|Monday, March 17, 1969
THE SHAME OF ARSENAL
BY the time you are reading this, the football prophets - and none so unprophetic as myself - should have been on the long penitents' crawl to Swindon. There to apologise to one of the best teams seen at Wembley.
Let us get this straight. Swindon made this Football League Cup Final. Their fighting spirit, their fitness, and their pride were a rebuke to a once-famous team called Arsenal.
Do not look to the frailties of Arsenal as an excuse for the splendour of Swindon. Look with admiration at these heroic athletes from the Third Division who reduced the traditions of Arsenal to a miserable myth. Erased forever is that match of black mourning when Walsall once upon a time long ago beat Arsenal.
Swindon were Corinthians. They never wasted time. They never went faltering back into massed defences. They went out to win the Cup by stirring and often brilliant attacks. Arsenal, shackled by a defence system that has beaten them out of Soccer honours they should have earned this season, expected the Cup to be presented to them by Swindon and Princess Margaret. They betrayed the pride of London with this timidity.
It was pathetic to see Arsenal for so long committing only Bobby Gould to outright attack. He was a little boy lost against such earnest defenders as Swindon captain Stan Harland, 22-year-old Rod Thomas, sturdy Frank Burrows and the admirable Frank Trollope (sic) who, until he broke his arm last August, had played in every Swindon first-team game for seven seasons.
Soccer history will recite the fame of Don Rogers, whose two goals destroyed Arsenal. He was a Stan Matthews with muscles, a deceptive idler who, when he chose to strike, panicked Arsenal into self-destroying errors. So elegant was Rogers that only he left the Wembley morass with his all-white outfit scarcely blemished. If ever Rogers leaves Swindon he will be remembered by a record cheque.
For me, the most destructive forward was Don Heath who was given away by Middlesbrough five years ago. He made the game a nightmare for Bob McNab.
Arsenal players like Jon Sammels, John Radford and the fourth time Wembley loser Frank McLintock will wince when the name of the one-time Rugby player, majestic, miraculous, Peter Downsborough is mentioned.
He had the luck that the brave command when he was beaten by a header from Sammels and turned to see it hit the far post. When Arsenal had six corners inside three minutes it was Downsborough versus Arsenal. And Arsenal lost. There are no alibis for squandered chances.
Arsenal even lost the support of a crowd who held the blatantly bogus title of "Britain's best supporters". They were as silent and apprehensive as the players they feigned to support until Arsenal equalised. But when Swindon, with unruffled assurance, once again took command they deserted the terraces and slunk away.
The Swindon faithful recalled the mighty Wembley choirs of the World Cup. As they roared out "Swin-don. Swin-don," you felt the whole of Wiltshire had moved in.
The goals are now part of Wembley legend. Ian Ure and Bob Wilson presented the first goal to an alert and grateful Roger Smart. Gould snatched a life-saver four minutes from time.
Arsenal sent out three trainers in new, golden embossed tracksuits to tend to their gasping players. Swindon's one man training staff, Harry Cousins, and manager of the year Danny Williams, went out to ease the strain of their team.
It was extra time that sorted out the men from the boys. And the boys were, unquestionably, Arsenal. They could not last the pace.
Smart headed against a post moments before Rogers scored. If it is any consolation to Swindon, even the fragile forecasters of the Press leaped up to salute this score. The only other time I have witnessed this applause was when England won the World Cup.
And there was that immortal final flourish when Rogers almost ambled through for his second goal to etch the indelible, shaming score: Swindon Town 3, Arsenal 1.