50 Years Ago: 1965/66 August – Back in the old routine
Mike Minihane continues his look back 50 years to events at the County Ground, as Swindon Town returned to Division Three in 1965/66…
Top of the Charts: Help! – The Beatles
Our relegation following our all too brief adventure in Division Two inevitably led to changes at the County Ground. Manager Bert Head had been replaced by former Rotherham United boss Danny Williams in June. No one knew much about Danny other than he had played hundreds of games for the Millers as a no-nonsense wing half before becoming their manager in 1962.
Town were also in debt and it was clear that our best players were likely to be sold. Mike Summerbee went to Manchester City for a ridiculously low fee of £30,000, probably the best value signing they ever made. Everyone knew that Ernie Hunt would be the next to go…
Out pre-season preparations culminated in a home game against local rivals Bristol City. We were dire and they took us apart in a 0-3 defeat. It didn’t bode well for the forthcoming season.
Our first game was home to a team called Oxford United who I had never heard of. I didn’t know that Oxford had a football team. I thought that Oxford was a posh university town where people would play or watch rugby, hockey or lacrosse. Apparently they had a team that had played in the Southern League and had crept into the Football League in 1962 replacing the defunct Accrington Stanley.
They had achieved promotion from Division Four the previous season and now, here they were, running out at the County Ground in their gold shirts and black shorts trying to look like Wolverhampton Wanderers.
This was the first ever meeting of the two teams and I obviously didn’t know any of their players. At centre half was their captain, Ron Atkinson, who kicked anything that moved and generally marshalled their defensive intentions. In midfield was his brother Graham Atkinson. Making his debut for us was Ken Keyworth who had been a prolific goal scorer for First Division Leicester City, playing in the 1961 and 1963 FA cup Finals and the League Cup Final of 1964. He was a striker with a real pedigree and we were hoping for a hatful of goals from him.
A big crowd of over 20,000 watched the game which was remarkable for Division Three. We huffed and puffed and they effectively shut us out in a 0-0 draw. Ken did get the ball in the net with an impressive diving header but was clearly offside. Sadly our hopes of him becoming our goal scoring saviour didn’t materialise, his knees were gone and he only played five more games before retiring.
‘Big Ron’ Atkinson of course went on to a spectacular managerial career with West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Coventry City and Nottingham Forest. He subsequently became a football pundit where he was known for his idiosyncratic turn of phrase (‘Ronisms’) and liking for flamboyant jewellery, in doing so metamorphosing from ‘Big Ron’’ to ‘Mr Bojangles’. Ron even made an ill-fated appearance at the County Ground in 2005 as ‘help’ for Iffy Onoura in front of the TV cameras…
Two days later we were to visit York City. Given our abysmal away form during the previous season any away game was a cause for trepidation but goals from Dennis Brown and Don Rogers gave us a comfortable victory, something we weren’t used to at all.
The next game, away to Swansea Town at the Vetch Field promised to be tougher. The journey to Swansea in those days was quite a trek, there was no M4. My mate and I went by train which took a very long time and as soon as we got there it bucketed down with rain and when we got in the ground we were soaked. Our spirits were soon lifted however when an Ernie Hunt precision pass put Dennis Brown through and he finished neatly. Swansea came back in the second half and equalised through their left winger Ken Pound but we held on for a deserved point in an entertaining game.
At the end of the month we were unbeaten in three games and in 6th place in the league table which was a better start than most of us expected. However Ernie Hunt would only play two more games for us before leaving for Wolverhampton Wanderers for a £40,000 fee and it was clear that the side needed strengthening. We need an inspirational signing and within days we had got one in Welsh international defender Mel Nurse who would become one of the all-time Town favourites and one of the best signings the club ever made.