Friday 17 November 2017

How Swans soared from edge of abyss to top of the world

Ian Herbert

It has been a 10-year journey from the edge of obscurity to what feels like the top of the world but, for the man who started Swansea City off on their whole crazy adventure, a cold April Saturday in Rochdale will always live most in the mind.

Brian Flynn, the unassuming Welshman who in September 2002 took over and rebuilt a Swansea team six points adrift at the bottom of the Football League, had told his rag-tag bunch of loanees and old pros all that week how their professional status would be preserved if they won at Spotland, in the season's penultimate game.

Flynn, recently appointed manager at Doncaster Rovers, remembers his assistant, Alan Curtis, that afternoon giving the most inspired motivational talk he has ever heard in a dressing-room.

"We won 2-1 and the dressing-room was bouncing," recalled Flynn.

Of course, no one banked on Exeter City, rivals for the drop, winning at York City – a top-six side. They did – and Football League survival came to depend on a dizzying 4-2 win against Hull City seven days later.

That group of Flynn's included Roberto Martinez, rescued from Walsall's reserves, and Leon Britton, persuaded to swap his tag as a £400,000 West Ham teenager for a life beyond the Port Talbot steelworks.


Flynn had only 19 players for his first Swansea training session and discovered that half of them played in midfield.

Chaos is what he found at a club who had had four owners in the previous few years – including a detested businessman, Tony Petty, who flew in from Australia and summarily sacked seven players.

A local consortium then owned the club but the farce rolled on – the brother of 70s Bond girl Britt Ekland emerged as one bidder.

The seeds of the Swansea we now see were sewn in that pantomime because Huw Jenkins, a lifelong fan, one-time building supplies company owner and now club chairman, vowed never to go back to those days, having helped save the club.

The memory of 2002-03 is seared across every aspect of the club's development and they are not inclined to splash the £15m secured from Liverpool for Joe Allen, for example.

Jenkins quickly fastened on to the idea that the only way for a small club to flourish was to do things differently.

It's why Martinez, who graduated to manager in 2007, convinced him to invest his faith and meagre resources in players who could use a ball.

Paolo Sousa, another of the five managers to have shepherded the club over the past eight years, credits Jenkins and Martin Morgan, the father of Wednesday night's controversial ballboy, as men who were willing to stick with the plan, which required more patience than the over-simplistic narrative about a Swansea conversion to the passing game suggests.

Ask Martinez about the boos that greeted a 0-0 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion in September 2007.

The 2-1 win over Swindon Town that followed is a result many supporters feel was pivotal to this journey from the base of League Two to next month's League Cup final.

Martinez, Sousa briefly in 2009-10, Brendan Rodgers and this season Michael Laudrup have maintained the same creed based on neat, angular passing, ball-retention and pressing, with Laudrup tweaking Rodgers' style by demanding the decisive forward pass be delivered quicker.

Jenkins also ascribes great significance to Kenny Jackett, Martinez's predecessor, who achieved the hard task of getting Swansea out of the bottom league.

Jackett imbued the club with discipline as he won the first promotion, from League Two, in 2005.

Never forgotten, either, is Lee Trundle, the colourful striker with the dyed hair and bright boots whom Flynn spotted at Rhyl and who dropped down a division to follow the manager from Wrexham to Swansea.

He was a sensation in the difficult early years.

"He made it cool to watch Swansea," said journalist Chris Wathan, who wrote the striker's excellent biography. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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