The first time I witnessed Darren Pratley in action was for Brentford against the Swans in the 2005/06 League One Semi-Final Play-Offs both at the Liberty and Griffin Park, where he immediately impressed me with his tenacity and energetic work rate in midfield.
Little did I think at the time that come June that same year the then Swans manager Kenny Jackett would sign the Fulham player (whom had been on loan to Brentford) for £100,000.
Pratley subsequently made his debut league appearance for the Swans in the 2 nil opening day defeat against Cheltenham Town at the start of the 2006/2007 season.
The first of Pratley’s 31 goals for the Swans came in the 3-2 defeat at home to Wycombe in the Carling Cup 1st Round in August 2006 but he would go on to score many more important goals during his 5 years and two promotions at the club.
Pratley not only scored the opening goal in the 2 all draw against our arch rivals Cardiff City in November 2008 (the 1st league derby for 9 years) but who could possibly forget the infamous swim away celebration that accompanied it!
His brace against the same opposition a year later led to similar wild celebrations, especially as his 2nd goal was the winner in an enthralling 3-2 win for the Jacks.
There is little doubt however that THE goal most Swans fans will remember Pratley scoring is THAT goal against Nottingham Forest in the 2nd leg of the Championship Play Off Semi-Final at the Liberty.
It will always be the goal which sealed the Swans passage to Wembley and ended a nerve wracking evening which saw Forest pull a goal back in the last 10 minutes and hit the woodwork 3 times!
Despite helping the Swans secure promotion to the Premier League via the Play-Offs, Pratley confirmed that he would be leaving the club having rejected a new contract. He then joined fellow Premier League side Bolton Wanderers in June 2011, leaving many Swans fans feeling aggrieved that his contract rejection was purely based on money.
Having been rather subdued and then substituted in his initial return to the Liberty following his Bolton move, in a game the Swans won 3-1, there was a sense of inevitablity about Pratley scoring against his former club when the FA Cup 3rd Round Draw pitted them against each other in January 2012.
Pratley duly obliged, helping his side to a 2-1 victory against a much changed Swans team at the Reebok. He did however make a point of “apologising” to the Swans fans behind the goal when he scored by raising his hand in the form of a “sorry” gesture.
After the game he said:
I was there for five years and had a good time here and I just wished the club well because I’ve got nothing against the club. I love the club and that’s why I just sort of apologised, I knew I would never celebrate against Swansea if I scored. I was getting stick and some people were saying I only left for the money but I was never going to celebrate. I’ve got a lot of love for the club and I enjoyed living there.
Whilst not all Jacks appreciated Pratley or his style of play, I personally always felt that he got a raw deal and was a much better player than many gave him credit for. He was also a very important cog in the midfield setup employed by Roberto Martinez.
On a lighter note, it is rumoured that during his 5 years at the Swans, Pratley was nicknamed “Peperami Man” by his team-mates, due to his resemblance to the TV advertising character with the same name!
At the time of writing Pratley is not playing for Bolton due to a torn hamstring which he sustained against Wolves back in February this year.