Toshack Talks Glory

Thursday, 3 April 2003, 0:00
6 mins read

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After a season of mid-table safety, Swansea then embarked on a season that created a record that still stands today. It culminated with the ultimate day on May 2nd 1981 when a victory at Preston saw them promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history. But with less than 7 weeks of the season to go it did not look like Swansea would clinch that spot as they found themselves nearer mid table then the top but Toshack made a decision that clearly he views as a massive step in the club’s history

"We looked as if we weren’t going to make it and I took the decision that proved to be very important and that was to throw a young Dudley Lewis in. I thought that at least if we weren’t going to make it then at least Dudley was getting experience and was to be a player for the future. Dudley though had a great last dozen games but I could see that he was beginning to feel the pinch when it came to that historic day at Preston. When the final whistle went that day I knew how much that had got to him. For a young lad to come in and perform as well as he had in those circumstances was incredible. We had a lot of experienced players in people like Leighton James, Alan Curtis, Tommy Craig and people like Jeremy and Robbie who had come through the ranks but Dudley was a young lad who we gambled on. I knew before the game that he was feeling the pressure but felt that to change the system at that stage may have upset the whole shooting works. I felt very very proud of him that day.

"We had played Luton I think at the Vetch – they were a good side in those days under David Pleat with Stein and Ricky Hill and it was springtime and after that we knew that we had to go to Preston to win and go up. We worked on the principle that Blackburn were going to win and knew that on that basis we would have to too. There were about 7 or 8,000 Swansea supporters who could not get in the ground and it was just a memorably day."

But as with any football manager, before the joyous times there come very hard times and one of those was Toshack’s final team selection of the 80/81 season:

"I had to leave a couple of players out. One of them was a cousin of mine, John Mahoney but I just felt that this was a game that we had to win and I plumped for Tommy Craig with Robbie James, Jeremy Charles, Leighton James and Alan Curtis. It was a very difficult decision you know. My Uncle Joe was coming across from Manchester to Preston on the train to watch his boy play and I can remember Alan Curtis saying sometime afterwards that the thing about Tosh was that he didn’t have any favourites and you won’t get a better example of this than on that occasion. That was the way that I saw it and naturally he was very upset and disappointed but he soon got over that."

And so history was created, the Swans were in the top flight for the first – and to date only – time in their history. But surely now the hard work was just beginning and staying there was a thought on the minds of most Swans supporters at that time

"We were the only side who would be playing in five tournaments that season – the League Cup, FA Cup, League, Welsh Cup and European Cup Winners Cup. The Welsh Cup was obviously important to us because it gave us a passport into Europe as well. So we had a burden there that no other side had. The first season we coped with it very very well. We didn’t have too many injuries and the side virtually picked itself. Possibly sides were underestimating us but we played a system which caught a 4-4-2 orientated first division on the hop. We played a sweeper and two central defenders and in Latchford, Curtis and Leighton James we had a good attacking trio as well. We were good value in those days, we played an attractive football and with six games to go we were leading the first division. We topped the league for the first time in October when we won at Stoke and we finished highly that season.

"The opening game against Leeds was a tight match early doors but in the second half we cut loose and the 5-1 score surprised everybody. Alan Curtis scored a super goal that day against his old club. The day that we finished in the second and the day that we started in the first were two memorable matches."

Football was a buzz in Swansea at that time, even I remember days where people just seemed to be talking about football. Toshack was a hero to so many, surely he must have found himself mobbed every time he set foot out in Swansea?

"Swansea is a pretty quiet place and it’s a long long time ago. There are some things that I remember vividly and some things I don’t remember well but I don’t think so."

Swansea though may have been a quiet place but things happening at the club were being noticed nationally and Toshack was brought back to the fore with a couple of off-field events that proved he was making waves in what he was doing. The first of those being the famous red book of ‘This Is Your Life’ being put in front of him

"I do remember that. I was going up to London thinking I was going to be playing in a golf match with Gareth Edwards, Brian Haggett and Bernard Gallacher and it was a surprise when just before we teed off I remember all these practice balls coming over the wall and looking round and seeing all the Swansea squad coming out from behind the wall and thinking what the hell is going on? Of course when I saw the famous Irishman with the big red book in his hand then I knew that it was a special day. You don’t think that things like that are going to happen. Everything that happened for personal merit was a reflection of the team and things that everyone at Swansea had done. People had worked very hard – you don’t get from the position of applying for re-election to the top of the first division unless a lot of people work very hard and put a lot into it. It will never ever happen again anywhere the way that the game is structured now. I remember Bob Paisley saying on that programme that going from the fourth to the first was easy to say but a lot more difficult to do. The award of the MBE was the same principle – it was a recognition of what Swansea City football club had achieved and I was fortunate enough to be the figurehead if you like of what was an exceptional all round team and city effort."

Of course, when we remember the first division days, there are games that spring out in the memory as particularly poignant and none more so than the club’s visit to Anfield coming just days after the passing of Bill Shankly – what did that mean to Tosh?

"It was an incredible co-incidence that we should go to Liverpool on top of the first division to play a match at Anfield the day after I helped to carry Bill Shankly’s coffin at his funeral. It was a great match – up and down, we drew two each there were two penalties up at the Kop end and it was an emotionally charged day particularly for me. It was a spontaneous decision to wear my Liverpool shirt. I don’t remember criticism of that decision maybe I had worn it on a number of occasions but hadn’t taken my track suit top off.

"For quite a bit of that season we were ahead of Liverpool. We lost five and won one of the last six after leading the league with six games to go. Liverpool went on a tremendous run. They came down here in the January and knocked us out of the cup, 4-0 I think, and from then on went on and on and ended up winning the championship. We qualified for a UEFA Cup place but being a Welsh side I don’t think we were allowed in. But we won the Welsh Cup and that took us into the Cup Winners Cup."

Part 1: Toshack Talks About The Foundations For Success

Part 3: The Past, Present and Future

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