Centenary feature: 1983-1991
1st May 2013
The Vetch Field boardroom saw a lot of action over the close season; creditors anxious to see that any money owed to them would be paid, while the club made it clear that the only saleable asset at the club were the players for sale. But with the club in financial difficulty, both Leighton James and Robbie James left the club for well below their valuation. As with the previous season, the Swans started off the campaign with a European fixture. The home tie against Magdeburg of East Germany finished 1-1, while elimination was completed a week later with a 0-1 away defeat. The league form proved a disaster with only three games won up until the New Year, including heavy defeats at Fulham (0-5) and Chelsea (1-6). Off the field, Chairman Malcolm Struel and Vice Chairman Tom Phillips resigned in late October, followed by manager John Toshack just a few days later. Events on the pitch showed no signs of improving, with senior players leaving the club to ease the financial problems and leaving youngsters to learn the realities of professional football. Alan Curtis and Jeremy Charles were the next to depart, to Southampton and QPR respectively, but the club were boosted by the news that Toshack was to return as manager. However, there was to be no fairytale ending and he was sacked in early March, with Les Chappell taking over the managerial reigns. The inevitable relegation was confirmed with defeat to Shrewsbury Town in April, while the same team would put an end to its hold on the Welsh Cup in a two-legged semi-final exit. The disaster of a second successive relegation saw the Swans register just seven league wins all season, and things were about to get worse.
The ins and outs at boardroom level showed no signs of slowing down during the summer. Malcolm Struel returned as Chief Executive while three new directors arrived in the shape of Mel Nurse, Harry Hyde and Dave Savage. The financial implications were grave but there was a total agreement to make former Hull City boss Colin Appleton the new manager of Swansea City. Appleton had had success with his former club on a limited budget, and there was hope that the same thing could be repeated at the Vetch Field. With little or no money to strengthen the squad and with seasoned players leaving the club, there was no surprise to see the Swans struggle in the Third Division. They were bottom of the table by Christmas and having been knocked out of both the Milk Cup and FA Cup in the first round. The latter was a bitter pill to swallow, with the club suffering a 3-1 defeat against Bognor Regis Town in a replay. This loss, together with the ongoing financial problems, proved to be the final straw for the board as Appleton and his assistant Colin Meldrum were sacked. The board realised that a strong character was required to help get the club out of the doldrums and turned to the experienced and flamboyant John Bond to help restore some stability back into the club. The first thing the new man oversaw was to bring in experienced players such as Paul Price, Derek Parlane and Ray McHale. The results were mixed to begin with but more points were being picked up and slowly the Swans moved off the foot of the table to find themselves with a chance of staying in the division up going into the final game of the season at home to Bristol City. They needed at least, and with a crowd of over 10,000 willing them on, goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer performed heroics to ensure the game finished 0-0. The euphoria that greeted the result was tangible and gave everyone some renewed hope for the future of the football club.
John Bond signed three new players for the beginning of the new campaign as Colin Randell, the evergreen Tommy Hutchinson and local boy Garry Emmanuel all arrived at the Vetch Field. After the heroics of the previous season, it was hoped that the Swans could continue the level of optimism that had been created. However, the opening games brought about a series of defeats and headlines off the field were just as damaging. The true extent of the club's financial problems was revealed as a receiver was appointed and the club being wound up. John Bond was subsequently sacked and the supporters were shocked to the core by the stark realisation that the football club could be about to go under. However, in its hour of need, the supporters united as one and permission was received to play their Boxing Day fixture at Cardiff's Ninian Park. The remainder of the season saw the club stumble back into the Fourth Division following yet another relegation. In other news the new board, headed by Chairman Doug Sharpe, came to an agreement with the High Court to have the winding-up order lifted. There was obvious disappointment at the relegation, but there was also the realisation that although there was still a lot of work to be done, at least Swansea City would continue in the Football League.
As soon as the High Court decision was confirmed, Doug Sharpe was able to bring in a permanent manager to the club, with former Leeds and Wales captain Terry Yorath taking charge at the Vetch. He inherited a young side and the early season results were encouraging, with the Swans sitting in the top half of the table. Youngster Sean McCarthy was a regular on the scoresheet, while full-back Terry Phelan was catching the eye with his energetic performance. More importantly, the fans were coming through the turnstiles in greater numbers and were seeing a young, exciting side playing with style and enthusiasm. Both domestic cup competitions saw Swansea progress, despite an early exit to Newport County in the Welsh Cup. The League Cup adventure was ended with defeat to First Division Leicester over two legs, while Yorath's side progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup following wins over Wealdstone, Slough and West Bromwich Albion. However, their run was ended by Hull City - a game which saw defender Dudley Lewis suffer a knee injury that would keep him out for a long period. The league campaign saw the Swans eventually finish 12th, a creditable end to a campaign of solidarity both on and off the field.
The close season saw young full-back Terry Phelan join Wimbledon for £100,000 and although nobody wanted to see him leave, the money received was too good to turn down. Following this sale, manager Terry Yorath strengthened his squad with the purchase of Alan Knill for £15,000 from Halifax Town, together with Alan Davies and Joe Allon from Newcastle United while local boy Chris Coleman arrived from Manchester City. While the Swans won their opening fixture at Stockport County (2-0) the side displayed a lack of consistency throughout the rest of September, finding themselves at the wrong end of the table. However, Yorath slowly found a style of play that suited the new players and by Christmas they had moved up to mid table. With this fresh confidence, the chairman found the £35,000 available to bring home local hero Robbie James from Leicester City, and in his second debut for the club the Swans maintained their fine form with a 3-0 win at home to Scarborough. A bombshell for the club soon followed as goalkeeper Mike Hughes had to retire from the game following a brain scan after permanent headaches. This resulted in Spurs youngster Peter Guthrie joining the club until the end of the season. By March the Swans were up to fifth in the table, but financial constraints saw top scorer Colin Pascoe move to Sunderland for £70,000. Yorath's men won their final two games to reach the play-offs and after edging past Rotherham United in the two-legged semi-final, they met Torquay in the final. The first leg at the Vetch saw Swansea claim a 2-1 win before a dramatic 3-3 draw at Plainmoor saw the Welsh side win promotion to the Third Division in only Yorath's second season in charge.
Terry Yorath was a busy man during pre-season, signing midfielder Steve Thornber from Halifax Town for £10,000 and Brian Wade from Swindon. Goalkeeper Rhys Wilmot also arrived from Arsenal, while a young Dean Holdsworth signed on loan from Crystal Palace. The Swans started off the season in fine form with Alan Davies, Robbie James and Tommy Hutchinson dominant in the middle of midfield and Chris Coleman and Alan Knill solid in defence. Results up to the New Year were impressive with the side finding itself in sixth position at the turn of the year. After the euphoria of promotion the previous season, everything was going well and both Alan Davies and Alan Knill were called up to the Wales squad. With everything seemingly going well, a bombshell was dropped on the club as Terry Yorath walked out to return to Bradford City as their new manager. The reason behind this change of heart was a desire to be with his family. And although chairman Doug Sharpe initially reacted to the situation with a threat of injunctions, common sense prevailed and a settlement was agreed with the Yorkshire club. Tommy Hutchinson filled the role of caretaker manager before former Wales international and Crystal Palace man Ian Evans accepted the job on a full-time basis. Despite the efforts of the new man, the Swans slipped out of the promotion race due to a lack of firepower up front. The one shining light in a season that had promised so much was the winning of the Welsh Cup for the ninth time, beating Kidderminster 5-0 at the Vetch Field.
Ian Evans started his first full season in charge with a dip into the transfer market as defender Terry Boyle was picked up on a free transfer from Cardiff City, while exciting forward John Salako was brought in on loan from Crystal Palace. The season was barely a month old when Mark Harris was signed from Crystal Palace to help shore up a leaky defence. With the Swans unable to score and leaking goals, a Vetch Field legend in waiting in the shape of Roger Freestone joined on loan from Chelsea. The dismal start to the season was highlighted when runaway leaders Reading thrashed the Swans 6-1 at the Vetch in late September. Sandwiched in between this hiding were two games in Europe against Greek side Panathinaikos. The away leg was played on a balmy evening in front of a hostile crowd of over 53,000 fifty three thousand people and despite going 3-0 down, the Swans fought back to score twice and give themselves hope going into the second leg. However, a 3-3 draw at the Vetch saw the Welsh side eliminated from the competition on aggregate. The manager was coming under increasing pressure with the team at the wrong end of the division. However, it was in the FA Cup that things looked up for the club. After wins in the first two rounds the club hit the jackpot when they drew Liverpool at home in the third round. A sold out Vetch Field witness the Swans claim a 0-0 draw, but any thoughts of a fairytale ending were crushed in the replay as the Reds won 8-0 at Anfield. The supporters were becoming increasingly vocal with the manager, who eventually paid the price by losing his job in early March. The surprise appointment in the hot seat was Terry Yorath, who had walked out on the club only 13 months previously. The club stumbled to the final game of a depressing season needing a point to guarantee safety. A nervous afternoon followed but after a 0-0 draw against Bolton, the Swans remained in the Third Division and it signalled the end of the road for club legend Alan Curtis, who announced his retirement.
The busiest pre-season in years saw Terry Yorath spend more money on players than had been spent in a long time. Jimmy Gilligan arrived for £175,000, Terry Connor was bought for £150,000 and the signing of Andy Watson saw the club spend nearly £300,000 on new players. The outgoings saw Chris Coleman leave for Crystal Palace for £275,000 and Robbie James was exchanged for Alan Davies. Off the pitch the West Stand (Double Decker) was demolished because it had been declared unsafe, so a much-loved feature of the Vetch Field for over 60 years was taken down and a covered roof put over it. After a slow start on the pitch, the Swans paid Blackpool £30,000 to bring home local product Russell Coughlin to add more craft to the midfield. This seemed to galvanize the side and by the New Year they were handily placed just outside the play-off positions. Unfortunately, the upturn didn't last and an unwanted record was created when the team lost nine games in a row. Once again the pressure was on the manager and after some frank exchanges through the local media, Yorath became another casualty of the manager merry go-round at Swansea City. The man chosen to become the club's new boss was Frank Burrows. Burrows was a very experienced manager and the first thing the new man had to do was to make sure the team retained its position in the Third Division. The objective was secure with games to spare and with the pressure off, Burrows was able to blood youngsters Steve Jenkins and Jason Bowen - both of whom would give the Swans first class service in the future. A disappointing year ended in silverware when the club won the Welsh Cup with a 2-0 win over Wrexham.