Jack the Lad: Something special about the cup

24th October 2017

The combination of a League Cup tie and playing Arsenal in the same week has brought back some vivid memories from the early 1980s.

Since being promoted to the Premier League, entertaining the likes of Manchester United and the Gunners has become almost second nature.

But back when I first started watching the Swans the only time you would see a ‘glamour’ club playing at the Vetch would be if we had drawn them in a cup competition.

These matches were few and far between back in the 1970s and very early 1980s, before the Swans were promoted to the old First Division in May 1981.

The League Cup tie against Spurs in 1978 has become part of Swans legend, having seen them go on to win 3-1 at White Hart Lane following a 2-2 draw at the Vetch. The tie, of course, was immortalised in the lyrics of the Swansea City song.

However, a less well-remembered league cup match from that era was against Tottenham’s North London neighbours Arsenal.

Although the game is perhaps less celebrated now, it was no less anticipated back in 1980, especially by yours truly.

I can remember taking my place on the North Bank what seemed like hours before the game to ensure me and my pals got the best possible view.

This precaution was the result of bitter experience, for I had witnessed only snippets of the action at the Spurs match.

A crowd of 24,335 packed into the Vetch that night – and a large proportion of fans were sardined into the North Bank, where I was standing.

Well, when I say standing, I’m not sure my feet actually touched the floor for most of the match, such was the tightly-packed nature of the crowd in the belly of the huge terrace.

Despite being suspended a couple of inches off the ground for the majority of the game, my only memories from the match – apart from the backs of people’s heads – are of seeing Osvaldo Ardiles being launched into an orbit of the Vetch by Tommy Smith and Barrie Daines pulling off a spectacular save.

When the Swans were drawn against Arsenal a couple of seasons later, I was taking no chances.

Making sure we were at the Vetch when the gates opened, we dashed through the right-hand tunnel of the North Bank, ran up the terrace steps and took our places leaning against the wall above the tunnel. No-one would be standing in front of me this time!

We stood there for what seemed to be an age as we watched the empty stadium starting to fill with fans.

As it turned out, the Gunners weren’t quite the attraction Spurs, with their two Argentinian World Cup winners, Ardiles and Villa, had proved to be.

Nevertheless there was a big crowd of 17,036 there to see the Swans entertain the likes of Pat Jennings, Kenny Sansom, David O'Leary, John Hollins, Alan Sunderland and Frank Stapleton.

For a while it looked like the Swans were going to go one better than they did against Spurs.

Having weathered something of an Arsenal onslaught, the Swans went ahead in the 82nd minute courtesy of Leighton James and it looked like a famous win was on the cards.

Unfortunately, Arsenal equalised three minutes later through Stapleton and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

A week later, the Swans took the lead at Highbury thanks to a Jeremy Charles goal, and a repeat of the 3-1 win the Swans enjoyed against Spurs looked possible.

But goals from Hollins, Sunderland and Steve Walford secured a 3-1 win for the Gunners.

A season later and the Swans were taking on the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United on a weekly basis, just as they are these days.

But the excitement of those one-off glory nights against the big boys almost 40 years ago live long in the memory of Swans fans of a certain age.

C'mon you Swans!