anyone asks….entry into the Hall of Shame is unordered 

Hall of Shame #6: Steve McMahon

Steve McMahon 15

Andrew Hawes gets his chance to induct his choice into the Hall of Shame…a popular selection by all accounts…

There aren’t that many managers in Swindon’s history who have achieved promotion.

Bert Head, Danny Williams, Lou Macari, Ossie Ardiles (albeit briefly), Glenn Hoddle, Steve McMahon and Paul Sturrock complete the list. Yet when thinking about the STFC Hall of Shame, I was drawn like a moth to a flame, or perhaps, given the circumstances, like a moth to a single bare light bulb in a shabby bedsit with peeling wallpaper and a “musty” odour, to one candidate.

So step forward a Swindon Town title winning manager Steve McMahon. It seems harsh to put someone who kept the club in what is the Championship into a dingy vault with other knaves and jackanapes, but there are good reasons.

When Steve McMahon was appointed he was the latest in a line of player-managers having their first stab at the job. Previous incumbents Macari, Ardiles and Hoddle were all known for their on-pitch flair, though they produced sides of different styles. McMahon, the midfield enforcer, wasn’t – and he promptly proved it by getting sent off in his first match in charge at Southend, after replacing John Gorman.

Despite a run to the semi-finals of the League Cup, without knocking out a top flight side, relegation was the result despite a team containing Shaun Taylor, Paul Bodin, Ian Culverhouse, Fraser Digby, and Jan Aage Fjortoft.

The sale of the loveable Norwegian for £1.3m, because “it was the only offer” was enough to make to want me gouge my eyes out with a spoon – if you look at Jan nettng his final goals at West Brom, it looks as if the new manager had a similar effect on his charges. No side, has dropped out of the Premier League since its money grabbing formation and then followed it up with relegation again.

But I hear you cry, what about that title winning season of 95/96? Yes, they were good – and they played some fine football and I suppose he has to earn some credit for assembling the squad. But let me give you Digby, Kevin Horlock and friends and the chance to top up your squad with parachute payment money. A chimp who picked his starting eleven blindfolded with use of a dartboard should have got that squad out of the league.

So in one and a bit seasons, things were back to where Steve McMahon came in. What followed was a slump into turgid fare on the pitch. I went to a lot of games in this era – and I couldn’t tell you exactly what style the team were attempting to play, even now. The signings gradually became of worse quality, almost inevitably Liverpudlian cast offs or ex-Premier League reserve defenders grinding out one final pay cheque before disappearing to do whatever it is they do. With the decent exception of Brian Borrows, they also had quite the capacity for corpulence.

Seasons ended with hideous runs from about February or March, when McMahon would run out of new signings to glare into playing, and the existing squad just wanted it to end. Mark Walters might score some ludicrously good goal, but that was the limit on entertainment in front of a crowd there out of a sense of obligation. And I nearly forgot about the FA Cup defeat by Stevenage.

But it was off the pitch that Steve McMahon clinches his nomination. His treatment of club servants and history was to remove them in Stalinesque purges. See Peter Matthews’ fine book on John Trollope (in fact buy it don’t just see it) to discover how abrupt his departure was. In their place came more Merseyside men, working to five year plans and waving pitchforks at anyone who mentioned 1969.

I am scrapping round to avoid cliché, but it was a reign that did real damage to the soul of the club which has lasted long after his departure. Going to games was a chore, and dissidents like I calling for his head were eyeballed into sullen (and in my case yellow bellied chicken) conformity.

I suppose there may have been financial realities he had to work with – not that Rikki Hunt seemed to deal in any sort of reality – but I can only go on what I saw and recall.

So for your failure to build on what you had to work with, selling Jan Aage Fjortoft, some lousy football, sequences of terrible results, a feeling of constant acrimony and a disinterest in our history, or future, I hereby wish to place Steve McMahon into the Hall of Shame.

May the lord have mercy on my soul or my chances of working on ESPN Asia, where if I recall he is their pundit.

Read more tales from the Hall of Shame

Macca actually came seventh in our STFC Managers Countdown last summer… oh the shame! 

_________________

Andrew Hawes is a BBC Radio commentator and the author of The Swindon Town Miscellany, a mix of facts, triva, lists and the wierd stuff in STFC going back to 1879 with tales from all eras.

Video of the Week: Swindon 1 Oldham Athletic 0 | 12th February 1996

Before the forthcoming trip to Leicester City, this was the last time Swindon Town reached the FA Cup 4th Round, back on 12th February 1996. Steve McMahon decided to drop Martin Ling for himself for this clash with Division One Oldham Athletic – but when McMahon is forced to retire with a hamstring problem, Ling replaces him from the bench, then goes on to net the winner in the last minute.

Does pre-season matter for promotion?

With pre-season now drawing to a close, Alex Cooke looks back at past seasons to establish whether pre-season and form taken into the campaign make any difference for mounting a successful promotion push.

Can anybody predict promotion from pre-season? What exactly does a crushing 11-0 win against a Norcia XI teach us?

What can Paolo learn from a match as one sided as a Melanie Phillips column against Marche XI? Do two 4-0 scorelines about local sides tell us more about the season to come than a narrow defeat by Reading? Have we discovered if Raffaele De Vitta and Alan Connell will score the goals Swindon need? Have the games shown that the trialist trio of Risser, Atiku and Kerrouche will really thrive in English football? And, does just two goals conceded in five games indicate that Alberto Comazzi’s experience of catenaccio will lead us to clean sheets and promotion?Continue Reading

“To be blunt, I hated Steve McMahon”

Steve McMahon 1 3

As the managers countdown draws to a close Alex Cooke delves behind my statistics to present his case for who is the worst Swindon Town manager.

The numbers are clear: Paul Hart is Swindon Town’s worst manager. His managerial reign could be described as a car crash – except at least a car crash is compelling to watch. But the statistics couldn’t be clearer if they flashed out their warning in 64 font accompanied by a honking great klaxon: Hart was a disaster.

However, the numbers don’t include context. These statistics only measure results, not the climate in which those were achieved, and are three points always equal? Can we truly say it was equally easy for Iffy’s administration-hobbled, quickly cobbled collection of loanees, gimmers and youth players to earn a win in third tier in 2005/06 as it was for the heavily resourced Danny Wilson five years later? Continue Reading