Swindon Town Football Club
Situated in Wiltshire in the southwest of England, Swindon Town FC have spent most of their history in the lower divisions of the Football League. However, in their heyday, they made their way all the way up to the top flight of English football and even enjoyed cup success.
These days, the Robins (as they are colloquially known) ply their trade in League One (the old Division Two), playing their games at the near 16,000 capacity County Ground stadium. They originally played in black and white and experimented with a few different strips in the late 19th century before deciding on red and white (with a number of variations) in 1902.
Their location means they have plenty of local rivals, including Oxford United, Bristol City, Bristol Rovers and the currently high-flying Reading. Although they have recently endured managerial and financial flux, there is plenty of hope for the future.
Foundation and early years
There is some controversy about Swindon Town’s origins. Although the man responsible was undoubtedly the Reverend William Pitt, curate of Christ Church in the city, the actual date is uncertain and may have come anywhere between 1879 and 1881, with the club themselves opting for 1881 officially (although even they have flip-flopped over the question).
The first years of the club came during the era of amateurism and, without an obvious substratum immediately obvious, they competed in the main against local clubs. The first truly competitive experience came in 1886 when they signed up for the FA Cup and the local Wiltshire Cup.
This proved the necessary impetus for the club, and they turned professional in 1894, joining the Southern League in its inaugural year. Their first season proved to be something of a disaster and, after just four wins from sixteen games, they faced relegation from the First Division before victory against New Brompton in a deciding match provided a reprieve.
From that point on, Swindon managed to establish themselves on and off the pitch, moving to the County Ground in 1896 and also joining the Western League the following year (playing in both simultaneously).
Although Swindon picked up the Western League title in 1899, the club generally failed to make significant progress in its early period. However, towards the end of the first decade of the 20th century, this all began to change.
The signing of Harold Fleming from youth club St. Marks by Swindon manager Sam Allen was decisive, as the Robins started to make inroads in the FA Cup. This culminated in the 1909-1910 season when the club made the semi-finals and only lost to the eventual winners, Newcastle United.
The success continued the following season when Swindon won the Southern League and competed against Manchester United for the Charity Shield in September 1911, losing 8-4. Much of this was attributable to the sensational Fleming, who continued to play for the Robins until 1924 and ended with 182 goals to his name, as well as 9 in 11 appearances for England. Fleming Way near the County Ground is today named after the club legend.
Years of obscurity and the glorious cup run
After the First World War disturbed the Southern League (with Swindon Town reigning champions in 1914), the Robins were invited to join the newly formed Division Three, which became Division Three South in 1921. The following decades proved to be remarkably unspectacular, with the only bright spot being a quarter-final run in the FA Cup in 1924.
This continued until after the Second World War – during which the County Ground was used as a prisoner-of-war camp – and right up to the 1960s. However, this would prove to be a halcyon era. The club were promoted to the Second Division as runners-up in 1963 and, although they were relegated two seasons later, the appointment of Danny Williams in 1965 proved the catalyst for some incredible cup success.
In 1969, against all the odds, Swindon Town made it to the final of the League Cup and, although facing First Division Arsenal, incredibly triumphed 3-1 to lift the trophy, with two goals from Don Rogers. This achievement did not have a deleterious effect on their league form either, as the club made their way back to the Second Division.
The only downside was the FA’s decision not to enter a Second Division club into the UEFA Cup, instead opting for involvement in the Anglo-Italian League Cup, which Swindon won by beating Coppa Italia winners, Roma, 5-2 on aggregate. The following year’s final against Napoli was disappointingly abandoned after hooliganism.
From high to low to high
Although they eventually won the Cup, the 1970 debacle proved an omen of things to come, as Swindon went from one disaster to another, culminating in relegation to the Fourth Division for the first time in their history.
Mercifully, Lou Macari’s entry in the middle of the 1980s signalled an upturn which resulted in two successive promotion campaigns and a return to the Second Division. This continued under Ossie Ardiles, after Macari moved to West Ham United, but the club’s play-off victory that season was voided by the club’s admission of 36 breaches of league rules (the vast majority concerning illegal payments to players).
Chairman Brian Hillier was also given a six month prison sentence and only an appeal meant Swindon stayed in the Second Division.
The club surprisingly did not stutter after the scandal, appointing Glenn Hoddle in 1991 and almost taking promotion that season. Hoddle managed to succeed the following season though, as Swindon won a dramatic play-off final victory against Leicester City 4-3 in the renamed Division One, and Swindon incredibly marched into the Premiership.
Hoddle himself moved on in 1993, with John Gorman taking over for Swindon’s first season in the Premiership. Sadly, it proved something of a disaster on the field, as the club conceded over 100 goals and won just five games all season.
Relegation was followed by relegation and, within two seasons, Swindon were back in the Second Division! The 1990s saw the club yo-yo between the First and Second Divisions, with only Steve McMahon staying as manager for any concerted period as the Robins went through eight managers in eight years after his departure in September 1998.
This managerial merry-go-round seriously damaged the club and it was little surprise that they eventually went down to the renamed League Two in 2006. Paul Sturrock’s appointment proved a fine decision though, as immediate promotion followed, but he has since moved on to pastures new at Plymouth Argyle.
Nevertheless, Swindon thus far in the 2007-2008 season have been holding firm in mid-table, despite difficulties off the field financially which brought about a fan-led takeover bid towards the end of 2005 and a repayment scheme to the club’s creditors. Who knows what the future holds for the club but, considering the pace of change historically, anything is possible with the Robins.
- FA Cup – Semi-finalists (1909-1910), Quarter-finalists (1924)
- League Cup – Winners (1969)
- Wiltshire Cup – Winners (1887, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892)
- Anglo-Italian League Cup – Winners (1969)
- Anglo-Italian Cup – Winners (1970)
- Football League Trophy – Semi-finalists (1987, 2001, 2004)
- Western League – Winners (1899)
- Southern League – Winners (1911, 1914)
- Fourth Division – Winners (1986)
- League One (Old Second Division) – Winners (1990)
- Most Appearances – John Trollope (889)
- Leading Goal Scorer – Harry Morris (229 in 279 appearances)
- Most League Goals In A Season – Harry Morris (47, 1926-1927)
- Biggest Victory – 10-1 (v Farnham United Breweries, FA Cup, 28th November 1925)
- Biggest Defeat – 1-10 (v Manchester City, FA Cup, 25th January 1930)
- Biggest Attendance – 32,000 (v Arsenal, FA Cup replay, 15th January 1972)