Autoglass Trophy 30th anniversary | John Cornforth's Story

24th April

When Swansea City fans think of a club captain lifting a trophy at Wembley, it’s easy to understand why their minds might turn to Garry Monk lifting the play-off trophy in 2011, or Monk and Ashley Williams holding aloft the League Cup two years later in 2013. But the first man to hold aloft silverware at the world-famous venue was non other than John Cornforth.

Thirty years ago, on April 24 1994 to be precise, Cornforth led his side up the steps to the royal box to be presented with the Autoglass Trophy having beaten Huddersfield Town 3-1 on penalties in a final that had ended 1-1 after extra-time.

The story of that team has largely been lost in the success Swansea City has enjoyed in the intervening period, but they were the first. The first Swans team to play at Wembley, the first Swans team to win silverware at the hallowed stadium.

To mark the anniversary, Swansea City issued a limited-edition kit modelled on the 1994 final design - to be worn against Queens Park Rangers, while Cornforth and several of his former teammates were in attendance at the fixture.

And the Whitley Bay-born midfielder is proud of the place his side continue to hold in Swans history.

“I’ve been quoted a couple of times saying that the Wembley team was the forgotten team,” he says. 

“I’ve said that in the past protecting my team because it was a different game then. We were not paid fortunes and it means the world for us to see the anniversary being recognised like this, and for us to have the chance to get everyone back together and to be back down in a place we love.

“The kit and the tracksuit are fantastic. The one I have is obviously a lot bigger than the one I wore at Wembley, but it’s brilliant and it means a lot.

“I think this is the sort of thing that Wembley team has been crying out for.”

Cornforth’s journey to lifting the trophy at Wembley started in his native north-east where, despite being a Newcastle United fan, he would start out his career with their rivals Sunderland.

He made his debut in the top-flight at the end of a campaign where the Black Cats were in the process of dropping down to the second tier.

Len Ashurst was the man to give Cornforth his break in the first team, but it was a man who the midfielder first worked with in the reserves on Wearside who would go on to be instrumental in his move to Swans; Frank Burrows.

The Scot – who sadly passed away in 2021 - brought Cornforth to the Vetch Field in 1991, and he has nothing but gratitude for his old boss.

“Frank was my career, to be honest with you,” says Cornforth.

“When I was at Sunderland as a reserve-team player, Frank was reserve team manager and obviously, I was a ball player, a ball-playing midfield player, and he used to try to toughen me up by kicking me in training.

“I always remember the day I got a perm, I went in on the Sunday morning for treatment, and he came walking in the treatment room, opened the door with his ‘tash and his Scottish accent, and he just looked and says, ‘I’ve just got you tackling and now you look like Shirley Temple!’

“But from the word go, we had a great relationship – at Swansea, they always used to say I was the son of Frank.

“He played a massive part in my career, and I loved him, and I loved working for him. 

“He was miles ahead of anyone as a coach, and he was the pull when it came to joining Swansea.

No disrespect to Swansea or anything, but I didn’t know where Swansea was. I didn’t know it on the map. I wasn’t very bright at school to be honest with you, I knew the north-east, and I knew Swansea was in Wales. That was about it.”

Life in SA1 did not start as he may have wanted; Cornforth broke his leg just a handful of games into his Swansea career. But he quickly made up for lost time when fit again, and soon become a fan favourite.

He helped the Swans reach the Third Division play-offs in the 1992-93 campaign, where they lost out to West Bromwich Albion in the semi-finals.

Hopes had been high for another crack at promotion the following season, but a lack of consistency ensured the Swans never really threatened to put themselves in the hunt.

However, as they progressed through the rounds of the Autoglass Trophy, the opportunity to achieve something special began to loom large.

“The West Brom game was a massive downer for me,” recalls Cornforth. 

“I played all the way through the play-offs with a double hernia and I was on the exercise bike at half-time to keep myself going.

“I had to come off against West Brom, we had a man sent off and we lost, and it was a massive downer.

“We didn’t really kick on in the league the next season, but Frank knew how to rejuvenate everyone. He brought another couple of people in, and the squad was just so tight-knit from the word go.

“It was a magical, magical time. 

“I remember us beating Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road and that for me was where you started to have a think that it could be on to go to Wembley.”

The Swans would eventually face Martin O’Neil’s Wycombe Wanderers side in the two-legged southern aera final.

A dominant performance in the first leg on home soil yielded a 2-0 win, but any thoughts of a comfortable second leg were quickly expelled when the Chairboys scored early.

Swansea had to withstand wave after wave of pressure, but they held out to secure their spot, and the excitement of the build-up to Wembley could begin.

“We were 2-0 up after the first leg and, to be honest with you, we battered them,” says Cornforth. 

“It could have been three or four. I think Colin Pascoe and Jason Bowen scored.

“But then it was the lead up to the second, and the expectation around the town.

“They believed that we could do it, you know what I mean, and you could feel it.

“The second leg at Wycombe, Jason Bowen should have scored, I think I put him through and he was on the edge of the box, and the keeper made a good save. 

“I think they battered us for about the last 30, 35 minutes. Thankfully, we managed to hold on. The hype just went up from there.

“I remember the journey home. You’d always know on the way back if Frank was happy because if we stopped off to get a couple of beers or something, he would let me get a couple of beers, and I would always try to get him a bottle of white wine, because he liked white wine.

“So as soon as he said ‘oh yes, get me a bottle of wine’, you knew for a fact that you were okay. In fact, I think we stopped off at his house in Swindon and we were in there with his family having a drink and celebrating. They were great times.”

With money tight at the time, the Swans had a decidedly no-frills approach to travel and accommodation back in 1994.

But, for the big day in London, the players were measured for Wembley suits, were issued new club tracksuits and travelled up the day before the game to stop in a hotel near the ground.

There was excitement and plenty of nervous energy, some of which got expanded by playing pranks on the team’s coach driver, Ken.

“We’d actually gone down the day before and had a walk around Wembley,” says Cornforth. 

“We had a look at the dressing rooms and I remember standing, looking at the goal and saying, ‘can you imagine if that stand is full and you have to take a penalty?’

“Nine days earlier, we had played Nuneaton in the FA Cup, and we were losing 1-0 with about seven minutes to go and we got a penalty. I took the penalties, and I went up and I kicked the ground, and the ball bounced about four times before the keeper saved it.

“I ended up getting us knocked out of the FA Cup, and it’s my fault because I missed the penalty, so to go into Wembley and think…

“You’ve obviously got to think about penalties when you go into these big games, you know what I mean.

“But it was just magical. We went to the hotel and Frank and the staff put beautiful food on for us, and old Ken the bus driver – bless his soul – he died not long ago.

“When we used to go on away trips, we used to play crash cards at the back of the bus and there was no sports science in those days, so we used to have a slab of cheese, a big block of ham, white bread and Branston Pickle. 

“So, that’s what we used to get: Branston Pickle, ham and cheese sandwiches.

“Ken used to get on the mic and say ‘Corney, Roger, makes us a Branson Pickle sandwich’, so we used to get the sandwich, and we used to get a playing card and stick it inside the sandwich. So he’s driving along, biting this playing card.

“But the night before Wembley had a drink – he would never have a drink because we used to go up and back in the same day with Swansea, they didn’t have much money in those days – so I said to Roger, ‘Ken’s left his key by the bar, come on, let’s do his room’.

“Roger and I went up his room and unscrewed the legs on his bed, and just left them balancing. He was having a few pints with Frank, Frank was making him have a few pints and then we clingfilmed the toilet.

“So he’d gone up to bed, we heard a massive thud because the bed had collapsed, and all this and – well, I’m not saying what he did to the toilet.

But it broke the ice in the morning, all the lads were having a laugh and carry on.”

Matchday eventually arrived, with over 18,000 Jacks making the journey to the old Wembley to see if their side could add silverware to what was already an historic day.

The presence of a Welsh side meant the national anthem was played pre-match and, all these years later, Cornforth still recalls the wall of noise that greeted the Swansea and Huddersfield teams as they made the long walk from the dressing rooms behind one goal out to the middle of the pitch.

The skipper presented his players to the then-home secretary Michael Howard – himself a son of Llanelli – and then, finally it was time to go.

“On matchday there was excitement, I never got nervous. The only time I ever got nervous was when I joined the Wales squad. There were so many stars there and I was just like a nobody really,” adds Cornforth.

“But, the Wembley day, getting to the stadium and seeing all the Swans fans was unreal. It was unreal. It’s just what you become a professional footballer for.

“All the lads looked really smart, we went for the suit fittings somewhere in Swansea. I am getting old, and I can’t remember. The lads look immaculate, it was special leading up to it. It was the right time for us.

“It was just such a sense of pride really, and to see how many Swans fans were there. It does not matter if there are 18,000 Swans fans or two Swans fans there, they would always out sing the opposition. So, it was just unbelievable, it was breathtaking in a way. You see your family there and everything, it was just class.

“I introduced the players to Michael Howard, I just told him their nicknames, I cannot repeat on camera what I was calling some of them! 

“But, it was nice to walk them through and obviously introduce them to Frank, the mascot.

“I was sent a picture of the mascot not long ago and he has got his own kids and all that now, and all the Swans kit. It’s unbelievable, it’s amazing. It’s a fantastic story.

“Once all that is done it’s a relief to be ready to play the game. I was a very vocal captain and I would bang a few heads, I was like that. It was game time, you know what I mean. You had to be ready.”

Swansea City lift the 1994 Autoglass Trophy

Swansea could not have wished for a better start. A long ball downfield from Roger Freestone was seized upon by Andy McFarlane, who rounded the keeper to steer the ball into the empty net.

The preference of McFarlane to Steve Torpey in attack had surprised some, but Cornforth felt getting that big call right just summed up Burrows’ acumen and man-management.

“To be honest with you, it was quite tight in the first five or 10 minutes,” says Cornforth. 

“Both teams had had quite a lot of the ball, but when the ball goes back to Roger – and I’ve watched it so many times – he gets a good connection on it, they miss out and Andy McFarlane gets through and I think everyone was more shocked that he showed some composure. 

“To be fair to ‘Big Mac’ he showed a nice bit of skill and he finished it off. 

“He used to live where I lived in Gorseinon, in the same estate as me, and at one o’clock in the morning you would get a knock on the door and he would be after a pint of milk. 

“He was so laid back I don’t think he knew what time it was, I don’t think he ever had a watch. He was that type of lad, but then he scored some important goals for us. 

“He was a great lad, an ex-kickboxer, and ex-bouncer and all that. 

“It was a great start for us, an absolutely fantastic start, and it summed up Frank because he made the decision and he got it right. When he was certain of something he would go with it, as I say he was ahead of his time as a coach.”

Swansea had the better of proceedings, but Neil Warnock’s Terriers grew into the game and eventually got an equaliser when Richard Logan scored from a corner.

The sides could not be separated, with Jason Bowen striking a post and Cornforth seeing a last-gasp free-kick saved, and extra-time could not find a winner either.

That left the prospect of a dreaded penalty shootout.

As mentioned previously, less than two weeks before the final Cornforth had missed an important spot-kick in an FA Cup exit at the hands of Nuneaton Borough.

He was also feeling a calf issue he had picked up in the second half of the final, but there was never any chance anyone else was taking Swansea’s first penalty.

“100 per cent, I always said I would take the first one and obviously they missed theirs,” recalls Cornforth.

“The ball came across and went all the way across in front of the Huddersfield fans, there were no ball boys in those days so I had to hobble over to the Huddersfield fans and I tried to do a little chicken flick and I tweaked my calf again. I had done it in the second half and I had been worried Frank might take me off.

“But I caught it and I went and put the ball down. I had always said I would just be positive, and I think looking back I took the longest run-up in the world, but I just connected with it and it went in the top corner.

Graham Mitchell had struck the woodwork with the opening penalty of the shootout for Huddersfield, and Phil Starbuck did likewise with their third.

Swansea were faultless, Cornforth, Kwame Ampadu and Torpey all scoring from the spot.

All of which meant when Freestone saved Tom Cowan’s effort, the Swans had done it, even if the keeper himself has claimed he didn’t immediately realised.

“If they had kept taking penalties, Roger would have kept saving them,” chuckles Cornforth. 

“He was quite happy saving them. We were on the halfway line and had realised we had won it, it was good. 

“Roger was incredible. The amount of important saves he made. He would shank the ball out of play quite a lot and Frank would sort of throw his cap down and go mental at him, but he was a great lad. He was an absolute great lad, but a fantastic goalkeeper. I thought he was the best in the league for a number of years.

“You share special moments like that, and to be walking around Wembley, seeing the fans, seeing your family and friends. That’s what it is all about.

“When it came to lifting the trophy I was just worried about my calf walking up the stairs! I had gone over to Frank, I had known Frank since I was a young lad. It was touching, to be fair, it was really good.” 

Cornforth had also been named man of the match for a typically bustling and busy display in the middle of the park.

As he and his teammates wearily climbed the stairs to the royal box and he lifted the trophy aloft in the direction of the jubilant Swans fans, Cornforth soaked in every moment.

But any thoughts of quickly joining the celebrations with his teammates had to wait a while as he conducted his post-match media duties.

“To play at Wembley and to lift the trophy, to get man of the match, to score a goal, it was dreams come true really, dreams come true,” he says.

When we walked up the stairs there was a lot of VIPs but Swans fans so they’re all grabbing you and putting scarves round you and hats on you and things like this. 

“It was just amazing and the Swans fans, the singing for the next half hour was unreal, unreal. 

“But I missed the start of the celebrations! Obviously as soon as it finished I had to go and get my man-of-the-match award and champagne.

“Then Frank and I were carted off to do the media interview. We went in with all the press and we sat, me, Frank, Neil Warnock and his captain, we sat for another 35, 40 minutes answering questions. 

“Then I had to go outside and I was asked to do another interview, and when I came back in Frank had opened my champagne. He was drinking my man-of-the-match champagne! 

“I had to get back in touch with Autoglass and ask them for another bottle. To be fair to them, they sent it. The atmosphere in the dressing room was just unbelievable.”

 Having got back to the sanctuary of the dressing room, even if his man-of-the-match champagne had already been opened in his absence, and spent time with his family before they made the long journey back to the north-east.

And the journey home would prove memorable for the Cornforth clan, and for the man himself, if for very different reasons.

“A funny story is I came out and I gave my champagne to my dad, and all my family were outside and they had all Welsh flags, the Swansea fans had given them Welsh flags because they knew they were my family. 

“They’d been on the drink since five o’clock in the morning - they’d watched the final, they’d actually climbed down sections to get by the pitch and there’s a picture in my local in Whitley Bay of me holding the man-of-the-match award and all the lads are behind. 

Roger Freestone Huddersfield

“They’d been elbowing kids out of the way and all this to get to the front. 

“But on the way home they passed the Huddersfield coach up there and they must’ve thought they were drunk and had gone the wrong way with all their Welsh flags waving in the windows, and giving it to the Huddersfield players.

“Our journey back was eventful, too. I lost my suit! 

“I gave my shirt away to a charity, we had won at Wembley but obviously typical Swansea we did not have much cash or anything. There was loads of champagne on the bus on the way back after winning it. 

“But then we stopped in Membury services for a pie or a McDonald’s or something. All the Swans fans were there, I got off the bus and I just got mobbed.  I lost my tie, and I ended up going back on the bus in my boxer shorts and my socks. It was just unreal.

“Looking back on it, 30 years ago, it makes you feel old. They were fantastic memories.”

But reality would soon bite for the successful Swans, with a league game against Port Vale looming barely 48 hours after the final whistle at Wembley.

It was very much a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show, and there even a few boos at the end of the night.

But, as Cornforth looks back, it is the memory of that bright, spring afternoon at Wembley that unsurprisingly resonates the most strongly.

“To be honest with you, we were so bad against Port Vale,” he says. 

“I think he brought a couple of the reserve-team players in, but he brought me off the bench and I remember coming on and it was just one of those things where you’d been on such a high, you couldn’t get yourself going. 

“It was very, very difficult, but the memories I have and savour are all of Wembley. 

“From start to finish of that run, from Plymouth away, all the way to the final. From my point of view, to lead Swansea out for the first time at Wembley, to get man of the match, to score a goal, to lift the trophy, it was like a Hollywood movie and things dreams are made of really.

“Winning at Wembley was the biggest thing in my life outside of my kids being born.” 

Members of the 1994 team post with the Autoglass trophy: Mark Harris, Mark Clode, John Hodge, Mike Davenport, John Cornforth, Wendy Burrows, Chris Burrows, Jon Ford, Shaun Chapple, Roger Freestone, Steve Jenkins, Colin Pascoe.