There’s a song which says, ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all’. I suppose we have all had that feeling sometimes in our lives, but this week I got lucky, really lucky and I am so excited.
I won the lottery…well I won ‘A’ lottery and I won it alongside 3000 other people as well. Now usually the more people who win a lottery or prize draw the smaller everyone’s individual prize will be as the jackpot has to be shared but with this lottery win the more people who win the greater the prize. The jackpot prize I won is a ticket to the Championship Play Off, Semi Final Second Leg at the Liberty Stadium.
Earlier this week I was a guest on a new podcast called ‘Gimme 5’. The show is presented by comedians Rod Woodward and Gary Marshall who are both big sports fans. The idea is they give their guests a series of topics to choose from and the guest has to choose their 5 favourites from the list. So, 5 favourite films, or musicians, or meals or sporting events.
I expect my choice of films was pretty standard, The Godfather, Sound of Music etc. Musicians included Elton John, Randy Newman and Dusty Springfield. Nothing out of the ordinary.
When it came to ‘sporting events’ I took the boys a bit by surprise. My first event took place on Saturday 20th September 1969. The podcast takes place over zoom and sometimes the picture isn’t brilliant, but I could still see real looks of bewilderment on their faces as they tried to think what had happened on that date.
On that day Swansea played Northampton Town at the Vetch Field in what was then known as the Fourth Division. I’ll come to the game in a minute and I have to say there was plenty to talk about but the reason the game was so important to me was that it was the first time I had seen the Swans play live.
I had gone to the game with a couple of teachers and the rest of the Brynhyfryd Junior School football team. We were all given programmes which was just as well as the smiling faces of our school team beamed out from the dedicated Schoolboy page. I think we made a day of it with a lunch of sausage beans and chips at K’s café on High Street, but I might be confusing that with another school team outing.
So many things still live large in my memory. The smell of cigarettes, Bovril and pies. The pitch with goals which had nets. The noise of the 6600 strong crowd and then of course the game itself. For a 4th Division game, it had everything. A five goal thriller and a sending off.
The circumstances behind the sending off were unusual to say the least. The big Northampton centre forward Frank Large had caused problems for the Swansea Town defence all afternoon. If my memory serves me correctly the game was pretty much in the balance when Frank Large fired a shot into the crowd hitting a child. I think the thing that riled the spectators was that he didn’t immediately check on the well being of the child. Maybe Frank hadn’t seen where his wayward shot had gone. Anyway, an irate fan ran onto the pitch to confront the tall blonde header centre forward and Frank did the only thing he could think of…he punched him!!!
This course of action left the referee with no choice but to send Frank off from bringing the game into disrepute, although having said that, the wayward shot alone didn’t do much for the game’s reputation in my opinion. After that there was only one team in it and the Swans went on to win 3-2. I left the ground a complete convert, 5 goals, a sending off and sausage and chips all in one day; life couldn’t get any better than this.
My second sporting highlight took place on 16th May 2011 at the Liberty Stadium. It was always going to be difficult for the Liberty Stadium to measure up to the Vetch. The Vetch with all its faults had a magic about it. The Liberty was different, grown up and it didn’t have the same smell as the Vetch. That all changed on the 16th May, the Championship Semi Final Play off second leg.
For those of us lucky to have seen the first rise of Swansea City in the late 70’s and 80’s there was something familiar about the rise in the 2000’s. The supporters had grown with the team. We were united in our belief that we were good enough to get to the top and we played beautiful football. The first leg had been tough with Neil Taylor harshly sent off within the first few moments of the game. We could even have won it with 10 men, but in the end we managed to hang on for a great draw. At home we felt invincible, nervous, but invincible.
The second leg went well. A wonderful goal from the ‘prolific’ Leon Britton. (to be honest he looked as surprised as we did). Stephen Dobbie’s second gave us breathing space but when ex Cardiff player Robbie Earnshaw scored with just over 10 minutes to go we all found it hard to breathe again.
Then came the moment that will live with me forever. The Forest goalkeeper came up for a last minute Forest corner. The ball was cleared to Darren Pratley who ran to the half way line before stroking the ball into the empty Forest net.
There are few moments in my life than can rival the sheer and utter joy of that moment and I am sure to this day that the Liberty Stadium actually shook from the noise and all of those people jumping up and down. That was the night the Liberty came of age.
And so, I look forward with a similar excitement to tonight’s game. There is so much to be excited about and this time it’s not all about the football. Yes, it’s a semi-final with the chance of a trip to Wembley and a return to the Premier league. Yes, it means a possible £170 million for the club and a much need shot in the arm for the region, with the publicity that comes from being back on the worldwide football stage. But more than that it is the chance to go to a live event with people again, to share a love for football and for life.
I know we will be visiting under strict Covid conditions and the stadium will only be a fraction full, but I think all of us lucky enough to be there will commit to making as much noise as we can as we cheer on our team.
The Liberty might not be physically shaking like it did for that goal in 2011 but I guarantee we will be shaking with excitement as we go through those turnstiles once again.