Haven't we seen you before?

16th March 2013

Driving home from London three weeks ago, the sports headlines on the radio made for extremely pleasant listening.
Rounding up the day's events, the newsreader announced that Swansea City had won their first major trophy after beating Bradford City 5-0 in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley.
The news was greeted with an enthusiastic cheer in the car as if it was the first time we had heard the scoreline, even though just a couple of hours earlier we had watched the match with our own eyes.
Then the newsreader announced that the result meant Swansea would play in Europe next season for "the first time in their history".
No collective cheer in the car this time, just a united and disbelieving "What!?" 
Sometimes it's hard to believe the Swans are celebrating their centenary this season. Some parts of the media seem to think they only came into existence 10 years ago when they beat Hull City to escape the drop from the Football League.
To be fair, it is a useful point of reference from a media point of view and you can't blame them for focusing on it, because it perfectly illustrates how far the Swans have come in those 10 years. It really is a remarkable story.
But the club has a history far beyond Hull City. For example, this, of course, isn't our first stay in the top flight.
It's also not the first time we have been going for a league double over Arsenal, having won the first encounter 2-0 back in December!
Remember the 1981-82 season and Max Thompson's volley? And former Arsenal legend Ray Kennedy scoring along with Swans legend Robbie James in a 2-0 Swans win at Highbury?
And next season will certainly not be our first European campaign. People often forget that the Swans were the first Welsh team to qualify for Europe back in 1961 when they took on East German side Motor Jena in the European Cup Winners Cup.
Interestingly, Arsenal didn't play their first European match until two years later when they played a Copenhagen XI in the Inter City Fairs Cup.
The Swans have played the likes of Paris St Germain and Panathinaikos in the past, and once slammed Maltese side Silema Wanderers 17-0 on aggregate.
Once again, to be fair to the news reader, the last time we had to get our passports out in anger was 22 years ago - I hope you've all remembered to renew!
One man who has had plenty of use out of his passport since being involved in that tie is back in Swansea again this afternoon - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Back in 1991, the Frenchman was a relatively unknown coach in charge of the millionaires of Monaco.
The fact that this was five years before his reign at Arsenal even started is a perfect illustration of just how long ago the Swans' last European adventure was.
This was before the revolutionary Frenchman won any of his trophies at Arsenal.
It was before the Double in 1998, the Double Double in 2002 and before the 'Invincibles' season of 2003-04
And even before Arsenal legend Thierry Henry had ever kicked a ball at Highbury where he was converted from an unknown winger into a global superstar.
Back in 1991, Wenger was an equally unfamiliar figure when he brought the mega-rich Monaco club to the humble surroundings of the Vetch.
The differences between the two clubs couldn't have been starker.
The Swans were in the old Third Division and had qualified for the Cup Winners Cup after beating Wrexham in the Welsh Cup.
Monaco were the French Cup holders and flying high in the French league. Their side included the likes of Jean Luc Ettori, Emanuel Petit and Youri Djorkaeff; Denmark's John Sivabaek; Portugal's Rui Baros and the jewel in their crown, George Weah, who had already won the African Player of the Year title and would go on to lift the European and World awards.
As well as footballing royalty, the club boasted actual royalty, with the late Prince Rainier of Monaco attending the match at the Vetch. 
I wonder what His Serene Highness The Sovereign Prince of Monaco made of the facilities at the then crumbling old ground? 
At least he sat in the stand and didn't have to brave the old North Bank toilets. What a culture shock that would have been for one of the world's longest serving monarchs and one of the most sophisticated men in the world!
However, he would have had the consolation of watching his team beat the Swans 2-1 on the night. Andy Legg netted for the Swans after a penalty from Gerald Passi and Rui Baros had put Monaco 2-0 up.
For some reason, I don't recall the result of the second leg at the grand Stade Louis II stadium in Monaco. You can look it up if you don't know the score. But I warn you it won make gr-eight reading for Swans fans!
However, in between the two matches, the Swans did beat Spurs 1-0 in the Rumbelows Cup at the Vetch - a result I'm sure you Arsenal supporters will also appreciate! Once again though, I seem to have forgotten the scoreline in the second leg! 
Following their win over the Swans, Monaco went on to reach the finals of the European Cup Winners Cup and the French Cup. They also finished second in the French league.
Meanwhile, the Swans finished 19th in the old Third Division.
While Swansea haven't been back in Europe since, remarkably Arsene Wenger has guided today's visitors into the Champions League in every full season since taking over as manager in 1996.
However, this afternoon Arsene Wenger will be facing a far different Swansea team in far different surroundings than he did back in 1991.
He knows all about the huge challenge his team faces at the Liberty Stadium having lost here 3-2 in league last season and being held to a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup in January.
Of course the Swans' 2-0 win at the Emirates earlier this season will also be fresh in Mr Wenger's memory.
Thanks to their Capital One Cup win the Swans go into this afternoon's match knowing their European destiny next season has been decided, whereas this afternoon's result may play a big part in deciding where Arsenal will be heading next term.
Come on you Swans!