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DON ROGERS ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: A star is born
WHEN Swindon legend Don Rogers ran out onto the County Ground pitch to face Southend United 50 years today, he had no idea what was to come.
The Robins won 4-1 on this day in 1962 to go sixth in Division Three, but the game was only the beginning for a 17-year-old who went on to make 490 appearances for Town, earning him the tag of the greatest player to ever pull on a red shirt and a stand named in his honour.
Rogers spent 10 glorious years in Wiltshire before moving to Crystal Palace, scoring 181 goals, with both his and the club’s finest hour coming in the 1969 League Cup final as his two extra-time goals secured victory over giants Arsenal at a packed Wembley.
The Swindon legend will be at the County Ground this afternoon to watch Paolo Di Canio’s modern day Robins take on Yeovil, and while every game undoubtedly brings back memories of his own playing career, Rogers can recall very little of the day it all began 50 years ago.
“I remember very little if I am honest, and all I can really remember is that we won 4-1 and not much about the game at all,” he said.
“I remember more about the first three games as a block really, and I can’t remember anything else of that season. I remember Southend 4-1, away at Yeovil in the cup 2-0 and then Notts County 3-1. “The reason I remember it is because Terry Wollen broke his leg against Notts County, and he was never really the same again, which was a terrible shame because he was a brilliant player.
“I do remember being as chuffed as anything, because three months before I played in the reserve team and the Adver had written I was not good enough to play in the reserves. But there I was in the first team three months later which was a very proud moment.
“Before that when I was a youth player I used to clean the boots and clean the stands, and I really enjoyed that really.
“I had five or six pairs of boots to clean and I took a lot of pride in doing it, you used to grab whatever boots were there and just get on with it, and they were good times.
“I had come from the middle of nowhere and I hadn’t really been out of Somerset until I came to Swindon, and it was a real experience. At first I couldn’t wait to get home to see my parents, but you soon get used to it.
“I was one of the lucky ones because the rest of my youth team left very early which was a real shame because we had a good side, but some people just don’t make it.
“But once I was in the team I used to take things game by game, and I didn’t think too much ahead, and you are just pleased to be playing and have the manager’s confidence .
“But after a couple of years you start to feel like you have made it, although you never really think you will go on and play so many games.”
Despite not having many memories of his first year as a professional footballer, a jam-packed second year will live with Rogers forever.
“I had a great season the season after and I probably played 60-odd games in that time,” he said.
“I played 38 in the first team, and the only four I missed was when I was in Holland for the England youth team, and I played loads of games for England. Swindon got to the FA Youth Cup final as well so I was playing basically every Saturday and every Tuesday and it was great for me.
“I was lucky to play 10 years for Swindon and I loved it, John Trollope was the same and we pretty much played all the time together.
“We won the League Cup which was a brilliant, but in the original team of 1962/63 there was Mike Summerbee, Bob Woodruff and Ernie Hunt, and a lot of players good enough to go on and they were all local.
“The problem with young players now is that they don’t stay very long if they are good players, but I never wanted to leave and enjoyed what I did and didn’t question a contract, I just signed.
“I feel very lucky to have had the career with Swindon that I had, and of course I look back fondly, and people come and talk to me about winning the League Cup at least once a week, which I obviously will never forget.”