November 10, 2016. A huddle of journalists are gathered at the ‘Imagine Cruising suite’ – the room where Swindon Town make their significant statements to the press, as opposed to the more ‘cosy’ area for the post-match evaluation.
All they have been told is at that half-past one Swindon will be making a ‘major announcement’. The press officer is eluded to what is about to happen just 10 minutes before the big moment of Tim Sherwood being named as the club’s director of football.
It was not immediately clear then that that would not only be the first time Sherwood addressed the media in person, but the last as well.
Swindon Town are the sort of club you would describe as ‘modest’, if you were trying to appear respectful, but mindful of causing offence to its loyal, but now disenchanted fan base.
Its finest hour came almost 50 years ago, with the 1969 League Cup win over Arsenal, and it has graced the Premier League only once, over two decades ago. They conceded over 100 goals, finished bottom (then 22nd), and got relegated again the season after.
Ever since, they have been trying to get back, without success. This season they got relegated back down to League Two, after escaping it in the spring of 2012.
Like many clubs of its stature, it predominantly prides itself not on league titles, or cup victories (minus 1969 of course), or, nowadays, even derby wins, but on the ‘we made him’ sort of badge of honour you get when a player achieves great things not at your club, but because of said club.
Those, too, are fading now. Even Charlie Austin, the true 21st-Century Swindon Town poster boy, poached from Poole Town in 2009, has had just one call-up to the England squad. He didn’t play.
Managers though are a different kettle of fish. Glenn Hoddle cut his managerial teeth in the West Country, guided the Robins to the Premier League, and went on to manage England, with a stint at Chelsea in the middle.
In 1989, Ossie Ardiles was in the dugout of the County Ground in a red tracksuit winning promotion to the first division with an Argentine blend of tiki-taka, 11 years post-World Cup ticker tape. The promotion shortly became a demotion due to financial irregularities, but as the memories of that sting, the on-the-pitch triumphs do not get forgotten.
Nor do the accolades of other ‘big names’ Lou Macari, Steve McMahon, a certain Paolo Di Canio or the coaching team of Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet, who sowed the seeds of a Swindon League Two promotion-winning campaign in 2007, before they upped sticks to Leeds and Paul Sturrock carried on from where they left off.
It was therefore a bold claim when now-chairman Lee Power described the appointment of Sherwood as: “One of the biggest appointments the club has ever made,” which was preceded by him being labelled “one of the top, young English managers.” Not modest statements for this modest club.
Two days after the unveiling, Swindon thrashed Charlton Athletic 3-0 to much fanfare, in front of the Sky Sports cameras. The assorted media stuck around for this post-match press conference at least, but their questions were answered by still-head coach Luke Williams, instead of the man recently given full control of “all football-related matters”, which consists of “transfers, tactics, and training,” as well, it would turn out, team talks.
The wins dried up, Sherwood never turned up, the non-local media stopped coming and Williams was answering press questions and facing fan forum backlash for a team that was no longer his.
If there was one manager you could say is no stranger to the cult following social media brings, Sherwood might be it. His Jack-the-Lad persona that saw him reach Vine ‘fame’ for throwing his trademark Gilet and kicking door-opening buttons was only exacerbated when the ‘Director of Football’ began an FA Cup first-round replay against Eastleigh in the stands and ended it in the dugout. The first, and only, time he did so.
The BBC pondered: “Does Tim Sherwood manage the Robins or not?” while JOE declared that: “Tim Sherwood has gone full Football Manager at Swindon Town.” The second jibe became remarkably literal in February.
Not managing actual football teams of course.
With Swindon hovering just above the relegation zone, reeling from a 1-0 loss at local rivals Bristol Rovers and in the middle of what would turn out to be a five-match losing streak, Sherwood appeared – doing a Q&A, not for the media, but for Squawka in a promotion for the computer game, Football Manager.
Four days later Swindon had, and lost, another derby – against Oxford. Sherwood was absent. Power told TalkSPORT on Valentine’s Day, no less, that firstly Sherwood’s hiring was “one million per cent an old pals act” and then revealed that Sherwood was not at the Oxford match as he was doing some “football business for that club” that could only be done on that day.
That was after Town fans had twigged that Sherwood’s birthday was the day after the Oxford game.
Williams was put back in charge of on-pitch activity but Sherwood was back in the stands for the trip to Bury the week after. That was until half-time, when Sherwood launched into a tirade at the referee, calling him a f****** mug for awarding the Shakers a penalty.
On February 23, he was slapped with a two-game stadium ban for his comments. Swindon won both of those games. The first time they achieved back-to-back victories in over a year.
He was back for the home game against Chesterfield. Swindon lost. The Robins didn’t win again until a home match against Millwall, 1-0. Sherwood stayed away from that one. Maybe if he stayed away every week Swindon would have survived.
Alas, they were relegated, which confined Swindon’s to next season’s League Two and, on June 14, just over seven months after arriving, Sherwood’s departure was confirmed.
“Tim’s gone.” Those were the cold words of Power on a hot summer’s day in Swindon at the introductory press conference for the club’s new manager, David Flitcroft. No clouds were in sight that day, not even the biggest one in the club’s recent history.