#6 The Points are Ticking Over, the Football is Great, but the Residents of Swindon Care Not


windon Town are ‘on the march’, ‘turning the screw’, ‘cranking up the volume’. Don’t worry – no more idioms. Beating Bradford 2-1 away – a feat not achieved since 2005/06, apparently – demonstrated the Team’s robustness. It was a game that the Club would have lost in the previous season and probably in the first few games of this season with the Club’s callow defence/team. Bradford bombarded Swindon during the final ten minutes, but Swindon’s rearguard of Wes Foderingham, Rossi Branco, Nathan Thompson and Jordan Turnbull held firm. I was following the last ten minutes of this game on the Swindon Evening Advertiser’s match news feed on a bus from Faro Town Centre to Faro Airport on my girlfriend’s smart-phone, taking advantage of the vehicle’s free wi-fi. I feared that, as we departed the bus, I would be compelled to stew on the game’s outcome until we returned to the UK, but, mercifully, the full time news feed filtered through as the doors of the bus closed. I clenched my fist on the news of the 1-2 triumph, like ‘Tiger’ Tim Henman once did.

After beating Bradford away I arrogantly assumed that beating Oldham at home the following Tuesday evening would be a formality. I was wrong. The game finished 2-2. It was the first game of the season in which the opposition successfully nullified Swindon’s possession based game. One commentator thought that this stemmed, in part, from Oldham’s high pressing game and Oldham’s striker Dominic Poleon man-marking Yaser Kasim – the key instigator of Swindon’s rhythm and tempo – very much like Danny Welbeck on Xabi Alonso in the Champions League. I can’t recall this type of man-marking happening much in the lower leagues, but the idea of an opposition striker man-marking a deep lying Swindon midfielder filled me with a bit of pride in demonstrating that Swindon’s level of football is of a fairly high order.

Swindon’s next game was at home to Sheffield United – one of League One’s pre-season favourites – sitting one place above Swindon in the table. A stern test. 

At 14:15 on the day of the game I met my Dad at the County Ground just outside the Club Shop. He informed me that he had purchased the tickets and was somewhat aghast at the cost - £27 each; £2 more than the Scunthorpe game. Apparently, Swindon have a tiered ticket price system: £27 for the premium games (such as Sheffield United); £25 for the average games; and £23 for the less glamourous ties such as a Tuesday evening game at home to Crawley Town or Fleetwood. He’s right to be aghast; £27 for a game of football at any level is very dear. It shouldn’t be and doesn’t have to be – look at the ticket prices in German club football – but it is.

Taking our seats, and surveying the activities and the Ground, the Club seemed in better shape than it was on our previous joint visit on the opening day of the season. The tannoy system was working, serenading us to ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’; the electronic scoreboard informed us of the starting XI’s; and Rocky Robin performed his haka. The £600,000 received from Norwich for Louis Thompson in the transfer window is clearly being put to good use. 

Unfortunately, there weren’t that many in attendance to enjoy it. I thought that Sheffield United at home would result in a bumper crowd, but no. During the course of the game it was revealed that the attendance was approximately 7,500. I was expecting 9,000. Attendances are down on last season by roughly 1,000 – 1,500. My Dad and I could only really conclude that it was down to people in the area being hard up – the Town has suffered in the last ten years on the business front - and the failure to sell more season tickets during the McCrory-Power pre-season ownership dispute.

Swindon has always been a poorly supported club given its population, currently about 180,000 according to the 2011 Census. Most people in Swindon follow Premiership clubs, which probably isn’t too dissimilar to most other towns. It’s also a place without much civic pride, largely because many of its inhabitants originally hail from other parts of the country. Being from Swindon is not a badge of honour like it is from, say, Liverpool. It is a town that is lumped in the same category as Slough, Milton Keynes and Bracknell – thank you Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant for the Slough and Swindon connection in The Office – a cultural wasteland with no distinguishing features: grey and uniform. The snobby section of Wiltshire inhabitants distance themselves from it. They prefer to associate themselves with Bath.

Returning to the football, Swindon began the game in a confident manner. Mark Cooper in the pre-match build-up said that he wanted the team to be bold in passing it out from the back and the Swindon rearguard obeyed. Keeper Foderingham was confident in possession, like Manuel Neuer (don’t laugh), waiting for the Sheffield United attackers to commit themselves and, on occasions, nonchalantly chipping the ball above Sheffield United players to Swindon players. Swindon totally outplayed Sheffield United in the first half and should have been further ahead than 1-0. It was particularly pleasing to see Michael Smith playing with great strength and assuredness as the ‘number nine’. His link up play was excellent. Only six months ago he was heavily criticised by a many Swindon Town supporters. He now looks like a £500,000 plus striker capable of playing in the league above. Another pleasing aspect – a big improvement from the first few games of the season – was the rapidity with which Swindon won back possession.

After 13 minutes of the second-half Swindon were 3-0 up and cruising. Michael Smith scored the second after converting a penalty resulting from Neil Collins tripping Massimo Luongo after the latter’s surging run (it was a clear penalty). Jonathan Obika scored the third from close range after controlling the ball with a neat first touch and shooting with his left foot. 

Swindon contrived to let Sheffield United back into the game when they scored two goals in quick succession on 66 and 72 minutes. Neither of the goals were very good, largely stemming from a degree of complacency and nervousness from Swindon’s young side. Aside from this nervous ten minute spell, Swindon defended well, albeit aided by having 62% of the possession. 

Andy Williams (coming on for Obika) scored Swindon’s fourth on 76 minutes with a low, neat left footed strike across the Sheffield United keeper after being played in by Brad Smith following the latter’s surging run from deep in the Swindon half. Swindon’s fifth goal on 86 mins was sublime with Yaser Kasim almost doing a double nutmeg by the corner flag to escape two Sheffield United players before laying it off to Louis Thompson who rifled home off the underside of the cross bar from the edge of the penalty area. Louis Thompson had an outstanding game and is a complete midfielder. Norwich City have signed an excellent player of considerable promise. He has so much poise for a 19 year old.

Sheffield United didn’t deserve anything from the game and didn’t have any overtly eye-catching, talented players. They missed the injured Jose Baxter up front and have yet to replace adequately Harry Maguire at centre back. 18 year old centre back Harrison McGahey isn’t quite there yet. Still, they didn’t look a bad team and the scoreline owed more to Swindon’s excellence than their inadequacies. Sheffield United have one of the best named footballers in the league in Bob Harris.

Swindon are rising up the table, now in fourth spot. The only team that is really matching their possession based football is MK Dons who thumped Crewe 6-1, although they are seemingly more reliant on one player: their precociously gifted 18 year midfielder Dele Alli. Leaders Bristol City play a more traditional, high tempo, cross-based game. It’s a pleasure to support Swindon Town at the moment.

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