1990 Football League Second Division play-off Final
|Date||28 May 1990|
|Venue||Wembley Stadium, London|
|Referee||John Martin (Alton, Hampshire)|
The 1990 Football League Second Division play-off Final was an association football match which was played on 28 May 1990 at Wembley Stadium, London, between Sunderland and Swindon Town. The match was to determine the third and final team to gain promotion from the Football League Second Division, the second tier of English football, to the First Division. The top two teams of the 1989–90 Football League Second Division season gained automatic promotion to the First Division, while the clubs placed from third to sixth place in the table took part in play-off semi-finals; Swindon Town ended the season in fourth position, two places ahead of Sunderland. The winners of these semi-finals competed for the final place for the 1990–91 season in the First Division. Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers were the losing semi-finalists.
Swindon won the match by a scoreline of one goal to nil, with an Alan McLoughlin goal via a deflection from Gary Bennett thus deciding the fixture. Swindon Town were later demoted after being found guilty of financial irregularities which resulted in Sunderland gaining promotion.
Route to the final
Swindon Town finished the regular 1990–91 season in fourth place in the Football League Second Division, the second tier of the English football league system, two places ahead of Sunderland on goal difference. Both therefore missed out on the two automatic places for promotion to the First Division and instead took part in the play-offs, along with Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, to determine the third promoted team. Swindon Town finished eleven points behind both Sheffield United (who were promoted in second place) and league winners Leeds United who had secured the title on goal difference.
Sunderland's opposition in their play-off semi-final were their Tyne–Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, with the first leg being played at Roker Park in Sunderland on 13 May 1990. The game proved to be ill-tempered with a total of seven players were booked, including a red card being shown by the referee: Sunderland's Paul Hardyman was dismissed after a foul on the Newcastle goalkeeper John Burridge who saved Hardyman's second half injury-time penalty. The match produced no shots on target and ended goalless. The second leg was played at St James' Park in Newcastle three days later. Eric Gates opened the scoring for the visitors when he converted a low cross from Gary Owers. Marco Gabbiadini then doubled Sunderland's lead in the 86th minute which led to a pitch invasion from the home supporters: the referee halted play and withdrew the players to their dressing rooms for twenty minutes while police restored calm. The final four minutes were played out without further addition to the score, and Sunderland qualified for the final, with a 2–0 aggregate victory.
Swindon Town faced Blackburn Rovers in the other play-off semi-final and the first leg was played at Ewood Park in Blackburn on 13 May 1990. The visitors took the lead after half an hour as Steve White from an David Kerslake break. Swindon dominated the match and Peter Foley doubled their lead in the 55th minute with a volley from at least 25 yards (23 m). Andy Kennedy scored a consolation goal in the 73rd minute as the match ended 2–1 to Swindon. The second leg of the semi-final took place at the County Ground three days later. A weak backpass from Blackburn defender David Mail allowed Duncan Shearer to intercept and score, making it 3–1 on aggregate to the home side. Minutes later, Shearer then went clear down the left wing and his pass was converted by White from close range. Midway through the second half, Howard Gayle's 30-yard (27 m) strike was deflected by Ross MacLaren past Fraser Digby in the Swindon goal to make it 2–1 on the day, but Swindon progressed to the final with a 4–2 aggregate win. 
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 Although they won the promotion play-offs, Swindon Town did not compete in the First Division during the following season. The 1989–90 season had seen the club charged with 36 breaches of Football League regulations – 35 of which related to illegal payments made to players between 1985 and 1989.
A hearing to decide the club's fate was scheduled for 4 May – before the play-offs began – but this was postponed on legal advice just days before it was due when Swindon chairman Brian Hillier, club accountant Vince Farrar and former team manager Lou Macari were all charged by police for "intent to defraud Inland Revenue by making payments without deducting tax or NI". (In July 1992 both Hillier and Farrar were found guilty of these charges, while Macari was cleared).
Hillier and Macari had already been punished by the FA in February 1990 for their involvement in a £6,500 bet being placed on Swindon losing to Newcastle United in a tie during the 1987–88 FA Cup. The bet was successful and netted £4,000 winnings. As this activity ran counter to FA rules that forbid any bets by club officials or players on their own team, both were found guilty. Hillier was given a six-month suspension from football, but after he (unsuccessfully) appealed, the FA increased it to three years. Macari was fined £1,000 (upheld after his own appeal), and Swindon Town given a £7,500 fine.
At a Football League hearing on 7 June, Swindon pleaded guilty to all 36 charges against them and admitted a further twenty. The league decreed that the club would be denied promotion and instead demoted to the Third Division. Six days later, it was announced that losing play-off finalists Sunderland would be instead promoted to the First Division. This was controversial as Newcastle felt that as they had finished third, three places above bitter rivals Sunderland, they should have been promoted instead. The FA's decision stood and Sunderland were promoted.
Swindon launched a High Court appeal against the Football League's double demotion, claiming it to be "harsh, oppressive and disproportionate to previous penalties". However, within days they dropped this action and instead appealed directly to the FA. On 2 July an FA Appeal Panel reduced the punishment to the club simply remaining in the Second Division; Tranmere Rovers – the losing play-off finalists in the Third Division – who were to have replaced Swindon in the second level were therefore denied promotion.
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