Swansea City fans’ decades-old resentment and why they’ll never forgive Mike Dean – Guto Llewelyn
Football is a game of high emotions and there are games that stay with you forever.
Whether it was that day in Preston when Swansea City sealed their first promotion to the top flight in 1981, winning the 2011 Championship play-offs at Wembley or that glorious night at the Mestalla in 2013, a fleeting memory of these events triggers a sudden explosion . of happiness for any fan who was lucky enough to be there.
It’s one of the great things about being a football fan, the fact that we can look back on those good days and the emotions come back. But there is a flip side to this.
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For every promotion or cup upset to celebrate, there’s also an outcome to regret – those terrible days when hopes are dashed and dreams shattered by a single crushing defeat. This week marked the 25th anniversary of such a game.
A quarter of a century ago this week, thousands of fans rode the M4 to see Swansea play at Wembley for only the second time in the club’s history. Confidence was high after a semi-final win over Chester and there was genuine optimism that Swansea could beat Northampton and earn promotion to the third tier.
It was a nervous game and with the final whistle looming, it looked destined to continue in extra time. There was only one last hurdle left to clear, a Northampton free-kick within shooting range.
Three minutes into added time, John Frain got up and kicked the ball into the Swansea wall, seemingly ensuring the game went into extra time. But there was one final twist. The referee ordered a replay and with virtually the last kick of the game, Frain guided the ball over the wall, past Roger Freestone and into the net.
I’m lucky that I never had to endure the trauma of this afternoon. It would take me another two years to watch my first Swansea game, but everyone I know who went to Wembley that day will react exactly the same way every time John Frain’s name is mentioned.
The faces contort as if they had just bitten into a particularly juicy lemon. They close their eyes and shake their heads reliving the grief.
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Never mind that Swansea have enjoyed four promotions since that fateful day, culminating in a seven-year stint in the Premier League and a season of European football, while Northampton have just gone scoreless back and forth between League Two and League One for 25 years, like a water bottle lost on the floor of the car.
Nothing erases memories, nothing soothes bitterness, and nothing heals sorrow. Football fans are very bad at letting go. We cling to the resentment of days like this, which means that even a game played before Google was invented can still leave fans bubbling after all these years.
When Northampton Town were miraculously promoted to promotion by Bristol Rovers on the final day of the League Two season a few weeks ago, there was widespread schadenfreude among Swansea fans on social media. There was even more joy in Northampton’s misery when the Cobblers were knocked out of the play-offs by Mansfield a few weeks later, all because of Frain’s last-minute free kick.
It’s crazy how games played decades ago can still send shivers down our spines, but that’s part and parcel of being a football fan. There will always be those heartbreaking memories of the big games that leave deep scars.
I try to avoid thinking about the 2006 League One play-off final against Barnsley. With the Swans in top form and the final just down the road in Cardiff, it felt like the whole event was staged for a day of celebration.
But after failing to find a winner in regulation time, the game went into extra time where Swansea missed more chances, setting the stage for penalties. I still shiver when I think of Adebayo Akinfenwa’s kick flying into the Z row.
A few years later, the Swans looked like promotion certainties, with a healthy lead at the top of Ligue 1, which should have freed up Roberto Martinez’s side to have a good run in the cup. After a moody draw with non-League bullies Havant and Waterlooville, the Swans were drawn to Anfield in the fourth round. All they had to do was beat the ridiculously named hack dealers in the replay, and they’d have a dream draw against Liverpool.
But against all odds, the high-flying Swans lost 4-2 and it was their lowly opponents who won the big day at Anfield.
Since then I have had the pleasure of watching my team win several games against the European giants, including a league victory at Anfield in 2017, but I still wish Martinez’s special team in 2007-08 had the chance to play against Liverpool this season and the regret of missing that day still haunts me.
I remain absurdly bitter towards Havant and Waterlooville to this day. Another match that will be remembered is the last South Wales Derby at Ninian Park.
In the dying minutes, Joe Allen scored to make it 2-1 against Swans, triggering utter chaos in the crowded away game. A young product scoring his very first goal for the club to win the final derby against your biggest rivals? It couldn’t be more perfect.
Unfortunately, a certain Mike Dean, never one to shy away from the spotlight, decided the game needed one last moment of drama. He handed Cardiff a controversial last-minute penalty that saved a point for the Bluebirds and popped the Jack Army ball in spectacular fashion.
Few Swansea City supporters lined up to wish Dean a happy retirement after he hung up his whistle last week. To this day he remains persona non grata in West Wales.
The most recent example I can think of where a Swansea defeat still seems too brutal to bury the hatchet was the 2019 FA Cup quarter-final against Premier League champions Manchester City.
Swansea had not reached an FA Cup semi-final for over half a century and no one gave Graham Potter’s side much hope against arguably the best team in the world at that time .
To everyone’s astonishment, Swansea took a 2-0 half-time lead thanks to a Matt Grimes penalty and a curler from Bersant Celina which has to be among the greatest team goals in the club’s history. Man City were the last major team remaining in the competition, so a victory would not only have secured a trip to Wembley, it would have given Swansea a realistic hope of reaching the final or even winning the oldest cup competition in the world. world.
Alas, that was not to be the case. City made it 2-1 before wrongly receiving a controversial penalty to make it 2-2. Officials then failed to notice Sergio Aguero was offside as he brought home the winner to seal an incredibly painful Cup exit for Swansea.
The fact that Swansea were denied arguably their biggest cup upset and a potential place in the history books, simply because their game was one of only two quarter-finals without VAR that year, has left a sore spot that still remains clever to this day.
Other fans may have their own games they just can’t live without, but these are the main ones I care about.
“Forgive and forget” isn’t really a thing in football. Fans are a touchy, overly emotional bunch and when we’re heartbroken, we struggle to really move on.
That’s why grown men will always be unhappy with goals scored decades ago, hold fierce grudges against clubs they don’t even face anymore and, above all, never, ever forgive Mike Dean.