It had been an incredible couple of seasons for Swindon. League Cup winners and promoted to the Second Division in 1969. Then a year later they won the Anglo-Italian Cup Winners’ Cup and the Anglo-Italian Cup, then missed out on promotion by just three points.
There was an air of optimism around the County Ground for the new season. Manager Fred Ford brought in Tony Gough from Bristol Rovers. The 30-year old midfielder was at Eastville when Ford was the assistant manager, and was added to the Robins squad for his experience.
The season began with a home match against Hull City. Swindon had been beaten just twice at home in the league over the last two seasons and when Peter Noble put them in front in the first half they had every reason to believe the season would start well. However, Hull came back into it and Ian Butler equalised to earn a point. Hull City were managed by Terry Neill, who was operating as a player-manager having just moved from Arsenal.
Noble was again on target at Sheffield United, but couldn’t stop them losing, before they welcomed Sunderland to the County Ground. The cameras were at the ground that day to see Don Rogers cross from the right for Horsfield to head in his first of the season. Tony Gough was making his first appearance for his new club, and another right-wing cross from Rogers was headed in by the new boy. Two goals up at half-time and they cruised to victory. The game was remembered for a remarkable moment in the second half. Dennis Tueart headed against the bar and as the ball came down, Bobby Kerr tried to follow it in. However, the ball bounced over the goal and as Kerr held onto the post it came away from its base. Within a few minutes, it was restored and Swindon went on to record their first victory of the season.
They couldn’t continue their winning run when Watford were the visitors and Ron Wigg equalised Horsfield’s first half goal.
Roy Jones replaced Downsborough in goal for the trip to Blackburn, but he could do nothing to stop Bryan Conlon scoring the winning goal as their losing run on the road continued. They’d lost at Ewood Park on the first day of the previous season, and now they had picked up just four points from their opening five matches.
In the League Cup they were drawn at home to Watford. It was their second meeting with the Hornets in a week. Don Rogers scored his first of the season, with Horsfield adding a second soon after. Swindon were two goals up inside the first ten minutes. Ron Wigg and Stewart Scullion equalised before the break. So, Rogers and Horsfield just scored again in the second half this time there was no comeback. They were into the Third Round.
September continued with home wins over Portsmouth and Millwall and a goalless draw against Luton. But their away form continued to let them down as they lost to Carlisle. Three away games, three defeats.
Rogers and Horsfield now had 11 goals between them for the season as Swindon were now up to eighth with Oxford United the early pacesetters.
Their curate’s egg of a start continued as they lost at Charlton. They now had the best home record and the worst away record in the division.
Then it was back into League Cup action. Liverpool were the visitors to the County Ground. A crowd of nearly 24,000 turned up to see the likes of Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Larry Lloyd, Steve Heighway and Ray Clemence. The first half was goalless, as Heighway went close on a couple of occasions. To their credit, Swindon never allowed such chances in the second half. On the hour, Noble and Trollope combined down the left. When the cross came in Don Rogers was first to react to put the home side in front. Three minutes later he had a second. Again, he was given too much space, as he drew Clemence and then shot passed him. Liverpool put them under pressure for the rest of the game, but the Second Division side held on. It was a famous victory. Another one to add to their scalps of Arsenal, Roma, Napoli and Juventus over the last few seasons.
Rogers scored five times during their successful League Cup run in 1969. He now had four from two matches already.
When Horsfield scored the only goal to beat QPR at home they were still in the top ten. Then once they were back on the road, the defeats returned. They lost at Hull and Norwich to give them six straight defeats away from home. It was becoming an issue.
Middlesbrough arrived at the County Ground, having been the only visiting team to win there in the previous campaign. Rogers and Horsfield were again too potent. Two goals in the opening four minutes blew the visitors away. They were 3-0 up inside the opening quarter of an hour and never looked back.
The Fourth Round of the League Cup saw them visit Craven Cottage. Swindon fans were dreaming of another cup run after their win over First Division Liverpool in the last round. This time they were pitched against Third Division leaders, Fulham. But as it was an away game and Swindon’s away form was abysmal, you can almost guess what happened. Steve Earle scored the only goal and Swindon’s League Cup dream was over.
The month ended with a trip to Birmingham and yet another defeat. What was it about playing away from home?
November seemed to take a similar path with a home win over Bristol City followed by defeat away to Leicester. The second week of November and still Swindon had the best home and the worst away record in the division. One of only two sides unbeaten at home, yet had lost all eight away matches.
Finally, when they visited Oxford’s Manor Ground at Oxford they managed to avoid defeat. Only a goalless draw but at least they’d not lost.
Yet a week later they took Sheffield Wednesday apart at home. Wednesday had been a First Division side just months earlier, but two goals from Don Rogers and a rare one from Rod Thomas gave them a convincing 3-0 win.
22 goals in the league and all but two of them from Rogers, Horsfield and Noble.
The first game of December finally produced the result all had been desperately searching for. They went to Bolton and won, 3-0. Another brace from Rogers and a first goal for Chris Porter. Porter had been signed from Bridgwater in late 1969, but he hadn’t appeared in the first team until this season.
Porter was on target again when Orient ended Swindon’s winning run at home. They’d won five on the trot but Orient held them to a point. But then Sheffield United visited and Swindon beat them 3-0. It was their third 3-0 win in their last four matches.
Their Boxing Day trip to Cardiff saw them pick up another point. Rogers hit his tenth league goal of the season. They were now unbeaten in their last seven matches, and crucially their last three away games. They were up to ninth. If they could continue to turn their away form around, maybe a push for promotion was on the cards.
The new year began in the traditional way with the FA Cup Third Round. Swindon had been drawn away to fellow Second Division side, QPR. They’d already beaten Rangers that season. New signing, Ron Potter was in at centre-back for the first time. Against a side which included Rodney Marsh, Terry Venables and Gerry Francis, Horsfield gave Swindon the lead on the hour mark. With 12 minutes to go Noble put them further in front. Marsh scored from the spot but it was only a mere consolation and Swindon were through to the Fourth Round.
Before then they had two league matches, away to Millwall and at home to Norwich. They failed to hang onto a lead at Millwall, and were 2-0 up at home to Norwich when the visitors came back to level. This time, however, Noble got the winner.
They were now unbeaten in their last eight in the league and sitting in ninth, five points off a promotion spot.
But for now, they were back in the FA Cup. In the previous season they reached the Quarter-Finals, only to be knocked out by Leeds United. Now they were up against Leeds again, but this time at Elland Road.
Leeds were top of the league at this point, but were without Billy Bremner and Terry Cooper.
In front of a crowd of almost, 37,000 Mick Jones gave the home side the lead just after 15 minutes. Allan Clarke, who’d scored both goals the season before, then gave Leeds a two-goal lead on the half-hour. Swindon were up against it, but couldn’t come back into the game and Jones scored twice in the second half to complete his hat-trick. There was no fairy-tale comeback as they lost 0-4.
Back in the league they ended January with another 2-2 draw away from home. At Hillsborough, Don Rogers scored two more goals to give him 18 for the season. Unfortunately, this was another game where they were leading away from home, only to be pegged back for a point.
They were still in ninth, and still five points off promotion. As the season moved into February there was hope they could make the push. After all, they were unbeaten in nine.
February began with a comfortable 3-1 win at home to Bolton as Noble hit a hat-trick. They were now eighth. They’d won three successive home matches in the league and eight of their last nine. Yet although they were unbeaten in their last four away from home, they’d only won once all season.
A week later they went to Brisbane Road and lost to Orient. Bobby Moss came off the bench to score the only goal of the game, and Swindon’s away record was really stifling any progress.
Their Jekyll and Hyde form was further emphasised when they beat Oxford 3-0 at home the following week. Noble, Rogers and Porter scored. Rogers now had 15 in the league with Noble on 12.
Four straight home wins, and still no defeats at the County Ground. Sheffield United had now hit the top of the table with Cardiff City in second. Swindon were still five points off promotion and struggling to make real progress.
Something had to give. Either their away form would improve or their home form would fail them.
A week later something did give.
Trevor Francis scored twice as Birmingham became the first visiting side to win at the County Ground that season.
After an unbeaten run of 10 matches, they’d now lost two in their last three. They’d need to correct things quickly if they were going to push for promotion.
The Birmingham defeat was the start of a malaise. They suffered defeat in their next three matches.
March began at Ayresome Park, where they were well beaten by Middlesbrough, 0-3. Then back home against Leicester they looked to be heading for a goalless draw, before Brian Kelleher grabbed a last minute winner for the visitors and they moved to the top of the table.
A week later at Ashton Gate, the run continued. Gerry Gow and John Galley put the home side ahead. Arthur Horsfield scored his first goal for six weeks but a 1-2 defeat left them with four straight losses and five in their last six. They sat in tenth, but crucially they were 11 points away from a promotion spot and just 9 games to go. Surely their season had gone now?
Their form was now turning people away too. Barely 11,000 turned up for their next home game. Which is a shame as they turned on the style again with a 3-0 win over Blackburn. Remarkably, none of the front three were on the scoresheet with Chris Jones scoring his first of the season.
As March became April, any hopes of a turnaround disappeared in just 45 minutes at Roker Park. Sunderland weren’t in any great form themselves, having lost more than they’d won during the season. So when Pat Lowrey opened the scoring for them after 11 minutes there wasn’t any real panic. But within six minutes they were 0-3 down as Bobby Kerr scored twice in as many minutes. Then Billy Hughes also scored twice and Swindon went into half-time 1-5 down. They ended up losing 2-5 and now the season couldn’t end quick enough.
They’d won just three of their last ten since going out of the FA Cup, losing six.
Their reliance on goals from the front three was now laid bare. Since his hat-trick against Bolton, Peter Noble had scored once in his next eight. In that time Horsfield had also only scored once, with Rogers getting just two.
Horsfield then picked up an injury and missed the defeat to Sunderland. When he recovered, he wasn’t even put straight into the starting line-up.
When Cardiff City visited, there was a first goal for Steve Peplow. He’d been brought in on loan from Liverpool and put them in front after just five minutes. However, in keeping with their current form Alan Warboys equalised almost immediately. Then on 13 minutes, he scored again, only for Roger Smart to equalise to earn a point.
On reflection, this was a decent result as Cardiff were second to Leicester in the table. They’d missed the chance to go top as Leicester also dropped a point.
Swindon were now down to 13th, their lowest position for five months.
This was the start of the Easter period and it was one that didn’t go that badly for Swindon. They won at Portsmouth, just their second win on the road all season. Peplow scored twice to give him three in two matches. Rogers was now injured and with Horsfield on the bench, the team had a very different look about it.
The next day they were held at home by relegation-threatened Charlton Athletic. Chris Jones opener put them in front, but their lead was cancelled out for another frustrating draw.
Peter Noble eventually ended his 10-game goal drought with a brace at Loftus Road. But two goals from Terry Venables gave QPR a 4-2 win.
Rogers was back for the final home game of the season, but he couldn’t find the net as they drew 0-0 with fourth place Carlisle United.
Horsfield scored in a 2-1 win at Watford. It was his 12th of the season, but only his third of the year, which highlighted a problem.
The league season ended with a 1-1 draw at Luton Town. They finished in 12th with as many wins as defeats. It hadn’t matched the heights of the previous season and it looked as if improvements to the playing staff would be needed if they were going to push for promotion.
Rogers ended as top scorer with 16 in the league, Noble hit 14 and Horsfield 12. They’d scored 61 goals and only three sides outscored them. In fact, they scored more than Champions, Leicester City. Sheffield United went up with them.
When Swindon beat Bolton at the beginning of February they were eighth and five points off second. Their next fifteen matches saw them win just four matches and lose a telling seven. Their home form deserted them too, they won just two of seven.
Before they could break for their holidays, there was the matter of defending their Anglo-Italian Cup title. They’d won the trophy the year before beating Napoli in a match which was abandoned after the crowd starting throwing debris onto the pitch.
The format was much the same as the year before. Three groups of four teams, two English, two Italian. Each team played the other foreign side in their group, home and away. Then all sides were then ranked on national lines, with the top ranked Italian and top ranked English side contesting the Final.
Swindon were drawn in Group One along with Huddersfield Town, Bologna and Sampdoria. Their first match was at home to Bologna. The Italian side had finished 5th in Serie A earning a place in the UEFA Cup, so they were a stern challenge. They had also won the Coppa Italia in 1970. They were captained by Giacomo Bulgarelli, who had appeared in two World Cups for Italy and was part of the side which won Euro ’68. Only two players scored more goals than Giuseppe Savoldi in the league season just finished.
A disappointing crowd of under 10,000 turned up to see Peter Noble put the home side in front in the 11th minute. Franco Rizzo equalised midway through the first half. Then on the hour, Tony Gough put Swindon back in front and it looked for all as if they might hang on. But with eight minutes to go, right-back Roberto Prini scored a late equaliser and the game ended 2-2.
Huddersfield beat Sampdoria, 2-0 and then took part in a five-goal thriller with Bologna which saw the Italian side come out 3-2 winners. The first game had not been well received, getting a fairly poor review. But at least the second match was worth watching. Huddersfield were Second Division Champions the season before, and had finished 15th in the First Division during this term, so weren’t struggling.
Three days later Sampdoria arrived at the County Ground. They weren’t expected to pose as much of a threat as Bologna. They only avoided relegation on goal difference. But they did have Luis Suarez up front. The Spaniard had played in both the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. At the back, they had one Marcello Lippi.
Even fewer were in the crowd for this game, but those who were were treated to a vintage performance from The Robins. Horsfield put the home side in front in the 13th minute. This time they improved on their lead as Noble and Peplow scored within three minutes of each other to give them a 3-0 lead at the break.
They were in full control of the game but Francesconi got one back with 13 minutes to go. Don Rogers then scored towards the end to record another famous win over a much more fancied team, 4-1. The goals were important as bonus points were awarded for each one scored.
Next, the English teams flew to Italy. Huddersfield were up against Sampdoria, who’d lost both games so far. Sampdoria took the lead in the first half. Then a Les Chapman double in the second half had the visitors in front. Cristin soon levelled things but with just four minutes to go, Trevor Cherry bagged the winner for The Terriers.
Swindon took to the field in Bologna, still unbeaten, but things didn’t go their way. Playmaker, Bulgarelli opened the scoring for the home side. Then halfway through the second period, Rizzo put them further in front. Noble got one back as the game moved into the final ten minutes. Could they find an equaliser? Unfortunately, the answer was no as Franco Cresci scored the third for the Italians right on time.
Four days later Bologna continued their good form as Rizzo scored the only goal of the game to beat Huddersfield.
When Swindon moved to Sampdoria they entered a stadium with barely over 2,000 supporters. Steve Peplow put them in front. It was the third game out of four they’d lead. They were still ahead going into the final quarter of an hour. Spaniard Luis Suarez then converted a penalty to equalise, but then he got himself sent-off and with just 60 seconds remaining, Peter Noble scored a dramatic winner for Swindon.
Swindon had done the double over Sampdoria, just as they had done to Juventus twelve months earlier. They’d beaten Napoli twice in the previous season’s tournament too. If few Italians had heard of Swindon before 1969, they did now.
In Group Two there weren’t as many goals as Swindon’s group. Cagliari won the group, beating West Brom in both matches. Then traded wins with Crystal Palace who also won in Italy against Inter.
Swindon had won 14 points from their group, Huddersfield 11 and Crystal Palace 9. Whether Swindon would make the Final again depended on Group Three.
Blackpool, who’d finished rock bottom of the First Division, were up against Verona, who themselves had finished mid-table in Serie A. The two produced a classic. Blackpool were 2-1 up at the break but the Italians came back to lead. Peter Nicholson scored a last minute equaliser as the game ended 3-3.
Stoke were then held 2-2 by Roma, before Roma then beat Blackpool 3-1. Stoke then beat Verona, 2-0, with meant Roma were top of the group as the English sides flew to Italy.
Stoke then won in Rome before Blackpool produced a wonderful performance to beat Verona, 4-1. These goals could prove significant if they could win their last match, in Rome. They did, winning 2-1 and giving them 15 points. Verona beat Stoke, 2-1.
That meant the Final was contested by Bologna and Blackpool. Swindon had missed out on a place in the Final by one goal.
After going behind in the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Blackpool levelled to take the game into extra time. Micky Burns got the winner and Blackpool’s 2-1 win meant the Anglo-Italian Cup remained in English hands.
That ended things for the 1970-71 season. Ultimately, it had ended in disappointment. Their promising league form fell away sharply in the end. The highlight of the season was beating Shankly’s Liverpool in the League Cup. They were unfortunate to come up against Leeds again in the FA Cup. And they were so close to reaching the Anglo-Italian Cup Final again.
This was largely the end of the good old days for Swindon, until the late 1980s. The following season saw Dave Mackay move into Fred Ford’s chair in the Manager’s office. Mackay’s time at the County Ground was nothing short of controversial, and many fans even today are bitter about how things went.
Mackay was regarded as one of the best players in the country when he was part of the Tottenham side which won the double in the sixties. He was Footballer of the Year in 1969 when he was with Brian Clough at Derby.
The board actually brought him in during the 1970-71 season, despite Fred Ford still being the incumbent. The intention was to employ him as a player-manager. Mackay refused to replace Ford until Ford’s contract ended.
At the start of the 1971-72 season, Ford had a dilemma. Mackay’s preferred position was centre-back, the same as fans favourite Stan Harland. So Ford moved Harland into midfield but the results were poor.
Defeat at home to Middlesbrough at the end of October proved the last straw and Ford stepped down. One win in seven with just two goals scored, just wasn’t the form they’d exhibited in previous years and Ford’s time in Wiltshire was over.
The Swindon fans never took to Mackay, particularly as his first move was to drop Harland. He lasted a year. Harland immediately put in a transfer request, moved to Birmingham then helped them win promotion to Division One. During the summer 1972 Mackay signed Ray Treacy from Charlton for a record fee. Arthur Horsfield, the man whose transfer record Treacy had beaten, returned for pre-season training to be told by his manager he’d been sold. He was off to Charlton in a swap deal. He wasn’t happy, but Mackay wanted to bring in his own players. By the end of the season with the club in debt, they needed to sell a player. Welsh international, Rod Thomas was the favourite but no bids came in. Crystal Palace put in a bid for Don Rogers and the board accepted it.
After 181 goals in 490 appearances, Rogers sale brought in a much needed £147,000 to a club struggling with debt. They may have paid it off, but their key asset and crowd draw was now gone.
Rogers was off to Selhurst Park to join the man who brought him to Swindon 12 years earlier, Bert Head. He became as much a fans’ favourite there as he was at the County Ground, but his absence from the South West had the Swindon fans incensed. The atmosphere around the club was poisonous and within days Mackay resigned for ‘personal reasons’.
Soon after, Mackay arrived at the City Ground and was unveiled as the new manager of Nottingham Forest. While he was at Swindon, the club he left them for, Derby County, won the First Division title. Then in October 1973, he returned to the Baseball Ground after Clough resigned. A year later he lead Derby to their second First Division title in four years.
By the end of the 1973-74 season, Swindon were relegated back to Division Three. Their final match of the season was a home defeat to a Crystal Palace side which included Don Rogers. The team was much changed by then, with only Frank Burrows remaining from the side which had won those trophies at the turn of the seventies.
They remained in the third tier of English football for another seven years, before four years in the fourth tier. It wasn’t until the late eighties when they made it back up the pyramid. But that’s for another day.
SWINDON TOWN ROLL OF HONOUR
League Cup winners
Finished 2nd in Third Division (promoted to Second Division)
Finished 5th in Second Division (just three points off promotion place)
Anglo-Italian Cup Winners’ Cup winners. Beat AS Roma over two legs
Anglo-Italian League Cup winners. Beat Juventus (twice) and Napoli (twice)
Reached FA Cup Quarter-Finals
Finished 12th in Second Division
Beat Liverpool in League Cup
Anglo-Italian League Cup. Ranked 2nd best English side. Beat Sampdoria (twice)