Going Up! 1962/63 – ‘Promotion For Town At Last’

With Swindon Town looking strong to secure a ninth promotion in the Football League, we start our look back at past promotion seasons. First up, Mike Minihane recalls the 1962/63 season when the Town won their maiden promotion from Division Three.

The first Swindon Town game I can remember was against Crystal Palace in 1958, I was 9. I had been to the County Ground before with my Dad but apparently all I did was run up and down the terraces so he gave up taking me.

I went to the Palace game with my friend Roger and his Dad; we stood in the old stand on the half way line, near the front so we could see. Before the game started, Roger’s Dad gave us some curious advice telling us that if the ball came in our direction we should duck down behind the barrier as the players kicked the ball very hard. This puzzled me. When we played football at school we kicked the ball in the direction of the goal, usually, but not always, the opponents’. Why would the players be kicking the ball sideways?

It turned out to be good advice as the ball seemed to come flying in our direction quite frequently in what turned out to be a dire 0-0 draw. It was an exciting experience though, with a crowd of over 10,000 and lots of shouting and hollering going on. Our average gate then was over 12,000 and a strong finish to the season saw us finish in fourth place. It was important to finish in the top half as this was the season when the Third Divisions North and South were replaced by Divisions Three and Four. We duly ended up in the Third.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I became a regular supporter. In the 1962/63 season the Town were going well with an exciting young team and people were talking about the possibility of a first ever promotion.

On a glorious Good Friday 1963 we were at home to Peterborough United in a crunch game. I went with my Dad and his friend but because we had to wait for someone else who didn’t turn up we were late leaving for the game. This turned out to be catastrophic because with a crowd of over 23,000 there was massive congestion at the turnstiles. I was still in the queue when I heard a huge roar from inside the ground as Ernie Hunt put us in front in the first minute. My frustration was total, all the more so when I finally got in the ground in the far corner of Stratton Bank with a view of less than half the pitch. I would have cheerfully murdered the unknown person who had caused us to be late.

Then everything went wrong. Peterborough equalised, then went in front and eventually ran out 3-2 winners. I was desolate. This was the era when Easter brought three fixtures in four days so at least the chance existed to put things right quickly. A 6-1 demolition of Colchester the following day did much to lift our spirits and give us some optimism for the return game at Peterborough on Easter Monday. It wasn’t to be. We were well beaten 1-3. The following Saturday we went down 0-2 at Notts County. Everything had gone wrong; we weren’t going to go up this season. We’d blown it.

Nevertheless the following Saturday I went along to the next home game, against Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic – this was before they went ‘continental’ and changed their name to AFC Bournemouth – who were also in contention for promotion. A superb John Stevens strike put us in front only for Bournemouth to equalise. Then came the controversy. A doubtful penalty awarded, Bill McGarry the Bournemouth captain shaking his fist at the referee, and finally Ernie Hunt scoring from the spot.  A 2-1 win and back in with a chance, particularly with a home game the following Tuesday against Carlisle. This was another ‘must win game’.

A fine Tuesday evening to be stood on Stratton Bank. Before the game started I heard same strange voices nearby, a man talking to his son, and I realised these people were from Carlisle. Although my grasp of the geography of the north of England was sketchy to say the least I knew they’d come a long way to see their team on a Tuesday evening. This was my first close experience of away supporters and I felt some respect for them, although not to the extent that I wanted anything other than for their team to lose heavily.

In the event they didn’t, but a 2-0 win was enough to keep us on course. With another home game coming up on Saturday, our third in a row, things were definitely looking up. This was against Halifax who were bottom of the league, so clearly we only had to turn up for the points here!

Wrong again… For some obscure reason Halifax didn’t seem to be aware that they were supposed to roll over for us. They started to put up some stiff resistance and then had the effrontery to score. Additionally their talented young goalkeeper, Peter Downsborough, was having an excellent game. Things were looking bleak as the game entered the last 10 minutes, then, joy of joys, a penalty! Bert Head couldn’t look as Ernie Hunt stepped up to take it. The tension was unbearable. Ernie hit the penalty well, towards the top left hand corner, only just beating Downsborough’s left hand. We were out of jail.

The point saved was probably less important than the psychological boost of avoiding a home defeat with minutes to go. The following Monday saw us win 2-0 at Colchester thanks to a Roger Smart double.  The stage was now set for our last home game of the season against Shrewsbury Town. A win would take us into the Second Division. Over 20,000 were there for what they hoped would be a historic occasion.

Again, the opposition didn’t seem willing to accept their role as bit players in our triumphant production and the game looked like ending goalless. Strangely my abiding memory of the game is not Roger Smart’s 88th minute chip that gave us victory but Owen Dawson’s miraculous clearance off our goal line shortly before. The goal went in at the Town End, minutes later the final whistle blew and the ground erupted. Then, in a state of total euphoria, we all ran on the pitch.

We were still buzzing the following morning in school. Some of us who were in early found some red and blue chalk and drew a picture of the winning goal on the blackboard and, rather uncharacteristically, our form teacher let us leave it there for the day.

Looking back the 1962/63 season was one of the most important in the club’s history for a number of reasons. Previously we’d always been an average Third Division club and all of a sudden we were going to be playing some of the big boys. The following season we had the prospect of seeing the likes of Manchester City, Sunderland, Leeds United, Newcastle United and other famous clubs at our ground, the prospect was tremendous. Equally important the club’s accent on its youth policy marked us out as a club where young talent could flourish. It was new and refreshing and a break from the past. We’d put ourselves on the football map for all the right reasons.

Listen to BBC Wiltshire interviews with Anold Darcy, Mick Turner and Bobby Woodruff from the 1962/63 promotion winning squad here.

Watch ‘Six Days to Saturday’, a film made in 1963 about Swindon Town F.C. by the legendary film director John Boorman

2 comments

  • A really interesting read of a season I didn’t know too much about – and I recommend that Six Days to Saturday documentary, it’s fascinating…

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  • The kid who changed the face of history in 62-63 for the Robins was 17 year old keeper Mike O’Hara. He was signed by Bert Head in November 1961 when Town were going backwards. This kid was the master of the mind and due to this and his totially fearless and at times suicidal displays got into the other young players minds. Some of O’Hara’s saves in his 10 games in the 62-63 promotion year were beyond words. O’Hara was the match that set the young squad alight.

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