It has been 40 years now since that magical day at Preston when the Swans secured promotion to the first division for the first time in their history but it is a day that will live long in the day of Swans fans who were around to see that day.
Whether you were one of the 10,000 who were in Preston or whether you were one of those left in Swansea waiting for news from Deepdale you will never forget where you were that day or what you were doing as John Toshack and his Swans side completed the most remarkable rise up the football league.
As we reflect back now on those events forty years ago we look into the words of John Toshack MBE, the man that made it happen for us. The following is an extract from his autobiography “Tosh” first published in 1982 and one of my treasured possessions having queued in WH Smith to get his signature on the book.
So without holding back further here are the words of the great man himself “I don’t want to sound wise after the event but I was absolutely certain that we would beat Preston. I had arranged for the players and their wives to have a celebration buffet at the Holiday Inn, Liverpool, on our return from Deepdale and it was for me very much like a ‘Liverpool Day’.
“By that I mean a successful day. I was up early that morning and after a walk around our hotel I went to the rooms of all the players. I remember Shanks used to do that on the morning of a big game. They were all in good spirits and just after eleven o’clock we all went for a stroll in the countryside near our hotel, which was just outside Burnley.
“Shortly I would have to make one of the most difficult decisions since I entered management. I had decided that John Mahoney would have to be the player to stand down Imagine how I felt. Having to tell any player that is never pleasant, but when it is your own cousin then it becomes even more difficult. I remembered the games we had played together as young boys in the streets of Canton, Cardiff, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew that ‘Josh’ would have to be the one to drop out.
“Preston were not a good side and this was a game we had to win I felt it was necessary to pick Charles, Curtis and the two Jameses in the attack. Tommy Craig would be best suited to continue in the midfield so I moved Robbie James from his striking role to partner Tommy and played Charles up front alongside Curtis.
“If we had been playing a better side who had players capable of causing us problems, John Mahoney would have been the first player on the team sheet but I felt that with Robinson, Evans and Stevenson in the side I could afford to leave him out. After lunch I called ‘josh; to one side and told him. He was so disappointed that he broke down into tears, and I must admit that I had to wait for a few minutes before I could go into our team meeting. I don’t wish this to sound ‘corny’ but only those people who know John Mahoney and John Toshack could understand what it means. I wondered what my uncle Joe. John’s father, would have to say to my dad George when we saw him next! We were very close a team, though, and at the end of the meeting I remember saying, “Well let’s get them done, aye Josh.”
“We set off from our hotel to Preston and soon realised the kind of support that we had going for us. Ten thousand people had travelled from Swansea and when we arrived at Deepdale there was a sea of black and white scarves. As the players slowly started to get changed and the countdown began, several faced popped in to wish us good luck. Shanks was there – I was glad to see him – and he told me what a great club Preston once was. He had played for them during their greatest period and now he was witnessing their relegation to the third division – his words not mine.
“Gareth Edwards was there too. A great Swansea supporter, Gareth knows all the lads well and they were pleased to see him. He quietly made them aware of their responsibilities!! We seemed so relaxed in the dressing room that it seemed just a case of going out, playing for ninety minutes and coming off the field as a First Division Team!
“One incident summed it up. We had been battling neck and beck with Blackburn Rovers and were level points with one game left. Our goal difference was far better. though, and if we won that would be good enough. I expected Blackburn to win at Bristol Rovers so the players were in no doubt as to what was wanted. Nevertheless, just when everything went quiet in the dressing room at about 2.45 Alan Curtis quipped ‘Now what happens if we win and Blackburn win – are we definitely up?!’
“We went out to the part of the ground where our supporters were, and I remember saying to Phil Boersma how much I would have liked to have been playing. It would be nice to get the winner today, I thought! We were 2-0 in front after only twenty-five minutes. The first goal by Leighton James was one that only he could have scored and the second by Tommy Craig came after good work on the right by Neil Robinson. Two up at half-time meant that we were forty-five minutes away from the First Division. During the second half though, Preston raised their game and started to push men forward and with twenty minutes to go they pulled a goal back. Dave Stewart dropped a cross from the left and Alex Bruce scored from close range.
“It was now a case of whether or not our never would hold. I was more than a little worried about Stewart and with just ten minutes to go we got our lucky break. Preston had a corner on the left and for some reason our goalkeeper decided to come for it. He missed the ball completely but the Preston centre-half Baxter powered his header past the upright. I honestly thought the ball had gone through the net!
“I knew we were home and dry and with just thirty second left a move including Curtis and Robbie James ended with Jeremy Charles hammering the ball into the net for our third goal. It was fitting that Charles, Curtis and James should combine to clinch promotion. Their attacking talents had helped take the club from the Fourth Division to the First in record time, and theirs was a fairy-tale story.
“When the final whistle went though I felt for one of our other players. Dudley Lewis at eighteen years of age had done a remarkable job,. When Leighton Phillips had caused me problems I had been forced to make the choice between myself and Dudley at the heart of our defence and although he had done so well in his first half dozen matches, as the season reached its climax he was naturally beginning to feel some pressure.
“For one so young to have gone into the side at such a critical time spoke volumes for him, and he was the first player that I made for at the end of the game. Then it seemed the natural thing to go and salute our army of ten thousand supporters, so along with the rest of the players I remained on the pitch at Deepdale for ten minutes or so.
“They were marvellous moments. I had done so much as a player at Liverpool and thought that I had said goodbye to days like this, but I can honestly say that 2 May 1981 is one of the most memorable days of my life. When I returned to the dressing room the first person I met was Bill Shankly. Whilst everyone else was celebrating with champagne, Shanks stood typically with a cup of tea in his hand looking as though he was already planning for next season! ‘Well done son, it’s a bloody miracle what you’ve done at Swansea, the most remarkable thing since the war to go from the Fourth to the First Division in such a short space of time.’
“Shanks didn’t mince his words and he was later to repeat himself in a television interview, adding other superlatives that quite honestly embarrassed me. After the celebrations at Deepdale had finished we set off for the Holiday Inn, Liverpool for our ‘private party.’
“On the coach from Preston to Liverpool the players joined up with their wives but one young man, Dudley Lewis, sat in the front with a black-and-white scarf round his neck. He had helped himself to half a bottle of champagne and was becoming cheeky with it. When I asked him where his girlfriend was he replied ‘I can’t afford one on the wages to pay me!!’ I couldn’t argue too much with that. Dudley had done as much as anyone during the last two months of the season in taking us up to the First Division where we would be competing against £1000 a week footballers. His wage was £50 a week but he had done more than enough to earn a rise!!
“We spent a couple of hours in the Holiday Inn where we were superbly looked after by the manager, Jack Ferguson, and his staff. At 2am we arrived at the Vetch, Swansea, where thousands of fans were waiting to greet us. Amongst them was Ante Rajkovic our Yugoslav defender who had been forced to miss the run in through injury. Ante had been waiting for three hours for our return, an act that epitomised the spirit within the club.”
The words of John Toshack have been taken from his Autobiography “Tosh” first published in 1982 by Arthur Baker Ltd