Swindon Town were in a bit of a lull when Colin Calderwood arrived from Mansfield in the summer of 1985. The club were just about to enter their fourth straight season in Division 4 having been relegated in 1982. Lou Macari had stopped the freefall by guiding the club to a reasonable 8th position but reinforcements were very much required.
Much to the displeasure of his former club, it cost Swindon a tribunal sum of £27,500 to secure the services of 20-year-old who was already a Football League veteran with 100 appearances already to his name and Town were about to get their money’s worth!
I often wonder what fans initially thought when they read that Calderwood had been instantly installed as Town’s captain. I imagine there would have been a fair old amount of moans and groans and, to start with, it looked like they might have had a point as Town started the season quite, shall we say, slowly. So slowly in fact that Swindon looked like they would spend the season in a relegation battle as opposed to anything remotely positive having ended September firmly in the mire.
But Lou stuck by his side and his captain and things started to change.
Swindon discovered some seriously good form, losing their eighth and final league game in early January! Town even had to play six away games in a row and WON THEM ALL! It’s also worth pointing out that the title was confirmed at his former club, Mansfield, obviously.
Club records were broken left, right and centre alongside with the final points of 102. Colin had lead the line and side to Swindon’s first league championship since the Southern League days of Harold Fleming, Archie Bown and Billy Tout.
He didn’t look like your stereotypical tough Scotsman. Colin looked more like Marti Pellow than Graeme Souness but he had plenty of ‘fight’ when required, don’t you worry about that (Leicester City away in 1992)!
That said, his nickname was ‘the fridge’ because he was coolness personified (with the exception of Leicester City away in 1992). You just felt safe with Colin Calderwood in your side.
Colin was instrumental as Town became contenders. Swindon Town were instantly promoted from Division 3, via the Play-Offs, in 1987. After that, we bedded in to the second tier comfortably and even reached the Division 2 Play-Offs (this will be a running theme) in 1989. Town’s defence were only human in failing to halt Crystal Palace’s formidable Wright & Bright strikeforce.
Ossie Ardiles then took over and the style may have changed but the reliability of Colin Calderwood didn’t alter one bit.
Ever scored from the halfway line? No? Me neither but Colin has (Port Vale, 1990)
Colin captained Town at Wembley twice and lifted the trophy twice. The first in 1990 and again in 1993, the latter was for keeps.
After the fallout of 1990, Town struggle but it probably doesn’t take Lieutenant Columbo (or, for the kids, DCI John Luther) to figure out that Swindon’s only campaign of struggle during his eight seasons occurred with Calderwood out injured for 5 months. This is how crucial he was to Town.
Colin didn’t miss a league game under Glenn Hoddle and with Shaun Taylor by his side it proved to be an intimidating blockade for any forward line. Town were so good that they even forced Kevin Keegan, manager of champions-elect Newcastle United, to loosen his tie as Calderwood scored the winner at the County Ground. Delightful.
I was a kid when Colin left for Spurs. I remember being significantly disappointed. Why wouldn’t I be? He was our leader but we weren’t Tottenham Hotspur! Calderwood arrived in Wiltshire to play for a middling Division 4 side with a bit of ambition and promise and departed a club worthy of their place in the Premier League. I don’t think anybody could begrudge him that move.
Such to the extent of how much his effort at Swindon means to me, I actually felt nervous writing this! He remains one of my Town heroes and the number 5 shirt will always, always belong to Colin Calderwood and his place in my all-time Town XI is cemented.
Finally, I’m not ashamed to admit the pride I had in 1998 when I rushed home to see Colin line-up for Scotland at the World Cup opener against Brazil and go toe-to-toe against Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Bebeto! He did alright too!
Rich Pullen is the brains behind the Loathed Stranger Podcast, a popular fan podcast, and you can listen to it here.