Managers Countdown: Bert Head
We’re kicking off the top ten with a true Swindon Town managerial legend and our second longest serving manager – Bert Head.
Town had spent years in the doldrums, suffering from mismanagement and financial constraints, both culminating in management by a selection committee throughout 1955-56 and the inevitable fight against re-election. Finally the Board turned to Bert Head in an appointment that kick started the modern era at Swindon Town.
After battling to keep our Football League status, Bert was tasked to ensure Town finished in the top half of the table to avoid starting the 1957/58 season in the newly created Division Four. After finishing 23rd a year ago, Bert took Town to an unlikely 4th placed finish, just 3 points behind promoted Brighton. This was just reward and a highest finish in 9 long years.
Realising something needed to be done to take the club to the next level, Bert’s hands were always tied by the limited finances available. So he decided to focus on developing young players through the local football leagues as this way the club could produce a better quality of player than he could buy. Keith Morgan and Bob Woodruff were the first products of the new youth policy, later joined by Ernie Hunt, Roger Smart and Mike Summerbee, but Bert ultimately needed precious time to rebuild the Club through his youth policy.
Following two disappointing seasons in which Town finished 15th and 16th, Bert made big leap at the start of the 1960/61 season. He organised a public pre-season trial match, pitting the Probables, containing mainly older players, against a youthful Possibles. The youths duly won 7-2 and then again in a behind closed doors replay. The results gave Bert Head the confidence to finally take the plunge with a youthful first team, leading to Terry Wollen and John Trollope, then both 17, becoming the youngest Football League fullback pairing, with recent schoolboy international Cliff Jackson at outside left. This young side matched the previous year’s 16th finish, but in doing so gained the all important experience, the signature of 16 year old Don Rogers in January 1961, plus the ‘Bert’s Babes’ nickname.
After another transitional year with a 9th finish in Division Three, Head guided his young Town side to a first club promotion in 1962/1963, some forty two years after joining the Football League. After sitting 8th at the New Year, Town lost only 1 game and were at one point top of the league in early April. After a brief downturn in form, losing 3 games in that month, Town remained unbeaten in the final six games to seal promotion on the penultimate game when a late Roger Smart goal against Shrewsbury secured 2nd place.
At the higher level Bert’s Babes were the early pace setters, winning 7 and drawing 2 of their opening 9 games, but this couldn’t be sustained as Town finished 14th. His youths lacked the necessary experience and stamina for a tough league campaign against the likes of Sunderland, Leeds and Manchester City, however still a 14th placed finish was a creditable performance.
Not only will 1963/64 be remember for our first season in Division Two, Bert’s youth policy further demonstrated it’s worth as Town made it to the final of the 1964 FA Youth Cup. Facing a Manchester United side including Aster, Best and Sadler was always going to be a tall order and it prove to be so with a 5-2 aggregate defeat, however the run indicated there was more to come from the youth setup.
Bert’s approach changed after an indifferent start to the 1964/65 season. As injuries, inexperience and soon defeats took their toll – to Norman Oakley and Ernie Hunt – Head brought in experience with Haffey, Howarth and Brown, the later for a club record £15,000. However by November, Town were sitting 21st after a row of five defeats. As the club flirted around the relegation zone for the remainder of the campaign, Bert’s early success was unraveling before him as Town faced relegation, there seemed little he could do to change the situation.
You only have to lose a few matches – and that in itself is a crime – and players who were real good chaps when things went right suddenly become the centre of ridicule. Perhaps that is what they call human nature but I have yet to see a player who plays worse with encouragement as opposed to the other way. At the moment our confidence at Swindon is a little tattered and torn and consequently we are not playing anything like we can play. It needs a good win to restore this and the sooner we get this the better. – Bert Head c.1965
And so to the final day. Swindon made the trip to The Dell 21st and a point behind Portsmouth. Given the rivalry on the South Coast you would’ve imagined a Pompey relegation to be high on the agenda, yet a 2-1 defeat sent Town down. In the end a draw would’ve been enough as Portsmouth lost to promoted Northampton because of our superior goal average, yet this doesn’t tell the full story as Portsmouth’s game kicked off in the evening and so they had full knowledge they were safe.
After 9 seasons and 393 League games Bert Head was harshly dismissed following Town’s return to Division Three. Rough justice for lifting Town out of 42 years of mediocrity and delivering the club assets through the famous youth system.
Good, Bad or Ugly – Good – Without Bert Head at the helm who knows where Swindon Town would be now. We certainly would never have won the League Cup in 1969 and easily faded into a lengthy spell in Division Four. It’s strange to believe that Swindon have only been promoted 7 times and as the man who secured our maiden promotion he proved to us there’s life upwards of Division Three.
- Leagues: 7 seasons in Division Three and 2 seasons in Division Two
- FA Cup: 16 ties & 8 tie wins | Best 5th Round in 1963/64
- League Cup: 9 ties & 4 tie wins | Best 4th Round in 1963/64
- Achievements: A first ever promotion for Swindon Town in 1962/63
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|TOTAL SCORE: 287.4|