January 2013: A Black month at Swindon Town

2013 is nearly over and it has been an eventful year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; this is only part one…

I wondered for an age about the style in which I was going to write this review. Perhaps in a sensible and reflective way, offering emotional insight and a deeply personal view on events? Maybe I could be all hard and analytical, mechanically walking you through each month in turn? Or perhaps I could adopt a lazy, flippant and meandering style in which I write a substance-light, totally factless piece purely to entertain myself and maybe one other person. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one I’ve adopted, but to give you a clue, it isn’t going to be that different to the rest of my output to date!

I did think I could get all ‘I love 2013’ over this piece, the general public seem to lap up all that recapping nostalgic crap these days.

I can imagine a ‘talking head’ with Dick or Dom or some random woman from Pint of Lager and Packet of Crisps Please. Or maybe some unknown miscellaneous beauty who no one knows but the subtitle at the bottom of the screen cryptically says something like “Pixie Troublebottom, Presenter and Model”. Can you imagine all these ‘C’-listers rambling on about how PDC once punched the dugout and then swore a lot and how they all laughed?

Nah, me neither, so I ditched that idea, so here we go….

Can you believe that it’s almost a year ago that we notched those two back-to-back 5-0 scorelines against table topping Tranmere Rovers and Portsmouth? It does seem pretty recent to me, especially the Tranmere game as I was amazingly hung-over after attending my works Christmas party the previous night.

Now that little event was quite memorable, we had an awful, mass-produced Christmas ‘themed’ meal. Where I’m still convinced to this day that the menu stated the meat we were about to enjoy was merely ‘Turkey Flavoured’ and that the veg was actually fresh.

Unfortunately the meal wasn’t the only thing to lack any kind of good taste as that evening we were treated to some ‘top-class’ live entertainment as well. This came in the form of a ridiculously bad comedian who’s opening gambit was to tell a terrible joke about a plumber and the size of his huge tool, which received zero laughs apart from a couple of childish guffaws from two at the back who were obviously the reincarnations of Kenneth Williams and Sid James.

He counteracted the silence by stating that we were all going to ‘struggle’ throughout his routine if we hadn’t laughed at that. There you go; we were to blame for him being crap.

After an uncomfortable twenty minutes his set finally finished, no laughter, the silence was only punctuated by loud stomach groans and a few barely audible Christ Almighty’s, – not sure whether that was due to the cavalcade of bad material we were witnessing or the vicious turkey related stomach cramps we were experiencing.

After the ‘comedian’ we were treated to a psychic, who seemed to not pick up via the spirits that he was truly awful. Not quite Clinton Baptiste, but pretty close.

He rambled on for what seemed like eternity, with most of the audience wondering if they should all make a dash for the loo before a queue formed due to all the turkey flavoured goodness that was currently hopscotching through our colons. He came out with some bizarre personal claims directed at an obviously suffering data entry clerk who he had dragged out onto the stage. Her only crime was that instead of being doubled up with abdominal pains like the rest of us, she briefly made eye contact with him. But according to the performer, her aura was strong and the spirits had picked her out.

As his set came to a shambling end, he made some bizarre predictions for the future (first contact with a superior alien race was nailed on for August apparently) but seriously, if he had predicted that this time next year we would’ve had as many managers and chairmen as Bristol City have had wins I would’ve snapped and rushed the stage in an effort to put an end to such ludicrous buffoonery.

But in reality, if you reflect back to the Tranmere drubbing of last year, none of us – not even a woeful psychic could’ve predicted that in one calendar year:

  • Only three players from the entire Tranmere match day eighteen would still be here. (Fods, Ward, Nathan Thompson)
  • Our beloved manager would have left in a huff, got a premier league job, got sacked (Well maybe we could’ve all predicted that one)
  • Our beloved board, benefactor and entire club directorship would’ve collapsed
  • We’d have had three different Chairmen and owners
  • We’d have had three different Managers

So here goes for a review of the year 2013, when all hell broke loose and the dust is only beginning to settle (I hope).

JANUARY

What better place to start than the 1st of the month and our second consecutive 5-0 walloping. Town were starting to find some form with first table topping Tranmere being bullied around on the County Ground pitch and then Portsmouth.

The game was close for the first hour before an inspired/desperate substitution from Paolo who threw on James Collins for the ineffective Chris Martin (currently troubling the top scorer charts in the Championship at the moment, now who would’ve predicted that?)

Collins’ introduction provided Town with a fresh impetus and the team went on to score four times in a remarkable twelve minute spell – with Collins himself grabbing a hat trick and Danny Hollands adding another. James wasn’t content with just the match ball as he notched a fourth in the final ten minutes, leaving the full-time scoreboard displaying an improbable five nil result.

A fantastic performance that as well as inspiring the whole team, also enlivened the flagging fitness DVD market as Collins cashed in on his remarkable 30 minutes of fame.

collins 12 minute hat trick

Meanwhile, off the pitch, PDC was demanding backing from the board to boost further forays into the transfer market. Happy with the loans of Chris Martin and the impressive Danny Hollands, Paolo wanted to push on with strengthening his squad for the final assault on promotion. He was to be disappointed.

Back to the match action, hopes were high of repeating the five nil feat for a third consecutive game against a visiting Carlisle, but the Town faithful were left disappointed due to a poor, listless display with very little obvious effort and endeavour from the boys in red. Town scraping through by a 4-0 scoreline – the sales of football related fitness DVDs plummeted.

Next up was a tricky tie away at a resurgent Bournemouth, who were busy climbing quickly up the table using the bodies of vanquished foes as a step ladder. The game ended in a one all draw and despite monsoon conditions it was an entertaining game with the Cherries taking the lead before being pegged back by Andy Williams’ well taken opportunists strike following a David James rick.

The main news coming out from the game was that PDC had apparently rampaged across the touchline and destroyed the away dug-out. Typical of the inflammatory hyperbole that constantly surrounded the Italian, it turned out that it was the goalkeeping coach who accidentally dislodged a pane of Perspex. Nothing to see here.

Three days later though, the Town faithful were hit with a hammer blow. Apparently our beloved benefactor Andrew Black was getting itchy feet and was looking to get out of Dodge, immediately. The fact that Black wanted to remove himself from the club was no great secret, but suddenly there was a timeline with a very firm deadline at the end. “Swindon Town consider administration as club searches for new investors” trumpeted the Adver, following this up the following day with an interview with Black explaining his reasons to befuddled fans.

On the field, Town were to finish January unbeaten with another home win against Shrewsbury reinforced by a creditable draw away at Leyton Orient, the external influences seemingly not having an effect.

We were told by the Adver that several interested parties were vying for the coveted purchase of the club, with a fourth party joining late. Di Canio was very pleased with the state of affairs “There is positive energy. I can’t promise anything because I can’t sort out the situation on my own, but I know that we are in a very good position at the moment and I hope that we can go through.”

Fans had images of various oil rich Sheiks, natural gas laden Oligarchs and far eastern billionaires all vying for a piece of hot Wiltshire action. In reality though, we all sort of knew it would be a bunch of sports centre owners, scrap merchants, disqualified bookies and lower league football chairman scrabbling around purely for a bit of one-upmanship to brag about at the golf club.

Matt Ritchie

On the 30th January the comments section of the Adver was white-hot with activity from many obviously disturbed individuals as first the paper calmly announced that Ritchie was to be sold, to Bournemouth of all places. Shortly afterwards the club issued another statement saying Andrew Black had flogged the club – to an unnamed consortium. Not a single, disgustingly rich individual you understand but to a consortium. Perhaps Mr Sports Centre, Mr Disqualified Bookie and Ms Scrap Merchant had all sold their 52 plate Jags to club together to buy the club.

Not quite, but Town were now in the grasping hands of one Jed McCrory, chairman of Banbury United and self-confessed fan of lower league football. To some he was a saviour, who stopped Swindon suffering further financial heartaches, to others, a chancing wide boy who was only out to line his own pockets.

On the field the form we showed in January was that of a nailed-on promotion side, but unfortunately it was never sustainable in the current climate. Like a passenger on the Titanic who turned to his wife and said ‘I swear I saw something big and white on the horizon’ Town fans were starting to get an inclination about the real turmoil that was to come…

Header image courtesy BitterGillespie

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