50 Years On: 1963/64 September – 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 continues with a review of September 1963, a tough month seeing games against Manchester City, Leeds United and Sunderland…
Top of the Charts: She Loves You – The Beatles (who else)…
I can truly say that this was the most memorable, and fantastic, month I can remember in my fifty years of supporting the Town. It was a busy month to say the least, with no less than seven league games to play as well as the first round of the League Cup. Five of these games were at home so it was an expensive time too, with my Saturday morning butcher’s round earnings (yes, I did have one of those bikes with a basket on the front) severely stretched.
First up on a Tuesday night were Grimsby Town who we had beaten away 2-1 only the previous Wednesday. I’ve no idea why but in this era you always got a home and away early in the season. Expectation was high after our defeat of Pompey the previous Saturday and over 21,000 were in the County Ground expecting another demolition job over a side we’d already beaten on their own ground. It didn’t turn out to be easy. ‘Big Bill’ Atkins put us ahead early on with a thunderous strike at the Stratton Bank end. With his rather lolloping style he wasn’t everyone’s favourite but he could hit a ball. I can remember that he hit it so hard that the Grimsby keeper, Charlie Wright didn’t even move and just shrugged his shoulders at his defenders as if to say, ‘well, what did you expect me to do about that?’ The game was quite tough and Don Rogers’ first goal of the season early in the second half was enough to give us a narrow 2-1 win.
The following Saturday we were again at home, this time to Rotherham United, and an amazing thing happened; they went in front with a goal from Albert Bennett, their star player, after just a few minutes. We were stunned; this wasn’t in the script, the sheer effrontery! We needn’t have worried as goals from Jack Smith and Roger Smart gave us a 2-1 half time lead and a third from Mike Summerbee in the second half gave us a comfortable 3-1 win. Five games played, five wins, 14 goals scored, four conceded. Surely this great start would come to an abrupt end the following Tuesday when Manchester City were the visitors. This really was the game we had all been waiting for.
The team’s success was having an amazing effect on the town and attendances were going up. For the Manchester City game over 28,000 were crammed into the County Ground. You just could not move or even raise your arms. On the Stratton Bank when the action got close to the goal line the natural movement of the crowd would carry you about half a dozen steps down the terracing. Your feet wouldn’t touch the ground. In some way you would sort of end up back where you’d started from, still carried by the crowd. With hindsight, it was terrifying but no-one ever seemed frightened by it, we just were mesmerised by the action on the pitch. This was before Ibrox, Hillsborough and Heysel and safety didn’t ever seem a consideration for fans or the authorities. There was no official ground capacity; fans were let into the ground until literally no-one else could get in.
This game had been hugely anticipated as the biggest league game in the club’s history. Manchester City were a First Division side who had been relegated the previous season. They were a big club with a big history. The game certainly exceeded all expectations, it was a stunner. I can’t ever remember such an atmosphere for an evening game under lights. We were ahead in three minutes through Mike Summerbee and were taking them apart. Another goal from Jack Smith gave us a 2-0 half-time lead and a third from Ernie Hunt in the second half gave us a comfortable, and totally deserved 3-0 victory. I don’t think we could believe it, we’d beaten the favourites for promotion and I think at this stage we really started to think we could beat anybody.
The next two games promised to be tough, an away trip to Leeds United followed by the return with Manchester City, who surely would be out to put us in our place after their humiliation. The Leeds game by all accounts was a fairly dire affair but a point from a 0-0 draw was a return we’d all have taken beforehand. To put this in context Leeds would go on to win the Division and return to the First Division. In contrast the midweek Manchester City game was an attractive, open affair in which the sides cancelled each other out in another 0-0 draw. Our record at this point was played eight, won six, drawn two, with seventeen goals for and a mere four against. We were top of the league – quite a start.
The challenges were coming thick and fast. The next Saturday we were home to Sunderland who had very narrowly missed promotion to the First Division the previous season and were fancied to go one better this season. Another big crowd was expected and to have half a chance of seeing anything you had to be in the ground by 1.30pm. Once in you couldn’t move, a visit to the gents was totally out of the question, so you had to plan ahead. I left home early but not before I’d caught the start of Grandstand on BBC where the presenter, David Coleman, told his audience that if he could choose which sporting event to be at that afternoon he’d be at the County Ground to see Swindon v Sunderland. A well-informed choice! A crowd of over 26,000 saw a first half goal from Jack Smith give Town the victory and the points. Sunderland rarely threatened and Mike Turner in the home goal had only one, relatively easy, save to make in the game. Another well-deserved win recorded.
Only four days later Chelsea were to be the visitors in the First Round of the League Cup. This was the Chelsea of the Tommy Docherty era who would go on to finish 5th in the First Division that season. It says much for the level of confidence that had been generated that despite playing higher opposition this was a game we went to expecting to win. A ‘low’ attendance of 17,000 reflected the fact that this was a League Cup fixture and the fifth home game of the month. Funds were running low for those of us still in school. It was worth the entrance money though as, after a goalless first half, we put three past the visitors, courtesy of two from Jack Smith and a third from Roger Smart. We were getting spoilt.
It couldn’t last forever of course and we were making the most of it while we could. The final game of a stupendous month was an away fixture against Northampton Town who had been promoted from Division Three with us the previous season. Northampton had started well, winning away to Sunderland in one of their early games, and it wasn’t going to be an easy game. It was all very good-natured, this was before the era when away fans were formed up by the police at the railway station and marched to the ground surrounded by snarling Alsatians as though they were on their way to internment in a PoW camp.
Walking to the ground a local bobby offered us his black tie to wear in mourning after our inevitable defeat. He was right, Northampton got at us from the off and we literally never had a kick all game. Their 4-0 win, a first defeat of the season, was thoroughly deserved, including two goals from Frank Large who was to join the Town later in the season. We trudged back to the station with our tails between our legs; at least the friendly local bobby wasn’t to be seen.
Still, Town ended September two points clear of Sunderland and top of the division. Not bad for a promoted team…
Images courtesy of swindon-town-fc.co.uk
Table from statto.com