Like a lot of clubs formed around the same period, the true circumstances behind the formation of Swindon Town Football Club were a mystery for years - however, new discoveries, made well over a century after the formation of the club, seem to confirm the club's true formation date as 1879.
Until relatively recently, the accepted version of events gave the club's formation date as 1881. After a match between the Spartans of Old Swindon (a cricket club) and St. Mark's Young Mens' Friendly Society ended in a 2-2 draw, the two clubs decided to merge, under the name of "The Swindon Football Club". Without any firm evidence, the club celebrated their centenary year in 1981 when they invited Ipswich Town, the FA Cup holders, to play in a match to mark the occasion. The match was played on 14th August, and 5,011 people turned out to watch Ipswich win by two goals to nil.
However, in the mid-1990's, further research casted doubt over the original date. A match report from the Swindon Advertiser, dated 13th December 1879, showed Reverend William Pitt - captain of the Spartans and the man widely regarded as the founder of Swindon Town FC - playing for a "Swindon Association Football Club" in a 4-0 defeat against Rover FC. Also, Reverend Pitt was appointed Rector of Liddington in 1881 - making it extremely unlikely that, with no means of transportation, he would have lived in Liddington and formed a football club in Swindon. For a while, the club seemed to accept the new date - with former club statistician Paul Plowman, the man who carried out the research, working as the club's retail manager, the Town's kits in 1995 carried an "Est. 1879" tag - following this though, the club's official stance reverted back to the 1881 date, despite new evidence proving the earlier formation.
Again, the findings came through Paul Plowman's research - and were unexpectedly found in details of an after dinner speech at the Southern League championship celebrations in 1911. One of the guest speakers that evening was a certain Reverend Pitt - and he spent the evening reminiscing of how he "formed the present club back in 1879". And so, it seems there were two changes of name - Swindon AFC were the team founded in 1879, they then changed their name to Spartans between 1879 and 1881. Spartans merged with the St. Mark's Young Mens' Friendly Society after the match in November 1881, before renaming themselves "Swindon Town" in 1883 - seventeen years before the boroughs of Old and New Swindon merged in 1900.
Despite all this, the shirts for the 2004/05 season carried "125th Anniversary" embroidery - until early in that same season, the club finally recognised the earlier formation date for good when the research was published in Peter Lupson's "Thank God For Football" book. When the decision was taken to change the club's emblem for the following campaign, all three of the shortlisted designs were adorned with "1879".
The club's first home was J.E.G. Bradford's field, situated in Old Town - however, the field was hardly ideal - being next to a quarry, the ball would regularly disappear. Worse was to follow though, when a young spectator fell down the quarry - shortly afterwards, the team made the short move to the Globe Field, which was situated under what is now Lansdown Road. "The Globe" public house is the only reference to what was once there.
The club moved again in 1884, this time to The Croft, where they remained for eleven years. The set-up there wasn't exactly convenient - with no facilities near the pitch, the teams changed in the Fountain Inn on Devizes Road, tickets were purchased from a pigeon-hole in the Royal Oak Inn, and the supporters were forced to stand on wooden footboards. Despite this, the club's early successes in the Wiltshire Cup came here, and the Croft was their home for their first season in the Southern League - kicking off with a 4-3 defeat against Reading on 22nd September 1894. Before the season started, the club turned professional - and their first wage bill totalled £10.
It wasn't until the following year that the Town moved to the County Ground, playing where the cricket pitch is situated now, where Swindon Wanderers had played during the 1893/94 season. The Town's official opening game was in September 1895, when they played Nat Whittaker's XI from Uxbridge - their first competitive game coming on October 5th, when they entertained Ilford in a Southern League game. The rent for the whole season cost the club £40.
The move to the current site happened a year later, when Thomas Arkell lent the club £300 to build a stand. The agreement, made in October 1896, meant that the club would repay Arkell £60 per year, whilst being responsible for the maintenance of the stand. The stand was built on the North side of the pitch, where it remained until it was replaced in the early 1970's.
Just one more change remained - originally, the Town wore white shirts and black shorts, with the addition of a blue sash when colours clashed. By the time the Town joined the Southern League in 1894, Swindon were wearing red and black quartered shirts. In 1897, it was decided a change was required - the Swindon Advertiser reported the change in the "Snap Shots" column, on the 4th September 1897:
"The new colours of the Swindon Town F.C. are to be green shirts, with white sleeves. Good-bye to the old well known red and black."
Problems obtaining the correct dye for the kits forced another change a few years later. The reserve team was the first to revert back to red - wearing a black and red outfit in 1899 - and a permanent switch was discussed that August, but it wasn't until September 1901 that the change was made. The original shirts were very dark - described as maroon by both journalists and in a fixture card from the period - in a match against West Ham in the final game of the 1903/04 season, it was reported that the referee allowed both teams to wear the same colours in the first half!