My favourite game: Alan Tate
We continue to celebrate our 4,000th game in league football* by catching up with former players to relive their favourite games from the years gone by.
Today, we sit down with former defender Alan Tate to reflect on his particular pick of the bunch - that victory over Hull City in May 2003.
Without a doubt, this was Swansea City’s biggest game in the club’s 91-year history.
Brian Flynn’s side needed to beat Hull City at Vetch Field on the final day of the 2002-03 season to preserve their Third Division status and avoid relegation from the Football League.
However, as Tate recalls, the Swans did go into the game outside the bottom two following a crucial 2-1 victory away at Rochdale the previous weekend.
“We knew what the consequences could’ve been if we’d lost that day,” he reflects.
“It was a massive game but the win over Rochdale the week before was arguably bigger because of been away from home. You don’t expect teams at the bottom end of the table to go away and win, but we did and that was huge.
“All you want in a situation like that is for everything to be in your hands. That way, you’ve got nobody else to blame.”
A then 20-year-old Tate had arrived on loan from Manchester United the previous November – one of several players drafted in by the Swans in an attempt to beat the drop.
Among the other arrivals in South Wales were the likes of Leon Britton, Kevin Nugent and Lenny Johnrose, as well as Roberto Martinez from Walsall.
And Tate has underlined the importance of the Spaniard’s role in the club’s fight for survival.
“There was a huge turnaround in players around Christmas time,” he remembers.
“In that situation, you haven’t got time to gel; it was just a case of playing and trying to get a result.
“Roberto deserves a lot of credit for the impact he made after arriving. He got everybody together – both on and off the field.”
In the most crucial of games, the Swans made a flying start as James Thomas converted from the penalty spot after just eight minutes.
However, they were pegged back almost immediately by Stuart Elliott before Martin Reeves put Hull in front.
“At 2-1 down, it was an eerie feeling, but you don’t have time to dwell on it,” Tate insists. “You have to pull yourself together and go and get a result.
“I remember Neil Cutler making a great save that prevented them from going 3-1 up.
“Had that have gone in, it would’ve been a completely different game.”
The hosts rallied and equalised just before half-time with Thomas on target from 12 yards once again.
They built on that momentum after the break with Johnrose putting them back in front from close range.
And the celebrations could well and truly begin 10 minutes later, when Thomas completed his hat-trick with a delightful long-range chip over the head of Tigers keeper Alan Fettis.
“Suddenly, the pitch opened up and we were all screaming at him to take the ball on,” Tate laughs.
“When he ended up chipping the keeper, we all thought ‘what are you doing?!’
“But, when it went in, it was just pure jubilation. We didn’t feel like we were going to throw away that two-goal lead. It gave us that cushion and breathing space.”
Looking back, Tate is well aware of the importance of that victory – both on and off the field.
The defender was part of the side that subsequently progressed through the divisions and, ultimately, gained promotion to the Premier League just eight years later.
“There was joy to a point, but the main emotion we felt that day was one of relief,” he recalls.
“If we’d lost, the consequences were through the roof – both club and player-wise.
“Some of the boys had mortgages and families they had to support, while others had children on the way. If we went down, there may not be a club today.
“However, from that day, things snowballed and consequently resulted in the club eventually getting promoted to the Premier League.
“For that reason, that goes down as my favourite league game.”