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Archive for the ‘Swindon Town’ Category

Alex Pritchard: League One to Premier League, without League 3

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

AP

From League One debut to a Premier League appearance inside a single season: for 21-year-old Tottenham winger Alex Pritchard it couldn’t be more perfect. It also seems to be the perfect repost to Greg Dyke’s claims about the impediments blocking the ‘player pathway’ for English talent.

However, using exactly the same evident, his journey from Swindon’s first team to Spurs’ could equally be used as evidence in favour of the FA Commission’s Strategic Loan Partnership (SLP) – the Trojan horse for virtual feeder clubs.

Firstly Pritchard’s example isn’t quite the Boys’ Own stuff it might first appear. Prior to this season the Spurs midfielder had three England U20 caps and played six games on loan at Peterborough. So he again went on loan again, this time to Swindon, playing 43 games, scoring 8 goals and being nominated for the Football League Young Player of the Year and Sky Bet League One Player of the Year. When his youth loan expired on turned 21, he returned to White Hart Lane, joined first-team training and earned himself seven minutes against Aston Villa.

And as everyone knows, Pritchard’s loan to Swindon was just one of three season-long ones between Spurs and Swindon in 2013/14; one part in an on-going relationship between clubs. Every match was overseen by Tottenham staff, undertaken with two older players others from the same development team, and followed a path trod by two ex-Spurs who transferred to Wiltshire after a loan spell the season before.

But there was more comfort to be found than just in those familiar faces around Pritchard,  “There are so many players from Spurs here that it does feel like home”. Swindon’s playing style had been chosen to appeal to Premier League technical directors, and in particular Tim Sherwood – for Town’s chairman is Lee Power, former player, agent and former house-mate of Sherwood. Power told local radio that his friend expressed his concern about his charges slow development while on loan, “He [Sherwood] said would you babysit my lads for me, more or less”.

So is the relationship akin to Greg Dyke and Danny Mills’ proposed SLP? Could it be called a Partnership? Possibly. Could it be called Strategic? Perhaps for Spurs, but for Swindon it seems to have been born of the necessity of a changed boardroom and a halved playing budget. Power himself set out the limits of the arrangement in the same interview saying, “I don’t think we can ever lose the club’s identity. Don’t get me wrong if we can beg, steal or borrow to try to get there and that is all we are going to try to do and nothing else.”

There are further key differences between the SLP as outlined by the FA Commission and these informal loan – not least that Football League regulations 85.2.3 prohibit any club “to be involved in any capacity or administration or that club” or: (85.2.4) to have any power to influence the financial, commercial or business affairs or the management or administration of that club”.

Strategic Loan Partnerships would very much go against those regulations. Under the SLP, coaches, facilities and sports science support would be provided to the partner club from the senior one. In Swindon’s case, Tottenham simply observed their players at the County Ground and treated them in Enfield when injured, they didn’t pick the side, coach the team or choose the formation. Swindon’s style wasn’t set by White Hart Lane, it came from a desire to be attractive and to make the best of the smaller, technical nature of so many of the players. Although Swindon’s manager Mark Cooper has admitted one element of de facto influence – that to ensure good relations remained with Spurs, it was wise to include their player at every opportunity.

Significantly, though accidentally, all three of the Spurs’ loanees rarely appeared together: Injuries limited Ryan Mason to just 13 starts and Grant Hall to 26. Instead Swindon also blooded a number of teenagers or used short-term loans of single players from Wolves, Peterborough, Norwich, Southampton. This meant that seeing even three loanees on the pitch – two less than is permitted – was an exception rather than the rule. This in turn meant that there was still space in the Swindon team for their own youth team players to progress, allowing both Miles Storey and Nathan Thompson, among others, to progress their own careers.

Contrast that with an SLP club who would be also be permitted five borrowed bodies in the squad but would be able to have borrowed eight, making multiple appearances of loanees a regular occurrence. And such pressure would be felt more strongly under SLP, especially as the proposals include the possibility for the senior club to own up to 25% of the equity in the junior one, rather than the 10% current permitted.

In the difficult task of judging Swindon fans’ attitudes to the relationship with Spurs, reliable measures are obviously hard to come by – especially when fans are second only in their pragmatism to football managers and chairmen. Anecdotally support for the relations seems to have waned as the season wore on: Initial results and the quality of the football on offer persuaded many at first only for a cynicism to return as Town’s form slumped around Christmas. Notably the side’s late season rally was attributed not to the Spurs connection but largely to a Town’s own players and the signing of another loanee – Jack Stephens of Southampton – only a short-term deal. Similarly Pritchard, despite his performances that so impressed many outside the club, lagged behind the local lads in the various player-of-the-year polls. In fact, not one placed him in the top three, and with one fan-site he only achieved 4% of the vote.

Perhaps most importantly, the number and length of the loans were always seen as an austerity necessity, not a permanent change to the club’s nature. “Never” was Power’s comment as to if Swindon would becoming a feeder club, adding in a separate interview, “If I supported Swindon I wouldn’t want to be a B-team for anyone else, and I don’t think there is any need to be. I want to compete, but I appreciate that we might not be Manchester United.”

The next steps in the journey are likely to be worth observing – for both Pritchard and Swindon. With Tim Sherwood no longer at White Hart Lane there is a chance that both Pritchard’s career and Power’s connection with both wither in the seasons to come.

However, Pritchard has made a major breakthrough and Town’s chairman has spoken of two other Premier League teams discussing similar loan arrangements as well as talk circulating within football of a number of League One clubs looking to mirror Swindon’s model. It is certainly going to be an interesting path to tread for any parent and junior clubs and their players.

Written by Alex Cooke, We Are Going Up’s Swindon Town blogger

Alex tweets at @STFConly

Six sensible reasons why moderate improvement is possible at Swindon Town

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

STFC

We football fans are nothing if not a reflection of our society. Like everyone we mirror the current desire for melodrama, for scripted cruelty, for the fast fix – and those cheap site hits.

Football has incorporated it through manufactured ‘mind games’, managerial churn, the zombie-like lust of the transfer window. It can also be found in the adored click of you, the unique user, and in the shorter sentences without which other, lesser readers, would probably have started skimming a long time ago, scanning in horror towards the listicle further down the page.

It also goes some way to explain why this season at Swindon Town has resulted in a mixture of mumbled apathy, howls of self-harming rage, and, if you listen very closely the gentlest whisper of sensible, sober debate.

After all this is a club and a team, that required a messy intervention to stop it marching into glory and simultaneous oblivion. Despite that it has still maintained a credible play-off push although this much leaner team is now suffering with declining attendances, growing ambivalence and slow season ticket renewals

Cries of ‘boring’ and booing have both echoed around the increasingly empty County Ground as many Swindon fans have found other things to do on Saturdays, such as gripe on social media. Too many passes, they bleat. Too little arm waving from manager Mark Cooper, they whine, Then they hashtag it CooperOut, and even more bizarrely SherwoodIn. Inside the ground, their peers jeer a 19-year-old ‘keeper for daring to slice a back-pass on his home debut, or sarcastically applaud a striker who has scored six goals in 14 games.

It is tempting to say Swindon fans have been spoiled by what went before – the millions spent by Betfair’s Andrew Black and the near-millions signed by Paolo Di Canio. But ‘spoiled’ implies that they were innocents before, when we all know Swindon crowds had long been intolerant, particularly of youth-team players who fail to be the new Don Rogers within three touches of their debut. Yet, they did became hooked on the adrenal teat when gambling-pounds created an environment in which a League One club was prepared to promise one individual £15,000 a week (at least according to current chairman Lee Power).

Amid the cries of boo and meh this season, during which the club that has halved its playing budget and gone through two managers and two chairman, there are still many signs of progress, which even for those of a limited attention span might make up for the shortage of drama.

1 Swindon are reclaiming ‘tippy tappy’ football

Toss your accusations of hipsterdom now if you want, but some of the football at the County Ground has been fascinating. Prompted by the need to appeal to Premier League technical directors, Swindon have played a short-passing style. The ball hasn’t always been rotated quickly enough, but when it has the football has been beautiful and effectivve. Results haven’t been bad either – 8th place in League One and a Southern Final in the JPT.

2. Swindon are turning trialists into internationals

Last season Yaser Kasim left Brighton for loan spells with Macclesfield and Luton before being released. This season he has become a full Iraqi international, making a composed debut at the culmination of their qualification for the Asian Cup. Fellow midfielder Massimo Luongo’s path to becoming an Australian international might have been simpler, smoothed by his years at Tottenham, but the chance of a World Cup finals place certainly shows how he has also progressed while at Swindon.

3. Swindon’s reserves are becoming regulars

While much has been made of the informal link with Spurs, the integration of home-grown talent has also grown apace. Youth teamers such as Miles Storey and Louis Thompson have been gradually integrated into the side, while Louis’ (slightly) bigger brother Nathan has taken over the captaincy. Ben Gladwin, signed from Marlow Town mid-season, also offers an intriguing proposition -  he’s a powerful dribbler and creative passer but with the bulk of a central defender.

4. Swindon are taking a different approach

Swindon’s informal relationship with Spurs has attracted column inches and criticism from many around the Football League. Some see inequity, some see the slippery slope to feeder status, and some see an experiment they might like to repeat at their club. So far, success has been partial with midfielder Alex Pritchard earning numerous nominations, if not awards, while defender Gareth Hall has received little more than abuse. However, the chairman Lee Power has revealed that two other clubs are interested in letting Swindon “babysit” more of their bright young things next season.

5. Swindon have Nile Ranger

Having been found innocent of all charges earlier in this year Ranger is still a Swindon player, and with an option to extend his contract into the new season there is a good chance that he might remain one. If he does he will keep everyone on their toes, and he might even play some football. The fact that that Swindon actually got 19 league starts out of him – more than any other club in his career- so far is undeniably an achievement.

6. Swindon are growing up

As one local reporter noted in the recent win over Preston, Swindon’s team had less than 876 league appearances to their name – more than half of which came from one player, defender Jay McEverley. And yet Town won the game against a Preston eleven with over 2,538 under their belts, and on 12-match unbeaten run. Yaser Kasim chose to contrast the performance with the one seen at Deepdale, noting how he and the team now had the experience to have mastered the darker arts of ‘game management’.

With a little bit of patience and a bit more of time, Swindon’s project might yet reach a positive end, just as you did. Well done you! Even if you skimmed that boring bit.

Written by Alex Cooke, We Are Going Up’s Swindon Town blogger

Alex tweets at @STFConly

A quiet year

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

STFC

It is fitting that the last post about Swindon on here is just over a year old. Because, for many the middle of February back in 2013 was the moment at which Swindon Town ceased to matter.

It certainly was for the national media whose interest died the moment they could no longer affix Paolo Di Canio to the club’s name (even Nile Ranger wasn’t enough for them). It was for many casual fans once drawn by the Italian’s end-of-the-pier showmanship (and his league and cup success). Most importantly, it was for owner Andrew Black who had tired of seeing his millions underwriting each of Di Canio’s expensively signed, and subsequently expensively bombed out, players. So, in that February, Black finally sold the club.

And it is his departure that has defined the last 12 months for Swindon Town. Certainly Di Canio’s flounce somewhat spoiled the end of last season, just as the resignation of his replacement, Kevin MacDonald, hit the start of this, but it is the boardroom not the boot-room which set the direction for this season.

The club’s protracted sale to Jed McCrory’s patchwork consortium of unseen investors and unwashed-looking businessmen made it clear that the era of excess was over. Swindon could clearly no longer afford the vast and expensive squad, which the Italian had brought in, paid up and paid off. So wages was immediately halved, from around £4.5 million to £2.4 million – even if Swindon continue to pay a good chunk of other clubs’ bills for taking on their offcuts.

As the McCrory board shuffled and re-shuffled, the selling off of commercial rights on long-term deals, subsidising failed concerts and short-term loans from those unseen seemed to be the only financial plan. That was until, from out of those same shadows, stepped Lee Power as the primary source of funding and football knowledge.

The former Norwich striker, and one-time agent, first became Swindon’s director of football operations then seized the position of chairman as an unseemly struggle played out through premature press releases and the semi-literate tweetings of out-going chairman McCrory. Now, the publicity-shy Swiss-exile runs the club almost solo, supposedly within its limited means, and the 90-day limit of his tax status.

Stability has been similarly hard to find on the pitch too. While Mark Cooper’s installation as manager was met with grudging acceptance by most fans, striker Nile Ranger signing, lifestyle and current court appointment, has kept the situation somewhat fluid. After all, planning an attacking strategy can’t be easy if your main threat, and probably most talented player – frequently fails to appear for training.

The rest of the team has somewhat of an ad-hoc quality, largely begged and borrowed from others’ development squads. Not only has Power famously used his friendship with Spurs boss, Tim Sherwood, to add three Tottenham loanees, a further trio have come from White Hart Lane. This effect has been magnified as four more have also arrived via coach Luke William’s old position running Brighton’s reserves.

But that is the way that Swindon are developing. Power calls it his “a young energetic team” but the reality is more of a football donut – at one end are those just starting their careers, at the other are a few just ending theirs. In the middle, there is nothing. Nothing in that 24 to 29 age bracket when peak performance are delivered and peak prices are paid.

Despite this, the team are fascinating. The zesty passing football they play fits their age with an interchange of position and formation as 352 morphs into 433 and, even a probably unseen in League One, 460 – all to accommodate a succession of gifted technician and passers: Alex Pritchard, Yaser Kasim, Massimo Luongo and Ryan Mason. Consistency has been an issue – as you might expect from a XI whose average age has on occasion dropped as low as 23.18 and with just 1,000 league starts between an entire team (versus Leyton Orient 22/2/14). Injury, suspensions and a court case have also taken their toll, forcing further line up and formation changes on Cooper.

However, the team has been, at times, very good and that is what gives Swindon fans some hope. Despite missing out on the JPT final on penalties and currently watching the play-offs slip away, Swindon Town have performed beyond on what most expected at the start of the season.

If we can get beyond these boardroom struggles, the local press ban, and whatever is going on in Nile Ranger’s head today, then, and only then, Swindon Town will once again start to matter.

Written by Alex Cooke, We Are Going Up’s Swindon Town blogger

Alex tweets at @STFConly

And now the end is here…

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Confucius once wrote (and then David Brent made it more famous for my generation) our greatest achievement is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall. Swindon Town have fallen further than most clubs and bounced back higher than many others. The national media will flick through their cliché thesaurus this week until they reach the page entitled “managerial departures” – cue headlines lavished with “CRISIS” and “TURMOIL” and “DISARRAY”. Welcome to SN1, the land of Swindon Town – if the Olympics live off a motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius then Swindon live off a motto of Crisis, Turmoil, Disarray. This is nothing new; this is expected.

That being said, it doesn’t make the shock of a manager walking out on the club any easier to comprehend or accept at first glance. Swindon have had managers far bigger than Paolo Di Canio before – this wasn’t a show pony that brought with him a history and media circus this humble Wiltshire club had never experienced. Glenn Hoddle, Lou Macari, Ossie Ardiles – all have called the Robins their managerial home and all had a greater playing career than Paolo Di Canio ever had.

It could be argued that players of the standard of Matt Ritchie have been rarer than the standard of big-name managers since Swindon’s Premier League debut, and only, season of 1993/94. When he departed to Bournemouth for a fee which was just a proportion of an offer for the same player from the same club in a previous transfer window, the offending straw had been slapped on to the camel’s back to break it into several places. Paolo’s letter of resignation was already in the post. The club’s exposure due to a live Sky Sports game against Crawley Town brought the issue to a somewhat unexpected public and was exaggerated for the purposes of selling a third-tier football game to a watching public unaware of ESPN’s Premier League offering. For the previous twenty months, the rest of the Football League had seen Paolo just as many saw him as a player – a mercurial talent as well as playing the pantomime villain simultaneously. Many didn’t take him seriously, some were angered by his touchline antics and post-match comments, and those in the Town End saw him at his passionate best – cheering on a club he may not have known even existed a few years ago with such passion it was as if he was John Trollope re-incarnated. (granted, Mr Trollope Snr is still alive and well!)

Sky Sports talked of a Di Canio bidding farewell to a travelling band of faithful Town fans. But no departure came. No commitment from the Italian arrived either. The minutes became hours and the hours became days. Suddenly Swindon were back on the field of play and Di Canio was still in charge. What happened? Were the differences between him and the board settled? Evidently not.

Despite having been at the club for less than two years, Paolo’s history at the Robins could fill a biography far more significant and entertaining than that of any reality TV contestant who has released their memoirs as a last sign of desperation two years after finding temporary fame. In May 2012 he signed a new contract at the club after guiding them to the League Two title; an indication that he was still committed to a project that the then chairman Jeremy Wray admitted wouldn’t happened overnight. But then in November, Wray was replaced by Sir William Patey – a man more akin to the struggling democracies of Afghanistan and Iraq than the football pitch. Things then started to become clear that all was not well off the field – the new year brought with it the announcement that the club needed to find new investors with immediate effect or face administration – a state of disarray not unfamiliar with Swindon Town.

Thankfully owners were found, but what gives with one hand often takes with the other – Matt Ritchie was sold immediately. Di Canio released a statement saying he was considering his position as manager after suffering broken promises. Things had just got real. Di Canio had threatened making a bolt for the exit before, most noticeably when he said he felt the board had changed their ambitions for promotion. But the language Di Canio had used was never as forthright as this.

After valiant efforts during the Hartlepool United game on the 9th February from fans consistently chanting Paolo Di Canio’s name, he still wouldn’t commit his future. The history books will tell us he technically resigned on the 12th February 2013, but agreed to stay as long as the takeover of the club was fully approved by the Football League by 5 o’clock on the 18th February. The 5pm deadline passed and approval hadn’t arrived. Di Canio was gone. Approval was scheduled to be given on the 19th February. Di Canio was reportedly seen leaving the County Ground with “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” by Dinah Washington blaring out of his car speakers. That last sentence may be fabricated.

He leaves behind not a club in turmoil however. New ownership approval is just hours away as I type this – leaving more questions over the timing of Di Canio’s departure – the Italian will have known full well the date of approval was the 19th, not the 18th when his deadline was. The team he leaves behind may have lost their talent catalyst Matt Ritchie but oozes talent elsewhere on the pitch in the form of Wes Foderingham, Alan McCormack, Aden Flint, Simon Ferry and James Collins – all individuals who any club in League One, and many in the Championship, would snap your hand off to take on board.

And what of Paolo? Ask Leon Clarke, Mehdi Kerrouche and Paul Caddis for a job reference and he’ll be lucky to find employment again. Look at the list of failed signings who he predominantly plucked from across Europe as if he’d used a map of the continent as a dartboard. Alberto Comazzi, Lukas Magera and Lander Gabilondo are just three examples of so-called “footballers” from three different countries who Paolo thought would cut it in the fourth tier of English football. How wrong he was. To say he can cut it at a higher level than League One is a massive risk. Perhaps he’ll return to Italy or take up a coaching role – his enthusiastic yet strict coaching regime will unsettle some players but will ensure naive youngsters and those who want to achieve rather than just earn an affluent pay cheque will take on board what he was to say. Despite his penchant for the extravagant whilst a player, Swindon’s incredible defensive record will be arguably Di Canio’s longest lasting memory for a club who hold the unwanted record of conceeding 100 goals in a single Premier League season (42 games).

Paolo Di Canio’s tenure in charge of Swindon Town is now consigned to the past tense. Swindon Town and Paolo Di Canio as individual entities aren’t. Fans will have to get used to living life a little further out of the spotlight now he’s gone, like most other League One clubs do. The media circus will pack away and only return should Swindon maintain a play-off push or resume their fight next season. Whoever his replacement is they will seem like caffeine-free Diet Coke to Paolo Di Canio’s Coca Cola-style leadership and personality. It may be the unnerving sense of not being noticed for the first time in nearly two years that will stand Swindon in good stead for the rest of their league campaign…

We hope.

Written by Carl McQueen – We Are Going Up! Podcast member and Swindon Town Blogger

Carl tweets at @mrcarlmcqueen

PAOLO DI CANIOOOOO!

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

On May 23rd 2011, the new Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio said he “was close to signed Lionel Messi”. In hindsight, he’s had the kind of season you can’t help but be impressed by – lighting up every game he’s been part of, appearing to be several steps ahead of the opposition and gained even more admirers than he already had.

And Lionel Messi has had quite a good season too.

Paolo Di Canio’s first season, not only as Swindon manager, but also as a manager full stop, has been little short of perfect. Many ‘experts’ wrote him off instantly and declared he would be out of the door at the first sign of trouble. Understandable, yet humorous with hindsight. What has transpired is a title-winning season, FA Cup giant-killings, a trip to Wembley and the bottom line of Di Canio still in charge of the club he joined a year ago.

The stats are the simplest way of describing the Robins’ path to glory – the best home record in the league, the most victories in the league, the best defensive record in the league. Cogito ergo sum; they’ve ended up as the best placed team. Curiously, they’ve lost ten away games, whereas a team like Crawley have lost just four. Yet, amazingly, in twenty-three home league games they’ve conceded just eight goals – seven of which came in three matches. Yes, that’s nineteen clean sheets at home, let alone including away games, all season.

Yet, when they lost at home to bitter rivals Oxford United on the 21st August, and then lost away at Shrewsbury Town, Swindon sat 21st in the league having lost four of their first five games. Doubt poured through the minds of Robins fans like cheap Italian wine at high-streets restaurants across Wiltshire. Had we paid untold fortunes to this man to see him leave before the first leaf fall of Autumn?

Arguably, the turning point came with Swindon’s televised victory over the team then top of the table, Rotherham United, but defeats still found themselves sown into the team’s form. The fact the team found themselves either winning or losing, and not dropping points in the form of draws proved vital as the season progressed (a stat they’ve maintained all season, drawing only one game throughout 2012). Yet as Paolo finally settled and players began to warm to his style of management, things back to bloom at the County Ground. But that’s not to say he’s always known who his best players are…

Before the season started, I wrote of the early flames of what would be Di Canio’s roaring season. Yet, the list of players he collected, and latterly disposed of is quite staggering for a level of football where money is tight. Alberto Comazzi and Ibrahim Atiku left the club after cancelling their contracts, Mehdi Kerrouche fell out with Di Canio and was shipped out on loan to of all clubs, Oxford United, and Mattia Lanzano’s contract was cancelled by the club, but curiously he later changed his mind and made his way back to the County Ground. These are just players who he had already bought in by mid-July, let alone other car-crash signings such as Leon Clarke and Lukas Magera. While he has freely acquired players left, right and centre, at a higher level where wages increase and the financial risks of failure are greater, this is something which cannot be risked from now onwards. His mistakes must be learnt with immediate effect.

That’s not to say there aren’t methods to his madness. Take Wes Foderingham in goal – pinched on loan from Crystal Palace and latterly signed permanently, he has been an incredible find and proved a constant rock, albeit a very agile one, in between the posts and surely not coincidental that Swindon have not only broken their club record for clean sheets during this season, but the fourth tier record has been rewritten.

Of course, far be it from me to reminisce just of the good times – thirty thousand Swindon fans rocked up at the Venue of Legends in March and were odds on favourites against Chesterfield in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final. They promptly walked away empty handed with a performance devoid of anything which had been witnessed by fans in the recent months before the day at Wembley. At least the heavens didn’t open, which had magnified most supporters irritation when the club last appeared in HA9 back in May 2010 against Millwall in the League One play-off final. Big days out appear to be Di Canio’s Achilles heel, if indeed he does possess such a mythological weakness – Oxford fans will continue to remind Robins fans of both derby victories this season. However, I’m sure collecting the league trophy will numb the pain over knowing their rivals up the A420 will be spending another year behind Swindon in the standings.

The past twelve months have actually been the most tumultuous and upsetting of Di Canio’s life with his father, Ignazio, and his mother, Pierina, passing away within months of one another during his time at the club. His father’s illness was actually something that stopped Di Canio becoming Newport County manager in March 2011, yet when the Swindon job arose, his father insisted on him pursuing his dream of becoming a football manager. Somewhere they’ve looked down on him and guided him through a period of his life when lesser men would have understandably walked away. The ability to separate such personal hardship and continue your fledging professional career can only stand him in good stead wherever the next few years take him.

Chairman Jeremy Wray has justifiably said that Di Canio was a “risk” – the biggest risk now however is keeping hold of the man. Di Canio has provided a catalyst of hope for Swindon Town the whole way through the club – from the Chairman to the fans – which many worried may not arrive with immediate effect after Paul Hart’s atrocious spell at the club which saw them consigned to relegation last season. Yes, they were early season favourites to bounce straight back, but so were Bristol Rovers, who have ended in mid-table, and Cheltenham Town were favourites for relegation yet ended up in the play-offs – nothing is certain in football, regardless of what level its played at.

The close season will now, inevitably, link Di Canio with various managerial positions as they become untenable and available. The enormous elephant in the room still remains West Ham United, although with Sam Allardyce on the verge of guiding them back to the Premier League via the play-offs, it could mean he receives a deserved stay of execution. Would Di Canio really want to go elsewhere other than West Ham? Although managers will come and go over the next three months, no job will arise that will honestly have Paolo bolting for the County Ground door – no Premier League team will risk going for him, and why would he leave for a Championship or League One club when his intention all along with Swindon was to get them back to the second tier of English football?

His commitment and professional to the Wiltshire club has surprised many at times, myself included. Although money inevitably talks louder than most things in these situations, he doesn’t appear swayed by moving on after one season at Swindon. He appears to have committed himself to launching Swindon onwards and upwards – not something that is a god-given right as Chesterfield have proven this season after walking away with League Two last season, but something that isn’t beyond the realms of possibility either if Di Canio stays at the club.

Players will come and go between now and the middle of August – players such as Matt Ritchie, Paul Caddis & Wes Foderingham must remain, and a proven striker must arrive. Season tickets will be sold, new fans will be found, and hype will be built. But as long as Jeremy Wray keeps hold of his Italian gaffer, Swindon Town have every hope of being the latest team to become part of the “double-bounce” phenomenon which the likes of Southampton, Norwich, Stevenage and Crawley have all enjoyed in recent years.

All together now – Paolo Di Caniooooo! Paolo Di Caniooooo!

Written by Carl McQueen – We Are Going Up! Podcast member and Swindon Town Blogger

Carl tweets at @mrcarlmcqueen

Is all that glitters really silver?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Premier League and Championship supporters, look away now. For the next few paragraphs this article shall describe a competition so alien to you it may as well be written in French. C’est la Ligue de Football Trophée. And Swindon Town have reached the final of it, so allow me to milk it for all it’s worth…

Shrouded in satire and ridicule, the competition that pits the wits of the 48 clubs in the third and fourth tiers of English football, ultimately provides two teams with a day at Wembley Stadium. Two sets of fans with the chance to cheer on their team at the ‘home’ of English football. Not the England team, not a Premier League team, but THEIR team. How many of you reading this who support a Football League team can actually say that?

You can take your mid-table mediocrity, your run of the mill ‘I’d rather stay up than win the cup’ excuses. But you’re wrong. You’re so wrong that you’re insulting the very essence and purpose of the beautiful game – to enjoy it. In ten years, five years, even seven months on, how many more people will remember the team who won the League Cup in 2011 compared to the team who finished 17th in the Premier League last season? I can tell you without thinking who won the League Cup. I had to Google the Premier League table of 2010/11 to discover Wolverhampton Wanderers were the team I shouldn’t care about.

Crystal Palace, Fulham, Hull City, Oldham Athletic, Reading, Swansea City, Watford and Wigan Athletic have all played in the Premier League but never won a major trophy. Would fans swap, what for some of those teams, was just a fleeting moment in the big time for a moment of immortality when their club’s name is etched into the history books for lifting major silverware over saying they’ve dined with kings for just a year or two? Many would say no, they would take a Premier League appearance of just a season over winning a cup competition. But if that’s the case, what exactly do football fans really want? And why on earth do we not just scrap all cup tournaments?

The media has fed us the belief that the FA Cup has lost it’s “magic” and the League Cup is just a competition for clubs to play their reserves. Yet millions still watch it. The sheer joy on the faces on the fans, players and management who win it is not faked for the cameras. It’s the unbridled delight that football can bring you if you’re lucky enough to experience it. The same can be said of play-off finals. One game which will tear the hearts out of half the stadium and give the other half the hope, optimistic dreams, and monetary support for the next twelve months.

Perhaps that’s the simple answer? Money? Teams want to be the 17th placed team in the Premier League because the enormous gulf in financial reward through sponsorship and televisions rights will destroy a club should they lose their footing as much as it will secure them for the next decade if they stay afloat in the top flight. The growing list of teams to crash and burn their way through the Football League system in the past decade is a worrying observation. Granted, it is not a new phenomenon, but thanks to rolling news coverage and the Internet, the death of a football club becomes a slow, voyeuristic past time for the general public to feast on, voice their opinion, and then becoming generically upset when that club finally calls it a day.

But all that’s for another discussion altogether on the wider problem of money in football. This is to do with the ambitions of supporters and clubs. As much as it’s ridiculed, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy will give either Swindon Town or Chesterfield fans the hope and optimistic dreams I’ve already spoken of. Whereas one side, the Robins, fights for promotion into League One, the other side, the Spireites, are fighting to stay in it – at exact role reversal of twelve months ago. Both will want to win their battles in their respective leagues, but the opportunity for glory at Wembley must be taken with both hands.

Whereas it may not give the exposure an FA Cup run will achieve – even Swindon fans can vouch that one win against Wigan Athletic this season has produced more media coverage than even winning this entire competition will ever do – it will still produce silverware to add to the cabinet. Something that can never be taken away from the club should Swindon be successful. Unless of course it’s the Second Division play-off trophy of 1990…

Swindon fans have already been lucky enough to experience the new Wembley – many Football League teams have not even come close – in the form of the League One play-off final of 2010. A shambolic appearance on the pitch was marred even further by ‘loyal’ fans being angered at the ‘plastic’ fans that made up the numbers. This works both ways; either you take along, say, 12,000 supporters and make your half of the stadium look pitiful yet an echo of Town End season ticket holders can still be heard from the other end of the stadium, or you allow 30,000 fans to come along and make your team look like a well-followed and supported club in an appearance at the biggest stadium in the country which may not happen again for a generation. Having read the fan forums the day afternoon the play-off defeat to Millwall, the irritation of some die-hard fans was so clear it made you wonder if their judgement had been clouded by ignominious defeat, and had Swindon won then the exact opposite would have been documented about the turnout. I know for a fact this paragraph alone will fuel discussion with most Robins’ fans, and the rest of what I write and have written will be mere filler to the debate of that fateful day in May 2010.

But it does leave a worthy question – should this game even be played at Wembley? Swindon have been handed just over 30,000 tickets, and Chesterfield nearly 10,000 fewer than that on the basis of each club estimating their allocation. Should they both sell out, you still leave yourself with over 30,000 empty seats for a game that many are still unsure of it’s significance – do we want to win this game, or gain promotion/stave off relegation? Would games like this, and others such as the FA Trophy, not be better off at stadiums such as Old Trafford where the ratio of empty seats to filled ones looks more respectable? Or would that destroy another element of the magic of football – regardless of the English cup competition, you earn yourself a day at Wembley, in spite of the ‘experience’ during your few hours in HA9?

Perhaps then all that glitters really isn’t a silver trophy collected by the winning captain. Perhaps it’s mid-table mediocrity and the confusing belief that you’ll push on next season. Perhaps it’s gaining promotion by coming second or third, not actually winning the league, and then hoping you’ll avoid relegation on the last day of the following season. Or perhaps it is the chance to win a competition, which your team is invited to compete in, regardless of financial reward and newspaper column inches it receives.

League One and League Two fans should take the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as a genuine opportunity to succeed, and not as a cannon fodder to the rest of your season. It may not be the Champions League, but should my team lift the trophy at Wembley on March 25th, for just a few days at least, I’ll feel a bigger man than any team that finishes 17th in the Premier League this season.

Written by Carl McQueen – We Are Going Up! Podcast member and Swindon Town Blogger

Carl tweets at @mrcarlmcqueen

 

When you can’t trust anyone, trust yourself, Paolo

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The American actor and composer Oscar Levant once quipped, “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” Paolo Di Canio has this famous adage hung aloft in his office at the County Ground…and if he doesn’t, he should. A career strewn with controversy and brilliance – yes he’s pushed the odd referee, yes he’s saluted the odd fascist regime, but now he’s set up shop in Wiltshire, and will not be doing things quietly.

Many of you will have read this article at the start of the week on Paolo’s adventure in the Swindon half marathon – having lost his bearings on the shorter fun-run section, he ended up putting in a time just 36 minutes short of the winner of the race and ultimately told BBC Radio Wiltshire, “I couldn’t stop, there was a challenge.” This man laughs in the face of adversity. He encapsulates Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ poem as if the wordsmith had instead written his immortal piece of work in March 2000 having seen Di Canio score that goal against Wimbledon rather than in 1910. But yet, despite that memory being over 11 years ago, and the Italian now at the age of 43, every Swindon fan holds a particular yearning…what if he was to put on a Swindon shirt just once. What if he took to the hallowed turf and dazzled Robins fans the way he once did West Ham fans. What if he scored in front of the Town End. Just think about it Paolo – which is more, you’ll be a man, my son.

The idea may equate to mere blue-sky thinking or any number of workplace-based idioms, but when you sit in League Two with a manager who once called the Premier League and Serie A his home just a few years ago, the idea borders on genius and insanity. Go on, admit it, you’re edging towards the side of genius…

There was a time when the term ‘player-manager’ was not something sneered at or seen as a sign of a club desperate to avoid the drop with a minimal number of games left having just kicked their manager unceremoniously into the job centre, but instead was an in vogue scheme which chairmen up and down the land (although, predominantly just Ken Bates) thought could steer the club onwards and upwards – Chelsea encouraged Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Glenn Hoddle to take up the challis during the 1990s, regardless of how much poison it contained. The latter of those three did of course begin his managerial career as Swindon’s player-manager, culminating in the club winning promotion to the Premier League, with Hoddle himself scoring in their play-off final victory over Leicester City. Liverpool fans will recite Kenny Dalglish’s first managerial spell as an example of it working and him truly being crowned a King. Swansea City will utter John Toshack’s time as the prime example of fighting their way through the divisions. Crystal Palace will proclaim, err, Attilio Lombardo. Okay, sometimes these things just weren’t meant to be…

But at present all four teams relegated from League One last season sit in the bottom half of League Two – Swindon, Bristol Rovers, Dagenham & Redbridge and, perhaps inevitably, Plymouth Argyle all call the ‘doldrums’ their home at present. At the start of the season, Swindon’s odds for promotion were just 9/4, with 9/1 to win the league outright. There may still be nearly three-quarters of the season to go, but this is not the outcome supporters wanted, nor necessarily expected in August. Even Di Canio admitted the club must gain promotion back to League One this term; there was no ‘maybe’ in his outline for the season – his conviction led fans into a spell of mass hysteria that we could walk through this league without breaking a sweat. The reality is proving slightly more complicated.

Swindon Town has a knack of embracing risk and ambition. For a town with the cultural appeal of a wet dishcloth, its managerial roll call is heaped in history and glamour. The juxtaposition of a legendary footballer managing in a town with little more than a confusing roundabout as it’s modern day clamour for tourists is an odd one, but one which has always paid off. When inert creatures such as Paul Hart or Maurice Malpas take charge, only negative occurrences happen at the County Ground. Paolo Di Canio is the risk and ambition which fans desire, and expect.

Despite his short tenure at the club so far, turmoil has followed the Italian. Many would say this is a natural inevitability with the national media waiting for him to slip up in the same way they want him to succeed. The Leon Clarke incident was pure Di Canio. The vast majority of fans sided with the manager and Clarke was out – loaned to Chesterfield, and although many will admit they could do with him scoring for us now, his spell at the club was so inferior to make an impression, they’ll never know.

Quite simply, mess with Paolo and you’ll never play for the club again. Picture this scene from Scarface and imagine every single player being brought into his office, one-by-one, sitting down whilst he sips from a snifter glass having poured a precise gill measurement of his finest brandy from the Royal Doulton decanter he keeps hidden from view, and then, in his immaculate Italian-English simply echoes Sosa’s words. Haunting.

Strikers such as the once Czech Republic international Lukas Magera have failed miserably at the club at the time of writing – Algerian Mehdi Kerrouche and winger Matt Ritchie are seemingly single-handedly lifting the club above the parapet, which inevitably means one of them will be sold in January. Alan Connell is bouncing in and out of the starting line-up on more occasions than can be healthy, and therefore no form can be found. Di Canio’s fellow countryman Raffaele de Vita appears to have secured a starting birth but fans are often left scratching heads at his inclusion, especially when he’s regularly substituted after an hour. New loanee Jake Jervis reportedly has the potential to provide a beacon of goals but has minimal experience in professional football.

Quite simply, it appears Paolo has yet to find the strike partnership he’s fond of. He’s yet to find the strikers he trusts. There is a short-term solution, however. Play Paolo. His managerial style has naturally fused his flair and awareness of the beautiful game, which sometimes comes unstuck in League Two when meaty defenders blunder their way through the back of your midfielders legs when they’re performing intricate give-and-go play, added with the simple fact that players at this level are not going to be able to habitually execute the brilliance that Di Canio once fed the paying audience on a weekly basis. Instead Di Canio sees players skewing it straight out of play, slicing it for a throw-in, or punting it into row Z. He may be 43, but he wouldn’t do this. He’d be a modicum of talent, inventiveness and inspiration in a morale-sapping league. When you sit in the fourth tier of English football, no one enjoys staying there for long.

What harm could it do to Swindon’s already faltering season? Di Canio would obviously be required to register as a player rather than just strap on his boots at will while manager, but come on, don’t sap the fun out of this. The idea may be maniacal and purely something light-heartedly observational to fill the pages of a Football League website giving a soapbox to the opinions of fans, but everyone would want to see it. Everyone would love to witness Paolo Di Canio on the field of play one final time. People would come from far and wide to watch the ever growing soap opera of Swindon Town. He would become the player that the fans of the beautiful game always wanted to see return. His goals, assists and sheer motivational intensity will be a standard of which the fourth tier of our national game has never seen…

…And then we’ll sell him for an undisclosed fee in January.

Written by Carl McQueen – We Are Going Up! Podcast member and Swindon Town Blogger

Carl tweets at @mrcarlmcqueen

Rivalries, we’ve had a few. But then again, just one to mention.

Friday, August 19th, 2011

You big wigs can have your Manchester derby, your Merseyside derby, even your North London derby. League Two types don’t ‘do’ derbies named by hazy geographical designations. Instead, they stick to unappealing A-roads which mean nothing to the common man – welcome to the A420 derby – Swindon Town v Oxford United. Please drive carefully.

It doesn’t matter if you support Barcelona or Barnet; regardless of whichever club you cheer across the world, to fans of the teams concerned, it’s the fiercest rivalry known to man and the only one that matters. On Sunday that passion combusts into life once again for Robins and U’s fans.

Speaking of Barcelona, last year the football purists were saturated with El Clasico’s left, right and centre. Town and United fans have been starved of a match for nine years. Unimaginable if you cheer on Real Madrid or Barca, but something us Town fans have had to stubbornly put up with. Allow the knife to be stuck in early here and say the main reasoning behind this is Oxford’s plight that saw them enjoy a number of seasons in the Conference.

But now we sit on even terms. They have one of the world’s most renowned university’s, we have the Magic Roundabout. They have a cathedral dating back to the 1100’s, we have the Oasis Leisure Centre. They have Inspector Morse, we have Billie Piper. This is not an edition of Newsnight Review, this is an episode of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.

It’s conceivable a rivalry may have never ignited at all had Accrington Stanley not folded in 1962. Oxford United were granted league status in place of them and the rest is history. As fate may have it, Oxford’s departure from the Football League in 2006 resulted in them being replaced by none other than Accrington Stanley. I’ll allow you to say it’s a funny old game at this point in the article.

One of Swindon Town’s leading supporter websites suggests the ignition pilot failed to light early on however, with six of the first ten games between the teams ending in 0-0. Results to hardly get the blood boiling. But it’s a fine wine of a footballing derby, complemented by a greasy curry Pukka half-time pie. Improving with history whilst being accompanied by the inevitable stress-induced heart attack that watching the lower league football team you support brings.

They’ve both won the League Cup once, but neither were allowed to compete in Europe despite to their success. Town were prohibited because they played in the third tier of English football at the time (1969) and United were denied because they won during a time when UEFA had banned English teams from European competitions following the Heysel disaster (1986). Both have effectively been prohibited from the dizzying heights of Borussia Monchengladbach away due to the stubborn nature of football bureaucracy. Even Robert Maxwell’s fraudulent millions couldn’t pay for Oxford’s way into the competition.

The two sides have met 53 times in the past, and Oxford have only won on 10 occasions. Were it a boxing match, the referee would have called this bout off around September 1990. But now it’s August 2011 and they’ve risen from the canvas. Neither side particularly wanted to meet in the fourth tier of English football, but evidently both sides float like a butterfly and sting like one too.

Despite the fact the two rivals last competitively met on the 8th December 2002 in the FA Cup – Oxford won 1-0 in the only game between the two teams to have been hosted at the Kassam Stadium; or “that ridiculous ground with three stands and a car park at one end” according to most Swindon fans – the hatred remains as strong as ever. During the witching hours of Friday night last week, Town ‘fans’ broke into Oxford’s ground and embossed “STFC” into the grass using petrol and lighters. It was there for all to see as the U’s took on Bradford City on Saturday afternoon…unfortunately the initials did appear as if a two-year-old had scrawled them across green crepe paper with a human-sized black crayon, but the intention lingered throughout the match – “oi, Oxford, we’re waiting…”

The unspoken taboo of players appearing for both sides has occurred on various occasions; in recent years Tommy Mooney, Adrian Viveash, Jimmy Glass (Yes Carlisle United fans, THAT Jimmy Glass) and Eric Sabin have all crossed the divide during their meandering careers. Most infamously however, Joey Beauchamp will go down in Swindon Town’s unwanted folklore as the player theoretically brought for a fiver and sold for a penny and morally became the A420 equivalent of Mo Johnston. It may not have made the list of “Football Transfers to Shock the World” but Mr Beauchamp will never be welcome in Wiltshire.

Now Swindon have the infamous Paolo Di Canio in charge, they have a backroom nonentity in Chris Wilder as manager. Swindon have a matured amphitheatre steeped in tradition and supporter passion, they have a car park with a field attached. Swindon have the spirit of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s work strewn throughout our town, they have, well, quite a lot of impressive architectural work. But remember this isn’t about culture; this is about football, stupid.

Swindon have plenty of wannabe rivalries – this football fans census suggests they’re ranked thirteenth in the country when it comes to teams who define us as ‘the enemy’, joint level with Cardiff City and even ahead of former European champions Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa – the fans know how to ruffle the proverbial feathers.

So next time you’re quaffing on a Budweiser in your armchair while watching Manchester United versus Manchester City, or Liverpool, or Arsenal, or Chelsea, or whoever else wants to be their main rival this week according to Sky Sports, think of the Swindon fans, and even Oxford ones for that matter, kicking off at 1pm on Sunday afternoon due to the advice of police. Not because of TV scheduling. Oh no, the only cameras in attendance will be those filming fights on their iPhone, or the work experience kid at the BBC to provide any possible goals for the local Beeb amateur dramatics, sorry I mean news bulletin, at some point that evening. If it’s really on the advice of police, they’d have been better off playing at about 10.30am on a Tuesday morning – at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon Town fans will just keep drinking having been out all night on Saturday. Seriously. John Betjeman gained inspiration for ‘Slough’ by hanging out in Swindon.

Bristol Rovers, Reading and even Gillingham may officially categorise us as unwanted visitors, but all equate to mere cannon fodder in supporter’s eyes compared to that team in yellow who live about 30 miles away. As Prince and Sinéad O’Connor perhaps once (almost) realised while stuck in a traffic jam around Shrivenham on the A420, nothing compares…to the U’s.

Written by Carl McQueen – We Are Going Up! Podcast member and Swindon Town Blogger

Carl tweets at @mrcarlmcqueen

We are close to signing Lionel Messi

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

“We are close to signing Lionel Messi.”
Paolo Di Canio, 23rd May 2011.

Swindon is a typical English town – famed for a roundabout, trains and Melinda Messenger; renovated in the 1970s into an aesthetically appalling concrete jungle with no redeemable features and where teenage conception rates are more similar to the levels found in Rwanda than Royal Tunbridge Wells. But one thing has always remained apparent – its football team have never done things by the book.

Osvaldo Ardilles, Glenn Hoddle, Lou Macari and Steve McMahon all began their managerial careers at the County Ground – all having won copious football trophies during their playing career – Ardilles even rocked up in Wiltshire in 1989 just over ten years after winning the Jules Rimet. The equivalent would be Xavi Hernandez joining the club in 2022. The Robins don’t do conventional managerial appointments. Di Canio fits that bill. Just ask Paul Alcock.

Within 24 hours of his arrival back in May, the GMB union pulled its sponsorship deal with the club following Di Canio’s contentious decision in the past to voice his admiration for Benito Mussolini. And as he’s proclaimed in previous years; “I am a fascist, not a racist.” Oh, well that’s alright then…

Players have naturally departed over the summer months – one significant factor to the clubs relegation last season was the departure of Gordon Greer, Billy Paynter and latterly Charlie Austin in January, and the complete failure to adequately replace them. Added to that list you can now include Jonathan Douglas, Jon-Paul McGovern, David Lucas, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan and Lecsinel Jean-François – all of whom started the 2010 League One Playoff final against Millwall and who are now plying their trade elsewhere having been relegated just a couple of months ago.

Di Canio has been in touch with AC Milan to ask if they’ll loan him any players. Presumably he was laughed out of the San Siro. Instead he looked at archetypal journeymen such as Leon Knight – a man who the day before he was told he wouldn’t be required at Swindon after a short trial said he had ‘nothing to prove’; something that fans of Chelsea, QPR, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Brighton, Swansea City, Barnsley, MK Dons, Wycombe Wanderers, Rushden & Diamonds, Thrasyvoulos Filis (who?!), Hamilton Academicals, Queen of the South and Coleraine can all question along with Swindon fans.

In all seriousness, Leon Knight aside, Di Canio has been frantically bringing in players from all across the globe…Joe Devera, Alberto Comazzi, Raffaele De Vita, Oliver Risser, Jonathan Smith, Mattia Lanzano, Alessandro Cibocchi, Ibrahim Atiku, Mehdi Kerrouche, Alan Connell, Etienne Esajas and Alan McCormack are no fewer than twelve new names now gracing the squad list for 2011. How many have played in the Football League before? Three. Yes, those are alarm bells you can hear ringing in the distance. The new captain for the year, Oliver Risser, is a regular member of the Namibian national team, don’t you know!

Being a ‘big’ team in a league featuring clubs formed less than a decade ago and clubs immortalised by milk adverts, could have it’s downfalls. Employing a man such as Di Canio systematically means he’ll be drawn to a bigger club within months. This happened when Dennis Wise & Gus Poyet arrived at the County Ground as recently as 2006…thankfully they left their mark instantly and the club gained automatic promotion after such a strong start. That team included a full squad of players who had Football League experience. Were Di Canio to depart before Christmas and leave a team full of Italians, a Namibian, an Algerian, a Ghanaian and a Dutchmen who have never stepped foot in England before, let alone played on a cold, wet Tuesday night away at Morecambe, then the consequences could be dire.

A pocket of fans will never accept Di Canio due to his acknowledgement of a very right-wing view of society – it’s important to indicate the County Ground was a prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War. Were results to come immediately and Di Canio were to weave the same magic he did as a player, that section of supporters will join the celebrating bandwagon on it’s merry march. Should Di Canio still be winless come around 3pm on Sunday 21st August then the vitriol towards him may increase to unassailable levels. The reason for such a specific time and date? The final whistle in the match between Swindon and Oxford will have just been blown. To heavily paraphrase Vince Lombardi for a moment, show me a rivalry that claims to be bigger in League Two than that of Swindon and Oxford and I’ll show you a rivalry.

In four months time you may find me describing Di Canio as an inevitable traitor for leaving the Robins high and dry in search of a bigger managerial role while we languish in the bottom half, or waxing lyrically as he’s performed the kind of transformation that would make Midas’ touch appear quite rusty. That’s what defines the enigma of Paolo Di Canio – you never know what you’re going to get. Swindon have risked it all before on these Forrest Gump-style managers – a big name who could make or break the club…and yet the Robins are still standing. Just.

“This is my destiny,” proclaimed Paolo upon arrival at the County Ground, and then charmed the awaiting media with witticisms of signing Lionel Messi. Rather than recite a passage from the works of Prus or a quote from Aristotle to describe his ambitions in a place such as Swindon; he remembered he was no longer strolling through the streets of Rome, and merely declared he wanted players “with two big bollocks”.

Welcome to the world of Paolo, Swindon… What was that about never doing things by the book?

Written by Carl McQueen – We Are Going Up! Podcast member and Swindon Town Blogger

Carl tweets at @mrcarlmcqueen