Swindon Town fan Steve Hall, a 66-year-old sales coach from Sydney, Australia, shares his memories of the club’s 1969 League Cup success, from his first match to the Wembley triumph itself...

First game

It was my dad’s fault.

I suspect he may have been feeling a bit guilty at dragging me kicking at screaming to live in a foreign country. At least, that’s how Wantage seemed to me as an almost 12 year old after growing up in Hartlepool. There was grass and trees – and insects – everywhere, the kids at my new school, King Alfred’s, already knew each other and everyone talked funny.

I’d been a stranger in a strange land for exactly 18 days when my dad asked me if I wanted to go and see Sunderland play. In Hartlepool they were the local “big” club but the only games I’d been to were at Pools and given Hartlepool’s dire record in the 60s I’d spent most of the game playing behind the stand.

So on 18th September 1963 we set off for the County Ground – and I fell in love. Mind you, I almost didn’t; I think my dad and I were the 26,048th and 26,049th people to get into the ground. We squeezed in at the very last minute and I watched the entire game peering over heads while clinging to a girder at the back of the lower deck of the Shrivenham Road stand.

I didn’t fall in love with Swindon that day, I fell in love with the County Ground and the atmosphere of 26,000 people chanting and cheering. I wanted more and I returned again and again, but I was still fiercely and defiantly a Northerner. That day I cheered for Sunderland (who lost 1-0) and later in the season for Newcastle (0-0) and Middlesbrough (2-0 to Swindon) when they played at the County Ground.

But by the end of the 63-64 season I was a fervent Swindon fan. The following year I screamed myself hoarse from behind the goal at the Stratton Bank as we came from behind in the penultimate home game to beat Rotherham 3-2, only to drop a point at home the following day against Preston in a 2-2 draw – a point that would have saved us from relegation.

First away game

As a young teen living in Wantage I didn’t have the ability, the money or the parental consent to go to away games.  Even home games involved paying Chandlers buses a large proportion of my meagre pocket money and using my paper round wages for the entry fee.

In fact the first football matches I attended away from the County Ground were in the 1966 World Cup at Wembley, our school divinity master, Reggie Price having organised excursions to three group games plus the quarter final.

But when Swindon were drawn to meet three of the heroes from England’s World Cup winning team - Geoff Hurst, Bobbie Moore & Martin Peters – at West Ham’s Boelyn Ground in the FA Cup 3rd Round how could we possibly miss that? Luckily the People running Chandlers put on a bus so on 28th Jan 1967, at the tender age of 15, I went to my first away game. And what a game.

The ground was packed, the Swindon fans were in full voice and in a thrilling game Swindon traded blow for blow, Don Rogers scored two great goals and we held the mighty Hammers to a 3-3 draw.

We couldn’t wait for the replay the following Tuesday – but we almost missed it. Road works on the A420 between Shrivenham and Swindon resulted in a massive queue. My friend Ian’s dad was driving and he got us to the ground with 5 minutes to spare.

As we watched the Robinettes perform Ian said (as 15 year old boys do) “look at them, I’d be into that” (or something even less appropriate) to which his dad’s answer was “don’t be daft – if one of them came over to you now and said let’s get it on behind the stand you’d say ‘wait until after the game’”.

And he was right – I wouldn’t have missed the 3-1 demolishing of West Ham for anything.

Cup Fever swept the area, so much so that the 4th round match against Bury was declared all ticket and any non-season ticket holder who wanted one had to get a voucher from the reserve game the previous week. I think that reserve game had about 10,000 people there – but of course Chandlers didn’t run a coach from Wantage, so Ian and I hitched there and back on a cold and dark February day.

Bury were duly dispatched in front of 24,000 fans – and my quest to attend the 5th round game at Nottingham Forest was kyboshed by a thoughtless cousin who decided to get married the same day. In spite of my entreaties my parents made me go to the wedding and I drove up the M1 to Hartlepool looking longingly at the Nottingham sign.

After holding forest to a 0-0 draw the replay as Swindon was a torrid affair, with Bruce Walker equalising with a thunderbolt. 1-1 and off to Villa Park for the third game.

Double disaster. Traffic was so bad we sat on the bus in a jam for three hours before turning back, stopping at Stratford for an illegal pint and a phone call to hear we had lost 3-0.

But we had seen the possibilities. We knew we had the core of a great team and we were hungry for more.


But the potential was yet to bear fruit. Despite some great performances we were too inconsistent in the League, while another good run in the FA Cup was cut short at Sheffield Wednesday, then in the First Division, in a performance the Football Pink lauded as a great game for Town who again showed their class. Money and distance prevented me being there.


So after two promising but ultimately disappointing seasons 68-69 dawned full of hope. Our shortcomings at the back promised to be bolstered by the arrival of Frank Burrows, while the aging but cunning John Smith, formerly of the Spurs double winning team, added craft to our midfield.

On a personal note I was looking forward to the first ever meetings between Swindon and Hartlepool United, who had never been in the same division before, Hartlepool having won promotion to Division Three for the first time in their history the previous season.

The season kicked off at home to Torquay in the League Cup. I scoured the program to see when we would meet Hartlepool. The away game was scheduled for the following week, 24th August, luckily in school holidays.

So I looked for the date of the home game in the program and there it was – March 15th; and in brackets after “Hartlepool” it said “League Cup Final”. I turned to my mate Ian and said (I swear to God this is true) “that will be postponed – we’re going to win the League Cup this year”.

Would you let your 16 year old son hitchhike the 250 miles from Wantage to Hartlepool by himself today? Back then no-one thought twice about it - not that I gave my parents much option. I hitched up on the Friday (school holidays) and stayed with my aunt and uncle for a few days, cheering on Swindon in a momentous 0-0 draw. Why momentous? John Trollope broke his arm and also his record run of consecutive games.

Trollope missed most of the season including all of the League Cup games except the final. I loved John Trollope but I feel for Owen Dawson, the unsung hero who replaced him in 10 out of 12 League Cup games but missed out on the final.

And so it began.

The 2-1 home win over Torquay United was routine and unmemorable, the away game at Bradford City, ending 1-1, was a step too far on an evening during term time. But the replay was memorable, with Swindon dramatically coming from behind twice (I think, it was 50 years ago) to win 4-3.

Then what we’d been hoping for – a game against a Division One side, Coventry City. But away from home. No way I was missing that and Chandlers again came to the rescue with a coach from Wantage.

By then I’d graduated from Stratton Bank to the Town End. Coventry was my introduction to going behind the goal – at the home fans’ end – away from home. Away grounds were rough in the 70s and the pushing, shoving, tomatoes and bottles were rather scary for a delicate youth like me.

But the football was glorious and Swindon dominated. With 5 minutes to go and Swindon 2-0 up we decided discretion was the better part of valour and headed towards the exit and away from the Neanderthals – only to watch in horror as Coventry equalised and came close to getting a third.

We needn’t have worried, the replay was a romp and we crushed them 3-0 at home to set up an away game at Derby County – with another personal connection as Brian Clough, Derby’s manager started his management career at Hartlepool.

At that stage Derby were rampant at the top of Division Two and the game at the Baseball Stadium was a tense, nailbiting 0-0 affair with Swindon hanging on under pressure. The drive back was enlivened in the Chandler’s coach to Hanney when my schoolmate John taunted some Derby fans and got a bottle through the window for his trouble, leaving him and his fellow travellers with a chilly drive home.

The home replay was equally tense with the game being decided by a Don Rogers shot that hit a defender and ballooned over the keeper’s head for a 1-0 win.

God was I desperate to be at Burnley for the first leg of the semi-final but a 200 mile trip on a Tuesday school night (just before my 17th birthday) with no coach going from Wantage wasn’t possible – but hearing we’d won 2-1 and seeing the goals on the TV made up for that a tiny bit.

So we were confident for the second leg – at first. But 2-0 down after an hour we were desperate and were happy to settle for a 2-1 defeat, thanks to a headed goal from outside the penalty area by John Smith – who rarely headed the ball or scored – to force yet another replay.

And on to the Hawthorns. Surely destiny was on our side, or so it seemed in the 89th minute and 1-0 up. But this was my season of soothsaying and with a minute to go Ralph Coates (I think) charged down the right wing towards the goal we were standing behind and I knew what was about to happen – a cross and an equaliser. And again – the same wing, the same player, the same cross and we were 2-1 down in the first minute of extra time.

I was crushed and sat down thinking all was lost for 5 minutes before my optimism reappeared – just in time to see Burnley put the ball into their own net.

Then, with 5 minutes to go, again at the goal I was at standing behind, I had a clear view as Peter Noble calmly scored the winner to send us through to Wembley. What a game – probably the most emotionally draining I’ve ever been to – and the most rapturous ending.

The trip back was particularly memorable for me as well. In a game of three card brag I help a prile of 3s against a prile of 7s and AKQ on the bounce. (For those unfamiliar with the game, three threes is the best possible hand). Winning £3 might not sound a lot until you remember that a) we were playing penny stakes; b) there were 240 pennies in a pound back then, and 3) a pint of Ind Coop beer was two shillings (in other words £3 bought 30 pints)

The final

Desmond Hackett, football reporter of the Daily Express, wrote in the edition of Saturday 15th that the League Cup Final was a travesty, that teams like Swindon had no business being there and that Arsenal would win by 4 or 5 goals. His column the next day was rather different.

It seemed like all of Wantage was going – our headmaster at King Alfreds even gave us permission to leave school at 10.30 am (we had Saturday morning school then – how barbaric), probably because he knew we’d all just ignore him otherwise. But the double physics lesson from 9.00 am to 10.30 am was still the longest lesson of my life, in spite of the charms of the nubile Mrs Lisakowski.

Then on to Wembley. Ian had ignored the “go to school” edict and went on an early bus, I was with John ”bottle through the window” Williams (now residing in Sydney – we’ll watch the game together on the 50th anniversary).

I was confident we’d win and stated the score would be 3-1 (disclaimer – I always predict we’ll win – that year was the one time I got it right).

The atmosphere at Wembley was electric. For some reason known only to themselves the Arsenal fans chanted “manglewurzel” before the game - but as it progressed they became more and more quiet.

Swindon more than held their own until Don produced a mazy run in midfield, was tackled and the ball ran forwards. Ian Ure, Scottish international was put under pressure by the hard working Pater Noble and mishit it on the uneven pitch towards Bob Wilson. The ball squirted free and Roger Smart was on hand to run it into the net.

For the rest of the game Peter Downsbrough was magnificent in keeping Arsenal at bay until, with a few minutes left, the ball looped up to Bobby Gould who headed an undeserved equaliser. More disaster, more depression more recovery at full time when we said “we’ve come back every time – we’ll do it again”

And we did. At the far end of the ground a melee. Don calmly collected it and slotted home. Then, in the final minute he ran on to a diagonal through ball from just inside his own half. With a clear 50 yard run on to Bob Wilson I knew we’d won and said to John “3-1”. Don never missed those. He was, as always, calm and collected, he ran the ball up to Wilson, waltzed past him and tapped it home as Wilson floundered.

The Arsenal fans had disappeared. We stayed and cheered for what seemed like hours as Stan and the boys took the cup and, with every single Town player bar one covered in mud and Don spotless, as always, we celebrated.

It seemed we saw half our school after the game. The trip back was raucous, our one regret we had no way of getting to Swindon for the celebrations. Instead we sat in the King Alfred’s Head and drank 4 illegal pints of Double Diamond (disgusting beer – I know better now) while discussing the game. Little did we think we’d be watching it and discussing it 50 years later in Sydney, Australia.

The entire team was magnificent. We had a chant for everyone and I will be able to recite “Downsbrough, Thomas, Trollope, Butler, Burrows, Harland, Smith, Smart, Noble, Rogers, Heath, sub Penman (for Smith)” until the day I die. As I mentioned before, Owen Dawson played a magnificent part in 12 out of 13 games and Chris Jones did his bit that season too.