An unprecedented season

4th May 2013

Southampton's visit to the Liberty a couple of weeks ago brought memories of the Saints' 1976 FA Cup win flooding back.
Not because I have any great affection for the club, but this was the first FA Cup final I remember taking a real interest in.
As much as I enjoyed seeing the Second Division underdogs beat Manchester United, it's the presentation of the trophy that sticks in my mind the most.
I was fascinated by the fact that the man lifting the cup was a Welshman - Peter Rodrigues.
Growing up in the rugby-dominated Amman Valley during the early 1970s, the only really successful Welsh sports stars I had heard of were all rugby players.
This was a time dominated by the likes of Barry John, Mervyn Davies, Gerald Davies and Gareth Edwards, who was born and brought up in my village. Rugby seemed to dominate everything - particularly in the Welsh media. 
It came as something of a revelation to me that some Welshmen were also pretty good at football. 
The only football I'd really watched on the TV up until then was the 1974 World Cup. So, believe it or not, my main footballing influences at that time were German or Dutch players like Johann Cruyff, Ruud Krol, Franz Beckenbauer and the great Gerd Muller.
But during that summer of 1976, after seeing Rodrigues receive the cup from the Queen, there was more evidence of Welshmen being able to play football when the national team reached the quarter-finals of the European Championships. 
The following year they beat England for the first time at Wembley in the Home Internationals, when Leighton James scored the only goal of the game. 
This sudden awakening of Welsh success had come as something of a surprise to me because our clubs weren't particularly great at the time.
The Swans and Newport County were in the old Fourth Division, while Wrexham and Cardiff were in the third tier, although Cardiff did gain promotion that season.
Welsh club football crowds were poor in comparison to their rugby counterparts. Attendances were confined to the real die-hards, who followed their clubs through thick and thin.
The only reason I saw my first Swans match in the late Seventies was because my sister's boyfriend offered to take me. Despite it being an unremarkable 1-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vetch, from that day on I was hooked.
Edwards, John, Davies and Williams were replaced by Curtis, James, Charles and Toshack as my heroes.
However, apart from the occasional new fans, who followed in the footsteps of family members or turned up out of curiosity or boredom, there wasn't much to generate or attract new support. 
There were periods of success, such as the Swans reaching the old First Division in the early Eighties, but these have been short-lived and all too rare over the past 30 years.
But all that has changed...beyond the wildest dreams of Welsh football fans!
Welsh club football is currently enjoying it's highest ever profile.
The Swans have undoubtedly been blazing the trail as they have dismissed predictions of "second season syndrome" by flying high in the top half of the Premier League and winning the Capital One Cup.
Following in the slipstream of the Swans' soaraway success are Cardiff City, who have won the Championship and will be joining us in the Premier League next season.
Added to that, Wrexham won the FA Trophy at Wembley and return there tomorrow to take on Newport County in the Conference Play-Off Final. How about that? An all-Welsh final at the "Home of English Football".
Although the Welsh international team has had mixed results once again this season, one of its stars - Gareth Bale - has obviously been grabbing a few headlines of his own, and must now be considered one of the best players in the world.
And, if you thought all of that was impressive, the profile of Welsh football is going to go through the roof next season.
The Swans will be playing in Europe for the first time in over 20 years and imagine the interest that is going to surround the two Welsh derbies. The publicity generated for the clubs, Welsh football and Wales as a whole is going to be unprecedented.
Whatever you may feel about Cardiff City and the fact they have been promoted, there is no doubt their presence in the Premier League next season will add some spice to the fixture list.
As an opportunity to market Wales to the world, it can surely only be matched by hosting the 2010 Ryder Cup in Newport in terms of truly global exposure.
Wales may have hosted a rugby World Cup, but despite being a global event, rugby is restricted to relatively few countries around the world.
The Premier League, however, is watched in 212 territories around the world - the audience for games is 4.7 billion.
With that global audience comes a massive responsibility on us fans.
We have to make sure that next season's derbies are remembered for all the right reasons.
Swans fans have conducted themselves immaculately over the past few years, particularly since the club reached the Premier League.
The rivalry of the derby matches will bring fresh challenges, but we have to make sure we continue to support the club in the way we have over the past few years - impressing people not only with the passion of our support, but also with our behaviour.
I don't know about you, but I get a real tingle down my spine when I hear the Jack Army out singing opposition fans. Not just here at the Liberty, of course, but when it happens at places like Anfield, St James' Park and other grounds know for their vocal support. 
The Swansea City song, which was written back in the late seventies, has a line predicting that: " . . . once again all Europe will hear the Swansea City sound".
Well next season it will, but not only will Europe be listening as the Swans compete in the Europa League - the whole world will be watching when the Swans take on Cardiff in those historic and unique derbies  - the first to be played in the top flight.
Let's make sure we don't let them down.
But, perhaps more importantly to the future of the Swans, and Welsh football as a whole, there will also be a whole new generation of potential fans watching.
In 1976, I was a nine-year-old who thought all Welsh sport revolved around the oval ball, until I saw a lone Welshman lift the FA Cup. That opened my eyes to Welsh football.
Imagine the thousands of Welsh youngsters tuning in to the Welsh derby next season and seeing Swansea City taking on Cardiff City in the Premier League. 
Hopefully they will be turned on to football and inspired to try and emulate Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor and Ben Davies in playing for a Welsh club in the Premier League.
But whatever successes the remainder of this season and the next hold for Welsh football, let's hope the Swans continue to lead the way as the nation's most successful club.