Hall of Shame #22: Hastings United 4 Swindon Town 1

After a weekend without FA Cup Second Round action we induct one of the most embarrassing FA Cup giant-killings suffered by Swindon Town. A humbling 4-1 defeat at Hastings United on 12th December 1953 is our 22nd entry into the STFC Hall of Shame; writes Ron Smith.

The 1950s were not vintage years at the County Ground. Swindon Town were struggling to rebuild after WWII in Division Three (South). Only Maurice Owen’s goals were keeping Town afloat.

Despite this Town remained a proud member of the third tier of professional football and counted upon their good record in the FA Cup to pay the bills, which included reaching the Fifth Round twice in the past six seasons and knocking out Division One’s Burnley and Stoke City in those runs. Maurice Lindley had been appointed Swindon’s manager at the start of 1952/53 and his first FA Cup tie for Town resulted in a 2-1 victory over Newport (IOW).

Meanwhile in East Sussex…

Hastings United were formed in 1948 and joined the expanded Southern League. The U’s would finish 14th, 14th, 23rd, 22nd (bottom) and 12th between 1948/49 and 1952/53 making some progress in a league dominated by Merthyr Tydfil and some team called Headington United.

1953/54 was to be a real springboard season for Jack Tresadern’s Hastings United. They reached the second round for the first time after beating Shoreham 3-0, Horsham 4-1, Eastbourne 7-2, Ashford Town (Kent) 2-1 and Hounslow Town 2-1 in the preliminary rounds, before beating Guildford City 1-0 in the first round proper.

Swindon traveled to the Pilot Field, Hastings on 12th December 1953 for our first and only meeting between the two sides, in front of a record crowd of 9,917. What played out was a shocking defeat…

Hastings started quickest benefiting from an own goal. Dickie Girling’s 2nd minute cross was met by Town’s right back George Hunt’s head who misdirected the ball into his own net.

It didn’t take long for the U’s to move further ahead. On 13 minutes “…Girling passed right over to Dennis Hillman. Closing in, he centred low and Tom Huckstepp, magnificently in position, swept the ball majestically into the net in his stride”

Only 5 minutes had passed and Town were 3-0 down when “Huckstepp took a pass from Girling and forced it through to Syd Asher” whose shot beat Sam Burton.

George Hunt made up for his earlier mistake with a consolation goal for Swindon after 59 minutes, however Hillman fired Hastings 4-1 ahead when “Girling slipped a good ball down the left wing and Hillman was there to run on to it and hit it with great decision past Burton”.

Swindon were thoroughly outplayed by the ‘professional’ Hastings United with Dickie Girling involved in all four United goals. The U’s progressed to round three for the first time in their short history.

With Hastings one of only two non-league sides through to round three the national media focused on this giant-killing, as the ‘best win of the round’. The News Chronicle reported “From first to last Swindon were struggling, beaten for pace and ideas” meanwhile The People commented “Well done, Hastings. In this battle the invaders were not only repulsed – but thoroughly trounced and humbled. All honour to Hastings for producing a soccer showpiece and an unruffled, workmanlike performance.”

For Swindon this was a first defeat to non-league opposition in 18 years – versus Southall in 1935/36. This result set the tone for the next four seasons as Town finished in the bottom four in each of those years, including twice being re-ellected to the Football Football, seasons themselves deserving of a place in this Hall of Shame.

United’s third round tie with Norwich City of Division Three (South) at the Pilot Field was played out in front of 12,727 – a record attendance that still stands. The match ended 3-3. The Canaries won the replay at Carrow Road 3-0.

Hastings would go onto finish 10th in the Southern League in 1953/54. They followed this with a sublime season in 1954/55 where they also made it to the Third Round – narrowly beaten 2-1 at Division One Sheffield Wednesday – and finished 3rd in 1954/55 four points behind championship winning Yeovil Town – their joint highest ever league finish.

After Hastings United folded in 1985, their successors Hastings Town partly took on their identity in 2002. Following Hastings 1-1 draw at Harrogate Town this weekend the U’s have made it into the Third Round draw for the first time since their runs in 1953/54 and 54/55.

Read More Tales from the Swindon Town Hall of Shame…

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