When Antonio chose me as his plus one for the trip to Wembley to watch the Swans play for the Capital One Cup against Bradford City my sheer joy quickly turned to anxiety when I realised this was no ordinary trip – not only were we to attend the match but we were also invited to join the club for pre and post match hospitality! How delightful but what would I wear?!
At the advice of family, friends and colleagues (because of course I had to tell everyone where we were going) I WAG’d it up for the great day and was not even late for the 7:00am arrival at The Liberty Stadium. Even at that early hour, the atmosphere was electric as hoards of fans made their way to the waiting buses. Having been alerted to the fact that we were to travel on the first bus to leave the stadium anxiety once again set in as no one was able to identify which bus that would be. We quickly met others in the same situation and soon had new BFFs in Steve and Debbie. Not before Antonio had insulted the right honourable Geraint Davies MP we were ushered onto the correct bus and our journey got underway (not like others whose bus failed to even leave the stadium!).
The atmosphere at The Liberty was nothing compared with the mood at the Leigh Delamare services. The whole rest stop was a sea of black and white with the sound of vuvuzelas echoing throughout. In fact every other vehicle along the M4 appeared to be a Jack Army tank with flags, scarves and streamers wildly fluttering as they made the pilgrimage to Wembley.
The journey slowed to an agonizing crawl as we neared the famous arch but we finally arrived at our destination – The Hilton London Wembley Hotel. During the drinks reception we lost sight of Steve and Debbie so when we were ushered into the dining hall we looked out for them so that we could join them for lunch. Finally spotting them at a corner table Antonio and I made our way and settled down – me secretly delighted that my preferred position in any restaurant – a corner seat where I can view the whole room – was available. Once settled, I looked up to meet the other couple at our table. My smile froze. Debbie, Steve, Antonio and I were sharing a table with none other than David Hasselhoff and Glynneath girlfriend Hayley Roberts. ‘Hi, I’m David’ says The Hoff, shaking hands with us all. I’m afraid I spluttered as the day took a decidedly surreal turn.
The meal, as delicious as it was with a Chicken Liver Parfait to start followed by a Fillet of Beef that could be cut with a butter knife and a Lemon Tart for dessert (almost as nice as The Dragon Brasserie!), was not my main focus as we chatted about swimming with sharks, touring Australia and brining down the Berlin Wall – as you do. To be fare, David admitted that he really couldn’t be credited with bringing the wall down singlehandedly as was reported at the time; he just happened to be there at the right time with the right song, the very apt Looking For Freedom. ‘In fact’ he said, ‘I was only over in Europe because Knight Rider had recently come to an end and a friend had told me that I had some fans in Austria!’ Indeed, I finished lunch with a better opinion of The Hoff than when I started, especially after he was gracious enough to pose for photos despite earlier in the conversation detailing how grueling this could be. My only regret was not following his advice on placing a bet (apparently his last remaining vice) on Swansea winning by a large margin. Hindsight is a wonderful thing…
By the time we made our way to the stadium I was a little overwhelmed but once again the atmosphere was thrilling. Mingling happily with the Claret and Amber of the Bradford fans we passed underneath Sir Bobby Moore’s statue and made our way to our seats, to the left of the half way line and just behind funny man Rob Brydon. We watched in awe as the gymnast hooked to the hot air football balloon took flight with the Cup and sniggered what a heist it would be if the groundsmen released her to make a spectacular escape with the silverware – the wine was clearly kicking in.
Nothing untoward happened however and the game was on. By now everyone knows how it panned out, with Swansea City outclassing their opponents both sides of the half time whistle. No one wished to see a red card and it was most unfortunate that Bradford goalie Duke merited one. For me, although Nathan Dyer won Man of the Match, if I could, I would have awarded this honour to the Bradford City fans – one and all. What a performance! From the very first whistle, and particularly in the last quarter of the game when their team was 4 or 5 nil and a man down, they were inspirational. The flags never stilled and nothing got a bigger cheer the whole of the afternoon than Bradford’s only shot at goal in the 85th minute. In the same way as the Swansea City team gave the Bradford City players a guard of honour after receiving their Runner Up medals, I salute the Bantam fans for their unwavering passion and resilience throughout the afternoon.
Completely exhausted from the day’s activities we returned to the hotel for some afternoon tea and celebration. Mixing with the players’ friends and families I quickly realized that my earlier angst about what to wear was completely unnecessary. Swansea City may well be a Premier League team; it may also be a League Cup Winner and is heading for the Europa League next season however, Swansea City is as down to earth as it ever was. We met a host of delightful people and even felt helpful as we (Ok, Antonio) chatted in Spanish with those not so comfortable with the English language.
Before we knew it, the evening had progressed into nighttime and it was time to leave London. The drama, however, was not over yet as we learnt that one of the bus drivers had been knocked down during the day and was now recovering in hospital! A quick reshuffle ensued and we were homeward bound by midnight and at the Liberty Stadium by 3:30am. This is where Antonio and I called it a night although I’m confident that some continued to party until dawn. I cannot relay how amazing the whole occasion had been and am more proud than ever before of being a Swansea Jack – till I die.