To Hell and back: How the Capital One Cup reversed the fortunes of Swansea City
Ten years is a long time in football, but it has been a whirlwind period for Swansea City. As the South Wales club prepare for their Capital One Cup semi-final with Arsenal, few outside of the Swans’ loyal band of supporters will know just how close the club came to disappearing for good not too long ago.
But, here we are, with the white and gold clad team on the verge of reaching a domestic final. If you’d have told any fans in the stands at Vetch Field during their 1-0 defeat to Boston United in 2002, that their team would be competing in the top tier and on the verge of making the League Cup final in just over ten years, you may have seen some confused faces. However, these are the circumstances now faced by the Swans, whose feet have barely had time to touch the ground.
Swansea were staring into the abyss as poor form left the club at the bottom of the Football League during the 2002/03 season. A hat-trick from James Thomas inspired a last day 4-2 victory over Hull, which saved Swansea from relegation, at the expense of Exeter City. From here their climb up the football ladder began.
Brian Flynn guided the team to mid-table safety the next season, but was replaced by Kenny Jackett, who was unable to maintain their push for a play-off spot. However, after drafting in a number of talented defensive players, the now Millwall coach saw his side secure third place with a 1-0 win over Bury and subsequent promotion to League 1.
With their move up to the third-tier of English football, Swansea bid farewell to their home Vetch Field, moving into the council-run Liberty Stadium facility. It looked like being a fairy-tale first season at their new home, as the Swans’ impressive form saw them reach the play-off final, however a penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Barnsley ended all hopes of a move to the Championship.
Jackett resigned the following year, and Swansea took a chance on Spanish manager Roberto Martinez, offering him his first senior position. Initially it looked to be an inspired decision, as the club made a real push for a second successive play-off appearance. But, it was not to be, with a 6-3 defeat to Blackpool seeing them narrowly miss out.
Martinez’s methods saw the birth of the Swansea we now see on a weekly basis, with a real focus on maintaining possession and playing football the ‘right’ way. Jackett’s side had played in a moderately attractive style, but the Spaniard’s approach was the catalyst for a change in philosophy. It wasn’t all style over substance either, with his first full season in charge bringing promotion to the Championship and the League 1 winners trophy to the Liberty Stadium.
After guiding the team to mid-table safety in the second tier, Martinez left to take the managerial post at Wigan. Paulo Sousa stepped in to steady the ship, but left after just one season. Despite this, he is still held in high regard for his impact on and off of the pitch.
The dream of promotion was achieved the following year, with Brendan Rodgers guiding the team to a 4-2 play-off final win over Reading, his former club, at Wembley.
Swansea’s appearance in the top flight made them the first Welsh team to appear in the Premier League since its formation in 1992. With memorable wins against the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal the club to achieved a safety in their first season, and also won the hearts of many neutral football fans.
Rodgers left during the summer for the vacant managers position at Liverpool, but once again the team brought in a progressive coach in the shape of Michael Laudrup. The Dane has maintained the core principles of the team and now has the chance to cap their meteoric rise with one of the most coveted trophies in English football, the Capital One Cup.
The turn of the New Year will see Swansea prepare for their semi-final clash with Chelsea, and although they are underdogs, they have every chance of making a cup final appearance at Wembley.
Even if they fail to lift the trophy, the Swansea story is a miraculous one. One that shows that with the right attitude and a core set of principles anything is possible. From the brink of destruction, the Swans are now on the brink of greatness.