Swindon Town
break the rules in the 1980s

So what are the ingredients of success? I guess most who say its a mixture of money and experience; players and officials; vision and determination; support and history and I'm sure many other things as well. But is one of the ingredients the willingness to bend the rules a tad, or even more than a tad? There were those at Swindon Town in the 1980s who thought they should.

When local businessman Brian Hillier was appointed chairman of Swindon Town in 1984 he soon recruited Manchester United legend Lou Macari as player-manager. Many believed great things would soon follow but although there was a perfect combination of money and experience it seemed that only with the 'bending' of rules could success be achieved. The Wiltshire side finished as champions of the Fourth Division with 102 points in 1986 and a year later were promoted again while in 1989 they lost in the play-offs when bidding to reach the top flight for the first time. The bubble burst as the 1989/90 season was about to start when the People newspaper ran a story which claimed that Hillier had made a bet that Swindon would win the Division 3 title in 1986/87. Such a bet was against FA rules even though Hillier had claimed that it was an insurance policy to play for the player bonuses had they won the title (they had finished third).

A couple of months later the People ran another story this time claiming that Hillier had bet £6,500 on Swindon losing an FA Cup match at Newcastle in January 1988 - a match that Swindon lost 5-0. To bet on your club winning is one thing but to bet on your club losing is altogether more serious and Hillier was banned from football for 6 months (later increased to three years). Unfortunately the People had not finished and in January 1990 they printed their most damning accusation to date, that Swindon were making widespread illegal payments to players. This time it wasn't just the FA and Football League who were upset with the Inland Revenue becoming Involved, and arrests were made.

On the field of play Swindon were still doing well and under new manager Ossie Ardiles they reached the play-off final in May 1990 where they defeated Sunderland to reach the old First Division for the first time in their history. Or so they thought. On June 7th 1990 at an eight-hour Football League hearing Swindon admitted 36 breaches of League rules, 35 of them involving irregular payments to players. Cash from gate receipts, programme sales and sponsorship had been used for signing-on fees and topping-up players' wages without the formality of declaring the payments to the football authorities or the Inland Revenue. Their punishment? Instead of looking forward to a debut season in the top flight Swindon were relegated two levels to the Third Division. Sunderland, the club Swindon had beaten in the play-off final would take their place in Division One while Tranmere Rovers, beaten in the Division 3 play-off final, would fill the vacant spot in Division 2. A draconian punishment and although on appeal Swindon were spared relegation to Division 3 (Tranmere were not chuffed!) they were still denied promotion to Division 1 which proved to be perhaps the heaviest penalty suffered by a Football League side.

That was the footballing punishment. A couple of years later the courts had their turn and at Winchester Crown Court those deemed to be responsible faced charges of conspiring to make payments to staff without the appropriate deductions of income tax and national insurance. Of the major names involved Brian Hillier was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison (reduced on appeal to six months), club accountant Vince Farrar received a suspended six-month sentence while Lou Macari was found not guilty of all charges.

It would be easy to think that Swindon would then suffer free-fall but that wasn't the case. Under the leadership of Glenn Hoddle Swindon finally made the big-time being promoted to the Premier League through the play-offs. Sadly the dream was soon to end and before the start of their Premier League season in 1993/94 Hoddle moved on to the managership of Chelsea and Swindon couldn't compete with the big-boys finishing bottom and conceding 100 goals. Another relegation immediately followed that and they were right back where they were in the early 80s. But the supporters had some memories, and plenty to talk about!






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