MATCH OF THEIR DAY – Swindon legend Don Rogers on scoring against Arsenal at Wembley

Don Rogers is reliving the moment in the 1969 League Cup final when he skipped away from the Arsenal back four, raced towards keeper Bob Wilson, sent him the wrong way and calmly slid the ball into the back of the Wembley net.

‘Those few seconds,’ Rogers says, ‘were probably the greatest of my life.’

What Rogers had done in extra time was score two goals for Third Division Swindon Town that took the game away from the mighty Arsenal and a major trophy back to Wiltshire for the first and only time. Rogers and Swindon made history.

‘I scored at both ends in extra time,’ Rogers, 72, recalls. ‘The first one was better than people think. I dragged it back with my right foot away from a few players and hit it with my left.

‘The second, it was a quality goal. Running from the halfway line, I laid Bob Wilson down on the ground. He’s a nice man, Bob, I’ve met him a couple of times since. He sort of prided himself on his record in one-on-ones.

‘Then I hit it. I knew it was in and I knew we’d won. It wasn’t about the quality of the goal, it was about what it meant. There was barely a minute left. I said to the first player I saw — Willie Penman — “we’ve won!” After that, it’s all a blur.’

Swindon’s triumph was one of the most unexpected cup final results ever. Arsenal, Wilson was to say, would use it as motivation for their run to the 1971 Double.

Don Rogers was 23 at the time and had been on Swindon’s books since he was 15. He was a mercurial winger with a distinctive gait and moustache and he would go on to play for Crystal Palace and QPR in the old First Division.

He scored famous goals for Palace — notably against Manchester United — but it is March 1969 at Wembley which shines brightest for him. Swindon was his first club and the County Ground is where he still goes for every home game. There is a stand named after him.

It began, as he says, with a knock on the door from Swindon manager Bert Head. One hour later, Bristol City’s manager Fred Ford turned up, but Rogers had given his word to Head.

Don’s brother Robert had a trial with Swindon and did not make it but, as Rogers explains, he was off and running when Head knocked. ‘I left school at Christmas 1960,’ he says. ‘I was 15. On January 1, 1961, I signed for Swindon Town and moved into a new hostel the club had set up.’

The hostel was evidence of Swindon’s innovative youth development policy. Mike Summerbee, Ernie Hunt and Rogers were just three of those to emerge. ‘Bert Head already had four 17- and 18-year-olds in the first team. If you were young and fairly good, you got your chance,’ Rogers says.

By 1968, Head had given way to Danny Williams and Rogers had experienced promotion and relegation. When Swindon were 1-0 down at home to Torquay in the League Cup first round, none of the players were thinking of Wembley.

Even after they recovered to win, then beat Bradford, Blackburn and Coventry, to bring a fifth-round meeting with Derby, Wembley went unmentioned, but Rogers’ shot, which deflected off Dave Mackay’s back, brought victory over Derby and a two-legged semi-final against Burnley.

It was so tight there had to be a third game, at the Hawthorns. It went to extra time, too, Swindon winning 3-2.

It was hardly sudden, but Swindon were at Wembley. Rogers had been there once to watch an England-Scotland match. He had never played Arsenal above youth level. The Wembley pitch, sodden by rain and cut up by the Horse of the Year show, suited Swindon.

‘We were used to it,’ Rogers says. ‘It was like that at the County Ground every week. Shocking. From the end of September to March, I played on mud.’

Arsenal were hot favourites, but they were hit by a flu bug and a first-half goal by Swindon’s Roger Smart. The Gunners rallied, Bobby Gould scoring an 86th-minute equaliser. Then came extra time and Rogers’ goals.

That night brought a dinner hosted by Bob Monkhouse, the start of a week of celebration. Swindon lost their next match, to Plymouth, but in May they won promotion. It was some season.

Rogers later opened a sports shop in the town. He works there today, still being asked about 1969.

loading...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *