50 Years On: 1963/64 August – Swindon in the big time for the first time
Throughout this season Mike Minihane will be taking a look back at Swindon Town’s first season in the ‘big time’, following the promotion to Division Two for the 1963/64 season. Mike starts with a review of August 1963 which included games against Scunthorpe United, Grimsby Town and Portsmouth…
Prime Minister – Alec Douglas-Home (as a 15 year old schoolboy I neither knew nor cared)
Top of the Charts – Sweets for my Sweet; The Searchers (I liked this)
It’s hard to convey the level of excitement that existed at the start of the 1963/64 season. For the first time ever Town would be playing in the Second Division, the highest level they had ever reached. It was a strong league, including Sunderland (who had only missed promotion to the First Division the previous season on goal average), Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Leeds United and Manchester City, relegated from the First Division the previous season. The prospect of seeing teams of this calibre at the County Ground was mouth-watering and, to borrow a term from Nick Hornby, we were at fever pitch.
Eventually the long-awaited fixture list was released. Our first game was at home, but not to a glamour team as we had hoped. We were to play Scunthorpe United, a solid team who had finished in ninth place the previous season. The pools predictions for the game were for a draw, a sound experienced Division 2 side would surely get something from the new boys.
So it was that over 18,000 fans packed the County Ground on a glorious sunny Saturday at the end of August. The white goal posts almost shone against the beautiful green pitch. A few Scunny supporters were in evidence, some with ‘Up the Iron’ painted on their rattles. I was struck by the age of some of their players. Most of the Town side weren’t much older than me; the opponent’s left back and captain Jack Brownsword, a fine player who still holds the club’s all-time appearance record, looked older than my Dad.
The game started and we were all over them. After 16 minutes Ernie Hunt, everyone’s local hero, gave us a deserved lead and the ground erupted. We’d scored our first goal in the Second Division. Our dominance was total to the extent that Scunthorpe created just one shot on goal in the whole game which was easily dealt with by Mike Turner. We were looking as though we were going to score every time we attacked but had to be content with a 1-0 lead at half time.
There was no let-up in the second half and half way through a second Ernie Hunt goal made the game safe. A late goal from John Stevens gave us a final 3-0 score line, a true reflection of our superiority. The feeling of elation was total. We’d shown that we were worthy of our new Second Division status and played some excellent attacking football. The doubters – and there are always a few – took the line that when we met the top teams a gap in class would be evident and we’d be found out, particularly away from home. With two away games to come, a midweek game at Grimsby and a tough game at Portsmouth the following Saturday, this was going to be put to the test.
Grimsby had finished 19th the previous season, only four points above the relegation places but I’m sure that most of us would have taken the draw if it had been offered before the game. It didn’t start well and at half-time we were 0-1 down. A second half revival however saw Ernie Hunt score his third goal in two games to put us on terms. Two minutes later Roger Smart gave us the lead which we held for a 2-1 victory. Four points out of four; we were top of the League, albeit after only two games, but top nonetheless.
Not surprisingly a lot of Town fans made the trip down to Portsmouth the following Saturday, a team with a First Division pedigree but perhaps past their best. Town would be without the injured Ernie Hunt who would be replaced by ‘Big Bill’ Atkins. Bill was tall, often appeared rather casual, and having to stand in for Ernie didn’t do him any favours. Perhaps because of this he was never very popular with the fans.
The game is best remembered as one of Mike Summerbee’s finest performances. On his own he literally took apart a Portsmouth side that appeared to be creaking with age, creating Bill Atkins’ opener to give us a 1-0 half time lead. In the second half he ran riot, scoring himself early in the second half and being denied another only by a Brian Snowden own goal. A fourth goal by Roger Smart gave Town a 4-1 win. It was nothing less than a demolition.
Three games played, a maximum six points, joint top of the Division. It was beyond our wildest hopes, but with games in store against Sunderland and Manchester City, September looked a pretty formidable month!
Images courtesy of swindon-town-fc.co.uk
Table from statto.com
Next game was home to Sunderland – my first. I’d just moved down South from Hartlepool about 2 weeks earlier and I think my dad was feeling guilty so he offered to take me to see Sunderland. It was my first proper game – I’d been to see Hartlepool but didn’t really take it seriously – and the place was heaving.
We only just got in and watched the entire game hanging on to supporting beams at the back of what’s now the Don Rogers stand (I think). I was supporting Sunderland but fell in love with the atmosphere and have been a dedicated Town fan for almost 50 years.
1-0 to Town and all I remember was the atmosphere, it was amazing.
Hi Steve…the Sunderland game was fantastic, although it wasn’t until late September and in between there were home games against Grimsby Town, Rotherham United and Manchester City. September 1963 was possibly the best month I ever experienced as a Town supporter. I can remember Jack Smith’s winner against Sunderland, an opportunist stooping header scored at the Stratton Bank end where I used to stand. We all went nuts.
I hope you enjoy the series…and glad that Sunderland game started you on your way!
Interesting team picture – must be the Youth Team as well as the Reserves etc. The two hedges on the front row were Leroy and Leslie, who were brothers and lived near me. So many of that era were relatively local lads compared to today.
Good point Mike…Tony Hicks, Terry Ling, Dennis Peapell, Dick Plumb, Richard Tabor and Don Rogers were all members of the Youth Team which reached the FA Youth Cup Final that season, losing 2-5 on aggregate to a Manchester United side containing Jimmy Rimmer, John Fitzpatrick, Willie Anderson, David Sadler, John Aston and of course George Best, all of whom went on to have very successful careers. It was a fantastic achievement. I can remember the first leg when Don and George Best scored the goals in a 1-1 draw.