50 Years On: 1963/64 February – 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 February 1964…
Top of the Charts – Needles and Pins – The Searchers
January had been a good month with victories over Manchester City and Aldershot giving us a fifth round FA Cup tie at home to West Ham United. In the League that month Town had a thrilling league game with promotion candidates Leeds United ending in a very creditable draw; finally our pride had been restored. February looked quite daunting however with games against Sunderland, Preston North End and Newcastle United lined up, all of whom were in the top six and serious promotion contenders.
First up was Sunderland away. We’d beaten them at home in December in a truly memorable game. This time it would be different. In front of over 41,000 fans we were taken apart 0-6, with home striker Nick Sharkey celebrating his call-up to the Scotland squad with a hat-trick. The win took Sunderland to top place in the League table, leapfrogging Leeds.
The following Saturday offered us an opportunity for revenge for our 0-4 humiliation at Northampton Town back in September. More disappointment as they ran out worthy 3-2 winners at the County Ground, with one of their goals coming from Frank Large who would be playing for us in a month’s time. We were never in it and many fans had already left the round before Don Rogers’ 89th minute penalty gave us some undeserved respectability in the score line.
The following Saturday the glory of the FA Cup lifted things for us with our third encounter of the season with First Division West Ham United. Two goals for Geoff Hurst and one for Johnny Byrne against a header from a corner from Ken Macpherson gave the Hammers a comfortable 3-1 win. West Ham would go on to win the trophy with a 3-2 victory in a thrilling final against Second Division Preston North End, for whom Howard Kendall would become the youngest ever player ever to play in an FA Cup Final. Losing to the ultimate competition winners was certainly no disgrace.
It was back to reality the following Tuesday however with a league game at Gigg Lane against relegation candidates Bury who were second from bottom. Amongst the Bury line up was Gordon Atherton who would join Town the following season. A goal from George Jones was enough to decide the game in Bury’s favour, giving them precious points in their ultimately successful relegation fight.
So, four games down, four defeats, three goals scored – two by the centre half and the other a penalty – and thirteen goals conceded. Things were going badly. A home game against third placed Preston North End was probably the last thing we needed, and so it turned out, with Preston running out 4-1 winners with two goals from Alex Dawson, who was to score in the FA Cup Final later that year, one from Dave Wilson and one from Bryan Godfrey. A Mike Summerbee goal was Town’s only reply.
The last game of the month took us to St James Park, the home of the mighty Newcastle United, who were sixth in the league and looking to regain the First Division status they had lost in 1961. Once again we were on the end of a 1-4 defeat, with Bobby Woodruff scoring a late consolation goal after Newcastle goals from Burton, Hilley, Cummings and Suddick. Willie Penman was playing for Newcastle that day; he would join Town in 1966 and become a firm favourite with fans.
It had been a truly awful month, playing teams that were clearly superior and at times looking well out of our depth. Our record for the month was played six, lost six, five goals scored, twenty-one conceded. We’d slipped from 5th position to 11th. With six games to come in March it was going to be a critical month. It looked a little easier, but only just.
Images courtesy of swindon-town-fc.co.uk
Table from statto.com