MEMORY MATCH: Leighton James
6th March 2017
In the latest installment of our 'Memory Match' feature, former Swans winger Leighton James looks back on a 2-0 victory over Arsenal during the 1981-82 season.
Swansea City made an excellent start to their first season in the top flight of the Football League - winning five, drawing one and losing just two First Division matches prior to Arsenal's visit to Vetch Field on October 3, 1981.
The Swans also had a 100 per cent home record at the time, having beaten the likes of Leeds United, Notts County, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland in the opening months of the campaign.
"The Vetch Field had a major effect on results because we were so well supported and I don't think away teams liked visiting there," remembers Leighton James.
"Facilities were basic at the Vetch to say the least and the away dressing room was laughable. There was a boiler right in the middle of it and a bath that you could only fit about four players in at the absolute most!"
Arsenal were on the front foot in the early stages of this encounter, with Swans goalkeeper Dai Davies making a number of good saves. Neil Robinson was also required to make a goalline clearance.
At the other end, Alan Curtis's effort prompted a fine reflex save from Gunners keeper Pat Jennings.
With seven minutes of the first half remaining, James crossed the ball to Bob Latchford in the Arsenal penalty area.
Latchford in turn headed it into the path of the onrushing James, who lashed the ball past Jennings.
"Compared to the next goal that was scored that day, my goal was just a tap in," laughs James.
"Of course, it was always great to score against a world-class goalkeeper like Pat Jennings, one of the finest goalkeepers there's ever been."
As they had done in the first period, Arsenal made a bright start to the second half.
Future Swans manager John Hollins tested Davies with a long-range free-kick while the Londoners also had a goal disallowed for offside.
With seven minutes of the match remaining though, defender Max Thompson scored one of the finest goals ever seen at the Vetch to secure victory for the home side.
Despite manager John Toshack screaming to Thompson to stay back when the Swans were awarded a free-kick, the Liverpool-born player ventured forward anyway.
From a position on the field near to the corner flag, Jimmy Hadziabdic swung an excellent ball into the Gunners' area that was met with a firm, left-footed volley from Thompson that crashed into the bottom corner of Jennings' goal.
"Max's goal against Arsenal was a once-in-a-lifetime strike," says James, who was inducted into the club's Robbie James Wall of Fame in 2013.
"Even the world's best strikers wouldn't score many goals like that in their career, where they catch a volley absolutely perfectly, let alone a defender!
"It was a phenomenal strike and you knew it was in from the moment it left his foot. What made it so great was that it was so unexpected.
"If a player like Curt had scored it, you would have said 'Well there you are'. But for Max to come and score that goal and win the game for us, well, it was just fantastic."
Thompson's strike - one of only two goals he scored in 31 league appearances for the Swans between 1981 and 1983 - featured in Match of the Day's goal of the month competition for October 1981.
More importantly, it gave the Swans three crucial points during a season where the club upset many of the division's big boys.
"We were the minnows that season and we took plenty of big scalps like Leeds United, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester United," says James.
"Beating Arsenal was another big win. They had a very good team at the time - the great Pat Jennings, who I've mentioned, and then people like John Hollins and David O'Leary."
The Swans completed the league double over the Gunners that season.
Ray Kennedy opened the scoring in the first half, while Robbie James' penalty in the second period gave the visitors a 2-0 victory in front of 29,724 supporters at Arsenal's former Highbury home.
"I used to love the old grounds and Highbury was a particularly special venue, so it was really good to win there" adds James.
"I don't think anyone would have given us a chance of beating Arsenal home and away in our first season in the top flight, but that's what happened."
The 1981-82 season ultimately saw Arsenal finish fifth in the Division One table, two points above the Swans in sixth.
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