This series is a look back at Swindon Town’s glory days. We started during the 1968-69 season. Swindon are in the third tier of English football.
After their sensational victory over Arsenal in the League Cup Final, Swindon Town were now concentrating fully on their push to win promotion to the Second Division.
When they left things to focus their attention for their first ever appearance at Wembley, they were two points clear of Watford at the top of the table. As Don Rogers was running rings around the Arsenal defence, Watford beat Northampton. In those days teams on the same points were separated by ‘goal average’. This method was goals scored divided by goals conceded. Watford had a better average, so went back on top.
Swindon’s first league game after Wembley was a visit to South-West rivals Plymouth. They were obviously still suffering a hangover as Plymouth were two goals up early into the second half. Roger Smart got one back but Swindon lost.
This was now three successive league defeats, all away from home. This came immediately after four successive home wins.
But it wasn’t all bad news as Watford went down 2-4 at Stockport. Their lead was still two points with Swindon a further two points ahead of Luton Town, who’d now moved into third.
Peter Noble scored a brace as they returned to winnings ways at home to Barnsley. He now had 15 in the league for the season and had scored in all but one of the last six games at the County Ground.
Then at the weekend, the top two met each other. 28,898 filled the County Ground for the visit of Watford. Swindon’s home record was impressive. 17 matches unbeaten, 14 wins.
Don Heath had picked up an injury from the Plymouth game and was replaced by Owen Dawson. Dawson was at right-back against Barnsley, but Rod Thomas came back in with Dawson moving to midfield.
The game was very tight, with neither side wanting to give ground to the other. Just as it looked as if it would end goalless, Watford’s Barry Endean scored the winner for the visitors six minutes from time.
Four defeats in five matches left Swindon needing to shake this poor run. Watford were back to a two-point lead and also had a game in hand. Luton Town had now joined Swindon on 49 points. Remember, just two promotion places were available.
Swindon had lost their last three away games, so when they went to Crewe and won 2-1 there was some relief in the camp. Watford and Luton also won, so it was ‘as you were’ in the league.
This was Easter weekend and each club played three matches. The next day they were at Shrewsbury but couldn’t keep the winning run going as they were held to a 1-1 draw.
On Easter Monday they saw off Bournemouth at home, comfortably winning 3-0. At the end of the Easter programme, Swindon now found themselves four points adrift of Watford. Both teams had six matches remaining. Crucially they were two points ahead of Luton in third, but they only had five matches to go. With Plymouth in fourth a further five points back, it looked like Watford were all but up and Swindon and Luton would fight out the other place.
Another of their South-West rivals, Bristol Rovers were their next opponents at the County Ground. Don Rogers converted a penalty in the opening 60 seconds, but Rovers Joe Gadston levelled. Rogers then put Swindon back in front with his 25th of the season, but Wayne Jones brought Rovers level again and the points were shared. For Swindon, it was another point dropped.
With Luton and Watford both winning, Swindon’s hopes of winning the Division looked lost, and were now just a point ahead of Luton. Yet they still had a game in hand.
Willie Penman came off the bench to score a vital winner against Crewe. The result was particularly important as Luton were held at Stockport. This was getting tense.
Luton then won at Tranmere on the Friday night, so when Swindon travelled to Walsall the next day, they needed to win. Don Rogers again came good with two goals. He now had 21 league goals for the season. Watford were still five points clear and with three games to go looked odds-on for the title. Swindon had a two-point cushion over Luton, and with an inferior goal average, it looked like Swindon might just do it.
Their game in hand was a midweek game at home to Mansfield Town. The Stags left-back put through his own net in the opening two minutes and the 21,000 strong crowd got the start they dreamed of. But a goal that early allowed the nerves to build, especially as Swindon couldn’t add to their lead. The game eventually ended, 1-0 and the home crowd breathed a huge sigh of relief.
On the same night Watford went down at Barnsley, and their lead was cut to three points. But more importantly, Swindon were four points clear of Luton and a draw in their match would be enough to seal promotion. They had a better goal average than Luton, but only by two goals.
Back in these days, the fixture schedule was always thrown into chaos from bad weather or cup runs, and clubs spent the final few months trying to re-arrange fixtures. So much so, Swindon now had ten days off, where they were free to watch Luton complete their season.
Luton promptly dealt with Stockport County with a 4-1 win. The gap was now two points. Luton had no choice other than to win their final two matches and then hope Swindon slip up. So far so good for them.
Swindon’s last two matches were away to Rotherham (who were 11th) and home to Barrow (sitting in 16th). Luton’s final match was at home to leaders Watford.
Two days before Swindon’s next match, Luton took on Watford at Kenilworth Road. Victory for Watford would see them secure the title. They’d already won promotion, but Luton had to win otherwise Swindon were promoted.
Luton won 2-1. They’d now completed their league campaign. Their goal average was still lower than Swindon’s but only by two goals. Therefore, if Swindon lost 0-1 in both games, Luton would go up.
On a Friday night at the beginning of May, Swindon travelled to meet Rotherham United. A draw would be enough to secure promotion. If they lost they still had the home match against Barrow to clinch it.
The first half was goalless. But six minutes into the second half, Jim Storrie put the home side in front. Storrie had been signed by Don Revie where he spent five years at Leeds United before moving to Aberdeen and then Rotherham. Had he dented Swindon’s promotion hopes?
Rotherham, who were the club Danny Williams had managed before he took the Swindon job, looked as if they might hang on. Williams was sent on Chris Jones for Don Heath midway through the half to try and find an equaliser. However, with barely 60 seconds remaining, Chris Jones repaid his manager’s faith and scored the vital equaliser. Soon the final whistle went and Swindon could celebrate promotion.
It was a great moment for a side who’d had a tremendous season. The following Monday night at The County Ground was where the team were able to celebrate in front of their own supporters. Barrow were the visitors. Mathematically they could still win the title, but there would have to be a huge swing in the goal average figures for this to happen, something like 11 goals.
In front of a crowd of over 21,000, John Smith put The Robins in front on 37 minutes. Then as the hour approached, Don Rogers made things certain with his 22nd league goal of the season and his 28th in all competitions.
2-0 was the result and it was party time in Wiltshire. News filtered in that Watford had lost 0-3 to Mansfield but that still wasn’t enough to stop them from lifting the title. If Mansfield could’ve scored another three goals then Swindon would’ve been champions. Or if Swindon had scored another two then just two more from Mansfield would’ve been enough.
Swindon didn’t care. They were back into the Second Division and it was the second celebration in the streets around the Magic Roundabout within a few months.
Watford and Swindon had finished on 64 points. Had there been three points for a win they would still have finished level. Watford had a goal average of 2.18 compared to Swindon’s 2.03. Had goal difference been the separator Watford were still four goals better off.
Luton finished on 61 points in third and these three were way ahead of the rest.
It’s still the greatest season Swindon Town has experienced, even allowing for a Premier League season in 1993.
Don Rogers was the top scorer with 22 league goals and 28 in total. Peter Noble chipped in with 16 league goals and 20 in total. Roger Smart and John Smith also reached double figures in all competitions.
Swindon’s success was achieved with largely the same team each week. Noble, skipper Stan Harland and goalkeeper Peter Downsborough played in every league game. Don Rogers missed just one game with Frank Burrows and Rod Thomas, just two.
They played 61 games in all competitions with Downsborough and Harland taking part in all of them. Rogers and Noble missed just one.
Promotion and a League Cup trophy was a great return and now there was the matter of whether they would be allowed to compete in Europe as League Cup winners. Negotiations were underway