As the first weekend approached, BBC showed a documentary about Swansea City. I remember when they were called Swansea Town. I remember them reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup in 1964.
Their opponents were Preston North End, and both were secondnd division clubs. It was Preston who won through to represent their town and the second tier at Wembley.
As Swansea Town the club had many ups & downs, but as Swansea City the club and its supporters had experienced a rise to the top division, then dropped down to the bottom division, almost as quickly as it’s possible to do so, were a game away from entering the world of non-league football, then, remarkably, rose again, swiftly, to the top division.
In February this year, they won the Football League Cup, at Wembley, and qualified to play in Europe – something that hadn’t been experienced since the days when the Welsh Cup winners were allowed into the old European Cup-Winners’ Cup.
It’s a remarkable tale, hence the documentary. During this same week, Swansea City began their campaign in the modern-day Europa League, with a 4-0 home victory over Malmo, from Sweden – past beaten finalists in the European Cup.
Elsewhere, in European competition, the surprise winners from the previous round, Breidablik & Differdange, both lost 1-0 away; no away goals, so that doesn’t augur well for further progress.
The biggest surprise from these first legs was the one-nil win of Dila Gori, from Georgia, away to the more established name of Hajduk Split, from Croatia.
Gori is a town of around 50,000 inhabitants, west of the capital Tbilisi, and the birthplace of Josef Stalin. Dynamo Tbilisi themselves will have their work cut out to progress in the Champions’ League, as they lost 2-0 at home to European stalwarts (and former champions) Steaua of Bucharest.
In the same part of the world – regarded as Asia in some atlases – Qarabag beat the Swedes, Gefle, 1-0 at home. Qarabag, representing Azerbaijan, are actually from the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh.
This is an area that has caused much tension and loss of life even, as neighbouring Armenia and the Azeris lay claim to it. FIFA & UEFA still ensure that neither country is drawn to play the other in a qualifying group. Due to the dispute, the club has to play in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku; they use the Tofik Bahramov Stadium, surely one of the very few stadia in the world to be named after a match official.
Mr Bahramov was the linesman responsible for the decision to award Geoff Hurst his second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. It is an image that lives with me to this day. The nod of the linesman’s head, the firm point towards the centre-circle, as the German referee sought to establish clarity. In what language were they communicating?
Was it a case of “well I think he says it was a goal, shall we agree upon it, let’s both point and move that way”? I’ve never thought it was a goal, even though as a teenaged English boy at the time, I was willing it be one.
This season in the Premier League such disputes will be, we’re told, resolved instantly due to a technology that could only have been dreamed of back in 1966. Will it work? Wouldn’t the TV companies love it, if their video replays uncovered even a millimetre of inaccuracy?
To home matters then – tomorrow, Saturday 3rd August, sees the bulk of English & Welsh teams beginning their season. Courtesy of Sky TV Sheffield United have already gone to the top of the League One table, and condemned Notts County to the bottom, with a 2-1 victory at home.
Notts were down to 10 men after a quarter of an hour, thanks to a probably accidental high boot, and a referee unwilling to offer the benefit of the doubt, possibly due to the presence of his assessors in the stand. This is the modern-day landscape: assessors and statisticians sitting anonymously amongst us.
All week, managers, coaches and players will have been ‘dotting the i’s, and crossing the t’s’ upon all their plans. By Saturday, you know that some will feel like screwing them up and throwing them in the bin, or these days, deleting the Word document?
As a little taster for the next day, I used my subscription to the website ‘Player’ system to listen to a few interviews approaching the big day; my wife joined me as we selected the thoughts of various players, coaches, managers and officials from Crewe Alexandra & Portsmouth, our respective clubs.
The most interesting was with Micah Hall, a Portsmouth fan who was hugely influential in discrediting the previous Pompey regimes through a series of on-line in-depth analyses of their business records and their possible intentions.
Happily, with Portsmouth now ‘the biggest community-run club in English football’, Mr Hall has an official post with the new Portsmouth F.C.; his explanations of the behind-the-scenes machinations of those concerned with ground safety regulations, were clear and enlightening.
Over 18,000 spectators are expected at dear old Fratton Park for the opening fixture with Oxford United, in the fourth tier.
Other interviews were less illuminating, even a little tired and clichéd, despite various expressions of enthusiasm for the new season. I guess we’ve heard it all before, but it was a source of a little petty entertainment for us to count the number of “to be fairs” and “definitelys” within a couple of the player’s interviews; or was it ‘defntly’?
To be fair, we are definitely looking forward to the action. Rotherham at Gresty Road, whilst my wife follows the fortunes of Pompey on our little radio (we have no Blackberry or iPod yet), awaiting scoreflashes, courtesy of 5Live or, if she can abide the hyperbole and adverts, Talksport.
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