The last time Swansea were up, they should have won the League

Swans legend Alan Curtis tells Phil Cadden how his side missed a golden opportunity 30 years ago
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The Independent Football

Can Swansea City win the Premier League? "You're having a laugh" would be the most popular reply as Brendan Rodgers' promoted outfit are 9/4 red-hot favourites to finish bottom of the pile at their first attempt back in the big time.

But, against all the odds, that fanciful pipe-dream almost came true for the Welsh club on their last journey into the First Division in 1981. On the back of a rapid rise which saw Swansea swap the fourth tier of English football for a rightful place alongside the elite clubs in the game within six seasons, John Toshack's wonders approached the final straight with their noses out in front.

They eventually ended up in sixth place, and while that achievement alone was undeniably remarkable, there has been an uneasy feeling ever since among Toshack's players that they should have, in fact, done so much better. And on the eve of their return to the top flight after a 28-year wait with the trip into the unknown at Manchester City tonight, club legend and now first-team coach, Alan Curtis, admits that the failure to claim the title has been one of his biggest regrets.

Curtis said: "We had a fantastic season and I remember we beat a lot of the top teams at home. We beat Liverpool, the league champions, we beat Aston Villa, the European champions, we beat Ipswich, the Uefa Cup holders, Spurs, the FA Cup holders, we did the double over Arsenal and we beat Manchester United as well.

"It was incredible and almost like fantasy football. We were always in the top six, but we were also heavily involved in the Welsh Cup which had its importance in those days, so for the last couple of league games we rested some key players.

"The reality is we should have finished in the top two or three. But, in fact, with 10 games to go, we were top of the table and, in many ways, I have always looked back and thought it was the one chance and a golden opportunity for the club to have won the league.

"I remember not long after I joined Southampton a few years later, I was speaking to Ipswich's Mick Mills. He said they felt in their dressing room that we had enough to go and pinch the league that year because of the way we played the game. Liverpool came back strongly and eventually won it.

"It might have been a dream but there was definitely an opportunity for us to win the league. It's probably the closest we will ever get."

The foundations of the heroic campaign were laid down as early as the opening day of the season. Leeds United were swept aside at the Vetch Field in spectacular fashion as debutant Bob Latchford scored a hat-trick to accompany strikes from Jeremy Charles and Curtis himself as Swansea showcased their talents from the very start.

But, nearly three decades on – Swansea were relegated from the First Division the following season in 1983 – Curtis believes Rodgers' current crop, who beat Reading 4-2 in the play-off final at Wembley last May to seal their spot in the most lucrative league in the world, can handle life in the upper echelons of the game and emulate the legends of yesteryear by creating their very own slice of history.

"The build-up to the Leeds game was very similar to this season," added Curtis, who will be alongside Swansea City manager Rodgers in the dug-out at the Etihad Stadium.

"There was huge excitement among the city, the fans, the staff and the players. For the club to play in the First Division for the first time was special, but for me it was an extra special day because it was against one of my former clubs.

"Everyone knows the result and I scored. It's probably the one goal in my career which everybody seems to remember and if the gates at the Vetch had been opened, I would have been down the Mumbles Road and never have been seen again!

"They were wonderful memories, and even though it is 30 years ago, it only seems like yesterday. But that result gave us the momentum for the rest of the season and I hope the lads can do the same and show what a good footballing team we are.

"We have a huge start against Manchester City, but maybe it's a good time to play them. The City players won't know anything about us and will see us as just a small place in Wales. But we'll know everything about them.

"The club almost went out of the league eight years ago and, back then, playing in the Premier League was a fantasy and a million miles away.

"It has taken us a long time to get back to the top, but sometimes you have to drop to the bottom before you can rise again. I feel very privileged and honoured to still be involved with the club and, when we walk out in Manchester, I'll have the same emotions as the day of the play-off final – a huge amount of pride.

"But now we're here, and because of where we've came from, it's doubly important we stay there."

Where are they now? The high-flying Swans of '81

How Swansea lined up against Leeds United on 29 August 1981:

1. Dai Davies

The Wales goalkeeper works as a commentator. He also owns and runs a natural healing centre in Llangollen.

2. Neil Robinson

The Liverpool-born full-back left Swansea and returned home. After retiring, he ran a fitness centre.

3. Dzemal Hadziabdic

The Yugoslav international became a coach in his homeland, but his career was interrupted by the civil war. He retains a home in Swansea.

4. Ante Rajkovic

The bruising sweeper returned to Sarajevo 17 years ago and became a manager in the lower leagues.

5. Colin Irwin

Swansea's captain in 1981 is now a distribution manager for a wine and spirits wholesaler in Perth, Western Australia.

6. John Mahoney

The cousin of manager John Toshack had a spell working in the club's commercial department before becoming a manager at various Welsh clubs.

7. Alan Curtis

Curtis remains at the club as a first-team/reserve team coach under Brendan Rodgers.

8. Robbie James

He became player-manager of Llanelli but the Wales midfielder collapsed and died of a heart attack, aged 40, during a match against Porthcawl in 1998.

9. Leighton James

He was dumped by BBC Wales after the Swansea City fan revealed in a newspaper column that he wanted Cardiff City to lose to Barnsley in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final. Now a pundit on Real Radio.

10. Jeremy Charles

Coached at Oxford United before becoming a football development officer at Swansea and Southampton. He now coaches at schools in Oxford.

11. Bob Latchford

The ex-England international is happily residing in Germany.