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Football: Whole of stadium by the sea was rocking with emotion - I just couldn't be prouder.

There's something about being a Swansea fan and being made to wait. Be it the highs or the lows, agony and ecstasy are prolonged for as long as possible until sweat glands dry up, voices go hoarse, fingers are nail-less and all but the last of nerves frayed.

Penalties at Wembley, last-minute goal at Rotherham, Derby's late winner in the cup, that Northampton free-kick and a whole host of other dramas make supporting the Swans inadvisable for those with high blood pressure.

And then there was yesterday.

League safety could have - and perhaps should have - been secured weeks ago to leave this game nothing more than a typical end-of-season affair, complete with conventional lap of honour and fans in fancy dress.

But that wouldn't be very Swansea-like, would it?

Instead, I was left with nerves building throughout the week thanks to incessant media coverage hammering home the fact I could soon be supporting a non-league team.

But you couldn't hide the element of excitement in me. The same media coverage that got the nerves jangling would simultaneously get the heart pumping, reminiscing of the glory days and highlighting the fact the Vetch would be on the minds of football fans all over Britain.

As the old saying goes, Proud to be a Swan.

And as the whole of the stadium by the sea roared with pure emotion in those last few moments before kick-off, I couldn't have been prouder.

As the last few stragglers made their ways through the turnstiles the Vetch never looked better. More than 9,000 had packed the old stadium not because the side were doing well, going for promotion or to see a high-profile opposition, but because they wanted to get behind their side.

And that they did. Terrace classics like the Swansea City song, Can't Help Falling in Love With You and Swansea 'Till I Die were all belted out, probably doing Brian Flynn's team talk for him and drowning out Peter Taylor's.

Then, in what seemed like a spur-of-the-moment thing, club chaplain Kev Johns wandered up and down the playing surface belting out an impromptu version of the national anthem.

I've never heard Mae hen Wlad Fy Nhadau sung by the North Bank before and I don't think I've ever heard a better rendition.

And just as the sea air was filled with that tense excitement and passionate noise, my eyes were filled with the most subtle of tears which needed to be controlled for the sake of my little journalistic integrity. I'm still not sure whether this was the nerves, the pride or a mixture of both but I'd be surprised if I was the only one.

And then we were off. The North Bank had done their job, the players making the turbo-charged atmosphere everyone wanted.

Even the referee got caught up with it all, giving a penalty after Leon Britton seemed to take the whole Hull side on in the hope someone would eventually bring him down. A trio of visiting players duly obliged, and I was out of my seat.

There goes that journalistic integrity I was talking about. But again, I wasn't the only one. Quips on whether I should save the matchday programme as a memento to my side's time in the Football League were looking not so clever after all.

And then, of all the boys to take the honour, it was down to James Thomas. A Morriston lad who came back home at the start of the year to fire his side to glory.

His homecoming hasn't been as glorious as it could have been, but all was forgotten.

Thomas, like Stuart Roberts, Chris Coleman, John Hartson, Dean Saunders and many more, are Jacks through and through and have made no secret of it during times with other clubs.

Hitting the back of the net and running over to the North Bank where Thomas would have stood, possibly next to you or me, not so long ago.

Hull equalise, Hull go ahead. Nerves return, quips are back and the North Bank are silenced by some insensitive away support.

They didn't have anything to play for, why take such delight in our demise and why did that boy Elliot have to be so good for Hull. Unreasonable questions if you think about it but simply the ones that pop into your head in such horrible moments.

But Thomas - and referee Scott Mathieson - to the rescue just before the break, the clichd perfect time to score.

And so the half-time talk was positive and the North Bank once again bounced in time to the PA. The usual rumours of how Exeter were doing circulated (mainly by those insensitive Hull fans again) but crises bring out the most unlikely heroes sometimes.

Step forward Lennie Johnrose. Up goes the press box again and I have the urge to run over to the North Bank so I can really celebrate.

But James Thomas did enough of that for everyone with one of those goals that you score once a season. Thank you, James, for leaving it until yesterday.

The police gave up trying to stop fans getting on the pitch, but did have to move a few back so that a corner could be taken. They wouldn't so the ref gave up and blew up and the party started.

'Leon is a Jack' they chanted at Londoner Britton, Alan Tate carried a Welsh flag around with him for the remainder of the night and Robbie Martinez achieved his mission.

Swansea City FC were safe by two goals and we still had a whole 20 minutes to spare.

But I wouldn't want it to be any other way.

Proud to be a Swan.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 4, 2003
Words:952
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