Chris Marustik - A Swansea boy who achieved the dream
30th August 2015
Swansea fans of a certain age would have been particularly saddened to hear the recent news that the club's former Welsh international Chris Marustik had passed away.
I am one of those fans of that "certain age".
When he forced his way into the Swans first-team as a youngster in 1978, I was 12 years old. He was just five years older.
He became an instant favourite for me. A Swansea boy achieving the dream which I shared with hundreds, if not thousands of local youngsters of a similar age.
And he didn't just make his debut in any old game. He made it in one of the most iconic matches of those halcyon days of the late 1970s and early 1980s - the Spurs match.
The League Cup tie between the then Third Division Swans and First Division Spurs has of course gone down in Swans legend, and was immortalised in Roger Evans' Swansea City song.
As a football mad 12-year-old Swans fan, what I wouldn't have given to have been in the boots of 17-year-old Chris Marustik, playing in front of an absolutely jam-packed Vetch crowd.
So, as you can imagine, hearing the news of the passing of one of your schoolboy heroes, especially one who wasn't that much older than you, was bound to stir the emotions.
But, as is traditional on these sad occasions, fitting tributes are paid and fond memories are recalled.
One such memory came from another playing hero of those days - and all time Swans legend - Alan Curtis.
The current Swans coach recounted a tale about a previous visit from today's opponents, Manchester United, during the 1981-82 season, when the Swans made their debut in the top flight of English football.
United's star-studded line-up included England international winger Steve Coppell, who was on the top of his game at the time and the subject of a fair bit of hype.
The young Marustik, who was detailed to mark the flying wingman, was advised by team-mates not to be overawed by his illustrious opponent.
He wasn't. In fact, he announced that he had never heard of Coppell and proceeded to mark him out of the game as the Swans won 2-0!
I absolutely love stories like that. They give us fans, who dreamt of playing professional football but never made it anywhere near, a peek behind the dressing room door and a taste of what that much sought after life must be like.
The other reason I loved that story, is can you imagine that happening today?
With today's wall-to-wall football coverage, the enthusiastic fan will know each opponent's first-team squad intimately, and will know just about everything you could want to know - and quite a few things you don't - about the opposition's star players.
Players, on the other hand, will have been fed just about every available piece of information there is to know about their opponent during any number of analysis sessions.
Can you imagine Kyle Naughton or Neil Taylor answering: "Who?" when asked about Wayne Rooney or any one of Manchester United's attacking threats today.
Football was certainly a very different sport back in the 70s and 80s, which is perfectly illustrated by Curtis' tale.
Another of my favourite tales from those days is also told by the former wearer of the Swans' number seven shirt.
In his autobiography Curtis recalls a conversation between the Swans' popular Bosnian defender Dzemal Hadziabdic and Gorseinon-born Welsh international winger Leighton James.
At the time, there was a civil war in the former Yugoslavia and James asked Hadziabdic if he considered going home to join the war effort.
"I will when the fighting reaches my village," replied the player universally known as 'Jimmy' by fans and teammates.
"Whereabouts is that?" Leighton asked.
"Birchgrove," replied Jimmy.
There's no doubt that football is an incredibly serious business these days with millions of pounds riding on the outcome of every game, especially in the Premier League.
But there will always be a place for humour in the game and although many people may say there are fewer characters these days, there is no doubt that fans have greater access to the kind of behind the scenes banter illustrated by Alan Curtis's recollections.
Club websites, social media, matchday programme interviews and Q&As, even clubs' own TV channels, give us fans more access to life behind the dressing room door than we've ever had in the past.
Thanks to the huge amount of information, which is available to fans and players alike, things may have changed from the days when a local hero like Chris Marustik could turn up on a Saturday afternoon and outplay a renowned England international he'd never heard of!
But tales like that from behind the dressing room door still delight us as much as they ever did, and hopefully the Swans will have the last laugh on today's visitors once again this evening. What a great tribute that would be to Chris Marustik.
Come on you Swans!