English football

Arsenal 1 Swindon Town 3 1969 League Cup Final

League Cup Final, March 15, 1969.

Arsenal 1 Swindon Town 3 aet. – Attendance. 98,189

Arsenal : B.Wilson, P.Storey, B.McNab, F.McLintock, I.Ure, P.Simpson (G.Graham), J.Radford, J.Sammels, D.Court, B.Gould, G.Armstrong.

Swindon Town : P.Downsborough, R.Thomas, J.Trollope, J.Butler, F.Burrows, S.Harland, D.Heath, R.Smart, J.Smith, P.Noble (B.Penman), D.Rogers.

On paper the 1969 League Cup final appeared something of a formality as Arsenal, riding high in the first division, were faced with the task of overcoming third division Swindon Town, albeit a Swindon Town chasing promotion, a chase that would ultimately prove successful.

The omens for an upset improved in the run up to the match, however. Firstly the Arsenal camp complained of a flu bug in their camp and secondly there was the incessant rain prior to the game which, combined with the Horse of the Year show held there earlier in the week, turned Wembley into a total morass. Surely these were factors to encourage the underdogs.

Barrage Of Corners

The early stages made talk of an upset appear futile, however, as the Gunners swept forward from the off, perhaps eager to kill off their opponents early before the effects of illness could take hold. A series of corners were won but the third division side, with Frank Burrows and captain Stan Harland standing tall, were up to the task of withstanding the early barrage.

As the play began to settle down it was still the favourites who held sway and now it was the turn of the Swindon Town goalkeeper, Peter Downsborough, to distinguish himself.

With the third division sides’ dangerman, left winger Don Rogers, being shackled by the Arsenal hard man Peter Storey little was being seen of the Swindon attack but with the game approaching half time the lucky break they needed came along and, against the odds, Swindon went in at half time leading.

The goal was a hugely scrappy affair with the Arsenal keeper, Bob Wilson, failing to deal with a back pass before more slipshod defending allowed Roger Smart to tuck the ball away.

Second Half Goalkeeping Heroics

The second half, if anything, was even more one sided than the first as Arsenal fought desperately for an equaliser and Swindon sought to protect the goal that would bring them a famous victory and the cup.

Once more Downsborough performed heroics for the Robins. Always a capable goalkeeper, on this muddy, sodden afternoon at Wembley he was inspired. Shots rained in on him from all angles and all quarters and he was equal to them all. When efforts from Jon Sammels and then the full back Bob McNab looked certain to bring the scores level Downsborough managed to surpass all his previous feats to keep them at bay.

Once Swindon managed to break free of their shackles and carved out a chance that would clinch victory but Smart’s header rebounded from an upright with Wilson beaten.

With only five minutes remaining it seemed as though one of the greatest cup upsets of all time was about to become a reality when Downsborough suddenly made an error, racing from his line to collect a ball that was never his allowing Bobby Gould to head home the equaliser and take the game into extra time.

Extra Time

Having gained a reprieve so late in the piece it might have been expected that Arsenal would now go on and brush their lower league opponents aside but this was not the case. The extra period saw Swindon enjoying more of the game than at any period and, with the game stretched, the dangerous Rogers was able to finally impose himself on proceedings.

Now this Arsenal team would go on to triumph in Europe the following season by winning the Fairs Cup and the year after that it formed the basis of the side which would complete the league and FA Cup double but in 1969 it did not possess a better individual player than Don Rogers and when moment to prove his class arrived he did not let it pass.

Extra time was almost half done when Rogers turned the game irrevocably. Out of nothing the winger carved a swathe right through the heart of the Arsenal defence, taking the ball deep into the first division sides’ penalty area, before driving it emphatically beyond the helpless Wilson.

This time there was no way back for Arsenal. Desperately they threw men forward but without conviction and when Smart sent a ball out of defence it found Rogers unattended, just inside his own half.

With half a churned up field to himself, one hundred thousand spectators holding their breath and with history beckoning this might have been a moment to freeze, but not for Rogers. Tearing directly for goal without a second thought the winger did what he did best, taking the ball right up to Wilson, then round him in one beautiful sweep before slotting home the goal that confirmed Swindon’s victory.

Arsenal muttered afterwards about the flu bug that had affected their camp and the dire state of the Wembley pitch and although these were probably valid points it is hard to imagine how they could have dominated the game to a greater extent in even the most favourable of conditions. The truth was that on the day they simply did not have the men to make their chances count whereas Swindon, in the inimical shape of Don Rogers, did.

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