“That was the best trip I’ve ever been on” – the words that I cannot help throwing around in my head every time I think back to a magical night in Spain that is now incredibly seven years ago today but will live with me for ever – the night Swansea City really returned to the European stage.
I know for many clubs the Europa League feels like an inconvenience in the early stages but for me it was a competition that I never really believed we could be part of and was definitely part of the camp that said our days of European football were well behind us the moment we were no longer competing in the Welsh cup.
But promotion in 2011, the arrival of Michael Laudrup in 2012 and a League Cup win in 2013 changed all of that and it was the Europa League that we started in on 1st August by destroying Malmo at the Liberty to do the hard work before handing out similar treatment to Ploiesti (5-1) and all but secure our place in the group stages.
I distinctly remember the group stages being drawn, Valencia were first out of the hat for the Swans and the plans were underway to get to Spain. It wasn’t a traditional way but it was Luton to Madrid with a car to get to Valencia – out the day before the game and back home the day after. There was simply no way this was being missed.
If you were there you just know how magical this trip was. From the time of arrival, Valencia had turned into a warm version of Swansea. Jacks were gathering everywhere in the square and each and every one of us knows that the beer tastes better in the sun, it tastes better when its a football tour. This was a good night. No it was an excellent night, we drank and laughed and shared football memories but it really was the warm up to the main event the following day.
As you would expect the following day started early. There was more beer – I think there may have been food – but there was more beer. I saw people I hadn’t seen for so long and time passed in a square and a town full of Jacks. This was a good trip without the football, the football though was to make it a perfect trip.
As we made our way towards the Mestalla, spirits were good. There was not a hint of trouble and that was exactly how it should be. This was Swansea fans on tour and enjoying making memories amongst some of Europe’s elite clubs.
My vertigo problems were tested to the limits in the early stages inside the ground – the steepness of the Mestalla should not be underestimated but by the time Wilfried Bony opened the scoring it had long since been forgotten and the Swans were winning. Michu doubled the lead, De Guzman added a third and at that point I genuinely think I had reached my football high. Over many years the Swans have given me highs – two promotions to the top flight, a magical night at the Liberty (Pratley from the halfway line) are just some of them but this was a new level of elation and disbelief. Swansea. In Europe. In Spain. In Valencia. 3-0 up. Surely this was a dream?
I remember the Valencia fans protest at half time and seeing a completely empty section of their stadium before they came back in but by that time the game was over and the Swans were really arriving on the European stage properly. We were kept in after the game – that must have been 30 minutes or so – but nobody cared “Swansea’s a sh*thole we want to stay here” was just one of the songs that showed the good hearted nature of the evening.
I have lost count of the number of grounds I have seen the Swans at but it is well into the 70s if not the 80s but that night at the Mestalla will stand out as one of the best ones ever. In a period that lasted not much more than twelve months the Swans won away from home at Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd and Valencia. That was a magical time to be a Swans fan but this was the trip to top all others.
Trips to St Gallen and Napoli were to follow on that campaign for me and whilst they have memories that I will treasure it is the night in Valencia that I will never ever forget. This simply was “The best trip I’ve ever been on”
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