The League Cup Final, where Swansea beat Bradford 5-0, was more an event than a competitive match, lacking the adrenaline filled tension of closer games. The quality of the Swans football was superb, and familiar to anyone having the good fortune to watch them this season.
My day was exemplified by winning the sweep on the coach to pick the first goal scorer. However, I have one moment of regret. At around 55 minutes the Bradford fans started to stand and applaud in memory of the 56 people killed at the fire in their Valley Parade stadium in 1985.
I was just about to stand and join them in their applause when at the other end the Bradford goalkeeper brought down Jonathan de Guzman. The goalkeeper was sent off and a penalty was awarded to Swansea. Unsurprisingly, the applause from the Bradford fans faded, the commemoration was lost and the 56 dead did not receive their acknowledgement.
Up to the point that the penalty was dispatched, Swansea had scored four goals in about 59 minutes, at an accelerating rate, by playing irresistible, clinical football. In the next 30 minutes, now facing a side reduced to 10 men, Swansea did not score another goal. Sitting at the end that Swansea was attacking, I could not understand why they were not pressing forward.
Why was there so much passing around the midfield? Why were the wingers who had cut their way effortlessly through the Bradford defence in the first hour now not attacking in the same way? My mind was boggled when one corner was dispatched straight back towards the halfway line rather than into the box or passed short, and the BBC commentator in a highlights programme was equally surprised, saying ‘Now there’s a variation on a theme!’.
Tellingly, though, as soon as the 90 minutes were up, and the fourth official indicated three minutes of extra time, the pace was picked up. Britton surged forward, Michu had a shot well saved, Tiendelli hit both post and bar with one effort before Swansea scythed through the Bradford defence for the fifth goal.
Why the hell, I wondered, hadn’t they done that in the previous half an hour? The following day we found out when Michu was quoted as saying that out of respect for a Bradford team reduced to 10 men, the Swansea players had chosen to pass the ball around rather than look to score. Yet for a half an hour, despite complete domination, there was no hint of showboating and observers did not detect what was going on.
When the match ended the Swansea players immediately went to the Bradford players to shake their hands rather than celebrate with their own team mates as is more normal in professional football. Also, commentators noted the ‘guard of honour’ that Swansea players formed when Bradford players came back down the Wembley steps after collecting their medals. Neither practice would be considered out of place in rugby union, as some of its old values still remain. But such sporting conduct is not often spotted on a football field.
The Swansea manager Michael Laudrup has brought dignity and bearing to Swansea City Football Club. At Wembley his players showed that they too have class. Not just in their skills and technique, which they have in abundance, but in the way they approached the game after the Bradford keeper was sent off. In maintaining possession but avoiding humiliating their opponents, they brought a dignity to a game where it is not always evident, and displayed characteristics that would have sat comfortably with Swansea’s greatest player, that sportsman Ivor Allchurch.
While fans of the two clubs did not get the opportunity to commemorate the victims of the Bradford fire in the 56th minute, due to the untimely awarding of the penalty, the manner in which the Swans choose to play the game after the 56th minute and the way they saluted the Bradford players at game’s end was fitting. It showed the class of this team of 2013.