In this splendid team picture of the Swindon F C squad in the inaugural season of 1879-1880, William Pitt is seen holding the ball alongside Jimmy Vowles, Will Povey, Billy Keylock (on the left) and Jack Cook, Billy Cowley and Alf Cockbill (on the right). Behind them are Tom Hancock (with the hat), Charlie Few (just 15 years old !) Charlie Humphries, Billy Woolford, Tom White and Billy Stroud.
And it was the nucleus of this squad who played against Rovers F C on Saturday November 29 1879 – the match report for which was published in the Swindon Advertiser – albeit two weeks later ! Wiltshire was still in the grip of rugby at the time and there was little interest in the ‘round ball’ game.
However, on that November afternoon, Pitt’s men also called upon the services of ‘cockney’ Dick Barnett to keep goal. But he was powerless to prevent a 4-0 defeat, which may have been due to the fledgling Swindon side being a man short, although it was not unknown in those days for the newspaper to ‘lose’ a name somewhere in the reporting process !
William Pitt was then 23 and the curate of Swindon Christ Church, lodging in Belle Vue Road with the family of Frederick Osman – a grocer. But in 1881, Reverend Pitt was appointed rector of Liddington and, with no cars or public transport in those days, moved out of Swindon, severing his connection with the football club.
This was confirmed some thirty years later – in September 1911 - when he was invited to give an after-dinner speech as the Town celebrated winning the Southern League Championship for the first time……………
'……………..the presentation to the directors of the club of an illuminated address was placed in the hands of Prebendary Pitt, who made a very interesting speech....
He thought he might venture to say that he was the father of the Swindon Football Club. It was in the autumn of 1879 that some young fellows belonging to the Swindon (railway) factory met with him in the King William Street school to organise a club...'
'...They decided to call it the Swindon Association Football Club, but they found the name rather a mouthful to shout out, so they changed the name to the Spartans. They 'played the first game on a field not far away, it being kindly lent by Mr Hooper Deacon, who was always a friend of sport.....
After giving some entertaining reminiscences of football matches in which he took part, the reverend gentleman mentioned that his removal from Swindon caused his severance with the club…………’
So Swindon Town F C was founded in 1879, although they did not adopt the present title until 1883, two years after Reverend Pitt had left the town.
There have been conflicting reports down the years as to exactly when Swindon Town turned professional.
One theory is that it was in 1894, when they joined the Southern League. Another cites it as being in the 1895 close season, when the club switched its headquarters to the County Ground.
But, in truth, it was neither.
While the Football League declined to accept amateur clubs in its ranks, the Southern League did not - at least at first. In January 1895 they changed their minds ! A resolution was passed ‘to adopt professionalism on 4 February’. However, this was quickly amended to the date after which the club was knocked out of the Amateur Cup.
Town had been drawn to play the Old Carthusians at the Oval where there was the prospect of a large crowd and a match the club felt they could win. The tie was due to have been played on 2 February 1895, but it was postponed due to a heavy frost, which had left the pitch unplayable. With the tie scheduled to have been completed by 9 February 1895 - the same day that they were scheduled to play a Southern League fixture against Millwall Athletic - the decision was taken to scratch the fixture and Town withdraw from the Amateur Cup.
The club therefore adopted professionalism and began paying their players in February 1895, although a great number of amateurs were still signed on by the club in the pre-First War era.
The identity of the first professional to be engaged by the club has also been the subject of much conjecture. The name of John ‘Ginger’ Ross has been frequently mentioned. But, according to the F.A. Minute Book of 1895, the honour went to two players who signed professional contracts on 28 February 1895. They were Stratton-born William Griffin and Humphrey James 'Jimmy' Hayward.