Classic Seasons: 1980-81
In a regular website feature, we look back through the history books at a memorable Swans campaign.
Here, we go back to 1980-81, the unforgettable season in which the Swans sealed a place in the top flight for the first time.
After two promotions in as many seasons, the Swans were in the process of cementing Second Division status after 14 years away.
John Toshack’s men acclimatised to the standards of the second tier and secured a comfortable mid-table finish on their return in 1979-80.
The manager strengthened his squad ahead of the new campaign with the signings of Wales internationals Leighton James and John Mahoney, as well as Bosnian Dzemal ‘Jimmy’ Hadziabdic.
The Swans may have started the season with a 2-1 defeat away at Watford, but they responded by embarking on a six-match unbeaten run that took them to fourth place in the table in September.
Toshack’s men were looking in very good shape. Dave Stewart was a reliable pair of hands in goal and Robbie James, Mahoney and Tommy Craig were creating plenty of problems for opponents in the middle of the park, while Leighton James and Hadziabdic had formed a near telepathic understanding on the wing.
They continued their impressive form through October, but momentum stalled when they managed just one win from five matches the following month.
Nevertheless, the Swans got back in track with a six-match unbeaten run in December that took them up to second in the league.
That sequence included a thumping 4-0 victory over Newcastle United at Vetch Field, where the Match of the Day cameras were present for the unveiling of Alan Curtis as the club legend returned just 18 months after leaving for Leeds United.
The Swans did though endure another dip in form at the turn of the year. A 5-0 defeat at home to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup seemed to drain confidence from the side as they suffered six consecutive losses.
However, results improved towards the end of February as Toshack juggled his squad. Craig returned to the side having fallen out of favour, while teenager Dudley Lewis was brought into the sweeper role.
And the changes appeared to do the trick as the Swans went on another strong run that brought just one defeat in 10 matches and put them in the final promotion place heading into their last two games.
Over 21,000 fans crowded into the Vetch for the first of those matches, against fellow promotion candidates Luton Town.
It turned out to be a classic encounter and goals from Leighton James and Craig gave the Swans a 2-0 lead.
The atmosphere was electric but the Jack Army were silenced as Luton fought back to claim a share of the spoils.
Nevertheless, while ending the Hatters’ First Division hopes, that result meant a victory over Preston North End on the final day would seal the Swans’ progress into the top flight.
It was a must-win game for both sides, with Preston needing maximum points in order to avoid relegation to the third tier.
The Swans made a confident start to the contest, with Craig prominent in midfield while Curtis and Jeremy Charles were causing problems for the home defence.
And the deadlock was broken in the 24th minute when Leighton James cut inside from the left wing before bending a wonderful effort beyond the goalkeeper.
The lead was doubled just three minutes later as Craig capitalised on confusion in the hosts’ penalty area to give the visitors breathing space.
Toshack’s men had one foot in the First Division, but Preston came back with a vengeance after the break and halved the deficit when Alex Bruce struck 20 minutes from time.
It made for a very anxious finale for the Swans, but they fought hard and broke on the counter in the dying seconds with a devastating move involving Robbie James and Curtis, before Charles smashed home to seal promotion.
It was a truly fantastic season for the club, who were playing in the Fourth Division just four years previously, and they put the icing on the cake 10 days later with victory over Hereford United in the Welsh Cup final.
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