Sunday, May 15, 2011
Swansea City 3 Nottingham Forest 1
I’m sat in the Derek Pavis Stand at Meadow Lane. Notts County have just played League One champions Brighton Hove Albion off the park. The Great Escape is complete. The Pies captain Neil Bishop has been outstanding. What a crucial signing he has been for the Club.
Both sets of fans are singing. The atmosphere is jovial. My attentions turn to other matters. My thoughts darken. I feel a vibrating sensation in my trouser pocket. My hand begins to tremble. This text is going to either break me or make my day.
It’s from Sticky junior. It’s short and to the point. Five words: ‘Lincoln City have been relegated.’ I feel anger and rage as I walk across Trent Bridge. But then it suddenly dawns on me, I’m a part-time non league groundhopper. Hey, I’ll be able to watch my team a lot more next season.
It’s Friday morning. The previous evening I’d watch aghast on TV as Swansea rang rings around a clueless Tricky Trees. Surely they can’t play that badly again. I casually mention to a work colleague that I might make the 400 mile round trip to South Wales on Monday.
Interest heightens within the company. I make a few calls, snap up some tickets and book us on a supporters coach. £42 is a steal for what is effectively a cup semi-final.
Oh dear, there is one slight hurdle to overcome and her name is Mrs P. I duck the issue on Friday evening – I don’t want to wreck the weekend. I tell a few close friends, they are called Twitter.
On Saturday night I’m at a presentation evening and let it slip to a few more friends. It seems the only person not know of my soiree at Swansea is my wife of 17 years.
It’s Sunday morning and the moment of truth has arrived. Mrs P is never at her best first thing in the morning. I unwisely break the news at 9am. It’s without doubt the longest and loneliest day of the season. At least Finley, my rabbit, is up for a chinwag.
I watch my boys make their Sunday League Men’s debut for Plumtree Cricket Club in the afternoon. Joe clean bowls three of their middle order, Sticky jnr sends a tail ender back first ball, with the off stump cart-wheeling towards first slip.
Mrs P is not making much of an effort (can’t say I blame her). I have two glasses of Red and head for bed. I’m wide awake at 4.30am, excited and anxious about the trip to Wales.
Homebird has grabbed a last remaining ticket. The game is a sell-out. We exit the works’ car park at midday. The Reaper slings his car in the Brian Clough car park. There’s time for a couple of beers in the nearby Larwood and Voce.
Everyone is upbeat and confident that King Billy can find the right blend and formula to beat this exciting young Swansea side.
The bus departs at smack on 1.30pm. It’s the first time I’ve caught a supporters coach since the opening day of the 1986 season when two Kevin Sheedy goals done for Forest at Goodison Park.
We drive down the A453 onto the M42 and M5. I’ve already enjoyed an hour’s people watching on the bus. The bloke behind us is proper old school. He wears a Henri Lloyd sweatshirt and has a shaven head. He has amusing anecdotes from the Clough era. He brags how he and his lad have been on the lash in town since early doors. He has the weakest bladder since Norris Cole off Coronation Street.
A guy shuffles his way down the aisle with his recorder on his camera, interviewing supporters. The one lass on our bus is from New Zealand. It’s her first ever football match.
My play-off form does not inspire confidence. I’ve seen Lincoln lose four years in a row and Forest go down 4-3 at Bramall Lane. I’m no lucky charm.
We have a 40 minute break at Ross on Wye service station. The place is mobbed with Forest fans. They are impeccably behaved. Elderly couples on coach trips to the Cotswolds looked miffed with the sea of red.
As we approach the stadium our man behind me gesticulates at some Swans’ fans drinking outside a few bars. He says that Port Talbot, Neath and Llanelli are all shitholes. I ask him where he’s from: “Somercotes” he replies.
The bus to a man sings “Sheep, sheep, sheep shaggers.” “I suppose you’re used to that song love” our man remarks to the girl from New Zealand.
Swansea is a coastal city and county in Wales with a population of 170,000. It was once the key centre for the world copper industry. Swansea born and bred include: Harry Secombe, Dylan Thomas, Rob Brydon, John Charles, Robert Croft, John Hartson, Ian Hislop, Dean Saunders, Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Heseltine.
Swansea City were formed in 1912 and previously played at Vetch Field before moving to Liberty Way in 2005. I once did a trip of all the League grounds in five days for charity. The Jacks were superb, giving us a signed ball and a ground tour.
The highest transfer fee the club has paid is £1 million for striker Scott Sinclair. Highest fee received is £2 million from Wigan Athletic for Jason Scotland.
Well known previous managers include: John Toshack, Terry Yorath, Jan Molby, Roberto Martinez and Paulo Sousa.
Players to have worn the colours of both clubs include: Dean Saunders, Christian Edwards, Lee Chapman, Paul Anderson and Des Lyttle.
BBC East Midlands Today are filming and interviewing the fans as we get off the coach
The ground is situated slightly out of town. It’s of a similar ilk to Pride Park and the Ricoh Arena, with its Harvester pub and Frankie and Benny’s close by.
Both sets of fans mingle outside the pub. I shout up four Stella’s. I’ve caught up with Piers who came with us to Millwall. Their bus has had a spot of bother with the long arm of the law.
The ambience is terrific. A Swansea fan says all away fans are made welcome apart from ‘them lot down the road.’
The Reaper spots that part-time footballer Michael Owen has predicted a 2-1 win to the Swans on Twitter. He immediately sends him an offensive Tweet that will have the Twitter Police on edge.
I’ve paid £25 for my match ticket. I bag a programme for £3 and take my seat behind the goal with the tunnel to my right.
The ground is packed to the rafters, and boy can their fans sing, although not as well as Ian Curtis does on ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart' which blasts out the speakers, drowning out the Welsh choir.
It’s ridiculous that I feel nervous; after all I work across the other side of the Trent and support Lincoln City. But I’m desperate for a Forest win, so I can take my two boys to Wembley. It’s an opportunity that never came its way for my father. He sadly passed away a year before Lincoln reached the play-off final.
The game is played at furious pace. Nathan Tyson hares away down the right wing, scampering past the full back. He intelligently holds the ball up as he waits for support; he plays in David McGoldrick who smacks a left foot shot against the crossbar.
Swansea come charging forward, Leon Britton tightens his grip on the game. He slips in on loan Chelsea striker Fabio Borini, the Italian turns Wes Morgan only to see his effort come crashing back off the woodwork.
The game is pulsating. My heart begins to beat faster and faster. The Swans fans raise the bar, their singing is immense, and, as you would expect, in tune.
They have more reason to celebrate on 25 minutes. Forest switch off from a short corner, the excellent Britton wriggles away from the hapless Tudgay, and curls a left-footed shot into Camp’s top right hand corner.
The decibels reach fever pitch five minutes later when Dobbie dances his way through the Reds’ defence and plants a shot into the corner of the net.
Billy Davies’s young braves badly need half-time; they’re like a battered and bruised boxer on the ropes.
Remarkably Davies sends out the same starting eleven in the second period. Tudgay’s miserable night continues when he blazes over the bar from close range. McGugan rattles the bar with a thunderbolt of a free kick.
Back come Swansea as Forest also live a charmed life. There are glaring misses by Sinclair and Borini.
Changes are made as the game reaches a crescendo. Raddy Majewski is pleasing on the eye. His movement is light and his passing pinpoint. His slide rule ball sends Earnshaw scampering away, his finish is clinical.
We’re jumping up and down and cheering the boys on. The game is crazy, manic and mad. Forest swarm all over the Swans. There’s a huge shout for handball as referee Andre Marriner continues to give NFFC nowt. Earnshaw pulls the trigger again only to be denied by the base of the post.
Sticky jnr texts me with minutes to go “Dad stop biting your nails you’re on TV LMAO” A corner comes in from the left, Forest ‘keeper Lee Camp is in the box, it finally falls to McGugan who has given every ounce of energy and is out on his feet, he trips over the ball, it’s cleared to Darren Pratley, a player King Billy has pursued for over a year now, he a fires a shot goal wards from 55 yards. It’s game, set and match to Swansea.
A few youngsters shed tears on the bus. We sleep most of the way home. Billy Davies is waiting for the convoy of coaches that pull into the Club car park at 2am. He shakes hands with supporters and thanks them all. A big hat tip to you Billy, it was an honour to see that game.
Man of the Match: Mrs P