Centenary feature: 1975-1983
1st May 2013
The close season saw the club re-elected into the Football League, but the indignity of it all was hard for the club to take. Harry Griffiths knew that there was little or no money for new players, so he trawled the free transfer market in the hope of finding a bargain. And in midfielder George Smith he found the man he required to lead the club, immediately making him club captain. Other players signed were Geoff Bray, a striker from Oxford United and centre half Paul Harris from Leyton Orient. The season started in a solid, if unspectacular fashion, and the club were in a comfortable mid-table position by Christmas. It's worth noting that at the end of November the Swans played away at Stockport in front of a 9,000 plus crowd, narrowly losing 2-1 with a certain George Best playing for the home side. And although the team went out of both the FA Cup and League Cup in the first round to Southend and Torquay United respectively, there was a belief that the club was going in the right direction. This belief was shared by the board with the purchase of winger Mickey Conway from Brighton for £2,000 at. The end of the season saw the club finish in 11th in the league, a major improvement from the previous season's basement battle. But the future of the club was with youngsters such as Alan Curtis and Robbie James, while both Nigel Stevenson and Steve Morris had both tasted first team football by the end of the season.
After the traumas of the past couple of years, it was with renewed optimism that the club approached the new season. With this in mind, manager Harry Griffiths signed experienced defender Eddie May from Wrexham and midfielder Les Chappell from Doncaster Rovers, while also securing the signature of 16-year-old Jeremy Charles as an apprentice. The Swans thrashed Newport County 4-1 at the Vetch Field in the first round of the League Cup, with Charles coming on as a substitute and scoring two goals in a sensational debut. Further cup victories over Chester and Torquay United saw the Swans play First Division Bolton Wanderers in the fifth round, where another two goals from Charles saw the club gain a creditable draw. Even though the team would lose the replay at Bolton, they had done enough to show the potential, something that Griffiths wanted to take in to improving the club's patchy league form. The FA Cup saw the Swans crash out at the first round to Minehead at the Vetch, but they followed this up with a series of wins in the league that saw the side in 9th position by the turn of the year. The side was scoring goals and the gates were on the up, so it was all to play for heading into the final months of the season. One unwanted record as far as the club was concerned was the 972 crowd at Southport to watch the team play in a league fixture in March 1977 - the lowest ever crowd to watch the Swans in a Football League fixture. With two games to play the Swans were fourth in the division, with promotion within its grasp. But with a 10,000 strong crowd at home to watch the side play Watford, the players froze and lost 4-1 to leave the promotion dream in tatters. And even though the side would win its final game away at champions Cambridge United, the chance had gone for another year.
Disappointment at the previous season's near miss was evident as the players returned for pre-season training. Manager Harry Griffiths responded to the club's defensive frailties by securing the services of experienced goalkeeper Keith Barber from Luton Town, while also bringing in winger Kevin Moore from Blackpool. The Swans were now amongst the favourites for promotion and they started the campaign in style, finding themselves in the top six in the league and with Alan Curtis continuing his good form in front of goal. Then, with a series of injuries hitting the squad, the side only won one game in October and they slipped down to mid-table. With this in mind, the board placed pressure on the manager who, at the end of October, offered his resignation. This came as a shock to the public who were fully behind the hardworking and popular Griffiths, who carried on for the benefit of the club in an acting capacity while a new man was found. While all this was going on behind the scenes, the team on the pitch responded well with victory after victory, with the board reinstating the manager who had won November's Manager of the Month award. The New Year saw the Swans in fourth place in the league, while having to fend off offers for three of its youngsters in Alan Curtis, Robbie James and Jeremy Charles. Once more there was drama off the pitch, when in February Griffiths resigned for the second time, this time stating that it was his desire to concentrate on the club's youth team players. This brought matters to a head and on February 26, negotiations between the Chairman and Liverpool's John Toshack saw the Welshman become the new player-manager of Swansea City. His first game was at the Vetch Field saw 15,000 fans turn out for the clash against Watford, with both sides playing out an exciting 3-3 draw. This began a fine run of form for the Swans, who sat fourth in the table with just two games to play. They recorded a 3-1 win over Scunthorpe, but the game was overshadowed following the death of Harry Griffiths earlier that day. The final fixture was at home to Halifax Town and although the Yorkshire side held out for over an hour, goals from Toshack and Curtis were enough to give the Swans victory and promotion to Division Three.
The excitement in the city was evident, with an increase in season ticket sales and the purchase of goalkeeper Geoff Crudgington, Alan Waddle and Liverpool legend Tommy Smith all before the start of the season. Toshack made it clear that his Swansea team were not going to rest on its laurels, and that promotion was his number one aim. The season's start saw the Swans play Newport County in the League Cup and although Toshack's side lost 2-1 in the first leg, there was no stopping the Swans back at the Vetch as they recorded a 5-0 win. This gave the team a dream draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur, with World Cup-winning Argentineans Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa in the Spurs side. A crowd of over 24,000 saw the Swans draw 2-2 in a thrilling tie, and one that will be remembered for Smith's tackle on Ardiles. The draw meant that a replay would be needed back in north London and Toshack's men went on to produce an inspired display to win 3-1 at White Hart Lane. In the league the team were in the top three positions throughout the opening months and up until the New Year, while Toshack strengthened the squad during this period by brining in Phil Boersma from Luton and Liverpool stalwart Ian Callaghan. The supporters were not used to seeing these types of quality signings coming into the club and as if to illustrate this further, Wales international Leighton Phillips was purchased for a club record fee of £70,000 in November. The final months of the league season saw the Swans in the promotion positions and after a fine 1-0 victory at Swindon, the team entered the run-in well placed. After Southend were beaten at the Vetch Field and a point secured away at Plymouth, the Swans played at home to Chesterfield knowing that a win could give them promotion for the second successive season if they could better Swindon's result. Over 22,000 crammed into the Vetch as Chesterfield took an early lead. Wave after wave of Swans pressure followed and Alan Waddle levelled before half time. The stage was set for a tense second half and Toshack came off the bench to net the winner late on and secure Second Division football for the club after a 14-year absence.
Back in the Second Division where many fans felt the club should be, there was genuine disappointment when star striker Alan Curtis left to join Leeds United for a club record £350,000. The money from the sale was not left in the bank, as Toshack broke the club's transfer record to buy Tommy Craig from Aston Villa for £150,000 and Welsh International John Mahoney from Middlesbrough for £100,000. The quality of the division was obviously a lot higher than it had been over the past two years, and with the comings and goings, it was a season where many supporters caught their breath with the rapid change in fortunes at the club. There were improvements in the infrastructure at the Vetch and with average attendances reaching around 14,000, there was a real sense of progress around the club. On the pitch the side performed well throughout the season, finishing a creditable 12th in the table, with further signings like David Giles catching the eye. The FA Cup was the highlight for the Swans during the season and after an exciting 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace at the Vetch, the teams could not be separated three days later in the replay meaning a toss of the coin ahead of a third match. Swansea won the toss and the game was played at Ninian Park, with Toshack's men winning 2-1 in front of a crowd of over 20,000. The draw was kind to the Swans with another home tie, a 4-1 win over Reading, but they went out in the next round to West Ham.
A pre-season friendly against Tottenham Hotspur at the Vetch Field saw the first appearance of Yugoslav international Dzemal Hadziabdic. 'Jimmy' as he was later known, would have an influential time at the club, linking up on the left side of the pitch with winger Leighton James. Fellow countryman Ante Rajkovic would follow him later in the season. The Swans got the season off to a solid start and reached Christmas lying in second place in the league. Suddenly there was talk around the city of promotion to the top division in English football, something that had eluded all the great talent from the 1950's. One massive boost to the club and the city was the return of Alan Curtis from Leeds United for £170,000. The FA Cup gave the team a home tie with First Division Middlesbrough and in a game that saw the home side make all the early running, the Swans and their fans were left stunned when Middlesbrough ended up winning the tie 5-0. This was a blow to the fans and gave the pessimists around the city the opportunity to state that the side would never make the First Division. In a tough January, the Swans suffered five consecutive league defeats but with the return of Wyndham Evans and Tommy Craig, the side began to pick up their form once more. A series of good wins propelled them back into the promotion race and with two games left, they faced Luton at the Vetch Field. The game ended 2-2 and the excitement went down to the final day of the season. 10,000 Swansea fans made the long trip north to Preston, where history was made. A 3-1 win secured First Division football for the first time and capped a remarkable period of success under John Toshack. The Swans ended the season by lifting the Welsh Cup following an aggregate win over Hereford United.
Reaching the First Division brought excitement and apprehension in equal measure for fans of the club, but there was no let up behind the scenes at the Vetch Field as Toshack spent £125,000 on centre forward Bob Latchford from Everton, Welsh goalkeeper Dai Davies for £45,000 from Wrexham and finally a club record £350,000 on centre half Colin Irwin from Liverpool. Swansea's first ever fixture in the top flight was against Leeds at the Vetch on what was a gloriously sunny day in South Wales. The 23,489 fans witnessed history that day as the home side secured a remarkable 5-1 win. Everything at the club was moving in the right direction and by October 17, history was created when the Swans went top of the table following a 2-1 win away at Stoke. December saw the side lead the division for the second time, and both the club and Toshack were honoured an MBE in the Queen's New Years honours list. The side continued its terrific league form throughout the rest of the season, with notable wins over Liverpool and Arsenal especially satisfying. Such was the consistency during the season that up until Easter the Swans were in with a realistic chance of winning the title, despite eventually finishing sixth after some indifferent results late in the season. The cups were a disappointment, with early exits in the FA Cup, League Cup and Europe, showing just how stretched the squad really was. However, the Welsh Cup was retained following a 2-1 win over Cardiff City.
After a tremendous first season in the top flight, the Swansea City supporters were looking forward to the new season with real optimism. The opening fixture was a home game in the European Cup Winners Cup against Portuguese side Sporting Braga and, after a comfortable 3-0 victory in the first leg, the side could afford to lose 1-0 in the reverse fixture and progress through to the next round. The opening league fixtures saw the side win two and draw once to pick up from where they had left off in the previous campaign. Bob Latchford was in particularly good form, scoring a hat-trick at home to Norwich City in a thrilling game at the Vetch. But as the season progressed and injuries took their toll, fans were finding out that the club were in big financial trouble - with £2million worth of debt and with players and management at loggerheads throughout. Players of the calibre of Leighton James, Jimmy Hadziabdic and Jeremy Charles spent a substantial time in the treatment room, while captain and record signing Colin Irwin's injury effectively finished his career at the age of just 25. The Swans were struggling at the bottom end of the table come Christmas, with the manager unable to bring in any fresh players following financial constraints. The European adventure ended in the second round with defeat to Paris St Germain, with early exits also following in the FA Cup and League Cup. However, this didn't improve in the First Division as a number of young players were blooded into a competition that showed no mercy. Following months of uncertainty, relegation was confirmed following a final day defeat at Old Trafford. The only bright spot in an otherwise depressing season was the Welsh Cup success, with the Swans defeating Wrexham 4-1 on aggregate.