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It meant everything to us - O'Leary

PUBLISHED

07:00 30th April 2013

. . . Kristian reflects on Swans' last-gasp survival success in 2003


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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For anyone wondering just what victory over Hull City meant to the people and city of Swansea, they needed to look no further than Kristian O’Leary.
Having grown up as a Swans fan watching the likes of Roger Freestone, Keith Walker, Colin West and Colin Pascoe grace the Vetch Field turf, the Port Talbot product had his own role to play in keeping his club in the Football League.
Just over 12 months before this epic result, O’Leary was one of many players to be told on Christmas Eve that he wouldn’t get paid as the dark cloud of Tony Petty’s ownership threatened the existence of Swansea City.
Now the club was close to paying the ultimate price - dropping into the non-league ranks.
But rather than doom and gloom, it proved to be the start of a fairytale story of a club rising from the bottom to the top of English football.
Here, Kristian gives his views on what that day felt like as both a Swansea City player and lifelong supporter...

"I was 25 at the time and living where I am now in Port Talbot. I already knew what this club meant to the people, the fans, the city, but Alan Curtis gave a speech was so important.
"I’m not just talking about the loan players at the time because, to be fair, they gave absolutely everything to this club while they were here. Tatey and Brits were among those, so you can understand the commitment we had. But I think everyone needed to hear, feel and understand every word that Curt spoke that day.
"It didn’t just get the blood flowing, it just hit home how important the following games and results were for him, the club and city of Swansea. We couldn’t let anyone down.
"The Rochdale game was massive, and although people talk about the Hull game as the most important, well, I always think if we didn’t come out on top against Rochdale then we were doomed.
"I can remember the final whistle going and thinking what a massive win that was – Paul Connor actually missed a really good chance to make it 2-2, but we did enough to hold on 2-1.
"But as we got to the changing room we heard everyone around us had won too. I couldn’t believe it – I thought if we’d won then that would play a massive part in moving us closer to safety that day.
"It was so downbeat in the changing room. I don’t think I’ve been part of a changing room so disappointed after a victory.
"The week of the Hull game was so intense. The coaches do their best to keep you focused, but the focus on the game from outside of the club was incredible.
"We were only getting a few thousand people at games back then, but everyone seemed to be talking about it and coming up to us in the street and pleading for us to win.
"On the Friday night I had gone over a friend’s house to take my mind off things, but it was impossible.
"All we talked about was the game and how important the result was.
"But I woke up on matchday knowing what we had to do and I felt slightly relaxed. That was probably because our destiny was in our hands.
"We were ready for that game and so too were the supporters – we just felt it in the atmosphere.
"Obviously we made a great start when Brits was taken down for a penalty. Thommo showed strong character to step up and slot that away.
"Then we find ourselves 2-1 down and I felt so much for Lee Jenkins and Michael Howard because it was their rare mistakes that saw us go behind. They had been among our most consistent players that season, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
"But even at that point I didn’t feel as if the world was caving in. We had the whole Vetch behind us, and we knew we had players who could get us back into the game.
"The second penalty before half-time was so crucial. Was it a penalty? Well, maybe we had a little bit of luck, but we weren’t complaining.
"Again, Thommo couldn’t have been any cooler with the penalty. It takes a lot of nerves to take a penalty, let alone a second penalty, but it didn’t faze him. He was determined to do everything he could to keep his hometown club up.
"There was no massive half-time talk – there wasn’t any need for it. We all knew what was needed.
"I remember the Vetch erupting when Lenny put us ahead after the break.
"The noise was incredible and I must say the fans really gave us the edge that day – their support was unbelievable and played a big assist in all the goals. It was as if every single person in the Vetch that day was heading and kicking every ball.
"Then Thommo makes it 4-2 with a cheeky chip to seal his hat-trick. You couldn’t have written a better script.
"But the strange thing was, with 15 minutes to go or whatever it was, I was more nervous then than I was at any point. What if we conceded again?
"But we had done enough and the scenes afterwards will live with us forever.
"I was out of contract and had no idea what would happen to me after that, but the most important thing was ensuring the club stayed in the Football League.
"Just over a year before we had gone through the Tony Petty farce, and that was still fresh in the minds of a lot of players.
"We had been scarred by that. Being told on Christmas Eve that you are not going to be paid is a horrible feeling, but I suppose it toughened me up a little bit.
"The club was close to financial ruin off the pitch and football ruin on it within a short period of time.
"But we came through and we’ve been getting stronger with each season since then.
"But it can’t be forgotten what was achieved by everyone ten years ago. I’m not just talking about the players, I’m talking about the coaches, the staff, the supporters, the city. Everyone played their part.
"It’s scary to think what might have been. Only now do I really appreciate how close we were to slipping into the abyss.
"I have no idea what I would have done, but we would have been looking for jobs on top of playing in the Conference.
"And what about the club? You only have to look at a club like Stockport, who have now dropped down to a league below the Conference. We could have done down that path too.
"But I’m so glad I could play a part in keeping the club up.
"I’ve been a Swans fan since a young boy, and I loved watching the likes of Roger Freestone, Keith Walker, Colin West and Colin Pascoe play.
"It’s great seeing the club where it is now. It’s come a long, long way since that game against Hull.
"Hopefully we will never even come close to experiencing something like that again.
"

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