To Hull and back

4th 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.
It is almost ten years to the day since that remarkable afternoon at the Vetch and in a special feature for Jack Magazine, we caught up with a few people who remember it well...

Swansea 4 Hull 2 - Saturday, May 3, 2003
James Thomas scored a priceless hat-trick as Swansea defeated Hull to preserve their Football League status.
Thomas drilled home a sixth-minute penalty but the Tigers hit back to take a 2-1 lead through goals from Stuart Elliot and Martin Reeves.
But Thomas was back on the scoresheet one minute before the interval to make the score 2-2.
The second half opened in sensational fashion as Lenny Johnrose fired home through a crowded goalmouth to restore the hosts' lead.
Local boy Thomas sealed the much-needed victory in the 57th minute when he cleverly lobbed the keeper to complete a deserved treble.
With only one player on the Swansea books with a contract for next season, a drop into the Conference would have meant wholesale changes.
In the event, however, Swansea overcame their nerves, Thomas delivered the goods and the rest, as they say, is history.

SWANS: Cutler, Jenkins, O'Leary, Tate, Howard, Coates, Britton, Martinez, Johnrose, Nugent, Thomas

HULL: Fettis, Otsemobor, Whittle, Joseph, Smith, Delaney, Melton, Keates, Reeves, Elliott, Burgess

I've played a lot of games since that day, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
The build-up to the game was so intense in the local press. Everywhere you went fans were saying 'please can you win'. It just hammered home exactly what it meant to people and the area.
But it was impossible to switch off during that week. It was on the news, everyone was talking about it and I think there was a danger that you could be mentally tired before a ball was kicked. But it was treated like a normal game by the management.
I remember the day of the game clearly. It was pouring down and there was a lot more people in the ground than usual during the warm-up Curt got us in the huddle before the warm-up and drilled home how much this club means to everyone. It was very motivational, especially as he is a club legend.
We started the game well. I did a step-over and I was taken down for a penalty, and Thommo (James Thomas) stuck it away. Then, all of a sudden, within a five-minute spell we were 2-1 down. The atmosphere went so quiet.
Thinking back on that, trailing 2-1 in a game of that importance, it still sends shivers down my spine. But we got a goal before half-time. I don't know if it was a penalty, but we didn't care if it was really handball or not. Thommo was cool as can be, once again.
Getting in at half-time was massive for us. We knew we had 45 minutes to get ahead, because if we did that then the fans would carry us through. Then Thommo chips the keeper and it's 4-2 and game over. You couldn't write a better story with the local lad coming back to his club to save the day with a hat-trick.
After the final whistle went the crowd went crazy. The celebrations will never be forgotten.
But I had to treat it as my last game for the Swans. I didn't know what West Ham wanted to do regarding my future. I knew Brian Flynn wanted to bring me back on a permanent deal, but there was nothing in place.
We had a few lads on loan at the time, like Tatey was here from Manchester United and Marc Richards arrived from Blackburn. In the time that we were at the club we very attached to the Swans. We were all battling together - the players, the staff, the fans, the city. We were all determined to keep the club up.
People could have looked at me and thought relegation wouldn't have mattered as much to me than the people of Swansea because I was going back to a Premier League club after that, but that certainly wasn't the case.
Loan or not, this was my club. That's how strongly I felt. 
Pretty soon after that game Brian Flynn told me he wanted to bring me here. I told him I didn't want to go back to play Reserve football at West Ham and that I would sign for Swansea if I was allowed to leave.
I only wanted to go to Swansea - I wasn't interested in anywhere else. I didn't even think of talking to anyone else. I told my agent to speak to Brian Flynn, get it sorted and that's what happened.
The rest, as they say, is history.

In terms of how far the club has come, the Hull game feels like a million years ago. But in terms of remembering the game itself, that feels like yesterday.
I remember the day before the game the local paper had a big '24' on the front page, going on to read: '24 hours until the Swans' destiny'.
I woke up on the morning of the game and it was pouring with rain outside. I had all my family down that weekend and I managed to kick them out early so I could watch Rocky IV!
The conditions were horrendous when we arrived at the Vetch, but we prepared like it was any other game as normal.
After taking an early lead, we ended up going 2-1 down and you were thinking at that stage that we had one foot in the Conference.
But we managed to get into half time at 2-2 and then when Thommo got the fourth goal, we knew we were safe - even though I was screaming at him to take it round the keeper!
I just about managed to get off the pitch at the final whistle, but Brits and Neil Cutler got caught up with all the fans!
Those of us that were on loan at the time hung around after the season ended to find out about the other lads' contracts.
We were told to go back to our clubs but we didn't want to - we were all in it together.
All we wanted was the best for the football club.
Since then, however, the progress has been remarkable and it doesn't bear thinking what might have happened if we had lost that game against Hull.
I remember being told that the youth teams was going to be scrapped, so there probably wouldn't have been the likes of Joe Allen, Shaun MacDonald and Jazz Richards - just a few players who have played a major part in where we are today.

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.
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 with 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.

I was 25 at the time and living where I am now in Port Talbot. I already knew what this club meant to the people, the fans, the city, but Alan Curtis gave a speech that was so important. 
I'm not just talking about the loan players at the time because, to be fair, they gave absolutely everything to this club while they were here. Tatey and Brits were among those, so you can understand the commitment we had. But I think everyone needed to hear, feel and understand every word that Curt spoke that day. 
It didn't just get the blood flowing, it just hit home how important the following games and results were for him, the club and city of Swansea. We couldn't let anyone down. 
The Rochdale game was massive, and although people talk about the Hull game as the most important, well, I always think if we didn't come out on top against Rochdale then we were doomed. 
But as we got to the changing room we heard everyone around us had won too. I couldn't believe it - I thought if we'd won then that would play a massive part in moving us closer to safety. 
It was so downbeat in the changing room. I don't think I've been part of a changing room so disappointed after a victory. 
The week of the Hull game was so intense. The coaches do their best to keep you focused, but the focus on the game from outside of the club was incredible. 
We were ready for that game and so too were the supporters - we just felt it in the atmosphere. 
But even when we went 2-1 down I didn't feel as if the world was caving in. We had the whole Vetch behind us, and we knew we had players who could get us back into the game. 
The second penalty before half-time was so crucial. Was it a penalty? Well, maybe we had a little bit of luck, but we weren't complaining. 
There was no massive half-time talk - there wasn't any need for it. We all knew what was needed. 
The noise was incredible and I must say the fans really gave us the edge that day - their support was unbelievable and played a big assist in all the goals. It was as if every single person in the Vetch that day was heading and kicking every ball. 
But the strange thing was, with 15 minutes to go or whatever it was, I was more nervous then than I was at any point. What if we conceded again? 
But we had done enough and the scenes afterwards will live with us forever. 
I was out of contract and had no idea what would happen to me after that, but the most important thing was ensuring the club stayed in the Football League. 
Just over a year before we had gone through the Tony Petty farce, and that was still fresh in the minds of a lot of players. 
That had scarred us. Being told on Christmas Eve that you are not going to be paid is a horrible feeling, but I suppose it toughened me up a little bit. 
But we came through and we've been getting stronger with each season since then. 
But it can't be forgotten what was achieved by everyone ten years ago. I'm not just talking about the players, I'm talking about the coaches, the staff, the supporters, the city. Everyone played their part. 
It's scary to think what might have been. Only now do I really appreciate how close we were to slipping into the abyss. 
"I have no idea what I would have done, but we would have been looking for jobs on top of playing in the Conference.