There have been no sightings of Mr Blobby but long-serving Swindon Town fans will tell you there is still a distinctly early Nineties feel to life at the County Ground right now.
Just as when the Wiltshire club climbed into the Premier League in 1993 with then player-manager Glenn Hoddle in the role of sweeper, so today’s Swindon side are chasing promotion from League One while earning plaudits for an attractive passing game.
Sitting in his manager’s office, Mark Cooper admits it is not the first time the comparison has come up. “That does get brought up by the fans,” the 45-year-old tells The Independent. “They say to us it’s the best football they’ve seen since Glenn was here.”
Cooper has similar faith in a possession-based approach and 3-5-2 system – even in League One. “It just gives us a lot more flexibility in the way we play,” he explains. “We take a lot of risks from the goalkeeper so it gives us an extra defender in the middle of the pitch if we do give it away, and it enables us to get people forward.”
On Cooper’s desk is November’s League One Manager of the Month trophy, his reward for four straight league wins – including 1-0 home successes over Preston and previously unbeaten leaders Bristol City. Ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Notts County, second-placed Town are eight points better off than this time last year but Cooper is reluctant to discuss promotion, quoting their pre-season odds of “38-1”.
What he will talk about is the hunger of his young squad who “have had a year of playing senior football now [and] realise what is at stake.” The average age of the team that beat Bristol City was 21.8 years and Cooper looks to captain Nathan Thompson, 24, to build play from the back.
He describes Thompson as being the “most comfortable defender with the ball at his feet outside of the Premier League” and he is a home-grown talent.
Swindon’s model is to develop young players and chairman Lee Power’s links with Tottenham mean their squad includes four Spurs old boys, including summer signing Jon Obika. Yet there are also loanees from both Norwich (Harry Toffolo and Louis Thompson, younger brother of Nathan) and Southampton (Jack Stephens and Jordan Turnbull), and Cooper explains: “Because we’ve got a reputation of playing a certain way, teams are more flexible in letting their players come to us.”
Before taking the Swindon job in the summer of 2013, Cooper – son of the former Leeds defender and Birmingham manager Terry – had managed at Tamworth, Kettering, Telford and Darlington; indeed, his only previous league post was an unhappy three-month stint in the Championship with Peterborough in 2009-10. “You doubt yourself,” he says of that experience. “[After the sack] I went all the way to the bottom and had to start again [at Telford]. I was really fortunate to get an opportunity here. I intend to make the most of it.”
He certainly is and the only pity is that attendances do not reflect the on-field progress. This season’s 7,910 average is lower than during Paolo Di Canio’s colourful reign. If season-ticket sales were not helped by a summer high court ownership battle between chairman Power and former owner Jed McCrory, the club have since begun liaising with the Swindon Town Supporters’ Trust on initiatives such as the distribution of 3,500 free tickets to schools for the last home game against Fleetwood. Cooper has his own solution – “the only way to do it is to keep winning and keep winning” – and right now he really can do no more.Reuse content