Toshack's enduring tale with Swansea
The Toshack touch in Swans' fairy tale which outshines the Leicester giant-killing story
SWANSEA v SOUTHAMPTON
(Sunday, 8.45pm, Singtel TV Ch 103 & StarHub TV Ch 228, ELEVEN Plus HD)
Leicester City's title win last season ranks as one of the most thrilling - and certainly the most unexpected - in English football history.
However, as great as the Foxes' achievements were, it would surely have paled in comparison to the tale of John Toshack's Swansea City, who led the old First Division in the spring of 1982 before falling at the final few hurdles.
This Sunday, the Swans take on struggling Southampton in a swanky stadium and in front of a global TV audience of millions (including Eleven Sports Network in Singapore).
It's a far cry from the old days at the Vetch Field - the dilapidated stadium where they plied their trade from 1912 until the summer of 2005.
Swansea's exploits in the late 1970s and early '80s were led by former Liverpool and Wales legend John Toshack, who grabbed the club by the scruff of the neck and somehow guided them on a magnificent odyssey from the Fourth Division to (briefly) the summit of the top flight.
With six games remaining, the Swans led the chasing pack, but only one win from their final half a dozen fixtures saw them leapfrogged by eventual champions Liverpool.
The following season, despite having invested heavily in the squad, Swansea got off to a poor start and never recovered. They were relegated, and Toshack (above) resigned shortly after.
But that was only stage one in a downfall that was long and protracted. By 1986, the club were back where they started before Toshack's appointment - in the bottom division.
The years of turmoil continued. Ownership changed hands several times and the club were on the verge of bankruptcy on more than one occasion, until a consortium of local supporters and businessmen - an eclectic group of builders, accountants and carpet salesmen - formed the Swansea City Supporters Trust and forced through a takeover of their beloved club.
The Trust, headed by former Swansea legend Mel Nurse and chairman Huw Jenkins, worked tirelessly to revive the club, but, on the final day of the 2002-03 season, the Swans needed to beat Hull City in order to avoid dropping out of the Football League - an outcome that may well have ended their very existence.
Enter James Thomas, a local boy who had taken an 80 per cent pay cut after initiating a move to his boyhood team from Premier League Blackburn Rovers.
His hat-trick in a 4-2 victory secured Swansea's status as a professional Football League club. It was a day that will forever be etched in the memories of Swansea supporters.
"I'll always remember the night before the game trying to get to sleep. Just the pressure of it, especially being a local boy from Swansea - I had to face the supporters wherever I went," Thomas told ITV News.
"But, when you're on the pitch, it's just another game. The atmosphere that day was like a 12th man for us and helped massively. It was the highlight of my career and a day I'll never forget.
"That was rock bottom, and ever since that day the club have progressed. It was a massive turning point."
Thomas was forced to quit the game soon after following a persistent knee injury. He now works as an ambulance driver in nearby Port Talbot, and supports his old side from the plush Liberty Stadium seats as a season-ticket holder.
In 2005, Swansea began their ascent of the Football League once again, earning promotion from the basement division.
By now, they were playing in a state-of-the-art stadium, and new heroes had emerged, including Leon Britton (above), who remains a fixture in the Swans squad having also been part of Thomas's landmark day on May 3, 2003.
In 2011, the club were promoted back to the top flight after a 28-year absence. In 2013, they won their first major trophy, the League Cup, and three years later they're still punching above their weight in the Premier League.
Two months ago, in an effort to maintain the club's upward trajectory, the rag-tag bunch of local businessmen who saved the club 15 years ago, relinquished their controlling interest to an American consortium led by Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan.
The rise, fall and rise of Swansea City is a story for the ages, and the next chapter promises to be yet another page-turner.
Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at ELEVEN SPORTS NETWORK. Join Richard and his studio guests for ELEVEN's live coverage of the Premier League, which includes tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) clash between Chelsea and Liverpool at 2.30am, and Sunday's double-header between Watford and Manchester United (6.30pm), and Southampton versus Swansea (8.45pm). For more details, visit www.elevensports.sg
BY THE numbers
Gylfi Sigurdsson's penalty against Chelsea last weekend made him Swansea's all-time top scorer in the Premier League with 26 goals.