Another significant chapter
19th January 2013
It struck me the other day how appropriate it was that the latest chapter of the Swansea City fairytale is being scripted by a Dane.
Michael Laudrup's compatriot Hans Christian Andersen would have been hard pushed to pen a tale as fantastic as the Swans' rise to the Premier League and their subsequent success.
I know Hans came up with the Ugly Duckling to Stylish Swan idea first, but this latest update on his famous tale has all the magical ingredients of the original . . . and then some!
And that pretty much sums up why I love sport so much.
No matter how imaginative and creative you are, there are times when you just couldn't make up all the drama, twists and turns - even if you were the world's finest writer of fairy tales.
Sport is unscripted and unpredictable. Just when you think you can't be surprised any more, something will happen to make you think again.
Not even the most inventive of thrillers, packed full of red herrings and unfathomable plots twists can match the surprises and sensational stories in sport, and football in particular.
For example, just 12 years ago this fixture would have been a match in the Second Division - then the third tier of English football.
Who would have thought that a dozen years later the two sides would be playing in the top flight, one of them well established for the past few seasons, and the other enjoying a successful second season. One placed ninth in the table and the other 10th?
Not to mention the fact that included in the clubs' squads would be two of the highest goalscorers in English international football history, and one of the hottest properties in European football - who could soon be making his international debut for the World and European champions Spain.
Interestingly, in the promotion play-offs at the end of that season 12 years ago, Stoke were beaten in the semi-finals by Walsall. In the other semi, Reading beat Wigan. The final saw Walsall gain promotion with victory over the Royals.
So, the team that went up through the play-offs that season are now back in the third tier, while the other three semi-finalist are now in the Premier League alongside one of the teams that was relegated to the bottom division that season . . . yes, you guessed it - the Swans! Who'd have though it? Who'd have predicted it?
The achievements of teams like Stoke, and in particular the Swans, give hope to every supporter of every lower league team in the land.
Fans from Plymouth Argyle to Carlisle can look at the achievements of the Swans and think: "There's no reason why we can't do that."
It's hard to think of many league clubs that have been in worse positions than the Swans over the past three decades.
More than once they have been on the brink of going out of business completely.
Just 10 years ago this year they were just 45 minutes away from being relegated from the football league.
Now look at them, they are just 90 minutes away from reaching their first major Wembley final having recently beaten the European Champions on their own patch in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final, and currently enjoying a hugely creditable mid-table spot in the Premier League.
Fairy tales like the Swans' rise to the top help keep supporters up and down the country turning out on freezing cold and wet Tuesday nights to travel the length and breadth of the nation to support struggling sides.
The other thing Swansea have proved is that you don't have to depend on being adopted by mega-rich Sheikhs or Russian oligarchs to make the rise from bottom to top either.
Ok, perhaps the days of a Nottingham Forest being promoted to the top flight one season, winning the title the next, and the European Cup the season after may be gone. And the general predictability of the main challengers for the Premier League title is a shame.
But the stories of Swansea, Wigan, Stoke and others like them prove there is always hope for any club to get a taste of the big time.
The very biggest teams in Europe may still harbour ambitions of breaking away into big money mega leagues, but the success of smaller, relatively unfashionable clubs against the odds is what will keep the true spirit of football alive and very much kicking.
And if these long term fairy tales are exciting and engaging, what about the instant unpredictable thrills that are potentially generated by matches played each and every week.
You only have to look at QPR's trip to Chelsea a couple of weeks ago. Even the most optimistic of Superhoops fans must surely have been hard pushed to predict their 1-0 win.
Just last weekend, Reading looked dead and buried against West Brom. Having been pretty much outplayed during the first 81 minutes, and trailing 2-0, they managed to turn the game on its head and ended up winning 3-2.
I wonder how many of even the most loyal Royals, were already on their way home by the time the winner hit the back of the net in the 90th minute.
And of course, down in the Championship, there was Cardiff losing at home to Peterborough recently. And no, I haven't chosen this example because just it's Cardiff! The result just happens to perfectly illustrates what makes football so compelling.
Having won a record breaking 10 straight matches at the Cardiff City Stadium since the start of the season, The Bluebirds had taken 16 points from the previous 18 on offer. Peterborough, on the other hand, were bottom of the table having lost seven of their previous eight matches. Yet the visitors pulled off a thoroughly deserved 2-1 win.
And don't get me started on all the excitement and shocks of the League Cup this season! I'm going to keep that for Wednesday night's programme!
So, shuffle to the edge of your seats and get ready for another exciting chapter in the Swansea City story, I'm sure there are going to be plenty more thrilling twists and turns between now and the end of the season.
C'mon you Swans!