The Giant Killers
All time greatest F A cup giant killings
Swindon Town 2-1 Everton
Quarter final: Saturday 9th March 1912
County Ground, Swindon
Scorers: Bob Jefferson 12, Archie Bown 20, Harry Makepeace 57
Harry Lauder was Roamin' in the Gloamin', the public marvelled at the colour film of the King and Queen's visit to India the previous December, suffragettes started smashing windows in the west end, Henri Seimet made the first non stop flight from Paris to London and Roald Amundsen announced that he had successfully conquered the South Pole ahead of Captain Scott. Unknown to the World was that one of Scott's team was already dead and the other four were dying in the frozen wasteland.
Southern League Champions Swindon had for the previous five years begun to fancy their chances against anybody in the country by 1912 as the best the Southern League could offer continued to be considered on a par with good mid table top flight sides. Indeed such esteem was placed upon winning the Southern League that Swindon, as champions had been invited to play Manchester United, the League Champions in the 1911/12 season curtian raiser, the Charity Shield, scoring four goals in the process, although United netted double that figure in a comprehensive victory.
The Robins then set out on what would prove to be an unsuccessful defence of their title, despite having virtually the same side but while league results in the winter of 1911/12 were inconsistant their fans looked forward to the FA cup where Swindon had excelled in recent years. In 1910 the club had reached the semi finals of the cup, knocking Tottenham out along the way thanks to a Harold Fleming hat-trick, then in 1911 Notts County and Woolwich Arsenal were both beaten during the cup run. The 1912 cup run had started against the minnows of Sutton Junction who were easily outclassed 5-0 before poor old Notts County were humbled for the second consecutive season before fellow Southern League side West Ham were disposed of in a replay to set up a quarter final with Everton
The Merseysiders were the best outfit Swindon had yet faced in the FA cup with a side brimming with stars who were fighting it out with Blackburn for the League title. The names were the stars of the age with England Internationals Harry Makepeace, Frank Bradshaw and Frank Jefferis joine by Irish stars Billy Scott and Val Harris but Swindon also could boast two internationals in their side in a team that could probably have fitted into the top flight with ease.
Star of the side was Harold Fleming was an England International who carried a £3,000 price tag, which would have been a world record had any top flight club have made an offer and most them at least considered it. Fleming's presence in the Swindon team made ordinary players play just that little bit better but on the week leading up to the Everton quarter final Fleming was carrying a knock and there were doubts he would be fit to play. The boost it would give to an already confident Everton to find no Flemingin the side was almost worth a goal and so, despite not being fully fit, his was the first name on the team sheet.
Another man who would, and indeed had risked further injury for the cause was the club's other international, the Scotsman Jock Walker who had once played through the pain barrier of injury to ensure his side knocked Sheffield United out of the cup.
Three players provided top flight experience, Cornish keeper Len Skiller who had served his apprenticeship among the stiffs at Aston Villa where he first began to employ a training regime of getting his team mates to hurl tennis balls at him to improve his reactions. Skiller, known for the oversize flat cap he always wore, left Villa Park having only once made the first team. More successful were Freddie Wheatcroft and Sammy Lamb who between them had fifty appearances over three and two season respectively at Derby.
The tiny County Ground was packed virtually to its capacity as the two teams emerged onto a badly cut up field in glorious sunshine on quarter final day with the fans in good voice having read many pundits tipping Swindon to humble their title chasing opponents as the surprise of the day. Many felt that something in the air that in all honesty is in the air every time a junior side takes on a senior side in the cup and lasts up until the seniors take the lead. At The County Ground it would last all day, despite a very shaky start from the home side which didn't bode well for thier chances. Jock Walker in particular looked very nervous against Everton's star man, Frank Jefferis who should have put the elite club in front after just three minutes when an equally nervy Skiller spilled a simple cross virtually at the forward's feet. Solid as Everton were in the opening stages their young centre forward Tommy Broweel, of whom so much was being written about in the press, had chosen today to have a rare nervy and listless performance which made life easier for the home half backs who within the first twenty minutes had Everton spinning out of the cup.
Swindon's opener was born on a classic counter attack as George Beare looked to be clean in on goal for the visitors in the twelfth minute as he danced past Frank Handley only to overrun the ball to Harry kay. His long clearance was an inch perfect forty yard pass to Freddy Wheatcroft who had an acre of space and an age of time to work with before placing a perfect through ball to Bob Jefferson whose shot gave the exposed Billy Scott no hope.
The second came on twenty minutes when Lamb's corner was met with an inch perfect unchallenged header by Archie Bown and Swindon were cruising to the semi finals
Everton unsurprisingly had the better of the remainder of the first half and were it not for the brilliance of Len Skiller they may well have restored parity before the break as both Frank Jefferis and Frank Bradshaw forced top quality stops from the Swindon custodian.
A stern talking to at half time saw Swindon very much under the cosh in the second half but it was still only in very unlucky circumstances that their lead was reduced in the fifty-fifth minute when, with virtually every player bar Scott in the Swindon penalty box the players took part in a game of pinball which ended when Makepeace's hopefull long range shot bounced wickedly off Fleming and past a helpless Skiller. Lucky or not it was the break Everton needed to push on in the remaining thirty-five minutes and surely force a replay at Goodison Park if not even win the game at the first attempt. Swindon were penned deeper and deeper into their own half and with Wheatcroft left on the half way line as a virtual spectator his team mates found touch with every kick they made. It wasn't pretty but it gradually began to show it's worth as efective as each Everton attack was cleared to a huge cheer from the home support in the near fourteen thousand crowd.
As the match moved into its final five minutes it was becoming clear that Everton were a spent force having thrown everything at Swindon without an equaliser that was now looking highly unlikely as the home side now finished the stronger and indeed should have put the game well beyond the visitors in the dying minutes. First Archie Bown was put clean through but could not work a way around Scott and then, with virtually the last kick, it was perhaps fitting that Swindon's star man, Harold Fleming struck the foot of the Everton woodwork with the keeper beaten. No matter as Everton were a spent force and left the field in a hurry when the final whistle was blown.
It would be nearly three weeks before Swindon found out who their semi final opponents would be as cup holders Bradford City crashed out after four games with second divison Barnsley. Now Swindon had a great chance of going all the way to the final and were even slight favourites against their second division opponents but it wasn't to be. The match went to two bad tempered encounters, the first ending goalless in which Harold Fleming was unmercilessly kicked out of the game and indeed remained out though injury for the next ten months. In the second game Swindon were awarded a penalty but regular penalty taker Billy Tout had also been injured in the first game and was now missing. A reluctant Archie Bown had the dubious honour thrust upon him and his tame kick went wide of the post. Barnsley later did find the net and Swindon's great chance of reaching the cup final had gone. Almost a century later the club have never been as close again.
Swindon were expected to lose their star man at the end of the season and sure enough Newcastle United came up with the world record price tag to tempt Fleming to St Jame's Park but for whatever reason the move fell through and Fleming stayed at the County Ground. The outbreak of war put a hold on his career but he was still with the club when they took their place in the third division after the hostilities and today remains a legend of the club with a small statuette in the club foyer and a nearby street carrying his name.
Few organisations came through the war unscathed and Swindon were no different as Freddy Wheatcroft lost his life in France in 1917 but the future was more routine for the rest of the team with no less than three future pub lanlords, the tradtional occupation of the retired footballer, in the team. Jock Walker was one of them and was also the only member of the side who went on to play in the top flight, joining Middlesbrough in 1913 while Billy Tout and Billy Silto both also went on to pull pints.
Swindon Town: 1:Len Skiller, 2:Harry Kay, 3:Jock Walker, 4:Billy Tout, 5:Billy Silto, 6:Frank Handley, 7:Bob Jefferson, 8:Harold Fleming, 9:Freddy Wheatcroft, 10:Archie Bown, 11:Sammy Lamb
Everton: 1:Billy Scott, 2:William Stevenson, 3:John Maconnachie, 4:Val Harris, 5:Tom Fleetwood, 6:Harry Makepeace, 7:George Beare, 8:Frank Jefferis, 9:Tommy Browell, 10:Frank Bradshaw, 11:William Davidson
referee F Heath
Image: Swindon 1912 with the Southern League Shield. The huge trophy on the left is the Dubonnet Cup, a French trophy they won in an exhibition match against their rivals Barnsley in 1910.