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Jack the Lad: Some payback at last

The Swans beating Sheffield Wednesday in Tuesday night's FA Cup fifth-round replay has partly laid to rest the ghost of one of the most disappointing days of my sporting life.

On February 16, 1980, thousands of Welsh sports fans piled into cars, coaches and railway carriages – anything that was headed for London.

The Swans were playing West Ham in the fifth round of the FA Cup and reigning Five Nations Champions Wales were playing the Old Enemy at Twickenham.

This was one of the biggest days in Welsh sport for decades.

While the excited army of fans was marching on London, I was stuck at home, watching Grandstand on a black and white TV and trying to tune in an old radio which was held together by sticky tape!

My parents had decided they could not allow – or pay for – their 13-year-old, Welsh rugby and Swansea City-mad son to travel to the Big Smoke.

I was gutted – they were exciting times to be a Swans fan. Having gained promotion from the Fourth and then the Third Division in consecutive seasons, the Swans were holding their own in the second tier of the Football League – the old Division Two.

The new decade had started in exciting style with the legendary 2-1 win over Cardiff City on New Year’s Day.

Four days later, the Swans entertained First Division Crystal Palace – Terry Venables’s much-vaunted ‘Team of the Eighties’ – in the third round of the FA Cup.

Almost 18,000 were at the Vetch to see player-manager John Toshack score twice in a 2-2 draw, which meant the teams met again at Selhurst Park the following Tuesday.

If the first match had been a thriller, the replay was even better, as the teams drew 3-3. Toshack was on the scoresheet again, this time joined by David Giles and Alan Waddle.

This set up an historic second replay, incredibly staged in front of 21,400 people at Ninian Park of all places! Once again, Toshack and Giles were on the mark in a memorable 2-1 win.

In the fourth round, Reading were swept aside 4-1 at the Vetch, thanks to Waddle, Giles (two) and Robbie James.

So you can imagine my disappointment at having to settle for an afternoon in my sitting room with a clapped-out radio for company as the Swans lined up for their first fifth round tie since 1964 – the year they went on to reach the semis.

All I could hope for were crackling reports on one of the few stations my radio could pick up.

At least I could watch the rugby on TV. But that wasn’t going well.

It was the infamous Ringer Match, when Llanelli and Wales flanker Paul Ringer was controversially sent off in the 13th minute for a late and high tackle on England outside-half John Horton.

Despite being down to 14 men, Wales outscored England by two tries to nil, thanks to Jeff Squire and Elgan Rees, but they missed seven kicks at goal, as England edged a hugely controversial match 9-8.

My mood wasn’t lifted by news filtering through from Upton Park where, after a goalless first half, the Hammers scored twice to end the Swans’ exciting cup run.

The only consolation was that fans’ favourite Ian Callaghan had broken Sir Stanley Matthews’s record of 85 FA Cup appearances.

What a thoroughly miserable day! The Swans knocked out of the cup and Wales beaten by England.

But Tuesday night's replay success means I can at last celebrate seeing the Swans through to the FA Cup sixth round for the first time since 1964 – two years before I was born.

And if the Swans could beat West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday to pick up three priceless points, that would go that step further to avenging our FA Cup defeat in 1980, when the Hammers went on to lift the cup.

C'mon you Swans!

 

 

 

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Jack the Lad

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