It was the 31st May 1993 and Swindon Town were facing Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in the First Division play off final. The winner of this tie would be promoted to the English Premier League which, at that time, was still less than 12 months old. The small club from Wiltshire had never played top flight football since their formation in 1879 and so this one match had the potential to write a huge chapter in their history books. The club had found themselves in a position where one good result could see them in the same league as the best clubs that England had to offer.
Swindon were managed by former England star, Glenn Hoddle, who, at 36, was still young enough to be kicking a ball around (that's how long ago this was!). He was therefore in a player/manager capacity and was a regular in the first team during the 1992/93 campaign. Other familiar names in the side included Scottish defender Colin Calderwood, Swindon Town legend Fraser Digby and Australian international Dave Mitchell. Hoddle managed to guide The Robins to a 5th place finish in the First Division meaning they would meet Tranmere Rovers, who had finished 4th, in the play off semi final.
Swindon came through the two legged affair against the team from the Wirral, winning 5-4 on aggregate. Leicester City on the other hand had to overcome Portsmouth who had finished 3rd in the league and only missed out on automatic promotion because of an inferior goal difference to West Ham United. The Foxes were victorious. The play off final promised to be an exciting match and it certainly did not let anyone down.
Leicester City had a leaky defence throughout the 1992/93 season and despite finishing in 6th position, they conceded the same number of goals as Sunderland who had finished 21st. That defence looked to be holding firm however until player/manager Glenn Hoddle scored for Swindon just before the break to give them a 1-0 lead at half time. Then, in the second half, the type of drama that only football can provide, started to unfold. Swindon scored via Craig Maskell and Shaun Taylor within eight minutes of the restart and suddenly found themselves 3-0 up and just 35 minutes away from top flight football. It was a dream come true for The Robins.
More than 73,000 fans looked on as Leicester pulled it back to 3-1, then 3-2 and then 3-3, all in the space of just 12 minutes. Had Swindon thrown it all away? Of course there was another twist in the tale as the Leicester City keeper, Kevin Poole conceded a penalty with just six minutes left on the clock. Paul Bodin converted the penalty and with that, Swindon were promoted to the English Premier League. It was dreamland for the Swindon faithful whilst Leicester City fans were left to cope with the heartache of losing two play off finals in a row.
As the Summer break came around in 1993, Swindon knew that they had Premier League football to look forward to. It was a great time to be a fan of the Wiltshire club. Then there was a spot of bad news as Glenn Hoddle left the club to join Chelsea which, whilst a huge blow, would not be allowed to dampen spirits. John Gorman, who had been assistant to Hoddle would take charge at the County Ground in what would be a historical season for the club. The likes of Jan Åge Fjørtoft, Luc Nijholt and Andy Mutch were brought in but Gorman largely resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes and it was the players that had got them promoted that would be relied on.
The first, and to date only, season of top flight football for Swindon Town would prove to be a step too far in terms of class. It was the 24th November before they managed to register their first win of the season and only managed five victories in all, four of which were at home. The Premier League had 22 teams in those days and so clubs had a slightly longer schedule than they do now. Unfortunately for Swindon it was a long season and they became the first club for 30 years to concede 100 league goals in the top flight.
Despite finishing the season rock bottom of the table with just 30 points, 10 behind their closest rivals Oldham Athletic, there were some positives that their fans could look back on. The form of Fjørtoft was encouraging as he managed to score 12 goals in the league and actually, the club as a whole generally scored more goals than the other clubs around them. Swindon supporters were able to celebrate 47 goals in the Premier League whilst teams such as Ipswich Town and Manchester City didn't even manage to score 40. There were also some highly credible results such as beating Queens Park Rangers, who went on to finish 9th, both home and away and a home draw with eventual champions Manchester United. Away draws at Anfield and Highbury will also no doubt live long in the memory and be the highlights of an otherwise disappointing season.
Why Swindon Town were relegated so convincingly is open to debate. In my opinion the club did not recruit enough quality players but losing Glenn Hoddle was arguably the biggest contributing factor. This was a manager who had 53 England caps and had played for Tottenham Hotspur and AS Monaco and so the experience that he brought to the club was invaluable. Other players will have looked up to Hoddle and respected him and what he had achieved in the game. Losing that figure in the dressing room will have been a hard blow to take and his influence was probably irreplaceable. After all, the club was about to enter the most significant season in their history and the man that guided them to it had now gone.
John Gorman was thrown into a managerial job that was above his ability level. Although it was a popular appointment at the time, Gorman had only been an assistant manager for two years and had no coaching experience at the top level. Yes he was a big part of the success that Hoddle brought to Swindon, but he was only 50% of that partnership and it proved that Gorman on his own was not enough. This point was further proven the following season in Division One when Gorman was sacked in November 1994 after a poor run of results.
Unfortunately for Swindon Town the 1994/95 season brought a second successive relegation. After Gorman was sacked, the club decided to revert to a player/manager arrangement and appointed Steve McMahon, previously of Manchester City and Liverpool, but he was unable to keep them up. McMahon did enjoy success the following season however as Swindon were crowned Division Two champions. No doubt the fans were glad to see the team return to winning ways even if it wasn't in the promised land of the Premier League.
Some teams never get to experience what top flight football is like and even though it was quite a dull season for Swindon Town in 1993/94, their travelling supporters will no doubt have had some great days out that they probably still tell their children about now. In a new age of football where money plays such a big part, it is difficult to see how the club could ever hope to return to the big time. Experiments such as installing Paolo Di Canio as manager have gone famously wrong, but you cannot fault the clubs willingness to try something new in a bid to seek out that winning formula. Perhaps Tim Sherwood joining the club as Director of Football recently could be part of that formula.
Personally I will always remember Swindon Town being in the Premier League sticker album in the 1993/94 edition. Readers of the Swindon Advertiser remember that same season fondly and named six players of that era in a Swindon Legends XI. They will always be the club that gave Glenn Hoddle his first crack at management and maybe one day they will uncover someone like him again. Clubs like Swindon Town are no doubt praying that they can find an Eddie Howe or a Sean Dyche and if they could, maybe, with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, they could find themselves edging closer and closer to the Premier League once again.
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