This is a six-part series covering halcyon days for Swindon Town. We began in the 1968-69 season. Swindon Town were a Third Division club and won the League Cup, beating First Division Arsenal. That season also saw them win promotion to Second Division. The following season as they weren’t allowed to compete in European competition, a new competition was devised. The Anglo-Italian Cup Winners’ Cup where they took on Coppa Italia winners, Roma.
The 1969-70 season saw them almost win a second successive promotion, but fell just short. At the end of the season another new competition would emerge. The Anglo-Italian Cup where six English and six Italian clubs competed.
After the success of the Anglo-Italian Cup-Winners’ Cup at the start of the 1969-70 season, plans were soon made for a larger competition at the end of the season. Swindon Town had beaten AS Roma to win the first cup. Now they were one of the teams entered into the new tournament. The first ever running of this competition was May 1970. It was introduced as a way to generate extra income for players’ wages during the extended close season caused by the World Cup.
The format was six English and six Italian clubs. The English clubs were Swindon, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, West Brom and Sunderland. The six Italian teams were Napoli, Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina, Lazio and VIcenza. These were split into three groups with two English and two Italian clubs in each. Each team played the other two teams from the opposing nation, home and away.
That sounds pretty straightforward, yet there was a further twist. Rather than the top two from each group going through, the clubs were then further assessed by country. The top ranked English club would then meet the top Italian side in the Final.
Furthermore, there were bonus points on offer for goals scored as well as two points for a win. Two other changes to playing rules were that offside could only occur in the penalty area and two from five substitutes could be used.
Group 1: Sheffield Wednesday, Swindon, Napoli and Juventus
Group 2: Middlesbrough, West Brom, Vicenza and Roma
Group 3: Sunderland, Wolves, Fiorentina and Lazio
Swindon’s group was a perfect example of the divergence of the quality of teams entered by both countries. Italy entered Juventus, 13 times Serie A champions and Napoli. The two had finished third and sixth in Serie A, respectively. Whereas Swindon had finished sixth in English football’s second tier. Sheffield Wednesday were rock bottom of the First Division winning only eight games all season.
The first game showed the bonus point carrot was a popular one. At Hillsborough Sheffield Wednesday beat Napoli, 4-3. No goals by half-time, but Alan Warboys put Wednesday in front early after the break. Within 16 minutes they were 4-0 up as Warboys scored again and Steve Downes grabbed two as well. But then Napoli fought back, with Barison scoring twice and Bianchi also banging one in. Unfortunately, the public weren’t as encouraged to go and watch as only 10,166 turned up.
At the County Ground at least just under 13,000 were there to see the visit of Juventus. With Italy preparing for the World Cup in Mexico, Juve fielded a side of young players and those who weren’t internationals. Swindon were at full strength.
After a goalless first half, the game came to life in on the hour. Peter Noble scored his 18th of the season to give the home side the lead. Seven minutes later Horsfield put them two-up. He scored again with just five minutes to go, his 26th of the season. Even Stan Harland got on the scoresheet as Swindon produced another 4-0 win over a top Italian side.
A week later the teams swapped. Sheffield Wednesday took on Juventus but it was the complete antithesis of the seven-goal thriller with Napoli. It ended 0-0.
Swindon were at home to Napoli. Fred Ford made a change in goal. For the first time in two years, Peter Downsborough sat out a match. Roy Jones came back into goal. He’d played a lot during the 1967-68 season but had been forced to watch from the sidelines for two years.
In the Napoli side was the great Swedish winger, Kurt Hamrin who scored in the 1958 World Cup. They also had former Brazil international, Jose Altafini and Ottavio Bianchi. Bianchi spent five years at Napoli, and is best known as the coach of the great Napoli side with Maradona and Careca, which won the Scudetto in the late eighties.
Both sides were locked at 0-0 until just after the hour when Paolo Barison and Harmin scored within six minutes of each other and the visitors were two-goals up. John Smith got a late consolation goal for the home side, but Napoli were worthy winners, 2-1.
Then it was over to Italy for the return fixtures. In the Stadio della Alpi, a disappointing crowd of just 5,000 saw Swindon line up against Juve. The home side now had former Spanish international, Luis Del Sol in their ranks. He played in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups and added much experience. Swindon had won the first meeting, 4-0 and were expecting a backlash. Juve hadn’t won yet and so when Peter Noble gave Swindon the lead midway through the first half, Swindon again were expecting to be pinned back. The comeback never happened and Swindon completed a famous double over ‘the old lady’.
At the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli took on Wednesday. The two sides had shared seven goals in their first meeting. This time it was six. Wednesday went in front through an own goal after just ten minutes. But then two goals in as many minutes from Bianchi and Altafini gave the home side the lead at half-time. Hamrin put them further ahead just after the break and then Altafini scored twice and Napoli won 5-1.
When Swindon arrived in Naples they were faced with the biggest crowd of the competition as 30,000 turned up to see the side which had beaten Juventus twice. Roy Jones was again in goal and put in a good performance as the home side created plenty of chances.
But the game turned on a Don Rogers goal on the hour and Swindon held on for another famous win. What a season it had been so far, they’d beaten Roma, Juventus (twice) and now Napoli.
The other two groups weren’t quite as full of goals, and that counted in Swindon’s favour. Middlesbrough beat Roma and Vicenza at home, then drew against both sides away. West Brom beat Roma, 4-0 at The Hawthorns and then drew with Vicenza. In Italy, The Baggies drew in Rome and were losing at Vicenza when the game was abandoned due to crowd trouble.
In Group Three, Wolves won both their home matches and also beat Fiorentina away, but lost at Lazio. Sunderland beat Lazio and drew with Fiorentina at home but lost both away matches.
Of the six English clubs, Swindon Town had the best record. Their seven goals added to their points put them at the top of the English section. Middlesbrough and Wolves were a point behind.
In the Italian section Napoli had the most points. They’d lost twice but ten goals helped them along. Fiorentina were second, even though they only won once.
Thursday afternoon might’ve been an odd time for a cup final, but the two sides lined up in front of an impressive, yet vociferous 55,000 crowd at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
Peter Noble put Swindon in front in the first half. It was his 20th of the season and his third of the tournament. Swindon still lead at the break and just before the hour Noble scored again. Suddenly Swindon fans were dreaming of another Italian success. It was the sort of the game where the next goal would be crucial. Horsfield got it and the Second Division side lead 3-0. Rather than the response coming from the Napoli players, the fans reacted. Fighting broke out in the stands and then missiles rained down on the pitch. Eventually riot police moved in and unleashed tear gas to try and disperse the troublemakers. There were pitch invasions and after 79 minutes the Austrian referee called a halt to proceedings.
Don Rogers later recalled how things escalated;
“I was playing out wide on the left and suddenly saw this block of concrete at my feet. I’ve never moved so quick in my life. Suddenly, I was playing more like an inside left, just to avoid all this stuff that was being thrown.”
By then fans had started breaking up stones and benches and hurling them towards the pitch. The players escaped to the dressing room with several Swindon players receiving injuries through being struck by the stuff being thrown. Arthur Horsfield had a nasty bruise on his thigh.
The authorities decided to award the game to Swindon. They were 3-0 up and it wasn’t their fans rioting. They made it back onto the pitch to lift the trophy.
What a season it had been. They had beaten Juventus and Napoli twice and also Roma. This came a year after lifting the League Cup, beating Arsenal at Wembley and winning promotion back to the Second Division.
Arthur Horsfield’s final goal tally for the season was 28 in all competitions. Peter Noble backed him up with 21 and last season’s top scorer, Don Rogers, hit 12.
They’d come within just three points off promotion to the First Division, something no other Swindon side had ever achieved. Fifth place in the Second Division was their highest ever finish to a league season thus far. They also reached the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, losing to Leeds United.
Glory days indeed.