50 Years On: 1963/64 December – 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 December 1963…

Top of the Charts – I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

After a fairly dismal November where we’d not won a game and score only two goals we were all hoping for better things in December. Only one of our opponents, Portsmouth, was in the top half of the table and two, Norwich City and Scunthorpe United, were third and fourth from bottom. First up was an away game at Swansea Town (yet to become a ‘City’).  Quite a few of us went down on Rimes Coaches, Swansea were in the bottom half of the table and this was a good chance to try back on track. The journey was interminable, there was no M4 then and we seemed to go in the most circuitous route possible, driving up and down any number of dismal South Wales valleys. After what seemed to be about two days, we finally arrived.

We shouldn’t have bothered. Swansea set about us from the off and their centre forward Keith Todd, who’d just be recalled to the side, justified his selection with a very well taken hat trick. The only Swindon player to emerge with any credit whatsoever was Bobby Woodruff who pretty much played Swansea on his own and was described in one match report as ‘a future international in the making’, and although that didn’t happen he did go on the have an illustrious career with Wolves,  Crystal Palace and Cardiff City.

A week later we were at Scunthorpe United who we had taken apart so superbly on the opening day of the season. Scunthorpe were third from bottom and relegation candidates. Before a pathetically low crowd of just over 5,000 they achieved only their fifth win of the season with a convincing 3-0 win, their third goal coming from a Bobby Woodruff own goal. This was our fifth game in a row without scoring and our second consecutive 0-3 defeat. We certainly weren’t doing much away from home.

The following Saturday brought a home game against Portsmouth and a chance to get a desperately needed win and confidence boost. Pompey’s centre forward was Ron Saunders who had a justifiable reputation as a prolific goal scorer with a record of better than one goal every two games. He was to go on to a successful management career with a number of First Division clubs, including Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, all of whom were known for their somewhat dour style during his tenure. He didn’t score in this game though as Town, in an understandably rather nervous performance, ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Ernie Hunt and John Stevens. The relief around the ground was huge, finally a win and some goals!

1963/64 Swindon Town squad with manager Bert Head Back row: McPherson , Wollen, Atkins, Turner, Harvey, Morgan, Lloyd. Third row: Plumb, Trollope, Hallett, French, Hicks, Smith, Smart, Dawson, Summerbee. Second row: Thorburn, Shergold, Griffin, Rogers, Hellin, Stevens, Leggett, Huxford, Woodruff, Sproates, Peapell. Front row: Lewis, Tabor, Harber, Darcy, Cousins (trainer), Head (manager), Morse (secretary), Colsell, Hunt, Ling, James. Seated: Critchley, Hedges, Corbett, Wrintmore, Hedges

1963/64 Swindon Town squad with manager Bert Head
Back row: McPherson , Wollen, Atkins, Turner, Harvey, Morgan, Lloyd.
Third row: Plumb, Trollope, Hallett, French, Hicks, Smith, Smart, Dawson, Summerbee.
Second row: Thorburn, Shergold, Griffin, Rogers, Hellin, Stevens, Leggett, Huxford, Woodruff, Sproates, Peapell.
Front row: Lewis, Tabor, Harber, Darcy, Cousins (trainer), Head (manager), Morse (secretary), Colsell, Hunt, Ling, James.
Seated: Critchley, Hedges, Corbett, Wrintmore, Hedges

Our opponents for the two Christmas fixtures were Norwich City who with a decent run had pulled themselves up from 19th to 14th in the table. They were a team in form and would be tough opponents. Norwich had recently signed Ron Davies from Luton Town for £35,000. He was rightly regarded by most as the best header of the ball in the Football League. He scored better than one in every two games for Norwich and  was to go on to an illustrious First Division career with Southampton where his scoring record was exceptional, including  four goals, all headed, at Manchester United in 1969.

In an exciting game at Carrow Road in front of almost 21,000 fans, Town led 2-0 at half time through John Stevens and Bill Atkins. The second half was to turn out to be a different story however with Davies amongst the scorers as Norwich ran out 3-2 winners.  Despite the defeat it was a creditable performance and gave grounds for optimism for the return fixture two days later. A great start saw Bill Atkins give Town an early lead but two Ron Davies goals gave Norwich the lead. However this time it was the Town’s turn to come from behind with a late equaliser from Mike Summerbee giving Town a deserved draw.

It hadn’t been a good month but the rot had been stopped and at least there had been some goals to cheer. Town were still fifth in the League, behind Leeds United, Sunderland, Preston North End and Charlton Athletic. January promised to be an exciting month with a home 3rd Round FA Cup tie against Manchester City and a home game against the leaders Leeds. We’d come down from expecting to win every game as had been the case in August and September and a degree of realism had settled in. We were certainly enjoying the ride though!

1963-64 December Table

Images courtesy of swindon-town-fc.co.uk

Table from statto.com

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