A rough guide to... Swindon Town

Cod Almighty | Article

by Barry Whittleton

10 August 2017

They were the steadiest of eddies until they started swinging in the sixties, and Swindon have been a bit dizzy ever since.

Who are you?

The robin redbreast is regularly described as Britain's most popular bird. It is certainly popular among the dispensers of nicknames in west country football: Bristol City, Cheltenham and Swindon Town all have the name. It must make local derbies confusing. It may also explain why no south west teams are called the worms.

Perched just off the M4, Swindon have four clubs within 40 miles with the two Bristol clubs to the west and Reading to the east. Their fiercest local rivalry is with Oxford United, just 32 miles away.

What you been up to?

Swindon Town were formed by a priest, William Pitt the very much younger, in 1879, or 1881, depending on who you believe. They plied their trade in the old Southern League, winning it twice. After their first title in 1911-12, they competed in the Charity Shield against Manchester United. In the most high-scoring Charity Shield to date, they lost 8-4. The proceeds were donated to Titanic survivors.

Swindon's first ever Football League match, after the Southern League was adopted as the third division in 1920, was a 9-1 victory over Luton, still their biggest win. The next 40 years did not quite live up to the promise: Swindon remained fixtures in Division Three South. Only in the sixties did Swindon start swinging.

On 20 August 1960, the 17-year-old John Trollope made his first appearance for the Robins. 19 years later, he was still going. And then he came out of retirement in 1980-81 to finally clock up 770 appearances, all for Swindon.

Swindon made a first, two-season appearance in the second flight between 1963-65. That was eclipsed in 1969 when, inspired by two-goal Don Rogers on a ploughed field of a Wembley pitch, they beat Arsenal 3-1 to win the League Cup. The pitch had been used for the Horse of the Year show the week before. Rogers and Trollope modestly admit that played a part in their win.

Winning the League Cup should have brought entry to the European Fairs Cup, a forerunner of the UEFA Cup, but the FA ruled that only top flight teams could take part. Instead they won the Anglo-Italian Cup beating Italian Cup winners AS Roma 5-2 in the two-legged final. The 1970 final against Napoli the following year was abandoned due to hooliganism after 79 minutes.

Don Roger's exploits seem to have started a tradition as since 1969 they have twice reached the League Cup semi-finals, in 1995-96 and 1979-80. They were thus lying in wait when Grimsby played Wolves for what would have been an all-third division semi-final had the Mariners prevailed. The first meeting of the clubs that season saw a 3-0 victory for Swindon, which ruined my birthday; it was a long trip home. The return saw a vibrant BP acclaim a classic Tony Ford strike to secure a 2-0 for the soon-to-be champions and and all but end Swindon's own promotion ambitions.

Maybe it's a hangover from that 43-year stay in the third flight, but Swindon have come to love an extreme, from the glory days of top-flight football in 1993-94 to basement seasons such as this one.

They had a first taste of the fourth flight in 1982. That at least gave them an opportunity for some more 'Top Towning' with a double promotion. In 1986, they won the fourth division title with a record 102 points. A year later they won the play-offs to return to the second flight.

From there, Swindon twice won promotion to the top flight. The first time, in 1991, an FA investigation into illegal payments resulted not only in the club being denied promotion but they were almost relegated instead. On appeal, they were allowed to keep their second flight status, but one club director served time at her majesty's pleasure and another did community service. When they got to the Premier League in 1993, they must have wondered why they bothered: glorious it was not. The season yielded only 5 wins and they conceded exactly 100 league goals.

Consecutive relegations were followed by an immediate promotion, but since 2000, the Robins have yo-yoed between the third and fourth flights, twice entering adminstration. The nearest they came to a return to the second flight was a 4-0 play-off final defeat by Preston in 2015. That followed a 5-5 draw with Sheffield United in the semi-final second leg, completing a 7-6 aggregate win, both play-off record scores.

What kind of season did you have?

Having finished 2015-16 in 15th place, the steady decline continued and last season was one best forgotten for all Swindon Town fans as they slipped into the basement division once more. Let's just say they were eliminated in the first round of both cups and finished third bottom of the league, seven points from safety on 44 points. Their final-day stuffing at Charlton summed up a miserable season.

Where are you from?

Famous for its railway connections, the industry in Swindon has all but died. The vast GWR repair sheds are now a shopping outlet.

Swindon have played at the County Ground since 1896. They left their original ground near a quarry after a young supporter fell in. In 1951, Swindon installed floodlights at the ground, the first League club to do so. Ex-champion jockey and author John Francombe is a regular there.

Fans visiting the County Ground will have the 'pleasure' of negotiating the famous Magic Roundabout, a series of 5 mini roundabouts, which is adjacent to the ground.

How are you feeling?

Manager David Flitcroft has wasted no time in clearing out 12 players and bringing in nine, including two two loan signings. However like Town the Robins have been shopping in the lower leagues with bargains bought in from Cambridge, Shrewsbury, Morecambe and Port Vale as well as Pompey and Wimbledon.

Pre-season in Portugal featured games against Oldham, Bristol Rovers and Benfica, yielding two draws while Benfica ran out 2-1 winners. Having warmed up with a 3-0 victory over Woking, optimism among the faithful on the forums is high with a play-off challenge the minimum expectation.

You must be so hell bent on being 'Top Town'?

You can't have helped but notice that whatever Grimsby Town have done, Swindon have done a bit better. "You beat Luton 7-1, you think John McDermott is a model of loyalty and endurance, you lost to Wolves in the 1979-80 League Cup quarter final, you like your double promotions and relegations? We'll see you and raise you a 9-1, a John Trollope, a semi-final and a season in the top flight."

If this season doesn't go as they hope, Swindon could console themselves that a season in the Conference would have them out yo-yoing the Mariners.

The front page image of the County Ground, Swindon, is copyright Andrew Smith and licensed for reuse under this creative commons licence. The image has been cropped.

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