A fairytale final

2nd March 2013

Some people called it the Fairytale Cup Final and that's exactly how it turned out to be.
Of course, there was the usual fairytale happy ending . . . especially from the Swans' point of view.
But like any classic fairytale there had been many ups and downs and twists and turns along the way for the main characters.
Both Swansea and Bradford have experienced the hard times, which made last Sunday's final an even more joyous occasion than usual . . . even for the defeated club.
You could see it in the faces of both sets of fans; they could barely believe they were watching their teams walking out on the pitch at Wembley for the Capital One Cup final.
The Swans were taking the field for their first major cup final and League Two Bradford had defied all the odds to become the first team from the bottom division to reach the League Cup final since Rochdale in 1962.
There was much to make you rub your eyes in disbelief last Sunday. Not least the sight of 19-year-old Ben Davies playing in front of more than 80,000 people at the home of English football.
Just three years ago young Ben would have been turning out for his school Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera - not at left back, but at outside half.
When he came on to replace the unlucky Neil Taylor in the Premier League match against Sunderland earlier this season, he had just three minutes of senior football under his belt.
When you think of some of the quality of some of the Swans legends that have never played in a cup final at Wembley throughout their entire careers, you begin to realise the scale of Ben's development and the Swans' achievement in getting to the final.
The great Ivor Allchurch never had the honour of playing at Wembley with the Swans or when he moved on to today's visitors, Newcastle United.
My own personal boyhood hero, Alan Curtis, never made it to a Wembley cup final (as a player at least) neither did the late great Robbie James, who, like Ben, was a local youngster who broke into the side as a teenager.
Ah Robbie, he of the barrel chest, unique running style and thunderous shot. I particularly thought of the man who had represented both clubs during the week running up to the final which had also marked the 15th anniversary of his death whilst playing for Llanelli at Stenonheath.
There were a couple of emotional reminders of absent friends during the match, adding to the unique atmosphere of the occasion, which despite those poignant reminders, turned out to be a true celebration of the two clubs.
Let's be honest, both sets of supporters were just delighted to be there, which made it such a fantastic occasion.
And if you thought last Sunday wasn't a fairytale for Bradford City, then think again.
Granted, a 5-0 hammering wouldn't have been the final chapter they would have necessarily chosen, but the result wasn't what last weekend was all about for them.
There were claret and amber fairytales wherever you looked. Whether it was the stories of the two mascots who have been battling life-threatening illness, or the story of goalkeeping hero Matt Duke, who had overcome his own battle against cancer.
There's the story of the club itself, surviving the horror of the fire in 1985 that claimed the lives of 56 fans, who were so movingly remembered by both sets of supporters. Also, surviving two administrations which threatened its very existence.
And then there was the story of their unforgettable cup run which had brought them to London.
Most of the Bantams fans I spoke to in the pubs around Covent Garden last Sunday lunchtime, were just delighted to be there . . . win or lose. That was illustrated in the way they were determined to enjoy that last 20 minutes of their Wembley experience with their flag-waving frenzy. They knew the game had long been lost, but they wanted to milk every moment of the occasion.
What really struck me though was the fans' trepidation over playing against the Swans. They were truly fearful of what the result could be.
Now I know that turned out to be justified, and common sense would have suggested a League Two side would be underdogs against a Premier League outfit. But I still found the overwhelming favourites tag hard to handle as a Swans fan - especially one with a naturally pessimistic nature.
I've supported the Swans for over 35 years and it would probably be fair to say that over those years the favourites tag has not always been a familiar one.
Even now, blessed with such an outstanding team, it still seems odd to see newspaper headlines describing us as "Premier League big boys", which is how the Daily Mail described us in the headline for their online cup final match report.
However, on Sunday, that is what we were in footballing terms and the team fully lived up to the billing. It may be a tag we have to get used to.
But whatever the future has in store for this team, and the club as a whole, I hope we never forget where we have come from.
Remember Hull, remember Tony Petty, remember tossing coins into a collection bucked to keep the club going, remember being 4-0 down and far from home on a cold rainy night on an open terrace in the Fourth Division. 
Remember who we are and where we've come from. That's what makes days like Sunday special and that's what will continue to keep the Swans special.
It will ensure that if we do become genuine big boys in the Premier League, we don't also become big time Charlies.
It must be said, the signs are good.
Many times this season, the team has been described as "classy Swans" for their play on the pitch.
On Sunday, the club, and the players in particular, showed a moment of class that equalled anything they have done with the ball at their feet this season.
As the Bradford players trudged down the famous Wembley steps with their losers' medals, the Swans players formed a guard of honour to clap them through before going up to claim the trophy and their own winner's medals. Sheer class.
Poor Nathan Dyer has come in for some stick for his penalty spot strop, which was highlighted by the world's media.
But how many of them highlighted, or even spotted the fact that Nathan broke off from the Swans players' celebrations to jog across to the Bradford end of the pitch and console every single City player. Again, a real touch of class that redeemed any criticism the two-goal hero may have received.
Wherever Europe takes us next season, let's make sure we all do everything we can to uphold the class that is being shown by Swansea City on and off the field.
Whatever happens on the pitch today and into the next century of the club's history, win or lose, let's make sure we are always as "Proud to be a Swan" as we were last Sunday.
Come on you Swans.