Jack the Lad: A fan of the foreign legion

25th April 2018

As Swansea City get set to face Chelsea this weekend, loyal Swans fans and wesbsite columnist Jack the Lad gives a nod to football's foreign legion.

In August, it will be 40 years since Tottenham Hotspur introduced Osvaldo Ardiles (below) and Ricardo Villa to the First Division at the start of the 1978-79 season.

Fresh from winning the World Cup with Argentina, they were trailblazers of the modern game in that they were the first significant overseas signings by a top-flight English club.

How times have changed.

We now have almost 300 foreign players from 56 countries plying their trade at Premier League clubs.

A recent ITV documentary ‘Football’s Foreign Legion’ told the story of those pioneering players and the initial opposition and controversy their arrival prompted.

Watching the programme, which highlighted the arrival of not only Ardiles and Villa, but also the likes of Ipswich’s Dutch maestros Arnold Muhren and Franz Thijssen, brought memories flooding back of our own dynamic duo from those days – Dzemal Hadziabdic and Ante Rajkovic.

Hadziabdic had arrived before Rajkovic (below) and instantly endeared himself to Swans fans with his attacking play from left-back and his off-the-field adventures, which included a collection of parking fines which he thought were requests for autographs stuck to his car by Swans fans!

One particular memory of Jimmy, as he was universally known, sprang to mind and involves this Saturday’s opponents, Chelsea.

The Swans were chasing promotion to the old First Division when Chelsea arrived for a vital Second Division match at the Vetch in April 1981.

Each team had a solitary import. However, the two players were familiar with each other.

Bosnian Hadziabdic (below) and Chelsea’s Serbian goalkeeper Pete Borota had been team-mates in the Yugoslavian national side four years earlier.

Now the duo faced each other on a foreign field far from home and one memorable moment in the match brought them into direct opposition.

Picking up the ball on Swansea’s left flank, Hadziabdic cut inside a Chelsea defender and smashed a brilliant 25-yard drive into the top corner past Borota, who himself had become a cult favourite amongst Chelsea fans due to his somewhat eccentric behaviour on and off the pitch.

It was Hadziabdic’s first – and only – goal for the Swans and helped them on their way to a vital 3-0 win, which ultimately helped seal promotion to the top flight for the first time.

Of course, Chelsea have a particular distinction when it comes to foreign players.

In December 1999, the Blues became the first English club to field a starting XI made up entirely of foreign players.

For the record, their team that day was: Ed de Goey, Albert Ferrer, Celestine Babayaro, Emerson Thome, Frank Leboeuf, Dan Petrescu, Didier Deschamps, Gus Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo, Gabriele Ambrosetti (above), Tore Andre Flo.

I’m sure younger fans must find it difficult to imagine a time when British teams fielded entirely homegrown line-ups.

Yet Celtic famously won the 1967 European Cup with a starting XI consisting entirely of players born within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park.

Whatever your opinion on the influx of foreign players into the British game, surely there can be no doubt that overall, football on these islands has been enriched by their talent on the field and their characters off it.

Try to imagine the Swans’ recent history without the likes of Roberto Martinez, Angel Rangel, Ferrie Bodde (above), Michu, Wilfried Bony, Lukasz Fabianski, Fede Fernandez, Martin Olsson and the brothers Ayew, to name just a few.

C’mon you Swans!