This is the story of when Glenn Hoddle took his first managerial post and set about getting Swindon Town into the Premier League. Last time we covered the season 1991-92. Swindon finished in a play-off place. This is what transpired.
PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINAL FIRST LEG
The County Ground played host to the first leg of the play-offs. Tranmere’s fourth place was their highest in their history. The two sides had won their respective home matches against each other during the season.
Swindon made the first strike early on. Summerbee crossed from the right and Tranmere defender, Vickers, headed into his own net under pressure from Mitchell. A minute later Vickers made another mistake allowing Ross MacLaren a shot. Nixon couldn’t hold the shot and Mitchell bundled the ball over the line. Three minutes in and Swindon were already 2-0 up. What a start.
John Aldridge then had a goal disallowed for Tranmere, before Swindon looked to have settled the tie with only a quarter of it gone. Maskell put Mitchell clear and as he drew the keeper, Mitchell slipped it to his left where Maskell made it 3-0. The home crowd were delirious.
The visitors were much better in the second half and deserved their goal. John Morrissey cut inside on the right and curled a left-foot shot past Digby. Swindon won the first leg 3-1 and were very pleased with the lead they were taking to the North West.
Three days later the two sides rocked up at Prenton Park. Tranmere needed to get an early goal but it was the visitors who struck first. Summerbee cleared from the back to allow Martin Ling to run at the home defence. He then played in John Moncur and his left foot shot hit the back of the net to increase Swindon’s lead in the tie. 1-0 on the night, 4-1 on aggregate.
As the first half reached a conclusion Tranmere got a crucial goal. Pat Nevin with some fine work on the left, crossed into the box and former Middlesbrough midfielder, Mark Proctor turned it in. 1-1 on the night, with Swindon leading 4-2.
Tranmere thought they’d taken the lead in the second half when Digby looked to have failed to stop it going over the line, but the ref ruled it out. Soon after a scramble in the box saw Digby fumble the ball and Nevin was on hand to turn it in. Swindon’s lead was now 4-3, and things were getting nervy.
But it was Swindon who struck next. Mitchell and Maskell, who’d come on for Steve White, combined for Maskell to shoot. His shot was parried by Nixon but he managed to turn the rebound in to give them a crucial advantage. 2-2 on the night, 5-3 to Swindon on aggregate. Tranmere now needed to score twice.
There was some drama at the end as Hoddle brought down Morrissey in the area. Kenny Irons converted the penalty. There was still seven minutes to go but Tranmere couldn’t score again and Swindon were through to their second play-off final in four years.
In the other tie Leicester beat Portsmouth in the first leg thanks to a Julian Joachim goal. They then managed to hold them to a 2-2 draw at Fratton Park. Barely a month earlier Portsmouth had gone top of the table, albeit briefly, yet with one defeat from their final two matches cost them an automatic promotion place. Now they’d frozen in two matches against a side they finished 12 points ahead during the season.
Swindon Town would now meet Leicester City in the playoff final at Wembley.
Around this time speculation started to mount of Premier League clubs being interested in appointing Glenn Hoddle as their manager. The front runners were thought to be Spurs, Hoddle’s former club, while other rumours were emerging that Chelsea were also interested in making Hoddle their new manager. Former centre-back David Webb had been sacked by the Stamford Bridge club just before the playoffs started. He’d only been appointed back in February after Ian Porterfield received his marching orders. The word on the street was that Hoddle was open to discussions. Swindon prepared for their big day with a cloud hanging over them.
LEAGUE DIVISION ONE PLAY-OFF FINAL, Wembley Stadium, 31st May 1993
Swindon and Leicester City, who finished 5th and 6th respectively in the league, contested the final. Portsmouth had missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference, and had finished 12 points ahead of these two, yet they would have to try again next season. Tranmere finished three points better off but were stunned within the first five minutes by Swindon in their play-off.
Swindon were here in 1990 when they beat Sunderland in the final, but finances behind the scenes undid it all for them and they had to re-build. Leicester City were at this stage the season before, losing to Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers.
One selection issue was sorted out before kick-off. Swindon’s Australian striker, David Mitchell, was due to play in a World Cup qualifier against New Zealand the day before. Swindon asked for him to be withdrawn from the squad and the request was accepted.
The first half was cagey with few chances. Neither keeper was really called upon to make a save. But with three minutes to go to the break, Swindon mounted another attack. They swept the ball from left flank to right and when Nicky Summerbee swung a cross into Maskell in the area. With his back to goal he held the ball up and waited for Hoddle to run around him. He back-heeled it to the player-manager who curled a right-foot shot wide of Poole’s outstretched left hand. 1-0.
42 mins: Hoddle (Swindon), 1-0
It was the stuff of dreams for Swindon and Hoddle, as if the script had already been written. Hoddle scored on the opening day of the season and waited until the final match to add to his tally.
Swindon made all the running at the beginning of the second half. Maskell picked the ball up wide on the left, played it inside to Moncur who eventually found Maskell free on the left of the area. He steadied himself and fired a left foot shot into the top corner of the net for a second goal for Swindon. 2-0
47 mins: Maskell (Swindon), 2-0
Six minutes later they were further ahead. A corner from the right by Moncur was half-cleared by Walsh under pressure from Taylor. It fell to Moncur just outside the area, who headed it back in. Leicester let the ball bounce and Taylor was able to head it past Poole for the third goal. 3-0.
53 mins: Taylor (Swindon) 3-0
Three goals in 11 minutes of football, either side of the half-time break. Thirteenth goal of the season for centre-back Shaun Taylor.
Even Alan Parry the commentator had called the game over.
“It’s surely impossible for Leicester to come back from this. Isn’t it?”
We had to wait just four minutes to find out if Leicester could come back into it. Philpott got down the left and crossed to the far post where Steve Walsh rose highest and headed against the post. Joachim was first to react and fired it into the net. 3-1.
57 mins: Joachim (Leicester) 3-1
Swindon were now defending desperately as Leicester piled on the pressure. Even Hoddle was booked as the tackles were more and more hurried.
Then with more than 20 minutes still to play Mills did well on the right of the area and floated a ball to the far post. It looked to be curling out but Philpott kept it in and his ball into the six-yard box was headed in by Walsh with Digby flailing.
68 mins: Walsh (Leicester), 3-2
Leicester were now winning all the 50-50 balls. Whitlow drove forward down the left. Turned the ball inside and Steve Thompson wrong-footed Taylor and slid the ball past Digby. What an incredible comeback.
69 mins: Thompson (Leicester), 3-3
Leicester were now rampant. Swindon’s game had just fallen apart.
But gradually Swindon managed to gain a grip on the game. Leicester seemed to have taken a breather after pulling back level. Extra time loomed if neither side could find a winner and you could see the players were beginning to get tired. Still Leicester created better chances, highlighted by Taylor’s desperate lunge to deny Oldfield when he was about to shoot.
Then with 10 minutes to go Ling had a shot from the edge of the area and Poole pulled off a good save. The resulting corner saw Walsh clear off the line. Suddenly Swindon sniffed their chance.
Minutes later Bodin played a ball over the top from left-back and Mitchell was clear. He headed it down and then shot, only to find Poole smothered it.
Then with seven minutes remaining, Hoddle floated a ball over the defence for White. The keeper came out and between him and Hill they impeded the Swindon substitute. Referee David Elleray pointed to the spot. Paul Bodin stepped up and calmly sent the keeper the wrong way.
83 mins: Bodin pen (Swindon), 4-3.
Leicester’s resolve finally seemed broken. Swindon kept going forward, and more importantly kept possession. Ling had another attempt from outside the area which went just wide. Micky Hazard came on to add some experience and nous to the midfield.
Eventually the final whistle blew and this time Swindon’s victory would mean they were going up to the top tier. Poor Leicester experienced defeat at the last hurdle for the second successive season.
Swindon Town had been in existence for 112 years and now, for the first time, were going to be playing in the top division.
So what of Hoddle?
All the talk was of him leaving. He was remaining tight-lipped after the game and even during the open-top bus tour days later.
Eventually, he plumped for Chelsea. His assistant at Swindon, John Gorman, didn’t go with him but instead he took over the main job at the County Ground for their first-ever top-flight season, in a Premier League which was only two years old. They didn’t last and went straight back down again. They’ve never come close to the playoffs since.
Hoddle’s spell at Chelsea can arguably be seen as the start of the club being a major force in English football. Ruud Gullit took things on, before Claudio Ranieri and then the Russian oil money raised them to unseen heights.
Hoddle cut his management teeth at Swindon. The club and the town have never forgotten him.