Sam Morshead of TotalSwindonSport.com reflects on how Swindon Town’s dream of promotion to the Championship on 24 May vapourised within 20 minutes in a game dominated by promotion contenders Preston North End.
See the gallery of images by Richard Wintle of Calyx below. Pictured top, nearing kick-off the size of things to come. A Swindon mini-mascot thinks about taking on Preston’s three goal hero Jermaine Beckford
THEY say insanity is doing the same thing time and time again and expecting different results. When it comes to Wembley, Swindon Town are most certainly losing their minds.
Bank Holiday Sunday’s trip to the national stadium – a third visit in five years – began with less expectation than their other two but ended in total desolation. It was a miserable conclusion to a bizarre and brilliant season.
Town fans are getting used to leaving Wembley first and filtering down the half-mile stretch back to the Tube with the echoes of celebration chasing behind them, but experience doesn’t make it any easier to take.
Back in the Wembley of old, with its Twin Towers and crumbling walls, Swindon were invincible: three appearances, three victories and enough wonderful memories to last a lifetime.
It’s been 22 years since the last one, though, the towers have been replaced by a galactic arch, hope has been usurped by heartbreak and an entire generation can only associate the north London venue with failure.
Swindon fans were raucous before the game. The Globe on Baker Street and The Torch at Wembley Park became boisterous hives, Wembley Way was soon swamped with red and then, as the players emerged from the tunnel, a giant mosaic – printed above the arms of Town supporters behind one goal – added to the atmosphere.
It’s just as well those who’d made the trip from Wiltshire had found enough to shout about pre-match. Within 13 minutes the game was up, as the Robins found themselves two goals down and their captain injured again.
Perhaps that offered some form of consolation; Swindon supporters had plenty of time to digest the inevitable. Some retained that slither of belief that a comeback remained possible – a slither which was flattened when Michael Smith headed wide 30 seconds before Jermaine Beckford added Preston’s third.
Half-time might as well have been full-time, such was the party at one end of Wembley and misery at the other. As much as supporters could search and search and search, they could find no reason to cheer – a harsh and sad denouement to a campaign where cheering has been so surprisingly frequent.
The fourth for Preston was always coming. By now, 21,000 Town fans were just willing for a goal of their own. Remember, many have never witnessed one at Wembley. It never came.
And so the occasion fizzled out and the long trudge home began. A season of little promise ended in much the same way, despite what happened in between.
No time for over-thinking, no time for contemplation; just get on the Metropolitan Line and get away. Get away from the theatre of doom. Get away from a day that needs to be forgotten. Just get away.
It wasn’t even worth a look back at the arch, by now shining bright white in honour of the victors.
And yet, should Swindon return in a few years’ time, we’ll all be there again. Praying for a goal, begging the football gods to undo this wretched curse, pleading for the players to perform on the biggest stage.
Because, through temporary insanity, this is still our club.
Sam Morshead: email@example.com
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All images copyright Richard Wintle of Calyx