The 1968-69 season was the best Swindon Town supporters had ever known. Their first ever trip to Wembley saw them beat Arsenal to win the League Cup. Then they secured promotion to the Second Division.
Back in English football’s second tier after an absence of four years was exciting enough, but there was also European football to consider. The rules for the League Cup were changed in 1967 to give the winners a place in the Fairs Cup (the forerunner to the UEFA Cup and Europa League). However, UEFA would not allow clubs from the third tier to compete, and as Swindon were a Third Division club at the time, they were denied a chance to play in the prestigious competition.
The authorities then set about trying to find a solution. This is where the Anglo-Italian League Cup Winners’ Cup was formed. An English cup winner (League or FA Cup) would meet the Coppa Italia winner over two legs.
Interestingly enough when Third Division QPR won the League Cup in 1967 they too were denied a chance to play in the Fairs Cup, but nothing was arranged for them.
Swindon were to meet AS Roma over two legs from the end of August 1969. Before that they embarked on a season in the Second Division.
In preparation for the new season manager Danny Williams signed a striker. Arthur Horsfield was a 23-year old playing for Newcastle United. He had only recently moved there from Middlesbrough after a heated exchange with Boro boss, Stan Anderson. He was unable to find a starting place, so when Williams came calling he jumped at the chance. Horsfield became Swindon’s record signing, £17,500.
It was Williams’ final act as manager at the County Ground. He moved to take over the hot seat at Sheffield Wednesday, and the Swindon board brought Fred Ford to replace him. Ford was a coach at Swindon in 1967 before he moved to Bristol Rovers. He now had the unenviable task of matching the achievements of his predecessor.
Horsfield was into the starting line-up for the opening day trip to Blackburn Rovers. Swindon had beaten Rovers the previous season on their way to winning the League Cup. But this time things were different. Goals from Don Martin and John Connelly gave Blackburn a 2-0 win.
Four days later Horsfield scored his first goal for his new club. It came in a 2-2 draw at Cardiff City. Swindon’s first home game was their third match of the season. They lost just once at home the previous season but this already looked as if it could be hard work. Chris Balderstone, who also played professional cricket for Leicestershire, put the visitors in front just before half-time. Ten minutes into the second half, Tommy Murray, who’d only just come on as sub, made it 2-0 to Carlisle.
With 15 minutes to go, Horsfield got a goal back. Seven minutes later he scored again and crucially Swindon had avoided defeat.
For some reason a week after meeting Cardiff, they took on the return fixture. Nearly 22,000 were in the County Ground to see Swindon’s first win of the season. Chris Jones scored both goals in a 2-1 win against a side which included a young John Toshack. For a newly promoted side the earlier you can get your first win, the better. Relief around the club was palpable.
Swindon then visited Villa Park to take on an Aston Villa side which had only picked up one point in their opening three matches. Horsfield scored again, his fourth in as many matches and he was already looking worth every penny they’d paid for him. Rod Thomas then scored his first goal for two years and Swindon won again. Now they were starting to settle into things.
As August ended and September began, Swindon’s next three fixtures were in three different competitions.
Anglo-Italian Cup Winners’ Cup
The much anticipated Anglo-Italian Cup Winners’ Cup against Roma was up next. The tie was over two legs, with the first being played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Just imagine how mad that was. Swindon had finished second in English football’s third tier, yet here they were lining up against such illustrious opponents.
Roma had won the Coppa Italia, beating Cagliari, Foggia and Torino in a group format. They were into the European Cup Winners’ Cup but because Swindon weren’t permitted by UEFA to compete in the UEFA Cup, Roma would meet them too. Roma had finished eighth in Serie A, but this was way above Swindon’s level in terms of competition.
In the Roma line-up were internationals such as Luciano Spinosi, Sergio Santarini, Renato Cappellini, Franco Cordova and future England manager, Fabio Capello.
40,000 were in the stadium and the vociferous home fans were enraged when after 12 minutes Stan Harland looked to have brought down Capellini in the area. Referee Kevin Howley thought otherwise and ordered a free kick to the visitors. Flares and rockets rained down on the pitch. For much of the half, Swindon had been forced deep into their own half, only venturing out for the odd breakaway. Downsborough was in fine form in goal for the Wiltshire side, as he had been at Wembley against Arsenal back in March. He made some good saves from Capellini and Capello. Then with half-time looming, Salvori appeared to throw himself to the ground in the area and this time the ref gave a penalty. Fabio Enzo stepped up and Roma were a goal up at the break.
Early in the second half Swindon were level. Peter Noble turned the ball in after a scramble in the Roma box. Swindon had chances to improve on this but in the 68th minute, Capellini put Roma back in front. Swindon ended the match putting the home side under pressure which gave their fans some hope for the second leg. Roma would take a 2-1 lead over to Wiltshire.
Three days later it was back to league action as Charlton were the visitors. A goalless first half fooled those watching into thinking the second period could be just as drab. Far from it. Swindon won 5-0. John Smith scored soon after the re-start and then Peter Noble doubled their lead on the hour. Ten minutes later Jack Burkett put through his own net before Noble grabbed a couple more to complete his hat-trick.
From there it was off to the League Cup to defend their crown. Their First Round tie was at Swansea City, who were a Fourth Division side at the time. Noble scored his second hat-trick in four days as Swindon won 3-1. They’d scored nine goals in their last three matches and Noble had bagged seven of them.
Three straight wins in the league and unbeaten in five since their opening day defeat. Yet no goals from last season’s top scorer, Don Rogers. When they travelled to Blackpool all that changed. In the Blackpool side that day was former England international Jimmy Armfield, who’d played in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups, Tommy Hutchison, who would go onto play in the 1974 World Cup for Scotland, then later score ‘at both ends’ in the 1981 FA Cup Final between Spurs and Man City, plus, Gordon Milne who was one of Bill Shankly’s first signings at Liverpool.
Ronnie Brown put the home side in front, but a penalty to Swindon gave Don Rogers the chance to open his account for the season. He didn’t turn down the opportunity. In the second half, John Craven put the home side back in front before Rogers scored again from the spot. Disappointingly for The Robins, Alan Suddick got the winner for the Seasiders and Swindon lost, 2-3. Interestingly, the game was refereed by the same Kevin Howley, who’d taken charge of Swindon’s game in Rome.
Not the best preparation for the midweek visit of Roma. The County Ground wasn’t full but almost 15,000 made it to see if Swindon could overturn the deficit from the first match. Town trailed 1-2 in the tie, but they only took 15 minutes to level things. Smith’s cross from the left was chested down by Horsfield who then stroked it past Ginulfi in the Italian goal.
Predictably, Roma came at the home side and the defence was kept busy. Mick Blick had replaced Burrows at centre-back. Blick was just a fortnight away from his 21st birthday yet gave a very assured performance alongside Harland.
The game certainly came to life in the second half. Downsborough was forced to make a couple of saves from Salvori and Capello, before Swindon scored again. Noble with some good work on the left, crossed into the area where Horsfield again brought the ball down and swept it past Ginulfi. 2-0 on the night, 3-2 to Swindon on aggregate.
Before the visitors could re-group, Swindon scored again. Don Rogers cut in from the left and fired a low shot into the net. 3-0.
This effectively took the stuffing out of the Italians and with seconds remaining, Rogers found Horsfield and the striker completed his hat-trick. Swindon had registered another famous victory against a much bigger name. 4-0 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.
Remarkable as it may seem, Swindon Town were the first winners of the Anglo-Italian Cup Winners’ Cup, as Stan Harland gratefully lifted his second trophy in six months.
There was little time for celebrations as they were at home at the weekend for the visit of Oxford United. The biggest crowd of the season so far came to cheer on their heroes. Unfortunately, the football couldn’t match the quality of a few days earlier and ended 0-0. In the Oxford side that day was future West Brom, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Coventry and Nottingham Forest manager, Ron Atkinson.
The hangover continued as this was the start of a run of three matches where they failed to find the net. A 0-0 draw up at Middlesbrough was followed by defeat at QPR, 0-2. This wasn’t a complete embarrassment. Rangers were top of the table with Rodney Marsh in their ranks. But nonetheless, it was no wins from their last four in the league after seeing off Charlton.
10 games, 10 points, 10th place.
Back in the League Cup, Swindon were drawn away in the Third Round to local rivals, Oxford United. Their league meeting a couple of weeks earlier ended goalless. This time the game was decided by a goal from the home side’s David Sloan. That was the end of Swindon’s League Cup defence. It had lasted two matches.
They then had two league games at home to end the month. They drew 1-1 with Leicester City and beat Millwall, 2-1 with Horsfield scoring another double.
September had brought differing fortunes. The high was obviously winning the Anglo-Italian Cup Winners’ Cup, the low was going out of the Football League Cup. Coupled with that they only won one of six league games.
October was another busy month with the focus solely on the league. Horsfield scored his 10th of the season to win at Bolton. He scored again as they stayed north to draw at Carlisle United.
Back-to-back home wins against Sheffield United and Hull City kept them in sixth. Frank Burrows first goal of the season came very late to beat Hull, and they were now unbeaten in their last six.
The run came to an end when they were beaten at Portsmouth. That game saw Roger Smart finally score for the first time in the season, after his 14 goals helped them get promoted the year before.
It was their fourth defeat of the season and all had come away from home. They only lost once at home the season before and this form was keeping them in the top half.
November started with them keeping the home form going with a 2-0 win over Norwich. They were still sixth, but remarkably they were one of five clubs on 22 points, just one point behind leaders Huddersfield. A measure of their progress could be found by comparing them with the other side who were promoted with them the season before, Watford. They were now in the bottom two.
After losing at Birmingham they were then up against Watford at Vicarage Road. A goalless draw still had them in sixth, but they’d failed to win in their last four away from home, and only won one in their last eight on their travels.
The run continued as they lost at Preston, but this came after a win against Huddersfield. Huddersfield were still top of the table, so this was a good result.
Swindon then had four games in December to end the year. They drew them all. Bristol City (1-1) and Aston Villa (1-1) at home and Oxford United (0-0) and Charlton (1-1).
1969 ended with Swindon lying in eighth. They were just four points off a promotion place. Unbeaten at home yet had only won twice away with no win in their last eight on the road.
The new decade began with Swindon enjoying the honour of only entering the FA Cup at the Third Round. They were up against Blackburn Rovers. They’d beaten them on their way to win the League Cup in the previous March. The league meeting came on the opening day and Blackburn won 2-0.
On this occasion, Swindon were quick out of the traps. John Smith put them in front in the 26th minute. Six minutes later Horsfield added another and then six minutes before the break Rogers put them out of sight. Joe Butler scored in the second half and Swindon had won emphatically, 4-0.
The Robins’ first league game of the new year was a home game against QPR, lying in fifth place. QPR had Terry Venables and Rodney Marsh in their line-up and provided stiff opposition. The game ended 0-0, a fifth successive stalemate.
The inability to win in the league came to an end when they went to Filbert Street and beat Leicester City 2-0. Arthur Horsfield scored twice. He now had 11 in the league and 15 in all competitions. He was certainly proving a shrewd signing.
This was their first away win since they beat Bolton at the beginning of October and they were back up to sixth. Great preparation for the next round of the FA Cup. The draw had been kind to them with a home against Fourth Division Chester City.
Despite their lower league status, the tie was enough of an attraction to put almost 22,000 in the ground.
Predictably it was Horsfield who put Swindon in front after 15 minutes. But five minutes before the break Roy Cheetham converted a penalty for Chester to level things. Then right on half-time Chris Jones put the home side back in front. Four minutes after the break, Horsfield scored his second to give them a two-goal cushion. But with 20 minutes left Gavin Lang got a goal back. Any nerves were settled soon after when Roger Smart scored only his third of the season, but it confirmed the win. They were through to the Fifth Round.
After three successive draws at home, Swindon finally broke the sequence with a win over Bolton. Against a side that included World Cup winner Roger Hunt, Horsfield scored his fifth goal in four matches. Don Rogers bagged a couple too as they were 3-0 up early in the second half. Bolton came back with goals from Terry Wharton and John Manning, giving the home side a nervous ten minutes to hold out. But hold out they did and their unbeaten run in the league now stretched to seven.
They were still sixth, one of three sides on 34 points. Still three points off a promotion spot.
February began with the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. As with the previous round they were up against Fourth Division opposition. Scunthorpe United were the visitors to the County Ground with a line-up containing a young Kevin Keegan.
On a quagmire of a pitch, the visitors took the lead when Nigel Cassidy converted a cross from the right wing. Swindon then put their opponents under a lot of pressure, and with seven minutes before half-time Peter Noble volleyed in from a left-wing cross to leave the two sides level at the break.
Midway through the second half, Don Rogers crossed from the right wing and Arthur Horsfield bundled the ball in at the far post for his 18th of the season. Then with just ten minutes to go, left-back John Trollope broke forward and fired a right foot shot into the corner of the net and Swindon were through to the Quarter-Finals.
This was the same round of the FA Cup when Manchester United beat Northampton, 8-2 and George Best scored six of them.
The next round would pit them against Don Revie’s Leeds United. Before that, they travelled to Sheffield United. The Blades were second in the table and going strong. Trollope scored again to put Swindon in front. United’s right-back, Len Badger equalised in the second period, before Horsfield netted yet again. Swindon’s record signing had hit seven in his last five. He now had 20 for the season.
Swindon were now up to fifth in the table just a point off a promotion spot. Huddersfield now had a four-point lead over Sheffield United with Blackburn Rovers and Cardiff City just ahead of Swindon.
Now for the FA Cup. Swindon were host to one of English football’s biggest clubs, Leeds United. Leeds were top of the First Division at the time, they were defending champions and offered the stiffest task Swindon could have expected.
Leeds were packed full of internationals, including Johnny Giles, Eddie Gray, Billy Bremner and Jack Charlton. On another quagmire of a pitch, both sets of players struggled to come to terms with the conditions.
In the past 12 months, they had beaten Arsenal and Roma. Could they prevail against arguably their toughest opponents?
Gradually Leeds greater strength started to tell. Just on the half hour mark, a long ball from the back by Norman Hunter was misjudged by Harland, and Allan Clarke stole in and fired past Downsborough.
27,500 were packed into the County Ground that day. They witnessed a ruthless Leeds side as Clarke bagged another just two minutes later. Swindon just couldn’t find a way back and their FA Cup dream was over.
Leeds went onto reach the Final where they lost in a replay to Chelsea. It had been another great cup run for Swindon. Outside the First Division, they were certainly one of the most talked about clubs in the country.
They had 12 matches to try and push for a promotion spot. It would be tough as only two went up in those days, but they were unbeaten on their last eight.
They travelled to Hull City but despite Don Rogers equalising Chris Chilton’s early goal, they couldn’t find a winner and another draw was the result. Unbeaten in nine maybe, but they’d only won three of those and they slipped to sixth.
Back at the County Ground, Peter Noble scored his tenth league goal of the season to put them in front against Portsmouth. Ray Hiron levelled things at half-time, but goals from Jones and a second from Noble gave Swindon the points.
Noble scored his third in two matches to give him 17 for the season when Preston visited. The Lilywhites were the last team to beat Swindon in the league, back at the end of November.
Cardiff were beaten by leaders, Huddersfield so Swindon moved up to fourth. Sheffield United were in second, but had played a game more. Blackpool were a point back in third. They couldn’t dream, could they?
Swindon then made the short trip down the M4 to Ashton Gate to take on mid-table Bristol City. Arthur Horsfield hadn’t scored in the league for the past three games, but he put that right with a double. Twice they were in front and twice City came back with goals from John Galley and Gerry Sharpe. When Bobby Kellard converted a penalty with 15 minutes to go looked like it might end their unbeaten run. But then Ken Wimshurst put through his own net and the game ended 3-3.
Cardiff lost again and so did Sheffield United. Blackpool now moved into second place, but now Swindon had games in hand on those above them.
The following Tuesday, Swindon were at leaders Huddersfield Town. Against a side containing the likes of Frank Worthington and Trevor Cherry, Swindon went behind to a Dick Krzywicki goal. But they came back with a goal from centre-back, Frank Burrows.
It was a vital point. They moved up to fourth, just a point off Blackpool in second. It was their third successive draw away from home. They were now unbeaten in thirteen.
Watford were the next visitors to the County Ground on Good Friday. The two were involved in a battle for the Third Division the season before, and Swindon didn’t win either of their meetings. They’d drawn the earlier fixture in this season at Vicarage Road. In this game, crucially they prevailed. John Trollope got the vital goal and a 1-0 win kept their promotion bid right on track.
Huddersfield were all but crowned champions and were definitely promoted. Behind them were eight teams separated by three points. Blackpool were second on 46 points, with Cardiff, Swindon, Leicester and Middlesbrough locked on 45 points. Both Blackpool and Swindon had two games in hand on those around them.
Swindon were unbeaten in 14 matches. Their away form had really picked up, unbeaten in seven. The Easter weekend was always a good test of a side’s credentials to last the pace. Swindon had been largely unchanged for most of the season but now had to do without Frank Burrows at centre-back. Owen Dawson seemed an able replacement.
When they travelled to Norwich City on Easter Monday, it all came to an end. Albert Bennett’s first half strike proved the only goal of the game and Swindon’s long unbeaten run was over.
Blackpool won their game, yet with Cardiff and Leicester not playing, Swindon had missed a great opportunity to move into third.
The usual busy Easter schedule gave Swindon just 24 hours to pick themselves up. They were at home to Birmingham City, against a side which included Dave and Bob Latchford. Joe Butler picked a great moment for his first league goal of the season to put Swindon in front in the 11th minute.
Don Rogers then scored from the penalty spot, before Phil Summerill got one back for the visitors. Swindon went in 2-1 up at half-time with the home crowd feeling the tension. Just after the break, Arthur Horsfield scored his 17th in the league this season to ease things. Rogers then grabbed his second of the game and the result was secured, 4-1. A good response to the previous day’s defeat.
As they got back to the changing room they discovered all the teams around them had drawn. Cardiff drew at Hull. The big games of the day between Leicester & Blackpool and Middlesbrough & Huddersfield all ended level.
Huddersfield were now champions, but it was the race for the second promotion spot which was occupying the column inches.
Blackpool were second on 39 points, with Swindon now third, just two points back. Both had four games left. Cardiff, Leicester and Middlesbrough were all locked on 46 points but all had only three matches to go. Sheffield United had just beaten Millwall and they were seventh on 45 points. Were they still in the hunt?
April now arrived with many in Swindon dreaming of what could be possible, but they still had crucial home matches against Blackpool (2nd) and Middlesbrough (6th). They also had Millwall (10th) and Blackburn (9th) to take on. The run-in was far from simple.
Swindon visited The Den to take on Millwall. Millwall had given up their hopes of promotion but former Spurs winger, Derek Possee put them in front. When he doubled their lead just before half-time the travelling Swindon fans suddenly realised this was serious. Don Rogers got a goal back soon into the second period and there was hope they could get back into it. But it wasn’t to be and Possee completed his hat-trick for a 3-1 win to Millwall.
Was the pressure starting to get to Swindon?
This was disastrous. Two successive defeats after an unbeaten run of seven came just at the wrong time. Especially as Leicester, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United all won and now Swindon dropped to sixth. Middlesbrough’s win was against Cardiff City and their promotion push was virtually over. Swindon still had a game in hand, but this defeat was a real blow. Although this was their last away game of the season and with an unbeaten home record surely this was to their advantage?
The game in hand came the following Tuesday. It was against Blackpool who were sitting in the promotion place. They were three points ahead of their hosts but Swindon could move back to third with a win.
Horsfield gave them a great start with a goal inside the opening five minutes, but Micky Burns levelled things before the break. Try as they might neither side could add to the score in the second half. A draw suited the visitors far more and now Swindon were looking at three points from a possible eight in their last four matches.
Blackpool had now consolidated their position in second on 51 points. Leicester were third, Swindon fourth and Middlesbrough fifth, all on 48 points. Don’t forget there were just two points for a win in those days.
A day later Middlesbrough missed a golden chance to go third when they lost to the bottom club, Aston Villa. Then on the following Monday night, Blackpool were at Preston North End. If they won that would put an end to any other club’s promotion plans, including Swindon.
Blackpool’s main striker was Fred Pickering. He won three caps for England in the early days of Alf Ramsey’s tenure, scoring a hat-trick against the USA. On this night he scored another hat-trick as Swindon’s promotion dreams were torn apart.
24 hours later Swindon’s unbeaten home record came crashing down too. Middlesbrough were the visitors. Hugh McIlmoyle put them in front in the first half, with David Mills and John Hickton confirming the win in the second half.
Swindon’s final match of the season was the following Monday at The County Ground when Blackburn Rovers visited. In a cool piece of synergy, Swindon’s season began against Blackburn and now was ending against them. Perhaps fittingly too, Horsfield scored the only goal of the game. He came into the season as their record signing and ended as their top scorer.
The season had been a success in terms of them coming so close to promotion. They ended up fifth, just two points off Blackpool who went up with Huddersfield.
Horsfield hit 18 goals in his first season at The County Ground. Peter Noble knocked in 12 with the previous season’s top scorer, Don Rogers, bagging 9.
However, their season wasn’t finished. As the Anglo-Italian Cup-Winner’s Cup had been such a success the previous August, it was now proposed a longer format should be introduced. Swindon were invited to take part in this too, with matches beginning in May 1970.
Join us in part five where we cover the Anglo-Italian Cup