Friday, 16 November 2012

Swansea - The First Time Round


After their play-off win over Reading in 2011, taking them into the top flight for the first time since the early 80’s, I got to thinking about those times and thought I’d share the experiences.

I was interested in Swansea’s progress back at the end of the 70’s as John Toshack, an old Anfield favourite, had taken over there after leaving Liverpool.

Toshack took over as Player-Manager in March 1978.  After helping Liverpool to the League and European Cup Double in 1977, the emergence of players like Kenny Dalglish, David Johnson and David Fairclough, coupled with injuries, meant that Toshack was increasingly sidelined by Bob Paisley.  So he moved ‘back home’, having begun his career at Cardiff.

At the time, Swansea were in Division Four (League Two).  They won promotion that year, along with Watford.  These two then shared promotion again the following year, from Division Three.  After finishing 12th in Division Two, the Swans achieved promotion to the First Division the next season, finishing 3rd behind West Ham and Notts County (no play-offs back then).

Div 2_80-81
Toshack had compiled a team made up of promising youngsters and experienced ‘old pros’.  He’d made some ‘canny’ signings, concentrating on players who were desperate to either, make their name, or go out with one final hurrah.

Alan Curtis, an ex-Leeds United player, proved to be an inspired buy. 
He fitted the mold of many a classy player in the 70’s when he would play as a midfielder-cum-striker.  He bought two Yugoslav internationals, in an era when foreign players were as rare as David N’Gog goals.  Ante Rajkovic and Dzemal Hadziabdic, gave John Motson extra homework to do.


He did well to plunder the Liverpool squad to bring in players who were surplus to requirements at Anfield, but who could do a job at The Vetch Field.

Ray Kennedy, Ian Callaghan and Tommy Smith, all of whom had also played in the ‘Double’ side of ’77. Callaghan and Smith joined Swansea with Toshack in 1978, with Kennedy joining during the 81-82 season.  


Unfortunately, Swans fans never saw Kennedy at this best as the onset of Parkinson’s Disease started to kick-in once he joined them.  Colin Irwin became the club’s record signing in 1981.  Irwin had never been a regular at Anfield and Alan Hansen’s emergence meant he needed to seek employment elsewhere. But it was the signing Bob Latchford from Everton, that worked out best in the opening day of the 1981-82 season.  Latchford had finished as First Division top scorer in 1977-78, with 30 goals.  


He earned the first of 12 England caps that year when Ron Greenwood selected him for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy.  His last cap was in 1979, and as his England career had come to an end, so did his Everton career.  Toshack considered him an ideal man for his First Division newbies.  Latchford was one of two Everton signings during the summer of ’81, as goalkeeper Dai Davies joined too.

Two other men who would play an important role during that season were Robbie and Leighton James.  Leighton had spent two spells at Burnley, as well as First Division appearances at Derby and QPR, and by the time he arrived at The Vetch, he was approaching 30 and had been a Welsh international for almost 10 years.  For Robbie, Swansea was his first professional club, having joined in 1973.  He had performed well during their rise to the top.  This season was his pinnacle, as he finished top scorer with 14 goals.

Leighton James Robbie James
Leighton James   Robbie James

Along with these were players like Tommy Craig, who’d had plenty of experience at Aston Villa, Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday and John Mahoney (Middlesbro and Stoke City), and they were the elder statesmen of the club.

Jeremy Charles

Decent young hopefuls were players like Jeremy Charles, Dean Saunders (1982 was his first season in professional football) and Ian Walsh, who had been part of the Crystal Palace ‘Team of the Eighties’.

29th August 1981

This was the opening day of the season and newly promoted Swansea were at home to Leeds United.  23,489 packed into Swansea’s home ground of Vetch Field to watch their heroes play against a side containing international players such as Trevor Cherry, Eddie and Frank Gray, Peter Barnes, Derek Parlane and Arthur Graham.

The day began well for the home side as Jeremy Charles gave them the lead, before Parlane equalised for Leeds.  1-1 at half-time and then the Swans went mad in the 2nd half, as Latchford grabbed a hat-trick and then a good goal from Alan Curtis. 

See for yourself in this video

Swansea then travelled to Brighton, who’d just managed to stave off relegation the previous season, and won 2-1.  So two games in and Swansea were top of the league!  They soon came down to earth when Ron Atkinson’s West Brom hammered them 4-1.

A 3-2 win at home over fellow newboys Notts County, was followed by a 0-1 defeat at Old Trafford, but it was Swansea’s home form that was most impressive.  They played host to Tottenham and Sunderland and won both games, 2-1 and 2-0.  An October trip to Anfield saw them gain a creditable 2-2 draw.  This was a particularly poignant match as 4 days earlier had seen the death of Bill Shankly.  Swansea took a shock 2-0 lead before Liverpool needed 2 penalties to level the game, although one of them was distinctly dubious. 

Swansea were sitting 3rd in the table, 1pt behind leaders Ipswich and Arsenal were the next visitors to The Vetch and they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat.

The Swans then beat Stoke away, 2-1.  A trip to Highfield Road saw them lose 1-3 to Coventry, before a 0-0 draw at home to Wolves became their first home match where they failed to score.

Still lying 3rd, November saw them visit leaders Ipswich.  This proved to be one of their finest performances as they ran out 3-2 winners.  This was followed by a disappointing 0-4 defeat at Maine Road against Man City.  This began an inconsistent period of the Swans.  They picked up 5pts from 8 games (2pts for a win), including their first home defeat to Nottingham Forest.  This run also included the return trip to Leeds who gained revenge for their opening day spanking, as they won 2-0.

Then came the visit of Manchester United to The Vetch.

Here is the video for this game.

The Swans were now in 7th, 7pts behind leaders Ipswich.

At the beginning of February, Liverpool were the visitors and with several ex-Liverpool players in the squad, Swansea were keen to do well.  They did better than they might have expected, picking up a 2-0 win.  This began a run of 6 games without conceding as they did the double over Arsenal, winning 2-0 at Highbury.  This run had seen them climb back up to 2nd in the table after 30 matches and the end of March saw them welcome leaders Ipswich to the Vetch.  This time Ipswich got their revenge and won 2-1.  They then lost at home to West Ham, 0-1, 3 days later.  This was then followed by wins over West Brom (3-1), Southampton (1-0) and Man City (2-0), before 3 successive defeats to Birmingham (1-2), Everton (1-3) and Tottenham (1-2) saw them slip to 5th in the table.

They seem to run out of steam as they picked up just 2pts from their final 6 matches, although the win was a 2-0 one at Forest.  Swansea finished 6th in the end and this was very impressive performance for a side in the top flight for the first time in their history.  They will forever remember wins over Liverpool, the eventual Champions, Nottingham Forest, the European Cup holders, Aston Villa, who would go on to win the European Cup that year, Manchester United, who finished 3rd and Ipswich, who finished 2nd and won the UEFA Cup that season.

The 1982-83 season saw Swansea play in Europe as a result of their Welsh Cup win.  How it’s possible for a club to play in the English First Division and also compete in both English and Welsh Cups is beyond me, but who am I to question?

Swansea saw off Sporting Braga in the qualifying round, 3-1 on aggregate and then came up against Maltese club, Sliema Wanderers.  The first leg was at home and The Swans scored a record, 12-0.  They thumped a further 5 goals in the 2nd leg before going out to Paris Saint-Germain in the next round.

Swansea began the league season with 2 wins and a draw from their opening fixtures, before they lost the next four, including 1-4 at Stoke and 0-3 at home to Liverpool.  The magic seemed to be slipping although they beat Tottenham at home 2-0.  They were now shipping goals and that’s never a good sign, as Everton came to the Vetch and won 3-0.

By the end of November, defeats to Arsenal (1-2) and Ipswich (1-3) saw The Swans in 14th.  Their 2-0 win over newly promoted Luton at the beginning of December proved the last time they win till midway through January when they beat Notts County.  During that time Arsenal did the double over them.  That win over Notts County was their only win during a 13-game period as both Watford and Brighton came to the Vetch and won.

By the time the Swans finally won at home to Man City, 4-1 in March, they were 4th from bottom and out of the relegation zone only on goal difference.  They remained unbeaten for the next 3 matches before West Ham came to Wales and walked away with a 5-1 win.  That result seemed to provide some weird sort of symmetry considering Swansea’s win over Leeds at the beginning of the previous season.

Swansea had been handed an almost impossible run-in, as 4 of their final 7 matches were against teams in the top 5, with their final 3 games against sides in the top 6.  They picked up draws against Stoke (1-1) and Ipswich (1-1) at home, and then beat Aston Villa 2-1 at The Vetch.  But by the time they travelled to Old Trafford, they were bottom of the table and relegated.  They lost that game 1-2 and then were beaten at home 0-3 by Nottingham Forest on the final day.

And then the dream was over.  A bit reminiscent of Ipswich in 2001 and 2002, Reading in 2007 and 2008, as an impressive first season in the top division was followed by a disappointing 2nd season and eventual relegation.

It has taken a long time for the 2nd coming, and Swansea have had to endure a winding-up order in 1985 and finally relegation back to where they came from, Division Four, in 1986.  It had been a rollercoaster ride few will ever forget. 

Can they make it more permanent this time round?


  1. Love your blog... some great memories. Though I'm American, I actually attended a match at Vetch Field (FA Cup v. Peterborough, 1989) and remember the stadium as being fairly dilapidated... remarkable that they had played First Division football there only a few seasons before.

    1. Glad you like it. Thanks a lot for reading and especially taking the time to comment