The FA Cup: Magic…what magic for Swindon Town?

Nick Judd looks at how the words ‘magic’ and ‘FA Cup’ rarely go hand-in-hand when it comes to Swindon Town.

Giantkilling is something only other teams seem to do and instead of claiming scalps we get headaches. We’re more into ‘dark arts’ than abracedabra.

In 2008, defeat to Histon ultimately proved the end of Maurice Malpas’ apoplectic reign. The only good thing about this particularly low on-field moment – other than the departure of Malpas, of course – was that only 1,541 people witnessed it. Then non-leaguers Crawley set the wheels in motion for Danny Wilson’s exit in 2010/11 and when you look at the list of teams who have knocked us out since the turn of the century, it’s a who’s who of football’s nether regions, with Boston and Stevenage also getting involved. And Oxford.

You can add Barnet to that list, too, although at least the Bees defeat in 2008 put us in the record books. By losing 2-0 on spot kicks we remain the only team in FA Cup history to have failed to convert a single penalty in a shoot-out.

Suffice to say we’re probably due a decent run, but it hasn’t always been this depressing.

A freezing night last Decemeber as Crawley snatch a replay winner

A quick glance at swindon-town-fc.co.uk tells us FA Cup ties are our third favourite type of game (behind play-off matches and, um, Southern Charity Cup encounters). We’ve won more than we’ve lost, 57.5% of all clashes to be exact. That’s not bad, and probably best explained by our success in the early days.

The Robins reached the semi-finals in both 1909/10 and 1911/12, Newcastle United and Barnsley ending our runs respectively at the penultimate stage. Not surprisingly, Harold Fleming was the star in both runs. He bagged five goals on each occasion, including a hat-trick against Spurs in the third round in 1910. He scored another two when Town reached the quarter-finals in 1910/11 only for Chelsea – in front of 78,000 – to end our road to the final. Town reached the quarters again in the 20s and again, more recently, in 1969/70. I was -8 years old.

Yet if Paolo di Canio’s enthusiasm is anything to go by then there’s reason to be hopeful of an upset tomorrow. The Terriers might be arriving on the back of a 937-game unbeaten run, but our manager is a dreamer.

“I was lucky to experience a magic moment as a player and I would love to do the same as a manager,” says the Italian in tomorrow’s matchday programme. The Italian is referring to his winning goal for West Ham United against Manchester United in a Fourth Round tie at Old Trafford in 2001. Fabien Barthez had his arm in the air waiting for an offside whistle that never came before the Irons’ no.10 slid the ball home with the outside of his boot into the far corner.

“He tried to stop me. He tried to make my brain a little bit confused,” Di Canio said afterwards. “But I have played 15 years at the top level and have a little bit of experience in these situations.” Sir Alex Ferguson was suitably impressed and subsequently tried to sign the Italian, suggesting: “he would have been capable of becoming a truly great player at Manchester United.”

Not surprisingly the FA Cup has a place in Di Canio’s heart. “It feels like a special occasion because this competition is seen all around the world,” he says. “I’m sure the fans will make this special for the players, for myself and for themselves and we have the chance to progress to another level on the day.”

Who knows, tomorrow could well become one of those ‘special moments’. My earliest from the competition involves the excitement of taking on Aston Villa in 1992. Town played well but lost out to goals from Dwight Yorke and Steve Froggatt, who’s effort boasted the accuracy of a missile.

It was great to see a packed County Ground when Coventry City visited for a 3rd Round tie in January 2001. The football had been so bad that season there was little reason for Town fans to make the effort. Sadly there were no banana skins against Craig Bellamy and co. We were similarly underwhelming at Maine Road in 2002, when Manchester City winger Ali Bernarbia seemingly had the freedom of the city against Bobby Howe, Paul McAreavey and Wayne Carlisle.

Danny Invincible against Coventry City

Talking of banana skins, the one used on the front of the Ilkeston Town programme almost cost me my job as programme editor in November 2000. After lengthy discussions, the programme team – consisting of two of us – decided to lift the mood of Town’s terrible start to the season by sticking a banana skin underneath Danny Invincibile’s left foot. The board didn’t see the funny side and neither did Andy King, who despite seeing his side win the game 5-0 dished out a public bollocking on BBC Wiltshire Sound after the game.

Two years later I had the pleasure of escorting BBC commentator John Motson to the training ground as he researched the Town squad ahead of the 1-0 defeat against Oxford. ‘How exactly do you pronounce In-vin-ci-bi-le?’, he asked. He needn’t have bothered – the Australian hardly touched the ball at the Kassam and he wasn’t alone, but it was cool meeting a man whose voice is synonymous with the competition itself.

More recently, supping a pint from the Viv Busby bar on the banks of the Thames and holding our own against Fulham in January 2010 was enjoyable, even if our attack was blunter than a wooden spoon. I also recall us playing like Brazil, but losing, away at Crystal Palace in 2007. I think Jerel Ifil scored.

Now that’s magic.

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