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Brits remembers 'The Great Escape'

PUBLISHED

07:05 29th April 2013

. . . as Swans approach ten-year anniversary of THAT win over Hull


May 3, 2003. A date etched into the memories of the Jack Army and engrained in the history books of Swansea City.

It was the day the Swans avoided relegation from the Football League thanks to a final-day 4-2 win over Hull City at a packed Vetch Field.

A hat-trick from local lad James Thomas and one from Lenny Johnrose was enough to beat the dreaded drop as Exeter were relegated despite winning their last three games.

Each day this week we will be bringing you an interview from a wide range of people involved in that day, from the players and management to supporters singing their hearts out on the North Bank.

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At just 20 years of age, Leon Britton was about to immortalise himself in Swansea City’s history.

A wet-behind-the-ears Londoner who found himself at the centre of the club’s most important fixture, the little midfielder made a big impact in steering the Swans to Football League safety.

On loan from Premier League side West Ham, Britton was given his first taste of senior football by the Swans.

From the bright lights of London and the glamour of being at a top-flight club, Britton had found himself in South West Wales at a club in serious danger of falling into football’s abyss.

At the time, it was expected to be his last game as a Swan, with his loan due to expire shortly after.

Instead, it proved the beginning of a beautiful relationship between club and player.

It was also the beginning of the club’s remarkable journey to the Promised Land.

Here, Leon shares his memories of that day……


“I’ve played a lot of games since that day, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

“The build-up to the game was so intense in the local press. Everywhere you went fans were saying ‘please can you win’. It just hammered home exactly what it meant to people and the area.

“I was living down the marina by the Marriott at the time.

“We used to walk to the game with our washbags and boots. I used to be stopped by the fans all the time on my way to the stadium.

“They always used to tell me they had put a bet on me to score first, so I probably wasted quite a fair few quid over the years for some people.

“But it was impossible to switch off during that week. It was on the news, everyone was talking about it and I think there was a danger that you could be mentally tired before a ball was kicked.

“But it was treated like a normal game by the management.

“I remember the day of the game clearly. It was pouring down and there was a lot more people in the ground than usual during the warm-up.

“Curt got us in the huddle before the warm-up and drilled home how much this club means to everyone. It was very motivational, especially as he is a club legend.

“The delay at Exeter could have affected us, but it didn’t.

“We ran out that day knowing the build-up was over and this was the start of the 90 minutes that would decide Swansea City’s future.”

 

THE GAME

“We started off well. I did a step-over and I was taken down for a penalty, and Thommo stuck it away.

“Then, all of a sudden, within a five-minute spell we were 2-1 down. The atmosphere went so quiet.

“It was horrible because their goals came via mistakes from Michael Howards and Lee Jenkins. I felt so badly for those lads, and we really wanted to get the result for them.

“Thinking back on that, trailing 2-1 in a game of that importance, it still sends shivers down my spine.

“But we got a goal before half-time. I don’t know if it was a penalty, but we didn’t care if it was really handball or not. Thommo was cool as can be, once again.

“They were pressure penalties, but he had that calmness in situations like that. I’m glad he was the penalty taker – I can’t imagine the pressure he was under.

“Getting in at half-time was massive for us. We knew we had 45 minutes to get ahead, because if we did that then the fans would carry us through.

“Then Thommo chips the keeper and it’s 4-2 and game over. You couldn’t write a better story with the local lad coming back to his club to save the day with a hat-trick.

“After the final whistle went the crowd went crazy.

“The celebrations will never be forgotten.”

 

HIS FUTURE

“I had to treat it as my last game for the Swans. I didn’t know what West Ham wanted to do regarding my future.

“I knew Brian Flynn wanted to bring me back on a permanent deal, but there was nothing in place.

“We had a few lads on loan at the time, like Tatey was here from Manchester United and Marc Richards arrived from Blackburn.

“In the time that we were at the club we very attached to the Swans. We were all battling together – the players, the staff, the fans, the city. We were all determined to keep the club up.

“People could have looked at me and thought relegation wouldn’t have mattered as much to me than the people of Swansea because I was going back to a Premier League club after that, but that certainly wasn’t the case.

“Loan or not, this was my club. That's how strongly I felt.

“Pretty soon after that game Brian Flynn told me he wanted to bring me here. I told him I didn’t want to go back to play Reserve football at West Ham and that I would sign for Swansea if I was allowed to leave.

“I only wanted to go to Swansea – I wasn’t interested in anywhere else. I didn’t even think of talking to anyone else.

“I told my agent to speak to Brian Flynn, get it sorted and that’s what happened.

“The rest, as they say, is history.”

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