Why the cup matters to me, even the JPT
Ahead of meeting Oxford United on Tuesday, Steven Fyfe looks at some of his favourite, andd least favourite, Town moments in knock-out football
In my decade or so of supporting Swindon Town I have sampled the highs and lows of cup competitions. My mum was only just born when we beat Arsenal in 1969 and I was only 3 years old when Swindon beat Leicester. It is these emotions and memories however that live long in the memory and it is for this reason I hope Mark Cooper takes every single cup competition, Johnstone’s Paint Trophy included, very seriously. Cup competitions offer a chance to play some of the biggest clubs in the country, provide some massive cup shocks, financial rewards and ultimately a day out at Wembley.
Being based where I am has given me the opportunity to witness the birth of a new football club: AFC Hinckley. The passion that their fans have for their new club reminds me of all the things that I love about Swindon.
One aspect causing a big buzz at the moment is their ability to do well in knock-out competitions. Last season they were losing finalists in the Leicestershire Senior Cup, a game that I attended and they were very unfortunate to lose. So far this season they have progressed in the FA Vase, Polymac Packaging League Cup and have just been eliminated from the Emirates FA Cup in the second qualifying round by Chasetown (a side two leagues higher than them). In the previous round they beat Redditch (who sued us over Jermaine Hylton signing), a side three leagues higher.
Why am I talking about a side that none of you will know or particularly care about? Simple, two words, Oxford away. We cannot and should not take them nor the competition lightly. We need to go there and want to win, believe we can win and ultimately win. It is not just down to the players though; the fans in attendance will play a big part too in roaring our boys to victory.
League football will always be the bread and butter whether you are League 1 Swindon Town or Midland football league Division 1 AFC Hinckley but the emotions and memories of cup football live long in the memory both good and bad.
Everyone will have their own favourite memories or most memorable moments but below are the cup games that stand out in my mind for both good and bad, and it is for memories like these I hope these competitions are taken seriously.
2002/03 – FA Cup – Lost to Oxford
My first experience of Swindon on the TV and first time I remember feeling really deflated. There was a lot of hype about this game and I recall sitting in my auntie’s living room on my own to watch it. We lost 1-0 and the sheer delight on the face of the fans in yellow at beating their arch rivals is something I will never forget.
2003/04 – League Cup – Lost to Leeds on penalties
I recall the midweek game and there was lots of excitement in the town as then Premier League giants Leeds United were our opponents. I had school the next day so was listening on the radio and had dared to dream of the biggest upset in my memory. That was until Paul Robinson was to come up for a corner in the dying seconds and score past sub ‘keeper Rhys Evans. Heartbreak was to follow as the 10 men of Swindon lost out on penalties, Robinson saving from Stefani Miglioranzi before Andy Gurney hit the post.
2003/04 – Playoffs – Lost to Brighton on penalties
Losing on penalties and losing in the playoffs becomes a bit of a theme throughout my list sadly. Having been to the first leg at home and watched Swindon lose 1-0 to Brighton, I sat in my neighbour’s living room with hope more than expectation. Hope turned to belief when ‘Super’ Sammy Parkin scored a leveller and take us to extra time. Rory Fallon gave us the lead before Adam Virgo levelled late on. Andy Gurney went on to miss the decisive kick again.
2006/07 – Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – Lost to Cheltenham
The result here was not the memorable aspect of the game but what happened after. A section of Swindon fans (myself included) proceeded to protest outside the ground after with chants of “Sack the board” and “Where’s the money gone”. The protest came following negative reports of the club’s finances. Eventually police had to come and move us along.
2006/07 – FA Cup – Lost to Crystal Palace
It was the eve of my seventeenth birthday and this is the first away game I can remember going too. Then a Championship side, Palace played all of their first team including Sheki Kuqi and Jobi McAnuff and the atmosphere was immense. Being part of a 2,000-strong following that even at 2-0 down did not stop singing was an incredible experience. The Palace fans were incredible too making it a really enjoyable day. When Jerel ‘Beast’ Ifil scored I dared to dream again, but it was not to be.
2009/10 – Playoffs – Charlton and Milwall
The semi-final was stressful enough without the final. I travelled from my new home in Leicestershire for the first leg and was quite pleased with what I had scene. When Austin and Ward put us two-up the Town End was bouncing. David Lucas seemed to get lobbed from the half-way line to put a dent in it but we could go into the second leg full of confidence. I had to watch that on TV, however I was late starting so was not aware of the drama unfolding. The injury to Lucas and Charlton getting two goals quick was hard to watch. Danny Ward went on to score the equaliser and then penalties. My phone had gone crazy with people wanting to go through it with me and then celebrate but I had not got through them yet. Winning the shootout meant all attentions turned to Wembley. The journey there was intense; my train got me into St Pancras – the station all the Millwall fans got the tube from. When I met my friends at Wembley station there was a pack of Millwall fans waiting for us. Police did not really help but eventually we were in and settled. We went a goal down but did not give up. Then the chance came and it came to the man we wanted it to – Charlie Austin. The infamous Wembley pitch would be our downfall however and a bobble would see him balloon a 1-v-1 over the bar.
2010/11 – FA Cup – Lost to Crawley
Having been taken to a replay by non-league Crawley I expected a better response from Swindon at home. It did not happen. We lost in one of the most embarrassing moments of my Swindon fan years.
2011/12 – League Cup – Bristol City
Even though I was not there it was great to live through the emotions of beating a rival. Following the drama on Sky made me as proud as everyone who was there that night.
2011/12 – League Cup – Lost to Southampton
Another game that will be remembered for what happened after the final whistle. Swindon were well beaten but made the headlines after Paolo Di Canio got in a heated exchange with new signing Leon Clarke. Clarke never played for Swindon again.
2011/12 – FA Cup – beat Wigan
It was on my 22nd birthday that Premier League Wigan visited the County Ground and I was bought a ticket to celebrate the occasion. It did not start well going 1-0 down but thankfully the spirit of that Paolo Di Canio side shone through and made it a day to remember. Paul Benson deflected the equaliser before one of my favourite players of that side, Alan Connell, scored the winner.
2011/12 – FA Cup – Lost to Leicester
This was an important one for me. Weeks of banter in the office in the lead up and I arrived at the King Power full of optimism. Sadly it was not to be thanks to Jermaine Beckford (who seems to have a habit of scoring important goals against us) scoring twice. We gave a good account of ourselves and needless to say not everyone in the office was gloating on the Monday.
2011/12 – Johnstone’s Paint trophy – lost to Chesterfield
I travelled down on the train with Chesterfield fans full of optimism that my second venture to Wembley with Swindon would be more successful than the first. Again it was not to be. Connell missed a good chance in the first half but Chesterfield did enough to get the win. I went home feeling deflated again.
2012/13 – League Cup – beat Stoke
Probably the best game I have ever been too, Goals galore. Town raced into a 2-0 half time lead and I could not believe what I had witnessed. The class of the Stoke side came through in the second half and they got a goal back just after the hour before Jon Walters broke our hearts with a late equaliser. In extra time Aden Flint put Swindon ahead again before Crouch equalised. As penalties loomed large James Collins scored his hat trick and sent Swindon into the next round. There were unbelievable scenes in the away end at the end.
2012/13 League Cup – Lost to Aston Villa
Aston Villa looked very comfortable until the introduction of one Miles Storey. Off the bench, the youth team graduate scored two goals in three minutes to send the game into extra time, until Christian Beneteke scored a last minute winner.
2012/13 – Playoffs – Lost to Brentford
More playoff and penalties heartache for me and all other Town fans. After a one all draw at the County Ground I was to miss the second leg, driving home from Skegness. I managed to get online radio commentary through my phone but wished I hadn’t as at 3-2 all seemed lost. I pulled up to some traffic lights just as the first corner was cleared out for a second corner. I was still sat on red when FLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINT. I lost connection so did not know until I arrived at my sister-in-law’s house to messages of sorrow, it was then I read Miles Storey had missed the decisive penalty.
2013-14 – League Cup – Lost to Chelsea
Another TV game for me and we ran one of the best sides in the world very close. Fernando Torres and Ramires scored the goals while Dany N’Guessan had a header disallowed for offside, but once again we were left full of pride.
2013/14 – Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – Lost to Peterborough
I was in attendance for the first leg when everything happened. Swindon were losing 2-1 and Jay McEveley was sent off. The first Peterborough goal a bullet header from Rafa Branco while our equaliser was a very fortunate (but much deserved) own goal. Into the second leg and a 1-1 meant penalties and yet another defeat for Swindon.
2014/15 – FA Cup – Cheltenham
After losing to non-league Macclesfield for two straight years a local derby was what we needed to break our FA Cup curse, or was it? Nope, another embarrassing exit at the hands of a lower-league side. Thankfully, I only followed this one on Twitter.
2014/15 – Playoffs
Where to start? I watched both semi’s on TV and was left over the moon when Nathan Byrne scored the winner in the 1st leg at Bramall Lane. I could not believe my eyes in the second leg when we went 3-0 up. Who predicted what was to come next? 5-5 in the highest scoring play-off game ever. Much credit must be given to both sides mentality to keep going. Glad I wasn’t there really – don’t think I would have coped.
Onto the Wembley again and surely third time lucky? It did not start well for me personally as I was not even out of my town before I had been hit by a car (yes, actually rolled over the bonnet). That was a sign of the car crash awaiting us all at Wembley. Nathan Thompson went off early injured and we lost 4-0. It was a very miserable and lonely journey home.
So, maybe next season I can dream of Swindon v Hinckley but for now Town have the old enemy in yellow and blue to focus on and this is not only a chance to start another march to our second home, Wembley, but also a chance for revenge. There are three things I have not witnessed in my years supporting Swindon, playing above league 1 level, winning (or even scoring) at Wembley and beating Oxford, hopefully we right two of those records this season.