TOWN v VILLA: Given: Di Canio has put Swindon back on the map (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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TOWN v VILLA: Given: Di Canio has put Swindon back on the map
SHAY Given credits Paolo Di Canio with putting the team for whom he made his Football League debut “back on the map”.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper, who spent a brief spell on loan with Swindon Town as a 19-year-old in 1995, has fond memories of his short time with the Wiltshire outfit.
It was the opening month of the League One, then Division Two, campaign which ended with the Robins running away with the title. Steve McMahon was player-manager at the County Ground and signed Given on loan from Blackburn Rovers in time for the term’s opener at Hull.
He kept a clean sheet, the first of four in five games in Swindon red, and a career began that has gone on to take in almost 600 club appearances, £10.4million in transfer fees and 125 caps for the Republic of Ireland.
In the 17 years since he left Wiltshire, Swindon have struggled to make an impact on the headlines.
That was, of course, until Di Canio arrived at SN1, bringing a fresh new approach with him. And from afar Given has paid attention as Town quickly became national news under the Italian.
“It’s fantastic really. I think he’s really put Swindon back on the map and that’s no disrespect to the club,” he told the Advertiser in an exclusive interview in the build-up to tomorrow’s Capital One Cup clash between his former and current sides.
“He’s really given the whole town a huge lift and that comes across through his personality and of course from his results.
“We wouldn’t be speaking about him so much if he hadn’t been getting such good results.
“I think with his personality and how well the team have been doing, if you combine the two together then it’s great for the town.
“I think he’s a bit hot-headed but that’s his personality and you wouldn’t take it out of him. Some of his interviews as a manager have shown he hasn’t calmed down much either but that’s the way he is.
“His players respond to that and some of the results he’s had this season - not just in the league but in the cup as well have been phenomenal.”
Unsurprisingly, Given holds his period at Town close to his heart. “I made my league debut for Swindon so it meant a lot to me. People always ask me where I made my debut and it was for the club, I think it was away to Hull in the first game,” he said.
“It was a long bus journey on the Friday and we managed to get a 1-0 win as well. Steve McMahon was player-manager. I was only 18 at the time and it was a great experience.
“It was my league debut so it was a big moment for me and to play with Steve McMahon, after all he did in his career, was fantastic as well. As player-manager he had faith to put me in the first team which was fantastic.
“I think it was originally a month and I think I was due to stay another month but I didn’t get to stay because Tim Flowers was sent off for Blackburn so I had to go back and be on the bench.
“Ideally I would have liked to have stayed longer but the club can draw you back from your loan so I had to go back to Blackburn.
“You always remember your first game and for me of course that was for Swindon Town. I’ll always remember that. I think me and Peter Thorne went down there at the same time and we were staying in a hotel together. “It’s always special to play your first game.”
The 36-year-old stopper knows Villa are only marginal favourites, if favourites at all, for tonight’s clash.
“It’s a tough game,” he said. “We know that because we know how well Swindon are playing at the minute. They won 4-0 at the weekend, I think they missed a penalty and rested six first-team players.
“They’re on the crest of a wave at the minute and they’ll be going into it thinking they’re going to win the game.
“They’ll be high on confidence, they’ll know we haven’t won many games this season and they’ll know it’s a chance for them.
“From our side of things we’ve got to be really professional and every player’s got to be right up for it because if we’re not we know it’s going to be a long night for us.”