I have the first of several Xmas work outings tonight, so I'm posting this a bit earlier.
Match #28 of the series, and we return to league action following our brief foray into the shadowy underworld of fanzines. We also return to the County Ground for a second visit – given my location, it will come as little surprise that there are quite a few more trips to Swindon in my collection.
Swindon v Colchester United Saturday 1st September 2001 Nationwide League Division 2 (3rd Tier) Attendance 4,889
Perhaps already the date has resonated with some of you as somehow familiar, or maybe significant, but can’t quite put your finger on it – but more of that later.
This was our fourth consecutive season in the third tier, and our third season under Steve Whitton, taking over after the departure of Mick Wadsworth in 1999. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, the U’s had started this season exceptionally well, and went into this game top of the league with three victories and a draw, ahead of Brentford on goal difference (thanks in no small part to smashing Chesterfield 6-3 at Saltergate on the opening day). With my wife working away on the Outer Hebrides at the time, this was a men behaving badly opportunity, so my brother-in-law came down to watch this game with me, and of course share a few beers.
The U’s lined up: 21..Andy Woodman 3….Joe Keith 12..Scott Fitzgerald 18..Alan White 5….Micky Stockwell 6….Karl Duguid 8….David Gregory (Dean Morgan 75’ – I think it was for Greggers?) 10..Kem Izzet (Bobby Bowry 80’) 14..Thomas Pinault 9….Scott McGleish 20..Kevin Rapley
As for Swindon Town, they did have Richard McKinney on the bench as their reserve goalkeeper, but the big name (in more ways than one) was Neil “Razor” Ruddock in the middle of defence, arriving on a free transfer from Crystal Palace. Ruddock was signed as a player/coach, and this was to be his debut for the Robins. Mind you, it very nearly didn’t happen, as his club struggled to find a supplier capable of providing shorts large enough to fit his (ahem) ample frame. I recall there was much amusement amongst the U’s online community (back in the good old days of Rivals) about Ruddock, e.g. turning circle of an oil tanker, it’ll take two minutes to run around him etc etc. Shorts were eventually found for Razor – they had to be flown in from Egypt!
We drove over to Swindon from Salisbury on a bright September day, and with time for a quick one in the Merlin beforehand. There was a fairly decent turnout for the U’s (about 250 I reckoned), and we as ever were housed at the east end of the Arkell’s stand. Swindon had had an indifferent start to the season, and were sitting lower mid-table at the time, perhaps a factor in a surprisingly low crowd for them of under 5k.
There weren’t too many clear-cut chances in what was a fairly uneventful first half (described as “no-thrills” by the BBC reporter at the time). Ruddock was obviously getting plenty of banter directed at him from the U’s faithful, but if it was getting to him, he really didn’t show it, and commanding his defence like a great big silverback. There were one or two close calls, Andy Woodman getting down well to keep out Jo Osei-Kuffour when through on goal, and that man Ruddock booting a Pinault effort off the line at the other end. However, other than that, not much to speak of, and at half-time it was still 0-0.
The second half certainly started better, and to be fair for both sides, with a bit more attacking intent, and some real end to end stuff. The deadlock was finally broken in the 53rd minute, and I just knew it would have to be Razor Ruddock. Swindon were awarded a free-kick 20-25 yards out, and there was Ruddock lining up to take it. Lumbering forward to get up to speed (think glacial), he put all his prodigious weight behind a left-footed pile-driver, which simply burst through the wall as if it wasn’t there. The kick took a slight deflection on the way through, which wrong-footed Andy Woodman, who could do nothing about it. Probably just as well, because if he’d got behind it, he’d have ended up in the back of the net as well. Ruddock embarked on a mazy Neanderthal celebratory run back towards the Town End, certainly the fastest he’d moved all afternoon, whilst his teammates clung on like oxpeckers on a hippo.
From a U’s perspective, this was the start of fairly sustained constant pressure through to the end, with numerous chances to equalise going begging – Micky Stockwell, Kevin Rapley and Dean Morgan all missing scoring opportunities with only the goalkeeper to beat, but try as we might, we couldn’t find a way through. It’s not churlish, or sour grapes to say we at least deserved a draw that day, and on clear-cut chances made, a victory wouldn’t have been a shock, but it just wasn’t our day.
Swindon Town 1 (Neil Ruddock 53’) Colchester United 0
Although there’s no sound, I have found an extremely grainy YouTube video of the highlights from the County Ground, including that Ruddock thunderbolt. Ruddock only scored one league goal in his time at Swindon – why did it have to be against Colchester United!
However, now to that date – Saturday 1st September 2001, and Germany v England World Cup Qualifier at the Munich Stadium. Having planned ahead, we were out of Swindon straight after the final whistle, and by kick-off in Munich, already a couple of beers to the good in a packed-out football pub in Salisbury (alongside a sizeable number of Pompey’s 6:57 crew as I recall). I tend not to get over-excited or over-hyped about England these days, bitter experience has shown me often that there’s little point, but that night we watched the most comprehensive dismantling of one of the leading football nations in the world I’ve ever witnessed.
When Jancker poked home to put Germany ahead after just 6 minutes, I feared the worst, but nothing could prepare us for what was to come. On 12 minutes, a Beckham corner is cleared, only to be returned with interest, Barmby heads down to Owen, who finds the net with the home side appealing for offside. Crucially, on the stroke of half-time, following another Beckham free-kick, the ball found it’s way out to Gerrard, who from what must have been well over 25 yards, blasted the ball low into the far corner of the goal – needless to say, the pub erupted, beer, glasses, people flying everywhere!
If we were in bedlam then, imagine the scenes just three minutes after the restart, when Owen again found the net, an excellent poachers goal if ever there was one, and we had a vital two-goal cushion to sit back and defend. Like heck we did, on 66 minutes Owen, doing most of the work himself this time, burst through to fire past Oliver Khan for his hat-trick to make it 4-1…and we weren’t done then either, Emile Heskey competing the rout on 74 minutes from an excellent Scholes pass.
It’s never easy seeing the U’s lose, particularly lose in a game we didn’t deserve to, but that night England certainly eased my disappointment – enjoy!
The fallout from this result was profound: from comfortable group leaders, Germany slipped behind England on goal difference, and a position they couldn’t retake. With only the group winners qualifying, England went through, and Germany had to suffer the ignominy of the play-offs to qualify. Of course they did qualify, but I’m loving the fact that they were so confident of winning the group that they’d already arranged friendlies for the dates of the play-offs! Let’s put that night into context, Germany had never been beaten, ever, in a World Cup qualifier at home. The last time they lost a World Cup qualifier at all was back in 1985. Since 1966, we’d only beaten Germany once in a competitive match, and Germany deserved a stuffing after beating England 1-0 in the match to close the old Wembley Stadium.
I was in the Home End in Munich - paid £100 for ticket via a German Tout Agency based in London that guaranteed it would be in Away End. Turned out not to be a problem though as about 90% of people in this section were England fans.
Unofficial figures suggested there were over 35000 Engand fans and it was stated it was the biggest invasion of English people in Germany for one event since the WW2
There were about 100 -120 of us from Colchester.
To avoid any potential trouble we flew into Salzburg on the Thursday morning. Unfortunately during the day so did 2-3000 others and it was a real volatile atmosphere in Salzburg. We ended up drinking with Carlisle fans who as we found out following a huge brawl didn't like Tottenham fans
We went to Munich on the Friday returning to Salzburg Sunday ready for the Monday flight home
What a weekend
5-1 - it was a nothing game but one that will I never forget
[Post edited 6 Dec 2019 14:42]
Matches of Yesteryear - Swindon v U's 1/9/01 on 16:38 - Dec 6 with 170 views
My favourite memory of a trip to Swindon was fairly recent and the night when the solitary ball-boy at the empty end could not have got wetter had he been tied to the keel of a trawler in a hurricane. We didn't need time wasting tactics, so reluctant was he to chase after the ball.
I believe it was also the Valentine's Day match where I declared my undying love to a pal, grabbed his hand, blew him a kiss and took advantage of the "two for one" for couples ticket offer. The romance ended once through the turnstile!