The afternoon of 7 May will mark a quarter of a century since Swindon’s final Premier League match to date, and if the Robins are to ever again grace the top flight, their route will begin with promotion from the very bottom tier of the EFL system.
League title betting prospects
With the top three now out of reach, and Swindon spending the week prior to Easter 2019 commanding odds of as much as 14/1 to finish in the top seven of League Two, Swindon’s chances of gaining that first vital promotion immediately have long since appeared slim. The Robins are also likely to command similarly long odds to win the title in League Two’s outright market for 2019/20, despite recently beating a real automatic promotion candidate on hostile turf.
That will, of course, not stop some loyal Robins fans from feeling inclined to wager on their club gaining promotion. At present though, there appears to be something of a 'waiting list' to gain promotion next term. Teams such as Tranmere and Forest Green have gone from strength to strength since gaining very recent promotions, and as of Easter weekend, the latter is favourite amongst many of the most reputable and trustworthy bookmakers offering free bets to go up via the playoffs.
When it comes to the title, MK Dons will be hot favourites should they fail to gain promotion this spring, with Swindon only relative outsiders to finish top of the pile. There's also the presence of teams relegated from League One to complicate matters, and current relegation candidates like Walsall and Southend will be well-placed to bounce back immediately.
Memories of 1993/94 provide an incentive
Too much ambition can be harmful and create undue pressure. Swindon’s class of 1993 undoubtedly overachieved when they gained promotion via the playoffs, and following the club’s expected relegation in 1994, it was nearly impossible for the best players to stay on the books. A further relegation ensued in 1995, completing the club’s dramatic decline of that era.
Yet, even though everything that followed 1993/94 was a tale of continual decline in lieu of recovery, certain games from that season serve as a reminder of what can be achieved merely by a great team ethic – even if the funds necessary to soar up the leagues are not sufficiently forthcoming.
Nobody, for instance, can forget the greatest 'moral victory' the club has ever experienced, when Swindon beat Manchester United in 1994.
This performance was made even more remarkable by the backstory which preceded it, with the Robins winning just one Premier League game in the calendar year of 1993 and entertaining the champions-elect on the back of a 7-1 drubbing at Newcastle.
There was also a memorable yuletide draw at Anfield and a come-from-behind home win over a Tottenham side that stood – along with Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United – as one of the 'power five' during the 1980s.
Many Swindon fans also remember the club’s final Premier League road trip, as John Gorman’s men took their last-ever chance to snatch a top-flight away win with aplomb. A Shaun Taylor header put Swindon ahead, and not even an equaliser for QPR’s Les Ferdinand could dampen the Robins’ spirits. Two displays of defensive ineptitude from the hosts gave Jan Aage Fjortoft and Nicky Summerbee the winning goals.
Can they do it?
It is undoubtedly a long way back to the top for Swindon Town, whose second-tier playoff final victory of 1993 is best described as 'unforgettable', even though Hull and Swansea have both managed to rise to the top from the depths of the fourth tier this century. Sadly, in these times of great disparity between the rich elite and the poor provincials, only a cash injection like no other can provide the current generation of Robins fans with any chance of a top-flight season to remember.
Every battle must be taken as it comes, and a top-half finish – assuming a top-seven finish is not forthcoming this season – is as good a foundation as any upon which to build football’s next success story. One needs only observe Lincoln City’s fantastic 2018/19 season as clear evidence of that, with the Imps preparing to visit impressive stadia such as Portman Road and the Ricoh Arena after so recently occupying the National League.