Swindon Town

Robins hit the buffers before Aussie Clem steps in

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Shock League Cup winners in 1969, Swindon Town flirted with the big time two decades later but were rocked by financial mismanagement. The Robins had long since settled into their natural habitat of the third tier until disaster struck with shock relegation to the fourth in 2017.

Worse was to follow. Despite winning League Two in 2020, Swindon hit the rocks the following season, nearly going out of business entirely, as if instant relegation wasn’t bad enough. Plumbing magnate Clem Morfuni, an Australian of Italian descent raised on soccer, then took over the ailing club in the summer of 2021 with solid plans to fix up all the leaks.

Swindon’s home has been the County Ground since 1893, including the three years on the adjoining cricket pitch. Founded by the Rev William Baker Pitt at the request of railway workers in 1879, Swindon won the Wiltshire League in 1886 and entered the FA Cup.

County Ground/Peterjon Cresswell

Turning professional and joining the inaugural Southern League in 1894, Swindon welcomed the arrival of Wiltshire-born Harold Fleming in 1907. Within two years, this sleight but prolific inside-forward was playing for England, the first of 11 caps, his career cut short by the outbreak of World War I.

In this first heyday, the club twice won the Southern League and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup. In 1910, they lost to eventual winners Newcastle while two years later, Swindon took Barnsley to a replay at Meadow Lane, where a single goal settled matters.

Fleming continued playing, and scoring, after 1918 as Swindon continued in the Southern League, which became Division Three in 1920. His farewell came shortly before the arrival of a goal machine from East London: Harry ‘Abe’ Morris. Discovered on Hackney Marshes, Morris had unwisely left Millwall for an unsuccessful stay at Swansea. Coming to the County Ground in 1926, Morris scored two hat-tricks in his first two games, going on to record almost a goal a game in his seven seasons at Swindon.

County Ground/Peterjon Cresswell

It would be another 30 years before another prolific forward came along: Ernie Hunt. The Swindon-born former railway worker joined the club at 16, changing his name from Roger as his Liverpool namesake gained national fame. Hunt’s goals helped Swindon to a first-ever promotion in 1963, earning the later Wolves and Coventry star an England under-23 debut a month later.

Hunt had come through the youth system devised by Bert Head, hired as Swindon manager in 1956. Winger Mike Summerbee, later of Manchester City renown, was another graduate, along with full-back John Trollope, inside-forward Roger Smart and winger Don Rogers. Hunt’s departure for Molineux and Summerbee’s for Maine Road followed Swindon’s relegation back to the Third in 1965.

Harshly sacked that summer, Head could reflect on the success of his academy four years later when his Swindon boys overcame Arsenal to win the League Cup. Head’s replacement Danny Williams had kept this talented side in the upper reaches of the Third Division. In the cups, the Robins first surprised Bobby Moore’s West Ham in 1967, then beat Derby and Burnley in the League Cup run of 1968-69.

County Ground/Peterjon Cresswell

After heavy rain and a previous weekend of showjumping, the Wembley pitch on the day of the 1969 League Cup Final was almost unplayable. Somehow Don Rogers skated over the quagmire to outwit favourites Arsenal, who threw everything at heroic goalkeeper Peter Downsborough. A rare slip allowed a late Arsenal equaliser before Rogers struck back with two goals in extra-time.

It was a famous victory, followed up weeks later by a return to the Second Division.
Unable to qualify for Europe, Swindon embarked on a series of bizarre Anglo-Italian tournaments, beating Roma 4-0 – Fabio Capello will have few fond memories of the County Ground – and Napoli 3-0, a game abandoned when Neapolitans bombarded players with missiles.

The inevitable sale of Don Rogers, to Crystal Palace, took the wind out of Swindon’s sails and the club slid back to the Third Division, then sank to the Fourth.

Recovery came in the diminutive shape of Lou Macari in the mid-1980s. The former Manchester United star imposed strict fitness levels and took Swindon to two consecutive promotions. Vital goals from Northern Ireland international Jimmy Quinn – to have four stints at Swindon, one as manager – and Steve White took Macari’s Swindon back into the second tier in 1987.

County Ground/Rudi Jansen

Macari left for West Ham after taking the Robins to the play-offs in 1989. A year later, Ossie Ardiles went one better, though stories of illegal payments and inappropriate betting during the Macari reign were coming to light. The Wembley play-off final went ahead, Swindon beating Sunderland 1-0. Ten days later, the club was denied entry to the First Division. Disgracefully handled by the Football League, the affair nullified the Wembley event attended by 72,873 supporters.

Originally punished with a two-division demotion, a winded Swindon stayed in the Second Division, bereft of key players.

In his first coaching job, player/manager Glenn Hoddle turned things around at the County Ground, playing a cameo role in midfield and getting the best out of his old Spurs mucker Micky Hazard. In one of the most memorable of Wembley’s play-off finals, Hoddle himself opened the scoring against Leicester before seeing his side surrender a 3-0 lead. With extra-time looming, Steve White broke through to earn Swindon a penalty, converted by Paul Bodin. After the heartbreak of 1990, it was a memorable victory, not least for Nicky Summerbee at right-back, son of former Swindon star Mike.

County Ground mural/Peterjon Cresswell

Lured away by Chelsea, Hoddle left his assistant John Gorman in charge at Swindon, whose single season in the Premier League is best forgotten.

The Robins suffered back-to-back relegations, then briefly revived under Steve McMahon, but the club was continually fighting off various creditors, including the taxman. Paul Sturrock, one of several short-lived managers – Colin Todd, Roy Evans, Dennis Wise – gained the club promotion from the fourth tier in 2007.

Three years later, Danny Wilson took the Robins to the play-offs for a Championship place. Losing their regular goalkeeper to injury in the first minute, then their captain Gordon Greer to a red card after the hour, Swindon battled bravely at Charlton and came through on penalties. Replacement keeper Phil Smith was the hero of the hour. At the Wembley play-off against Millwall, a second-half miss from Charlie Austin proved decisive in a 1-0 defeat.

County Ground/Peterjon Cresswell

Under the ever-fiery Paolo Di Canio, cash-strapped Swindon won League Two in 2012 and were looking good for a back-to-back promotion, going through December and January unbeaten. Selling striker Matt Ritchie in the transfer window, the board had antagonised the Italian once too often, and Di Canio quit in February 2013. Penalties, a last-minute one scored by Brentford then a Swindon miss in the second-leg shoot-out, ended hopes of a return to Wembley for another play-off final.

Swindon eventually made it to Wembley in 2015, thanks to goals from Andy Williams in the regular season and a remarkable semi-final second leg that saw Sheffield United hit back with two late goals at the County Ground to level the score at 5-5 on the night. The Robins went through to the final – to meet Preston’s unstoppable Jermaine Beckford, hat-trick hero in a 4-0 win.

Dismal campaigns in 2015-16 and 2016-17 were alleviated by the goals of Nicky Ajose, since departed for loan deals elsewhere. Needing three seasons to climb out of League Two, and with gates hovering just over 6,000, Swindon struggled before on-loan Irish striker scored more goals than games played to lift the club to the top of the table in 2019-20.

County Ground/Rudi Jansen

Behind the scenes, though, owner Lee Power was in trouble. Behind on paying the rent to the local council for the County Ground, the former Irish U-21 international was already facing difficulties when the pandemic hit. With staff going unpaid, it was only a matter of time before Power sold the club on – or the club went under. In the end, Aussie plumber-made-good Clem Morfuni had to resort to legal means to wrest Swindon Town from Power’s grasp.

Finding a club with an extremely limited playing staff, short of kit and in need of a team bus, Morfuni rolled up his sleeves, greeted fans buying season tickets and faced a few overs at the crease of the cricket club next door. On the football pitch, Bristol-born Joe Wollacott established himself between the sticks and earned himself a first full cap for Ghana while regular Welsh international midfielder Jonny Williams shone in midfield.

Alongside the pitch, the boisterous Town End of the County Ground was renamed after Swindon legend Alan McLoughlin, goal-scoring star of Ossie Ardiles’ play-off winning side of 1990 and manager of the club’s academy until he was too ill to carry on in 2021. 

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

You know a football ground is old-school when its floodlight pylons pre-date the Beatles and its most impressive stand was built in 1971. Opened soon after Swindon’s landmark victory over Arsenal to win the League Cup, the main stand sponsored by Brunel-era Arkell’s Brewery houses both home and away fans. Visiting supporters occupy sectors AW1-3 nearest the uncovered Stratton Stand, also available for away fans should demand require.

Opposite, the Town End is for home fans, named after club legend Alan McLoughlin in the summer of 2021. Town stalwart John Trollope was also honoured when his name was added to that of the Arkell’s Stand. The sideline Don Rogers Stand, ‘Swindon’ depicted across its seats, was opened in 1994 and offers the best view of the action. Total capacity is 15,500.

The County Ground gained the sponsored name of Energy Check in 2017.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The County Ground is a 10min walk from Swindon station. Head over the road towards the Queen’s Tap and the Great Western Hotel, up Wellington Street to the junction, then turn left into Manchester Road, following it to the end.

The ground is diagonally opposite.

Several buses also pass by the ground – though it’s a short walk from town, too. Around 20 routes call at Queens Drive/Ambulance Station by the Magic Roundabout, 5mins from the ground, including the National Express bus from Heathrow Airport.

The sat nav code for the County Ground is SN1 2ED. There is a very limited number of parking places (£10) available at the stadium. The club recommends home fans use Drove Primary School (Drove Road, SN1 3AH) and away fans St Josephs Catholic College (SN3 3LR) on Ocotal Way, both walking distance from the ground. In each case, match-day parking is available for £5.

Using car parks in the nearby town centre is a relatively easy option. On non-match days, the one on County Road (SN1 2EB) by the County Ground is only £2.50/up to 6hrs, free at weekends.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are sold for 2-3 home games in advance from the STFC Store (current opening hours Tue, Thur-Fri 10am-4pm, match-day Sat 9am-3pm) behind the main stand. You can also buy over the phone (UK only 0330 002 1993, option 2) and online.

There are currently limited match-day sales behind the main stand, only until noon on Saturdays, but online distribution continues until half-time.

Prices start at £19 for the home Town End, with £23 charged for the sideline stands, including the away sector in the Arkell’s Stand. Students and over-65s pay £15/£17. There are flat rates for youths, £10 for 18-20s, £6 for 11-17s and £1 for under-11s.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The modest club shop (current opening hours Tue, Thur-Fri 10am-4pm, match-day Sat 9am-3pm) behind the main stand stocks the current home shirts, red with white pinstripes, as well as second-choice canary yellow with green patches and trim.

The winning Swindon team of 1969, depicted as Subbuteo figures, is displayed on T-shirts, all dressed in white, of course.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The nearest regular pubs to the ground, the Tap & Barrel on Manchester Road and County Ground Hotel right next door are both age-old Robins haunts. Neutrals might enjoy the neat display of vintage Swindon Town photos over the bar at the County Ground Hotel.

An excellent choice for both sets of supporters is the quaint clubhouse at the Swindon Cricket Club alongside the football ground. Opening 2hrs before kick-off (evening games may vary), it’s a large, convivial spot for pre-match beers, with seats outside in warmer weather. On various visits, Chelsea fans drank the bar dry while Doncaster’s sat and watched the cricket, even though they had tickets for the football across the field.

Away fans also have their own, small Bar 71 at the stadium, where the main stand meets the Stratton Stand, open from noon on match afternoons, 6pm for evening kick-offs.

For a quiet pint a 7-8min walk away, head beyond the Magic Roundabout, past the fire station up Drove Road to The Merlin, a spacious pub/eatery in the Greene King family. Ales include Wadworth 6X and Old Speckled Hen, steaks and curries feature heavily on the menu and there’s sport beamed from TVs in every corner. Staff friendly to all-comers.