An unlikely Swansea City title challenge during the 1981/82 season was chock full of Vetch Field Memories and this magnificent win over one of title rivals was perhaps the most momentous memory of them all. A classic Liverpool side contained the illustrious figures of Rush, Souness and Dalglish…and yet the Swans put them to the sword in a fixture crucial to both sides’ title hopes…
After a couple of defeats over Christmas the Swansea City title challenge was put firmly back on track with big wins over Manchester United and Notts County, plus a precious point in a poor performance away to Middlesbrough.
Next up at the Vetch were title favourites Liverpool and John Toshack was enduring some cursed luck as he prepared to receive his old club.
For a start, Tosh was unhappy with his side’s performance in that game against Middlesbrough, despite the draw.
“I wouldn’t have paid to see that game,” barked the manager after the match before softening his stance a little by adding: “If we continue picking up points playing as badly as that, then perhaps we might go places when we start playing well.”
Bruised at Boro
To add to his frustrations, Tosh had to watch as Ante Rajkovic limped out of the action at Ayresome Park. The imposing and influential defender sustained an ankle injury in what was a bruising game for the Swans. Both Neil Robinson and skipper Colin Irwin needed cuts stitched and Jeremy Charles suffered a knock on the shin after replacing Rajkovic in defence.
After intensive treatment though all of the walking wounded were able to take their place in the starting line-up with the exception of Robinson. That meant disappointment for young Dudley lewis who was on stand-by should Rajkovic fail to make it.
As for the opposition, Bob Paisley was able to field a side simply oozing with quality. The likes of Dalglish, Rush and Souness had handed out a football lesson at the Vetch a few weeks earlier, dishing out a four goal FA Cup win to avenge the 2-2 draw the Swans had secured at Anfield earlier in the season.
All in all this was one eagerly awaited confrontation and that was reflected in the size of the crowd – 23,000 packing into the tight confines of the Vetch hoping to catch a classic. And they were not to be disappointed!
Davies in Early Action
Liverpool had the better of a cagey first half and almost took an eighth minute lead through Alan Kennedy but Dai Davies in the Swans goal thwarted the full back before he could make the most of Dalglish’s defence splitting pass.
Davies was again called into action in the 35th minute. The Swans keeper superbly blocked a firm effort from Rush after the Welsh international striker took a pass from Ronnie Whelan and made enough space for himself to get off a shot.
The Scousers didn’t have it all their own way though, the Swans often exploiting the space behind a square defence with some success – particularly Curtis on the right – but too often Grobelaar was left untroubled in the Liverpool goal as the home side’s moves suffered from a poor final pass.
The pattern remained the same after the interval with Liverpool looking the more dangerous and the Swans not quite putting together the perfect move.
Ten minutes in though the home side had a massive let off as Chris Marustik knocked Lee’s effort off the line, blocked a follow up effort and then saw the ball ricochet off Colin Irwin and onto the bar!
It was proving to be an absorbing encounter, full of flowing football and all it needed was one stroke of genius or a critical mistake to open the scoring. It proved to be the former and it was the home side that provided it.
Leighton’s Late Birthday Brilliance
With quarter of an hour left on the clock Leighton James punished Alan Hansen for impeding Curtis. James, whom the day before had celebrated his 29th birthday, lined up the free kick 30 yards out and proceeded to arrow it past Grobelaar before the erratic keeper realised what was happening.
Liverpool were stunned but did everything they could to hit back, putting the home side under the severest pressure before the swiftest of counter attacks settled the contest in the Swans’ favour with a minute left on the clock.
Curtis Cuts ’em Apart
Jeremy Charles brought the ball clear and allowed Alan Curtis to take over midway inside the opposition half.
The mercurial striker jinked past four would be tacklers and rifled the ball past Grobelaar to score his team’s second and his own 100th goal for the club in 323 first team appearances.
The final whistle blew with the enormous Vetch crowd still enthusiastically celebrating another Curtis cracker.
The Swans had done it; they’d beaten the side many considered the best in Europe and they’d done it with two goals right out of the top drawer.
Alas, as history shows, the Swans won the battle but Liverpool went on to win the First Division war, the Reds crowned champions as the Swans finally finished a massively creditable sixth.
Still, winning the battle on the day still provided a Vetch Field Memory to savour forever more.