A Season’s Past – Division 2 1995-96
The 1995-96 Division 2 season was dominated by one team; Swindon Town. The Robins had only just been relegated from Division 1 and were hoping to make an immediate return. Managed by Liverpool legend Steve McMahon they certainly had an experienced man at the helm and in the summer before the start of the season he would make two signings that would end up being instrumental in the season’s outcome.
Swindon were playing at this level for the first time since 1987 and McMahon knew that to be successful he would need some firepower upfront. He turned to Wayne Allison, a strong target man, from rivals Bristol City. The clubs could not agree a fee and so a tribunal set it as £475,000. At first many Swindon fans were sceptical about the signing, many refered to Allison’s performances against Swindon in derby matches for Bristol City but “The Chief”, as he was nicknamed, soon changed the doubter’s minds! Also joining the Wiltshire outfit that summer was Steve Finney from Manchester City.
Other players in the Swindon Town team that season were Kevin Horlock, Ian Culverhouse, Paul Bodin and Fraser Digby. Joining Swindon in the automatic promotion spots were Oxford United, managed by the ex-Stoke City player Denis Smith. The U’s had been relegated to Division 2 in 1994 and had finished 8th in the last campaign. They didn’t have the best of starts to this one either but, thanks to a late run of only one defeat in their last 17 games, managed to overtake Sam Allardyce’s Blackpool side to nick 2nd!
Swindon had no need of such a run as they were solid from thee get go and, in fact, never dropped out of the top two from the second match of the season until the end. They started with an away win at Hull City and then won their first home game against York City 3-0. Such was their good start that they only lost one of their opening ten matches, a 4-3 defeat away at Wrexham. They won their next four before a loss of form saw them win just once in eight games, including six draws, between the end of October and Boxing day which dropped them, briefly, to second.
They would only lose twice more all season, one of which was a 3-0 thrashing at rivals Oxford, a game in which Joey Beauchamp got on the score sheet. Beauchamp had started the season at Swindon but his story is a strange one in the history of both Swindon and Oxford. He started his career with Oxford and was clearly very talented, this abilitly prompted West Ham to pay £1.2 million to bring him to East London but he left before he had even played a single match for the Hammers. His reason for leaving was that he couldn’t handle the commute from Oxford every day! So after just 59 days he was sold to Swindon Town for a club record £800,000 plus Adrian Whitbread. After a relegation season with the Robins in Division 1 he only featured four times for Swindon in 1995-96 before McMahon decided to sell him to Oxford for a mere £75,000 (though with wage savings taken into account it was worth around £300,000 to Swindon). He went on to help the U’s win promotion and was later voted Oxford United’s best ever player.
Anyway back in 1996 Swindon were rampant and so was Wayne Allison. His partnership with Steve Finney produced 29 league goals and he was the clubs top scorer with 17 in the league and 20 in all competitions. Kevin Horlock also weighed in with an impressive 12 league goals and by the end of April, with four games to spare, a draw with Blackpool would be enough to confirm promotion. They duly obliged, getting a 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road to confirm an immediate return to Division 1 and three days later they also confirmed the title, beating Chesterfield 3-1 at Saltergate.
So there was to be no need for last day dramas for Swindon but, not far down the road in Oxford, that was not the case. The U’s had managed to win 5 of the last six matches leaving them knowing a win at home to Peterborough would be enough to seal promotion. In a nervous first half Oxford were unable to break down a stubborn Peterborough defence but in the second half and own goal would open the tidal barriers! Guiliano Grazioli headed in to his own net from an Oxford corner and then goals from Paul Moody, Matt Elliot and David Rush would seal the promotion in style as Oxford ran out 4-0 winner and at the same time condemned Blackpool to the play-offs. In the Oxford side that day were centre back pairing Matt Elliot and Phil Gilchrist who would both go onto play in the Premier League with Leicester City.
Blackpool faced Bradford City in the play-offs and won the away leg 2-0 but in the return at Bloomfield Road the Tangerines had a shocker and lost 3-0 ending their season and costing Sam Allardyce his job! Bradford sealed promotion by beating Notts County 2-0 at Wembley to complete a wonderful season for the Bantams who only made the play-offs by a single point ahead of Chesterfield.
At the bottom Hull City were abject winning just four times all season and finishing a massive 21 points from safety. Joining them in relegation were Brighton, Swansea and Carlisle, a stark contrast to 2017 where Brighton were promoted to the Premier League and both Hull and Swansea competed in it.
The top scorer in Division 2 that season was Bristol Rovers striker Marcus Stewart and Gary Martindale (played for both Peterborough and Notts County during the season), both finishing with 21 league goals!
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words James Richards