May 23rd, 2011 was the day that Paolo Di Canio was announced as Swindon Town manager, this was weeks after Swindon were relegated to league 2. Finished Bottom of the table and to think just 12 months previous the club were at Wembley and one game away from promotion to the Championship. Little did we know the explosiveness that was to follow in his reign at the club.
This was a massive gamble by the club hierarchy and after the disappointment of the 2010-11 season it was a massive step in the right direction. Us Swindon fans looking in was thinking what the hell was going to happen, we knew as a player Paolo Di Canio was very volatile on the pitch and had his problems. Were we going to expect the same thing on the touchline in a very nice, tailored suit.
In all honesty, during his reign at the club I would have loved a season ticket behind the dugout in the Arkells stand. It must have been brilliant to watch his antics on the touchline minute after minute game after game.
His first season in charge was a brilliant time to be a Swindon Town fan, a league title win awarded in the final home game of the season at home to Port Vale after an emphatic home win. A Wembley final in the JPT trophy losing to 2-0 to Chesterfield then managed by John Sheridan. The football was a joy to watch, hands down Swindon Town were the fittest side in the league and it showed. But it was not all rosy to start off with.
To think it took the Accrington Stanley game in early October to see a settled Swindon Town side under PDC. There was a lot of constant chopping and changing in the early moments of his reign at the club. Won on the opening day of the season with an impressive home win over Crewe Alexandra winning 3-0. 4 defeats in a row followed including a derby defeat against Oxford United. The first of many, ah the pain. But that’s not what Di Canio is remembered for in his first couple of months. After the Southampton League cup defeat at home, there is altercation with Leon Clarke (recently signed on big money). Clarke was upset that he was told that he would have to do more running the next day in training. It then spiralled into the tunnel and as we all can see on the footage that is almost 10 years old it was going to end in one way, and it did. Leon Clarke never played for Swindon Town again and was bombed out of the team just after 7 days.
6 defeats in the first 12 games were not the best of starts, all the chopping and changing of the side stopped after the Accrington Stanley game in October. After that win 2-0 win away in Accrington the season turned for the better. The side under Di Canio only lost 6 more games that season in the league and went on a brilliant run to the start the year of 2012. 9 wins in a row to start the year of 2012, 10 in a row including the Northampton game to end the year of 2011. Where mister Di Canio ran onto the pitch to celebrate with the fans and the players after Alan McCormack winner in the stoppage time. It was all just a blur, and you can see Di Canio running on to the pitch to celebrate with Raffa De Vita.
The run had to end somewhere, and it did against the fiercest rivals of Oxford United, 2-0 away defeat at the Kassam Stadium. A double done by Chris Wilder side where the game ended with James Constable getting sent off for violent conduct. A player who Paolo Di Canio tried to sign in the summer and failed.
The season ended with success with the League Two title in late April but my god it could have ended a lot worse. After the Plymouth Argyle home win, I think all of us know the story of what happened. It escalated a few days later away at Aldershot and the aftermath had a rippling effect on the next game away at Gillingham. The players who went out and were caught were dropped from the squad and the team went onto lose 3-1, but we secured promotion back to League one at the first time of asking. All was forgotten the following Saturday at a packed-out County Ground where Swindon Town defeated Port Vale 5-0 to win the league two title.
Paolo Di Canio first season at the club was a success and it was a rollercoaster, I think the transfer policy at the club was very hit and miss. There was a lot of incomings and outgoings and some big players signed on loan in March 2012 on big wages to chase the dream back to league one and above. It was great at the time but had massive consequences the following January.
The highlight for me in the first season in charge was not a league victory was the FA Cup win over Premier League side Wigan Athletic. That was a hard-fought win over a particularly good footballing side under Roberto Martinez. A big scalp and it was a shame that they went out next round away at Leicester City.
The second season with Paolo Di Canio ended faster than you can think, it was short and sweet. But it had its bust ups. Cup upset and a resignation in mid-February 2013 not to anyone surprise.
The club captain left the club at the end of the transfer window, and it was a long-protracted ordeal. Paul Caddis was stripped of the captaincy and was bombed out of the club after a falling out with Paolo Di Canio. That news hit the fans and the club hard, one of the club main assets being bombed out after a disagreement with the manager. Caddis left the club on the final day of the transfer window to go on loan to Birmingham city, Adam Rooney went the other way in a loan swap deal.
Another crazy incident happened not long after in Sunday afternoon defeat in September away at Preston North End. Just days earlier, Swindon knocked out Stoke City in the league cup 4-3 after AET with new signing James Collins netting a hat-trick. Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham was subbed after 17 minutes and replaced by Leigh Bedwell, Foderingham was at fault for both opening goals for the lilywhites. Wes Foderingham did not take the substitution that well and stormed off the pitch kicking a water bottle down the touchline. It was all water under the bridge in the next few days as Wes apologised. LEAGUE ONE WES
On the pitch it was going well for the club, especially in the league cup. Knocked out Brighton Hove & Albion in the first round then won away at Stoke city after AET. Burnley with the return of Charlie Austin was dispatched. In the next round Swindon entertained Aston Villa at a packed County Ground. 2 Miles Storey goals brought the game back to 2-2 but Christian Benteke broke the hearts of Swindon fans with a late stoppage time winner.
It was going well in the League; Swindon Town were hitting their strides around December time and cooking on gas running into the new year. 3 massive home wins over Tranmere Rovers, Portsmouth, and Carlisle United saw Swindon score 14 without reply including back-to-back 5-0 wins over Tranmere and Portsmouth.
But trouble was brewing and in the final days of the transfer window, star player and one of the best players of the previous season Matt Ritchie was sold behind Paolo Di Canio back to fellow league one side Bournemouth for £500,000. Di Canio left the club on the 18th of February 2013 and to be honest it was no real surprise. The writing had been on the wall for a little while.
There was off the field problems dating back to October with the transfer embargo after overspending on wages and transfer fees. Jeremy Wray left in the same month and replaced by Sir William Patey. In November, the transfer embargo was lifted, in the January transfer window Sir William Patey told local BBC Wiltshire that no funds will be available to Di Canio for signings. That was the moment you felt that Di Canio time at the club was up. Under previous owner Di Canio got what he wanted with signings for players and now the tap was running low, and his patience was running very thin.
Andrew Black in January 2013 had put the club up for sale and considered entering administration as the club had debts of up to £13m. It was very worrying time at the club off the field, on the pitch it was going well in league one, off the pitch murky times were ahead and it did not get better. There was a local consortium led by Jed McCrory (remember him) that agreed to take over the club. Remember deadline day January 2013. Matt Ritchie was sold to Bournemouth, Di Canio and co had lined up three signings in Marlon Pack, Danny Green and Bradley Wright-Philips were all agreed but the football league refused to clear the deals. Just to think a couple of weeks before he was willing to pay £30,000 out of his own pocket to keep the loan signings of Danny Holland John Bostock
This was very frustrating for us fans, we wanted to see our club progress to the next level with Paolo Di Canio in charge but sadly it was not going to happen. Just 19 days later he quit and resigned after the football league failed to agree the purchase of the club by the new owners. Di Canio assistant Fabrizio Piccareta took charge for one game away at Tranmere Rovers which Swindon Town won 3-1 and went top of the table. Darren Ward and Tommy Miller took charge for a couple of games, they were signed by Di Canio in the summer. Kevin MacDonald took charge for the rest of the season and Swindon finished 6th and were knocked out of the Semi finals of the play-offs by Brentford on penalties at Griffin Park.
What a fun rollercoaster ride it was, the tenure of Paolo Di Canio at Swindon was an eye opener for so many things on and off the pitch. I do feel if he stuck around to the end of the season I think you would of seen Swindon Town grace the championship. That would have been some feat of back-to-back promotions, but alas it was not to be. But I do look back of the Paolo Di Canio era fondly, he made us believe again and my god the football was brilliant to watch. Grazie Mille Paolo.
Thanks to Scot Munroe for article