The Great Escape

2nd May 2013

May 3, 2003. A date etched into the memories of the Jack Army and engrained in the history books of Swansea City.
It was the day the Swans avoided relegation from the Football League thanks to a final-day 4-2 win over Hull City at a packed Vetch Field.
A hat-trick from local lad James Thomas and one from Lenny Johnrose was enough to beat the dreaded drop as Exeter were relegated despite winning their last three games.
Each day this week we will be bringing you an interview from a wide range of people involved in that day, from the players and management to supporters singing their hearts out on the North Bank.


Exactly ten years ago today, Brian Flynn was busy plotting his side's escape route for arguably the biggest game in Swansea City's history.

Victory against Hull the following day would be enough for the Swans to retain their Football League status.

Anything other than that and they were relying on results elsewhere to avoid relegation to the non-league ranks.

But Flynn and co did deliver the goods, which kicked off what would later emerge as the start of the club's phenomenal rise to the top.

Here, the former Swans boss remembers The Great Escape. . . .

"We felt if we had beaten Rochdale the week before then that would be enough. Who would have expected Exeter to win at York, who were competing for a play-off spot?

"Our changing room went from ecstasy to agony.

"But I was confident going into the last game because we went into it with a chance to save ourselves in front of our own fans at the Vetch.

"The key to all the preparation was consistency. We had to keep everything the same and treat this as normal a game as possible.

"The only factor that could have affected us that week was the media interest. We had camera crews over from Holland, and the papers went into overdrive.

"But, as a management team, we controlled the players both physically and mentally. Myself, Kevin Reeves, Alan Curtis, Richard Evans - we all played our part in ensuring the players were prepared.

"I had been in this fight before with Wrexham, so I had the experience and knowledge of what it took and how to prepare the players.

"When I arrived I told the chairman (Huw Jenkins) that we would go do with the current squad.

"So we released a lot of them and kept the likes of Kristian O'Leary, Lee Jenkins, Michael Howard and, of course, James Thomas.

"Then we added quality players like Roberto Martinez, Lenny Johnrose, Leon Britton, Alan Tate, Marc Richards, Neil Cutler and Kevin Nugent.

"In the space of three months we had dramatically changed the squad, but I knew it would be good enough to keep us up.

"And it was."


"We needed a good start and we got it with the penalty, but then we conceded the momentum was gone.

"At 2-1 down we could have gone into our shell, but the big moment of the game in my opinion came at that point. It wasn't the equaliser, it was actually Neil Cutler's save.

"He did magnificently well to keep the effort out and at 3-1 behind at half-time the odds would have been against us.

"But we equalised from the spot and at half-time there was no rally call or anything like that. It was a normal talk.

"We discussed Hull's weaknesses and where we could exploit while I pointed out what we did well. It gave the players confidence and they ran out for the second half with a positive mindset.

"The crowd was officially registered as 9,585 but I looked up and thought there was that much on the North Bank, let alone the rest of the stadium.

"There was a blistering atmosphere. We could not have asked for anything more from the supporters.

"At 2-1 some supporters could have sunk their heads - the players too - but that didn't happen. Instead, everyone got behind the team and there's no doubt that played a part in our comeback.

"Lenny put us 3-2 up and then James completed what was a Roy of the Rovers strory. The local lad saving his club with a hat-trick on the final day. It's a remarkable story.

"I know Kristian has spoken of how he felt nervous for the first time when we went 4-2 up, while Leon said he felt the game was over at that point - it shows how different players react.

"But as a team we finished the job professionally, and that was very pleasing."


"Of course, the celebrations on the pitch will always be remembered. It was pure relief.

"It sunk in when we were all in the directors' box and we celebrated as a club.

"But I remember the chairman (Huw Jenkins) pointed out that we should not be celebrating merely surviving on the final day.

"His point was that we should celebrate success and winning promotions and trophies, not survival.

"It was a good point, and I think that attitude has helped the club progress to where it is now.

"I look back at that moment in my career with huge pride. To keep the club up when it was rock bottom, and in the way we did it, was very pleasing.

"It was the start of this unbelievable journey is currently on.

"I truly believe that if we had not won that day then Swansea City would have gone into the oblivion. Would the club have moved to the Liberty Stadium if we had lost? I don't think so.

"It took something as dramatic as final-day survival for this to happen.

"And I still get Swansea fans coming up and saying thank you for keeping the club up, which is really nice.

"I will be raising a glass on Friday to mark the ten-year anniversary. I don't think any Swansea fan will ever forget that day."