Well, it’s been just over a year since I last contributed to this blog (apologies to Dai for being so tardy) and it’s amazing what’s happened in the intervening twelve months.
When I read the piece below now, I’m more than slightly embarrassed at my uncritical adoration of the false Messiah. Let’s face it, as grown-up people, most of us felt rather foolish that we’d been taken in by the protestations of undying loyalty (“the only way I’d leave this football cloob is if they kicked me out” – yeah, right) and more than a little betrayed by the course of events. But, as in all relationship break-ups, time moves on and new concerns take the place of old.
What a bizarre season it was. When Paulo Sousa was first announced as the new manager, I guess most of us thought that it was ‘business as usual’, a continuation of the Iberian free-flowing attacking football which had won us so many plaudits in the footballing world. It didn’t take long for the realisation to dawn that, having lost our two highest goal scorers, being hit with a series of untimely injuries, and with the defection of nearly our entire backroom staff, we weren’t so much high-flyers as potential relegation candidates.
Against that background, a lot of credit has to go to Sousa and the squad for pulling things around. From looking like the lamest of lame ducks, we hauled ourselves up, first into contention and then into what looked like a nailed-on certainty for a play-off spot. Sousa had undoubtedly sorted out our Achilles heel of the season before, our tendency to leak goals, but despite continuing to play attractive football, the worrying signs were there that we had an intractable problem at the other end of the pitch – putting the ball in the back of the net.
Back came Trundle, and along came Beattie and then Kuqi, but no-one seemed to be able to score on a regular basis. The problem didn’t seem too serious in the early months of 2010 as our mean defence ensured we cemented ourselves into the top six, with a healthy ten point gap above seventh place. But as injuries to key players took their toll and the goal drought continued, what at first seemed like an unlikely prospect of missing out started to loom large.
The moment when reality hit home was probably the 5-1 drubbing by Blackpool; the rest is history. The only saving grace for me was the failure of our neighbours up the road to win the prize which had eluded us. Schadenfreude? It’s much more personal that that. I have a mate who now lives in Cardiff, a lad I grew up with in Port Talbot and who even came with me occasionally to the Vetch as schoolboys. He ‘went over to the dark side’ twenty or thirty years ago when he went to live and work in that place. He never fails to extract the urine when the scummers come out on top in their continuing bitter rivalry with the Swans, and the crowing I would have heard from him if they had reached the Premiership would have been unbearable. It reached epidemic proportions when they made the play-offs and we didn’t, but as we all now know, of course, I had the last laugh. And boy, did I let him know it.
So, we achieved our highest league position for nearly thirty years and broke the record for clean sheets in league games, and yet it feels at the most visceral level like a failure. Now we’re into the silly season, and rumours swirl around, in the absence of hard news, that Sousa and the Board have fallen out and that his departure is on the cards, along with a crop of our best players, lured by clubs with bigger bank accounts.
Yes, the season was disappointing in many respects, but I hope Sousa stays where he is and the rumours turn out to be unfounded. He’s still a young and inexperienced manager, and he will have learned from the way things went this season. Yes, some of his decisions look questionable in hindsight, but give the guy a chance. We need stability at our club after last summer’s events and Sousa needs time to build on his achivements. Huw Jenkins and colleagues are running things the right way behind the scenes, even if fans get frustrated now and then at the lack of cash being splashed; we’re consistently punching above our weight, and we shouldn’t forget that.
I hate this time of year when nothing appears to be happening, rumors abound and fans vent their spleen as boredom takes hold. Roll on the tour of Holland when, post World Cup, the focus will return to the Swans and matters ON the pitch. Oh, and before that, the little matter of a friendly at Edgar Street, the ramshackle ground of Hereford United in my adopted home town. I hope more than a few of you turn up to remind yourselves of how things used to be, and how lucky we are now. All the best, have a great summer!