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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Swindon are up for the Cup again – 60 years after battling George Best

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No-one expected to see the name ‘Swindon Town’ in the quarter-final line-up for the FA Youth Cup, given that the club is not wealthy, languishes in bottom half of League Two and have had Manchester United and Sunderland standing in their way in the tournament so far.But history will be on their side when they fight for a semi-final place on Thursday, as the only Category 3 Academy team left in the tournament.The club’s only previous Youth Cup quarter-final pitted them against a Manchester United side with George Best, David Sadler and Jimmy Rimmer in their ranks, exactly 60 years ago.  It was a challenge too far, but having eliminated that opponent this time, Swindon carry a belief that they can reach the semis for the first time in their history.No-one gave the team a prayer when they faced United’s Under 18s in the tournament’s Fourth Round in January. But they drew a lesson from the past before going out to face them at their club’s County Ground.  Swindon Town are bidding to reach their first ever FA Youth Cup semi-final on Thursday Their only previous Youth Cup quarter-final pitted them against Manchester United in 1964George Best (right, pictured in 1964), David Sadler and Jimmy Rimmer all featured for United during that quarter-final and dumped Swindon out Don Rogers, a member of the youth side who had faced Best and Co in 1964, and scored twice in Swindon’s 1969 League Cup final win over Arsenal, was asked to speak to the players as they prepared.‘Be brave and enjoy it. You’ll remember this night for the rest of your lives,’ Rogers told them, remembering his part in the 1-1 second-leg draw against United in Swindon and the 4-1 first-leg defeat at Old Trafford in which United’s Sadler, then an England youth international, smashed a hat-trick before 25,563 spectators.The players heeded Rogers’ words, with a stunning performance full of heart and organisation as United were defeated 2-0. Botan Ameen, the English-Iraqi forward who Swindon have picked up from the QPR academy, was the star, scoring twice before half time and playing with a point to prove. He had questioned why didn’t get a minute on the field in the previous round.The result was not entirely a fluke, given the reputation that Swindon are building as a developer of young talent, with a clear pathway into the first team for those who flourish.While United await the arrival of Dan Ashworth from Newcastle, Swindon are witnessing some of the very same principles he has introduced at West Brom and within the England set-up – which are being introduced by the Wiltshire club’s director of football Jamie Russell.Russell, who worked under Ashworth at The Hawthorns, has helped introduce the notion of a ‘DNA’ for the club, which sees all age groups and senior teams approach the game the same way. However, having eliminated United in the fourth round, Swindon are eyeing a last-four spot If Swindon beat Bristol City Under 18s on Thursday, they will face Manchester City in the semi‘It means we don’t have a hierarchy across the Academy,’ said Russell. ‘Boys play across age groups. If an Under 14s boy plays for the Under 13s, it’s not seen as a negative because with a team DNA, everything looks the same.’The club have also developed a multi-disciplinary programme which brings close attention to non-playing aspects of their boys’ development, alongside their football. Swindon have invested in their Academy at a time when some other clubs have instead opted to invest in a B team as a way of bringing young players into the first team.‘Brentford set that B team model but the B teams cost a lot of money to run and a number of clubs have looked at that and now gone back to Academy model,’ said Russell, who worked for Everton and Salford City after leaving West Brom. ‘Clubs have found they are missing out on a lot of the compensation (for developing players they eventually sell) when they close the door on their Academy.’A small squad and a number of injuries have meant that the League Two side’s managers Michael Flynn and Gavin Gunning, who replaced Flynn, have frequently turned to Academy players this season, with Miles Obodo, Anton Dworzak, and Fletcher Hubbard all having played league minutes, and Sonny Hart, Abu Kanu, Jaxon Brown, and George Alston having been on the bench.Rogers, who opened the scoring to send Swindon ahead in the Old Trafford quarter final back in 1964, ended his career with a stand at the club’s County Ground named after him. So the club’s current crop need no greater inspiration. Thursday’s quarter-final, against Bristol City at Ashton Gate, will be televised by the FA on Viaplay. If Swindon win, they will face Manchester City in the semi.

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