2012/13 Reflections Part 2 – September to October

John of Wessex continues his recollections of the 2012-13 season that saw Swindon Town roller-coaster their way through embargoes, off-field shenanigans, superb cup victories, shock defeats to lower-league opposition, potential administration and new owners. 

Our first home defeat in over a year was a shock to the system but at least we had a week to regroup and recharge our batteries before the long trek up to Carlisle. Once again I opted for public transport which in hindsight proved the right choice as due to a serious incident on the M6 the STFC supporters coaches and many others didn’t arrive until shortly before half-time. I’d just like to take this moment, if I may, to award the Carlisle railway terminus my much coveted ‘Station Facade of the Season’ award. Its neo-tudor (I definitely did not look at wikipedia) appearance was a joy and ticked all my boxes. Preston ran them close, but congratulations Carlisle, you deserve it.

The ground itself isn’t that far to get to and the Cumbrian city is always a good day out. Obviously on arrival the lack of away fans was slightly bemusing but I still think we had a good 100 inside at kick-off – not to mention I got served straight away at the kiosks. Bonus. I saw Darren Ward for the first time and thought he looked a bit apprehensive and solitary and was still a few performances away from finding his feet. The game was drawn 2-2 with all goals in the first 30-odd minutes. Adam Rooney scored a peach and Paul Benson slotted home to cancel out strikes from former Town loanee Jake Jervis. Of course the supporters coaches turned up after all the goals although I had nothing at all to do with the chants of “4 goals, you’ve only missed 4 goals!” I didn’t even join in. Anyway, I’m sure all those SAS boys & girls took it in a good light-hearted manner and judging from the friendly scowls and unintelligible language directed towards us, I believe this to be the case. Gary Roberts came off the bench in the second half and my initial impressions were positive. That’s all I’ll say on the matter. One final point to make: One of Carlisle’s unused subs that day was somebody called Paddy Madden… I wonder how his season panned out?

I hadn’t intended on going to Portsmouth on the Tuesday but I think I must have had one of those awful Mondays at work and just thought **** it, I’m going to Portsmouth tomorrow. The good news was that the train price was a wee bit cheaper than Saturday’s adventure to Carlisle but even now I look back in horror at the thought of having spent over £120 on train fares in the space of four days. Pompey had one win in six, I won’t say I was expecting us to win – perhaps something more along the lines of achieving a positive result. My first port of call on arrival was the local hostelry close to Fratton station. It seemed to be home fans only. I blended in easily.

We dominated the game for large parts but it took till the stroke of half-time for Matt Ritchie to fire us into the lead. It actually came at a great moment as I recall, because the Portsmouth fans were mid-verse through a song regarding our support. 1400 Town fans soon shut them up. Ha. In your face. We got our second shortly after the restart when Andy Williams finished off a good move to open his STFC account. I decided to over-celebrate by running from the top of the stand down to the bottom. It was a bad call on my part. It took 4 minutes for me to recover and get back to my seat. I was shaking and out-of-breathe. Not good, not good. We ended the game on the back-foot in true Swindon fashion and very nearly grabbed a point from the jaws of victory. We just about held firm to pick up our first away win of the season. Phew. Another drink was dispatched on the way back to the station as another mini-adventure began to get me back to Biggleswade. To cut a long story short – 2.50am Wednesday morning I got home. I was back at work just over 3 hours later. Would I do it again? You bet.

I missed our 4-0 demolition of Bournemouth as we hit the giddy heights of 5th place to continue our recent revival, but was back for the League Cup encounter with Burnley and one Charlie Austin. Another fantastic night was had and a deserved slaying of higher-league opposition was our reward as Town manoeuvred their way into the 4th Round of the competition for the first time in years. Austin conducted himself with dignity and got his customary and expected goal despite facing criticism, jeers and negative chants throughout the game from our strange breed of fans. At the end, he applauded all sides and was suddenly given a much more positive response in return. All very perverse. What we need now Charlie is for your big money move somewhere so we can have some of the sell-on fee. Thank you.

I was back on the road, I mean rails, Saturday with a splendid little jaunt to Shrewsbury and their new out-of-town stadium. I know we played there last season but I was in Weymouth that day, so this was a first for me. Nice day, nice place and a Simon Ferry half-volley with 10 minutes to go. The feel-good factor was high. Notable highlights included ex-Shrew James Collins come in for some stick from the home fans. He didn’t have a good game and inexplicably ballooned a shot over when it appeared easier to score. The banter between the fans was as predictable as ever but special mention to the Shrewsbury retort of “You’re from Swindon, you’re having a laugh” to our opening dirge of “I wanna go home…” I managed to get lost in the little side streets on the way back to the railway station but not before I found a wonderful ancient pub that was once a church and had an original picture/painting/plastering of the last supper dating from around 1200-1400AD on one of its walls! I was suitably impressed.

We came crashing back down to earth a few days later with an inexplicable 1-0 defeat at home to lowly Colchester. What odds on the Essex side winning I don’t know, but its these kind of results that see the Bookies make their money. Annoyingly it was former Town prat Michael Rose who scored the only goal of the game 20 minutes from time that left me staring at a blank wall yelling “Why, Why?” for a good 20 minutes.

Plans were afoot for me to go to Bury but it wasn’t to be. I opted for the sun and seaside of Hastings Utd v Hitchin Town. This was an FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round game that finished 2-2. I expected Hitchin to see them off in the replay but as it transpired Hastings went on a remarkable run all the way to the 3rd Round proper before succumbing to Middlesbrough. Furthermore, Hastings Utd were to finish bottom of the Isthmian Premier League and be relegated. The lesson is: DON’T GO ON CUP RUNS! Anyway, I digress. Even before I’d seen a ball being kicked in anger on the South coast, news was filtering through of a goal at Bury and James Collins had at long last opened his league account. Hurrah!

There was only so long he could carry on dining out on his League Cup exploits at Stoke! It turned out to be the only goal of the game and all thoughts of Colchester were put to bed. It was also our 3rd away win on the spin. Happy days, right? No. What should’ve been a relatively comfy journey home turned into an unfolding nightmare of transfer embargoes, confusion and vitriol. It all stemmed from the acquisitions of Archibald-Henville and Collins and the tribunal fees set. I don’t want to go on. I was curled up into a ball sobbing as my train hit London. To add further woe, the likes of Doncaster, Bournemouth and Yeovil sat in 10th, 21st and 13th place as of the 6th October. We were 4th. Just thought you’d like to know.

The following Saturday Coventry City were in Town for the first league match between the two since our Premier League days. Annoyingly, City had just got in Mark Robins as manager and stormed into an early 2-goal lead. Two late goals from Roberts and Collins salvaged a point and we could’ve won it. There was some debate afterwards about whether it was a point gained or two points dropped. Hmm.

During the week it was announced that Jeremy Wray was to be replaced as Chairman by Sir William Patey, a former diplomat, at the express wishes of owner Andrew Black. Again, more intrigue amidst the corridors of power and a few dissenting voices of concern at what was seen as a strange decision by many.

S****horpe Utd were next up at the County Ground with no fewer than four ex-Town players in their squad. Two of them, David Prutton and Leon Clarke, started and I’m sure were given a cordial welcome for services rendered from the home faithful. James Collins scored for the third successive match as Town led at the break but the 33rd minute dismissal of Aden Flint proved too much of burden and the visitors escaped with a point. Again more questions at full-time but I was just relieved to see us maintain a top six place.

Soon after I was heading up to Crewe hoping we’d fare a little better than on our previous visit in March. That day we were comfortably beaten 2-0, this time it was 2-1. In all fairness we deserved something. Rafa De Vita had flicked home a header to give us a lead but by half-time we trailed. Despite some concerted pressure we were unable to break them down and there’s no worse feeling than coming home empty-handed when at the very least you deserved a share of the spoils. 273 unhappy souls headed back south already contemplating a trip to 2nd-placed Stevenage on the Saturday.

What followed was one of my highlights of the season. Paolo Di Canio had already played down this match in favour of claiming the up-coming Aston Villa cup game was of more importance. Miles Storey was handed his first start of the season and our first ever visit to Broadhall Way was to face a team who hadn’t lost at home in 19 matches dating back to the previous February. We absolutely pulverized them.

What made the situation even better was I’d managed to persuade some workmates to join me and experience ‘Swindon’ live! Unfortunately, the £20+ ticket prices were a bit of a stumbling block so a compromise was reached in that we’d all go into the Stevenage end on the terrace for a mere £17. Of course I was on my best behaviour and furthermore I got to witness 3 cracking first half goals close up. De Vita’s was a sublime finish, Ritchie’s had a slice of fortune but special praise for Miles Storey with a well taken header and his first ever league goal! I think he later tweeted that the Stevenage Youth team coach once said he’d end up working in McDonalds! Rooney came off the bench to add a fourth in what was fast becoming a rout. Tommy Miller could even afford to miss a first-half penalty which I’m sure, according to some Swindon fans, he did deliberately because he’d once played for Stevenage – he didn’t and he hasn’t by the way!

It all put us in good stead for the big cup clash on the Tuesday at home to Aston Villa. I’d booked the day off and the following Wednesday morning (for recovery) and was in Town early on. Villa had knocked Manchester City out in the previous round and although we knew it was going to be tough, a part of me was thinking ‘What if?’

In front of a packed out County Ground, we seemed to suffer early nerves and a few jitters. Villa were the more lively and clearly better footballing team. We held firm for 30 minutes but in the space of the next 10 found ourselves 2-down. The second of which was an unstoppable drive from Agbonlahor. With nothing to lose the second half saw us have a go. We exerted a bit of pressure but you couldn’t help but think Villa were happy to keep us at an arms length. Paolo threw on the subs and with 12 minutes to go Miles Storey was on hand to divert a ball in from close range. Dare we believe?

Within minutes we experienced another one of those earth-shattering moments with Storey imperiously flicking home a low cross from the right. The ground exploded. I exploded. I was penned in so figured the only way to go was up and decided to climb onto the seat in front of me before eventually falling off in the ensuing pandemonium. The roar that accompanied our next attacking foray into the Villa half was spine-tingling. Our Premier League visitors were visibly shell-shocked but they quickly regrouped – they had to, and set about putting the tie to bed before extra-time. As we all well know too much time and space was afforded to Christian Benteke who planted a low shot past Foderingham in the final minute to send the away fans ballistic. My heart was broken. There’s no other way to say it.

Next Time: FA Cup shock, Brentford’s stubborn tactics, Rain in Nottingham, Liverpool Youth and I have too much Sherry whilst watching Swindon Town Ladies.

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