Centenary feature: 1991-1999
1st May 2013
Roger Freestone finally became a Swansea City player following his £45,000 transfer from Chelsea. This was money well spent on a player who would eventually go on and make more appearances for the club than anyone else. Frank Burrows also brought in John Cornforth and John Ford to strengthen the squad. Early season results were poor and having to play in Europe so early in the season was not an ideal situation for the team. The opponents were an experienced Monaco side, managed by a certain Arsene Wenger. The Swans did well to narrowly lose the first leg at the Vetch (2-1) before suffering an 8-0 defeat out in France. Although the side was at the wrong end of the table, it did have some cup success by beating Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup over two legs. As well as this, a 2-1 win was secured over rivals Cardiff in the FA Cup. However, the season would finish with the Swans towards the bottom half of the league but with a significant return of over £600,000 in the transfer market. Given that new players were blooded and youngsters introduced in the side, the manager could feel a sense of satisfaction with the way things had gone. Yet all the talk of football was put into perspective when popular player Alan Davies was found dead in his car in a remote part of the Gower - his suicide leaving his family without a loving father and husband and the club without a talented and much missed player.
Frank Burrows' transfer market awareness was highlighted when John Williams, whom he bought for £5,000 only one year earlier, was sold to Coventry City for £250,000 while Des Lyttle arrived from non-league football for £12,000 - another player who would go on and earn the club a vast profit. The new season saw the Swans start well and there was a genuine feeling that Burrows was bringing much needed stability back to the club after lots in changes in the previous years. The defence was the backbone to the team with Roger Freestone being particularly impressive at this time. Although Swansea topped the division in October, an inability to score goals on a regular basis saw the side drop to mid-table by the turn of the year. This prompted Burrows to move into the transfer market once more and bring in former Arsenal man Martin Hayes. The striker would immediately find popularity with the fans when he scored the winner against Cardiff at Ninian Park in the Autoglass Trophy. With the season coming to an end the Swans produced five wins out of seven to take their place in the play-offs. They were drawn against West Bromwich Albion, a side that had dropped down the divisions in recent times and after a rain-soaked first leg at the Vetch Field, the Swans had a 2-1 lead to take to the Hawthorns. However, Albion scored two early goals to hold a 3-2 lead in the tie and following a red card for Colin West in the second half, the Swans' promotion dreams ended. Disappointment was met with the realisation that the side was taking shape and much was expected in the coming years.
In the close season Frank Burrows was once again extremely busy in the transfer market. Des Lyttle, who had arrived the previous summer, was sold to Nottingham Forest for £375,000 while Andy Legg departed for Notts County. The void that was left saw John Hodge arrive from Exeter, Steve Torpey signed from Bradford and Colin Pascoe swapped the North East of Sunderland for South Wales. After last season's impressive league form much was expected of the Swans and in the opening month of the campaign, the side sat at the top of the table. However, inconsistency wasn't too far away and following just three wins between September and Christmas, the Swans found themselves in 18th position. The cup competitions threw up mixed fortunes for the club, with the side exiting the League Cup at the third round stage against Oldham Athletic, while Nuneaton Borough knocked the Swans out of the FA Cup just like they did back in 1977. That said, Burrows' side were still in the Welsh Cup and the Autoglass Trophy come the New Year and there was plenty to play for. By the end of the league season, Swansea retained their Second Division status while never really threatening to mount a serious promotion push. However, success wasn't far away as the Swans met Huddersfield Town at Wembley in the final of the Autoglass Trophy. With the game tied at 1-1 after extra-time, penalties loomed large and the Swans went on to claim the trophy following a 3-1 win in the shootout. Two days after this historic win the side went to Ninian Park to play a Welsh Cup semi-final, unfortunately losing against Cardiff.
The previous two seasons had given hope to all supporters that the Swans could mount a serious bid for promotion, but the start of the new campaign was a disappointing one with too many games ending in draws. The League Cup saw the club get knocked out at the second round stage despite a good performance against First Division side Norwich City. In the FA Cup, victories over non-league Walton and Hersham and Bashley meant that the Swans drew Second Division high-flyers Middlesbrough at the Vetch Field. In an entertaining game, the Swans took the game to their opponents and took the lead with a fine goal from John Ford. The second half saw the visitors push for an equaliser, a goal that duly arrived and meant that a replay would be required up in the North East. The Swans produced a mammoth effort the following Tuesday and goals from Dave Penney and Steve Torpey earned them a 2-1 win and a place in the fourth round. Newcastle United were their next opponents and despite a spirited performance, the home side went on to win 3-0. Just one defeat in 12 league games had seen the Swans climb to sixth in the table, including a memorable 4-1 win over Cardiff at the Vetch. Unfortunately, injuries to key players halted the club's progress and they went on to eventually finish tenth in the table, as well as losing in the semi-finals of the Autoglass Trophy against Birmingham City.
There was a concern amongst the supporters during the close season as John Ford departed for Bradford City, while Jason Bowen signed for Birmingham and Andy McFarlane was snapped up by Scunthorpe. Despite the gaps let in the squad, the only arrival was Carl Heggs from West Brom for £60,000. Then, following an early season defeat away at Burnley, Frank Burrows resigned as manager, with Bobby Smith stepping in on a temporary basis. One of his first decisions was to sanction the sale of Steve Jenkins to Huddersfield Two for £275,000, while the negative feeling around the club continued following a 7-0 defeat away to Fulham in the FA Cup. Smith then departed the Vetch field after a dispute with the board, leaving Jimmy Rimmer to take over. Doug Sharpe then announced he was willing to listen to offers for the club, and in January 1996 he sold Swansea City to Michael Thompson, a millionaire from the West Midlands. The new owner said he wanted to bring Premier League football to Swansea, as well as a new stadium and top manager. However, the next man in the dugout was Kevin Cullis, whose only previous experience was with Cradley Town. The club had turned into a laughing stock and after only two games into his tenure, Sharpe returned to once again take control - installing former Liverpool man Jan Molby as the club's new manager. The Swans battled towards the end of the season but relegation would later be confirmed - leaving the club back in the Third Division.
After the pantomime of the previous season, all Swans fans were hoping that the new man in charge could bring much needed stability back to the club. The team were back playing in the basement of the Football League and Jan Molby himself was unknown entity in terms of management, despite his success as a player. Early season results were mixed, despite the fact that Molby was a class apart on the field as he combined his role as player-manager. The Chairman again revealed that the club would be up for sale, with the entire playing squad being made available for transfer in October - a decision that made Molby and Sharpe's relationship a frosty one. Despite this, the squad pulled together to find themselves fifth in the table at the turn of the year and after early exits in both the FA Cup and League Cup, the league was the sole focus. Steady progress was made in the following months and when Mansfield Town were beaten in late April, a play-off place was secured. The Swans met Chester City in the semi-finals, with a 0-0 draw in the first leg giving the supporters hope that a place in the final could be achieved. The Vetch Field was packed for the return leg and a 3-0 win saw Molby's side book a place in the final against Northampton at Wembley. 47,000 fans made the trip to Wembley, a game that was high on effort and endeavour but lacking in serious goalmouth incident at either end. Then, with time running out and extra-time looming, Northampton defender John Frain struck a twice-taken free kick that flew past Freestone to break Swansea hearts and condemn them to another season in the Third Division.
Prior to the new season, Doug Sharpe announced to the media that the club had been sold to a new owner, Silver Shield Group. These were London-based businessmen ran by Neil McClure and Neath-born Swans fan Steve Hammer, who was installed as the club's new Chairman. Once again the talk was of Premier League football and a new stadium at Morfa - but only time would tell. The drawn out negotiations saw some players leave, with Steve Torpey going to Bristol City for £400,000 and Dai Thomas joining Watford for £100,000. The opening games of the new era were victorious, but the impetus of the new ownership didn't carry on and slowly the Swans slid down the league. The tetchy relationship that Jan Molby had with the previous owner carried through to the new regime, and there was no surprise when after a loss at Peterborough United in early October the club dismissed both Molby and assistant Billy Ayre. This left the chairman free to pursue Mickey Adams and his assistant Alan Cork, who had done a fine job with Fulham. Adams agreed to take over, to take a good look at the club and report back to the owners. Three games and three weeks later and Adams resigned, citing that there wasn't money available to strengthen the squad and duly walked into a new position at Brentford. The revolving door that was the manager's job at Swansea City had become embarrassing to all supporters, and the board decided to give the job to Alan Cork. The rest of the season saw the side stay down the bottom end of the division, but they did enough to stay out of the bottom two to eventually finish in 20th position. Another crazy Swansea City season did see some useful additions to the squad with Mathew Bound, Julian Alsop and Nick Cusack being prominent signings.
Cork strengthened the squad in the close season, bringing in both Martin Thomas and defender Jason Smith. Unfortunately, the manager never got to work with these players after being replaced in the dugout by former Chelsea and Arsenal legend John Hollins. Early results were poor, but the one shining light was the performances of young winger Stuart Roberts. The FA Cup, however, gave the supporters something to shout about, as Millwall were beaten 3-0 at the Vetch Field in the first round. The Swans were paired at home to Stoke City in the next round, with the Potters sitting top of the Second Division. However, Richard Appleby scored the only goal of the game as the club reached the third round - and a tie with Premier League side West Ham. Their exploits in the cup gave an added bonus to the league form, and by the turn of the year the Swans sat just outside of the play-offs. The tie at Upton Park saw the Welsh side play with skill and passion, taking the lead in the second half through Jason Smith's header. But with less than three minutes to go, the Hammers equalised with a long-range effort and the tie went to a replay at the Vetch. But the Swans were not to be denied as Martin Thomas's goal was enough to send the visitors crashing out as the home side became the first team from the bottom tier to knock out Premier League opposition since the league's inception in 1992. Another top-flight club, Derby County, were the club's opponents in the fourth round and it took a late goal to eventually end the Swans' FA Cup adventure. The imputes gained from the cup run carried through until the end of the league campaign as Hollins's side finished in the play-off places. Their opponents in the semi-final were Scunthorpe United and the Swans secured a 1-0 advantage in the first leg at the Vetch. However, the home side took an early lead and after the game went into extra time, Tony Bird popped up with a winner for Scunthorpe as the Swans missed out on Wembley once again.