Who said dreams don't come true anymore?

5th December 2015

Who said dreams don't come true anymore?
Well, I have to admit, I used to - in footballing terms at least.
When the Swans were still in the Championship, I used to be critical of the Premier League, claiming the super-rich, elite division had put massive amounts of money into football, but taken all the romance out.
I bemoaned the fact that it was highly unlikely there would be a repeat of the days when apparently unfashionable clubs could again win the title.
I was critical of the fact that apart from Blackburn winning the title back in 1994-95, only super-rich clubs Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City had lifted the crown in the 20 seasons following the league's inception in 1992.
Where were the teams like Derby County, Leeds United, Aston Villa, Everton, and particularly Nottingham Forest, who each managed to punctuate Liverpool's dominance in the Premier League's predecessor - the First Division Championship - during the previous 20 years?
Forest's story was one of the most remarkable in the history of English league football. Promotion to the top flight in the 1976-77 season, the English First Division Championship in 1977-78, and then the European Cup at the first time of asking in 1978-79 - a trophy they won again the following season.
In reality, their fairytale story was probably a complete one-off, and we are unlikely to see it happen again, so I was wrong to use them as an example of how the romance had gone out of top flight football and that even the unlikeliest of dreams couldn't come true.
If I wanted any proof of that I would only have to look at this afternoon's fixture.
Just 12 months ago, Leicester City were bottom of the Premier League at Christmas. As late in the season as April they were seven points from safety. But a run of seven wins in nine games meant they became only the third team to avoid relegation after being bottom at Christmas.
The Foxes come here this afternoon in second place in the Premier League - having only surrendered top spot last weekend following a 1-1 draw with Manchester United. What an unbelievable turnaround in just 12 months.
But the real romance surrounding today's match is the potential personal head-to-head tussle between Leicester's star striker and the Swans' captain and defensive rock. 
Leading the line for Leicester you have an England international, who is on the hottest streak of goalscoring form in the history of the Premier League, having just become the first player to score in 11 consecutive matches, taking the record from former Manchester United and Holland superstar Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
He now heads a list of goalscorers that also includes the likes of Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen.
Planning to help shackle him and end that remarkable run is one of the most consistent and outstanding defenders in the Premier League. He is the captain of Wales, who has just led his country to its first major finals tournament since 1958 - a feat that has proved beyond generations of Welsh footballing legends including Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs.
At first glance it looks like a typical high quality confrontation you will find week in week out in a league which boasts some of the very best players from around the world - which of course it is.
But look deeper and there are two stories that are laden with the kind of romance and realisation of apparently impossible dreams, which I feared had been robbed from the Premier League by the dominance of the so-called super clubs and the vast amounts of money generated.
At the age of 16, both Leicester City's Jamie Vardy and Swansea City's Ashley Williams had their dreams of becoming professional footballers apparently shattered.
Vardy was released by his hometown club Sheffield Wednesday, while Wolverhampton-born Williams was let go by West Bromwich Albion.
If these two players had lined up opposite each other back in 2003, they would both have been representing non-league sides.
Vardy would have been part of the youth set up at his first senior club after leaving Wednesday - Stocksbridge Park Steels, of the Northern Premier League.
Meanwhile, Williams would have been coming to the end of his time with non-league Hednesford Town, the club he joined after his disappointment with West Brom.
While most of the Premier League's top stars would have been spotted at an early age and nurtured in state-of-the-art academies across Britain, Europe and even further afield, Vardy was playing part time for £30 a week and working in a prosthetics factory.
Big Ash was playing part-time football for Hednesford and working in a bowling alley, as a waiter, and on the stalls at Drayton Manor Theme Park
Fast forward to this afternoon and fitness allowing (form shouldn't be a problem) they meet in the world's richest league, both international footballers looking forward to their first major tournament next summer.
As Rio Ferdinand tweeted about Vardy last weekend: "What a story . . . always believe kids . . . it's never too late." It was a tweet equally applicable to Ferdinand's friend Williams.
No romance in the Premier League? How wrong could I be?
Come on you Swans!