A brief history of schools football in Swindon
Schools football in Swindon can trace its beginnings back to 1891 and its first representative team was formed just three years later. The side was mostly made up of boys in their final years at school, although as there was no restriction on the age of players, some members of the team were as young as eleven years of age. The first match, played at The Croft was against Reading Schoolboys on the afternoon of Saturday 24th February 1894 with the home side proving victorious by 5:0. The return fixture at Caversham on Easter Monday saw Swindon win 3:0; a game apparently witnessed by 2,000 spectators ! There were frequent matches against our Berkshire neighbours which were followed by games against Southampton Schoolboys.
By 1897 six schools competed in the Swindon Schools’ League but it wasn't until 1922 that a competition for junior aged pupils was established. The first competition was a knock-out format contested by fewer than a dozen schools. A year later this was changed to a league system which continued up to the outbreak of war in 1939. Inter-schools’ football flourished after the war as the town expanded and new schools opened, but the idea of forming a representative side for junior aged pupils had yet to be conceived. In order to accommodate the growing number of schools in the borough, the league was split into two sections for the 1962-63 season with the winners of each league playing off to determine the overall winner. By the 1966-67 season these were known as the Red League (for larger junior schools) and Blue League (for smaller schools) and included most, if not all schools in Swindon.
In March 1973, the first inter-league representative match between the Red League and Blue League was held with, unsurprisingly, the Red League winning 4:3. This match acted as a springboard for forming an under 11 association team. On 17th November 1973 another Red League vs Blue League match was played and from this, a Swindon Schools F.A. u-11 team was selected. The association's first ever u-11 inter-association match was against Southampton Schools with the game ending in an honourable draw. The two associations met a year later and on this occasion Swindon won convincingly 3:0. After playing a handful of matches, the fledgling u-11 representative team was invited to play in the Jubilee Cup competition in 1977-78 (organised by Bristol Schools F.A.). This included teams from Cardiff and Newport as well Bristol.
Two seasons later Swindon entered the Witney Cup competition and reached the final where they faced Beaconsfield & Chiltern. The two sides shared the trophy after the match ended in a 1:1 draw a.e.t. A strong Swindon team that year also lost just one of their twelve inter-association matches. In 1981-82 Swindon reached the final of the Witney Cup, sharing the trophy once again after drawing with Bracknell 2:2 in extra time. Swindon did not run an u-11 team in 1982-83 but after this brief interval resumed inter-association football. Like many associations across the country, little if any extra-curricular school football was organised during 1985-86 due to the protracted industrial action taken by teaching unions. In 1986-87 Swindon resumed inter-association football and the following season joined the new B.P. League, finishing level with Southampton. They also reached the final of the Witney Cup for the third time. On this occasion however they lost to local rivals, Oxford City 5:2 on aggregate.
In the 1988-89 season Swindon joined the Cotswold League marking the start of a new chapter in their history. As the decade entered its final year Swindon’s u-11s were playing around a dozen fixtures and finished a creditable 3rd in the Cotswold League. During the 1990s Swindon S.F.A.’s u-11 represent squad considerably expanded its programme of fixtures and in 1992-93 also ran a 'B' team. The team also played in the B.P. League and the Witney Cup, and entered the Southern Counties Cup after a nine year absence. This decade saw Swindon establish themselves as one of the strongest associations in the country. The 'A' team won the Cotswold League three times (1991-92, 1996-97 and 1999-00) and the B.P. League in three successive seasons (1994-95, 1995-96 and 1996-97). They also lifted the Witney Cup in 1996-97 defeating Solihull 2:0 in the final at the County Ground having lost to the same association in the final two years before. Despite this impressive record though, the association was unable to add the Southern Counties Cup to its roll of honour. The closest the side came to winning were two semi-final appearances in 1993-94 and 1996-97.
However their greatest achievement arguably came in the E.S.F.A. u-11 7 a-side Cup reaching the National Finals at Wembley in 1994-95 where they lost 2:0 in the final to Wirral. Their second appearance, in 1996-97 was at Old Trafford where they finished joint 3rd. In 1997-98 Katie Gumm made history by being the first girl to represent the association with 12 appearances for the 'B' side. The following season she captained the 'B' side making 12 appearances. The introduction of mini-soccer meant that after almost 80 years of 11 a-side inter-school football, all competitions changed to the 7 a-side form of the game. In addition to this, the rule allowing only Year 6 pupils to play in 11 a-side matches meant that only players in their final year at primary school would represent the association.
Arguably though the most significant change was the decision by the primary schools to breakaway and start their own separate association. The new association, simply called Swindon Primary Schools Football Association was formed on May 25th 2000. The representative side continued albeit under a different name as the Swindon P.S.F.A. Representative Squad (rather than Swindon S.F.A. u-11s) and the 'A' side collected several honours. They lifted the B.P. Cup (which had replaced the B.P. League) in 2000-01, 2003-04 and 2004-05. In 2002-03 they reached the E.S.F.A. u-11 7 a-side Cup finals for the third time, losing narrowly to Liverpool in the semi-final and on penalties in the 3rd place play-off.
The Southern Counties Cup remained an elusive prize; in 2006-07 they lost at the semi-final stage for the third time, losing a replay 2:1 away to Wandsworth (the eventual winners). The following year the 'A' side won the Cotswold League and were joint Berkshire League champions (just three seasons after joining it). The 2008-09 side was arguably the best side of the decade. The 'A' side reached the final of Southern Counties Cup (having played away in every round) and the final of the Witney Cup. However, the record of being the first association to win both trophies in the same season was not to be. Swindon lost 1:0 to Solihull in the Witney Cup final and lost 5:1 to a very strong Gloucester side. This year was also a case of "always the bridesmaid and never the bride" with Swindon finishing as runners-up to Gloucester in both the Cotswold League and Berkshire League. That same year saw a sharp decrease in the number of associations running two teams and therefore with considerably fewer fixtures available the association decided to also cease running a 'B' side.
Although records are incomplete on all the players representing the association since that first match against Southampton forty years ago, it has been conservatively estimated that well over 800 players from more than 60 different schools have pulled on the famous red jersey. For many of these players, representing their schools' football association has proved to be the highest level that they have played at. Others have gone on to play at various amateur levels with local (and not so local clubs). Some have enjoyed all too brief spells with football league clubs before playing semi-professionally for non-league teams. Unfortunately it is not possible here to include each and every one. This résumé has only briefly recounted the long and eventful history of primary schools football in the town. Regrettably, space here does not permitted a more detailed account for anyone connected with, or interested in football at grass roots level. It is hoped that with the help of past teachers and former players a more complete record will be possible.
We would like to thank all teachers and players who have contributed to this archive.