Swansea City and the Forest gypsy curse
An abbreviated version of this article was first published in "Forest Review" on Sunday, 29th November, 2020 versus Swansea City
Swansea have been regular play-off rivals of ours, initially in League One, and then in more recent years in the Championship.
The Swans are probably still as baffled as us as to how they managed to sneak in to last season’s play offs at our expense only a few months ago.
Ten seasons ago, we went head-to-head in an exciting and controversial Play-Off two-legged semi-final which was yet another of chapter in our hard luck story this century.
In the regular season, we’d won comfortably at the City Ground, 3-1, in September 2010 but by the return fixture in March 2011, we were in the midst of an extremely poor run.
We rallied a little in the second half that afternoon but the 3-2 defeat was part of winless streak of nine matches and we needed a late surge to hold onto sixth place (remember my point about the ebb and flow of the Championship in the last column …)
In contrast, Swansea had finished third with their patient passing game under Brendan Rodgers, so we were everybody’s second favourites in the play-offs.
As Nathan Tyson later confessed: “We didn't want to play them because they were a far better team at the time.”
And, indeed, over the 180 minutes of the semi-final, Swansea were indisputably the more assured side (“tactically brilliant” according to Rodgers) but there were numerous moments that could so easily have led us to a Wembley final against Reading and not the Swans.
Indeed, after only 52 seconds of the first leg at the City Ground, Neil Taylor was dismissed for a studs-up lunge halfway-up Lewis McGugan.
Referee Mike Dean enjoyed the early attention and theatrically show his red card.
However, Swansea remained disciplined - and a distinct threat on the break - as we failed to benefit from the extra man for the reminder of what became a goalless stalemate.
More pertinent than the sending off was a penalty appeal for handball by Alan Tate from Chris Cohen’s second half shot, just as we were finally generating some pressure.
In 2011 it was a borderline call but fast forward ten years and it would inevitably be given.
Even without the comfort of a goal advantage, we started the brighter at the Liberty Stadium and David McGoldrick missed two excellent chances, the first of which hit the bar after a lightning break by Nathan Tyson.
Imagine, the penalty at the City Ground plus McGoldrick – now of the Premier League - takes just one of those chances?
Back in the real world, Swansea took control of the tie with two well-taken goals of their own before half-time by Leon Britton and, inevitably, our old nemesis, Steven Dobbie.
Dobbie had scored the pivotal second equaliser for Blackpool in the play-off second leg twelve months previously, after which two further goals quickly followed to knock us out.
He’s still playing now but, thankfully, off our radar at Queen of the South.
Let’s hope the Anglo-Scottish Cup isn’t resurrected anytime soon.
At 2-0 down, and the footballing gods seemingly against us again, we still summoned the spirit to rally in the second half.
First, Marcus Tudgay blazed over the bar, unmarked near the penalty spot.
Then, McGugan smashed a thunderous free kick against the bar, with our future keeper, Dorus De Vries, well beaten. In fact, the ball hit the bar so delightfully flush that it rebounded outside the penalty box before finally relocating terra firma.
Earnshaw was surprisingly named on the substitute’s bench by Billy Davies and, only a couple of minutes after his arrival, he illustrated what a clever forward he was with a first time strike to get us back in reach.
However, the four minutes of injury time neatly encapsulated our fortune in that era.
First, Earnshaw in a similar inside right position to where he’d scored ten minutes or so earlier, hit a shot across the face of goal from right to left.
Me and my mates were sat near the front, exactly in line to where he hit the shot and therefore watched the ball travel, seemingly in slow motion, past De Vries and across the face of the goal.
It was eerily reminiscent of another match we’d been to – the decisive World Cup qualifier between Italy and England in Rome in 1997.
Deep into injury time with England holding onto to a goalless draw that would mean qualification for France 98, Italy’s Christian Vieri headed across the face of goal.
On that occasion, we were at the opposite end and watched as the ball agonisingly travelled back, right to left, past David Seaman, and across the breadth of the netting – and taking an eternity to do so.
We were expecting the net to bulge at any moment for Italy’s equaliser that would dramatically force England into a play-off.
Instead, the ball landed just wide, the away end breathed out in unison, and England had qualified for the World Cup (and, as a consequence, we were kept in the ground until 2am for our own safety).
Back in South Wales in 2011, Earnshaw - an adopted son of Swansea’s fiercest rivals just 40 miles down the M4 - watched transfixed with us all present as the ball moved smoothly towards the far corner of De Vries’s net.
Just like 1997 in Rome, we waited for the net bulge.
Just like 1997 in Rome, it didn’t.
The woodwork was hit for the third time on the evening and the ball fell to safety rather than Kris Boyd, waiting to tap home from the six yard box.
But that wasn’t all. In the next attack Earnshaw had a far post volley that struck the outstretched hand of Ashley Williams.
Our second penalty appeal of the tie.
Again, in this day, penalty.
In that day, corner.
And, from that subsequent corner, the final cruel twist of fate.
With Lee Camp in the box (in fact, he’d nearly connected with a header seconds before), the cross was scrambled clear to the edge of the box.
It fell invitingly to the talented McGugan, positioned deliberately to find such loose balls and get another shot away at goal.
With so many bodies in the box, who knows, maybe even a deflection would finally break our run of bad luck?
But, instead, he falls over and Darren Pratley picks up the loose ball.
The same Darren Pratley that we had so publicly (and rather embarrassingly) courted at the very start of that very season.
He moved to the halfway line - with Brendan Moloney in violent pursuit and Camp having conceded any attempt to get back to his goal - before, quite brilliantly, lofting the ball into the empty net.
3-1. Season over.
Our little group couldn’t face the inevitable post-match invasion of thousands of elated Welshmen - which was a shame as it featured the highly unusual sight of Billy Davies trying to navigate against the tide of people to the away end to thank the fans (in fact, he was waving goodbye as he left shortly after).
Instead, we tried to beat the crowds and make a quick getaway to the safety and peace of England to lick our wounds.
We’d parked on a car park next to the gypsy site and started to walk in what we thought was the general direction, inexplicably forgetting we’d actually got a bus to the ground.
We walked precariously down the centre of a dual carriageway in the pitch black and, as cars screeched past at alarming speeds, it dawned on us we didn’t know where the gypsy park was actually located (and 2011 was before GPRS mapping and what-not on phones).
As one of our group was suddenly carrying a previously undisclosed injury, the others holed-up in a local pub at the end of some terraced houses whilst I was commissioned on reconnaissance to find the said car park on foot.
What followed was an increasingly exasperating hour wandering around Swansea inner ring road asking numerous bemused locals: “Hello, can you tell me where the gypsy park is, please?”
Most answers were: “Why do you want to go there?”
On seeing an Asda with lights still blazing, I thought that, surely, somebody could solve the puzzle.
I was helpfully ushered to the member of staff who was renowned as a Swansea fan (not sure why that was relevant) who provided detailed instructions that, inevitably, were in completely the wrong direction.
I was now so far out of town that it was pitch black again when, unexpectedly and by complete accident, I finally stumbled upon the mythical gypsy site.
The only upside of this adventure of SA postcodes was that we achieved our original goal of missing the traffic as by the time we finally reached the M4, most people were already halfway back to Nottingham.
What happened next was just as incredible.
Swansea enjoyed seven acclaimed seasons in the Premier League and an expedition into Europe, too.
Wes Morgan, our centre half that night, lifted the Premier League trophy just five years after that dramatic night at the Liberty.
Whereas Forest have not qualified for the play-offs since.