Monday 14 April ~
Both tenants of the Liberty Stadium were out of Swansea on Saturday afternoon. While the Ospreys rugby team beat Leicester to win the EDF Energy Cup at Twickenham, Swansea City were at Priestfield. There, with nearly 2,000 also watching a beamback in South Wales, they claimed promotion. A 2-1 win at Gillingham, with two goals in two minutes from Spanish striker Guillem Bauza, meant that they became the first team to go up from any division this season.
It's a far cry from February 1996 when Kevin Cullis, a PE teacher with no managerial experience and who was later convicted for fraud, was appointed by prospective new chairman Michael Thompson. He lasted only a week and Thompson's takeover was dramatically called off. After a few subsequent seasons in League Two, Swansea now have a new stadium and a young, popular Spanish manager, Roberto Martinez. In the immediate aftermath of promotion he claimed "If we'd played a basic game we'd be a mid-table League One side” and suggested that the secret of Swansea's success is “pretty football”, plus strength and determination. He enjoyed the manner of promotion – “the Swansea way, full of style”. Going up to the second tier for the first time in 24 years was greeted with jubilant celebration and Martinez is now targeting the Premier League, a trail Bristol City are currently blazing in this season's Championship.
Martinez was one of three Spanish players signed by Wigan in July 1995. In a solid career here he made 188 appearances for Wigan and 122 for Swansea, captained both Swansea and Chester City and was a popular figure with supporters. However, his father, Roberto Martinez Senior, has managed Spanish second division sides Lerida and Balaguer and so, according to Swansea's official website, Martinez Junior was born to be a manager from his “first breath of warm Spanish air”.
So these are good times for Swansea and Wales in general. The distraction of an FA Cup final on May 17 may well put paid to Cardiff's continuing play-off hopes, so there may well be a South Wales derby in next year's Championship, if not at a level higher in the years to come.