Football: Swindon may win war but lose their field marshal

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THEY pulled it off three years ago only to have the great prize taken away. Now Swindon's big worry is that should they scale the summit a second time in Monday's First Division play-off final it is their manager, Glenn Hoddle, who will be taken.

Whether they win or lose against Leicester at Wembley, the writing on the wall says that Hoddle and Swindon will not be together in the long term and may be facing an instant divorce. Chelsea and Tottenham (at least an Alan Sugar-driven Tottenham) are casting covetous eyes at the County Ground, where Hoddle, through his own inspirational performances and mature judgement, has brought Swindon back to the brink of promotion.

Leicester reached this stage just 12 months ago, falling to David Speedie's theatricals that won Blackburn the decisive penalty. Brian Little's team return knowing the sympathy vote is with their opponents, because of the Football League's decision in 1990 to punish illegalities in the Swindon boardroom by demoting the newly promoted club two divisions (reduced, on appeal, to one).

It has been a motivating force for Hoddle, even though three years ago he was living a millionaire's lifestyle with Monaco. 'The fans were the scapegoats and the grievance will be there until it's put right,' he said. 'I would love to be the manager who puts it right for them.'

But then where for Hoddle? The Swindon chairman, Ray Hardman, believes that his stylish manager will stay for at least the remainder of his contract, which has another season to run.

'I've had plenty of chats with Glenn and at no stage has he indicated he wants to go,' Hardman said yesterday. 'We know he is ambitious but we are a nice club with a happy atmosphere and he can realise all his ambitions here. We have not had one official approach for him and, call me naive but I believe there has not been one approach by the back door.'

Swindon have a slight doubt about their midfielder, John Moncur, but Colin Calderwood is fit and raring to realise his ambition to become the first to captain a side all the way from the Fourth Division to the top flight.

The play-off weekend kicks off today when Little's younger brother, Alan, leads York on their first Wembley appearance only two months into the manager's job. Crewe stand between them and the Second Division. Tomorrow Ossie Ardiles, the manager when Swindon were winners and losers in the same day, returns with West Bromwich Albion to face a Port Vale team on their second visit to the old stadium in nine days, and keen to put a First Division place beside their Autoglass Trophy success.

Ardiles and Hoddle together again, gracing Wembley's lush acres on successive days. June is on the morrow and a new Ashes series is about to get under way, yet still the club game has the capacity to excite and delight.