Memorable games #4

Saturday 26th November, 1966
FA Cup 1st round proper
Horsham 0 Swindon Town 3

Probably the biggest game ever to have been staged at Queen Street came in November, 1966 when Horsham reached the first round proper of the FA Cup for only the second time in their history. Their reward was a home tie against Swindon Town, then of the old third division, a side that boasted the likes of winger Don Rogers, whose display against Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup Final earned him legendary status in Swindon, and centre-half Mel Nurse who won twelve Welsh caps while playing for Swansea.

The previous season had been a disastrous one for Horsham Football Club as their fifteenth place in the Athenian League saw the club suffer relegation for the first time in their history. A new manager, Pat Tobin, was brought in and while England were busy winning the World Cup during the summer, he began rebuilding the side and they got off to a stunning start to the new campaign, drawing one and winning sixteen of their first seventeen matches that saw FA Cup progression capture the imagination of the Horsham townsfolk. A 3-0 win at Dorking was repeated in the second qualifying round when Fleet were the visitors and, by the time Woking were despatched 2-1, excitement was beginning to reach fever pitch. A crowd of more than 3000 gathered for the final qualifying round tie with Hastings United that was won 2-1 by the home side with goals from substitute Mick Mears and a John Gregory penalty. Former Spurs legend Bobby Smith pulled a goal back for Hastings but it wasn't enough and the home fans left in eager anticipation of Monday's first round draw.
With only five weeks to prepare for the visit of the Robins, the club had to move fast and a capacity of 8000 was fixed for the ground, following consultations with the police force. A stand was hastily erected at the top end of the ground, for which Swindon contributed towards half the cost, although the Football League side disapproved of the floodlighting prompting an early start of 2.15 in an effort to see the match concluded before the need for artificial lighting. All tickets were to be issued in advance, with no cash sales permitted on the day and the game became a virtual sell-out with a club record attendance of 7,134 being recorded.

Swindon came into the tie on the back of a fine 3-0 win against Workington but hopes were high that the Hornets' amazing winning run could continue against the pros and, for twenty six minutes, the part-timers matched their opponents, making good use of the Queen Street slope, and Peter Downsborough had to come smartly off his line to deny Don Hollands on fourteen minutes. Unfortunately, disaster struck when the home defence gifted the visitors a goal from which the Hornets didn't really recover. Goalkeeper Ian Page rolled a short goal kick to full-back Wilf Hugill but the ball was slightly underhit and Rogers was quickly onto it, nipping in in front of Hugill as he waited for the ball to leave the area, and slotting it home to give the Wiltshire side a 1-0 lead. Although the defenders appealed that the ball had failed to come out of the penalty area, it was more in hope than expectation and referee Paine allowed the goal to stand.

Trailing by a goal to nil at the interval, Horsham came out for the second half determined to haul themselves back into the tie, with John Gregory enjoying an excellent game in midfield, but when John Tomlinson released Brian Griffin, the former Lewes winger could only shoot into the side netting. Downsborough saved his side again on the hour mark when he saved Keith Wellham's fierce shot at the second attempt and Swindon had a goal ruled after Willie Penman headed past Page. Swindon's lead was doubled, soon after, when an indirect free-kick allowed Rogers to cross for his captain, Nurse, to head home but Horsham continued to give it their best shot and Downsborough defied the Hornets attack once more when Griffin's overhead kick was expertly clawed away by the Swindon 'keeper. Further salt was rubbed into the home side's wounds when Dennis Brown, a 15,000 buy from Chelsea, finished off another Rogers inspired attack to give the scoreline a rather flattering 3-0 scoreline in favour of the visitors.

Horsham team: Ian Page, Geoff Crowther, Wilf Hugill, Ron Philpott, Brian Riggs, Don Hollands, John Gregory, John Tomlinson, Mick Streeter, Brian Griffin, Keith Wellham