Friday 13 March ~
Looking back to better days is an unavoidable pastime for most football supporters. A heyday might be based around a period of dominance or a single bright spot amid general disappointment. Tomorrow's game at Elland Road, for example, is between a home side whose decline from the top has been well documented, and visitors who are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the greatest day in their history. On Sunday March 15, 1969, Swindon Town beat Arsenal 3-1 in the League Cup final. As a Third Division side they had been widely written off, with Daily Express writer Desmond Hackett claiming he would eat his bowler hat if Swindon won.
The winning extra-time goals from club legend Don Rogers won the Cup and inspired poetry in the local paper: "Sail on like a proud ocean liner, over this sea of brown mud". This image can be witnessed on the video on Swindon's website. Arsenal claimed extenuating circumstances of illness and the aforementioned mud. These may have had some grounding – eight Arsenal players were suffering from flu and their previous match had been postponed, while the Wembley pitch had hosted a Horse of the Year Show the previous week. But this was Swindon's hour and the major cup upset caused a problem for the football authorities. As the Fairs Cup stipulated that participating teams had to be in the top division Swindon Town, promoted from Division Three that year, were ineligible. Partly as a consequence, the Anglo-Italian Cup was hastily conceived as a way for Swindon, and other lower league clubs, to take part in European competition. Swindon duly took their chance, beating Roma 5-2 on aggregate to win their first European honour.
Leeds fans may also look back ruefully. The year before Swindon's surprise victory, Leeds had also beaten Arsenal in the first ever League Cup final for both clubs. Leeds defended a 1-0 lead from the 20th minute to claim the first of Don Revie's trophies at Elland Road at the start of a highly successful period for the club. However, despite reaching the final stages of 17 competitions during their peak years Leeds won only six major honours. In 1970 they just missed out on a possible (then unprecedented) treble of European Cup, League Championship and FA Cup, ending the season with nothing. Swindon meanwhile went down from Division Two in 1973-74 and toiled in the lower divisions for over 15 years before the renaissance of the late 1980s under Lou Macari, Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle, reaching the Premier League in 1993-94. This only resulted in Swindon conceding 100 goals, a record that has yet to be broken.
Swindon and Leeds remain divided in history and aspiration, though in playing terms now only by opposite ends of League One. Swindon are currently in the relegation places while Leeds lie fifth. Their managers, both appointed within the last four months, have entirely different goals for the season – getting out of League One and simply staying there. The home side's Simon Grayson is likely to be happier than his counterpart David Byrne at five o'clock tomorrow.