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