West Ham United 1 Swansea City 1 F.A Cup Third Round (2 January 1999) Attendance: 26,039
Swansea City 1 West Ham United 0 F.A Cup Third Round Replay (13 January 1999) Attendance: 10,116
By Michael Richards
Along with reaching the promotion play-offs in Division Three, victory in the third-round of the F.A. Cup against West Ham United was arguably the most memorable moment of the 1998/1999 season for Swansea City.
The announcement that Swansea was to play West Ham in an away fixture had sparked excitement around the city. A cup tie against the Premiership side was well deserved after two strong victories in the previous rounds against Millwall and Stoke City. Due to the huge gulf in divisions, it was a game in which the pundits expected Swansea to be easily brushed aside by West Ham. Biographer of Swansea City FC, David Farmer, said that ‘had the Swansea supporters travelled to Upton Park believed all they read in the papers, they would not have bothered to go’. Such opinions from experts however did not put off a small army of loyal supporters with high hopes travelling down to London. Despite being outnumbered, the Swansea fans were able to offer great vocal support which aided their team to unexpectedly outplay their famous opponents. Patriotism and pride was also displayed by the manager John Hollins who carried out his away match habit of placing a Welsh flag in his dugout. Unfortunately for the Swans, a Hammers equaliser that goalkeeper Roger Freestone could have prevented ending up in the back of the net made the score 1-1 at the dying stages cancelling out Jason Smith’s earlier goal and denying them a famous win at Upton Park that their endeavours deserved.
The replay at the Vetch Field however, was to result in an illustrious giant killing with Swansea making history by becoming the first bottom division team to defeat a Premiership club in the F.A. Cup since the re-organisation of the league structure in 1992.
A full capacity crowd had packed into the Vetch carrying the belief that something special could happen. Providing an abundance of loud Welsh voices, the supporters created an intimidating atmosphere hoping to help carry their team on to a well fought win. Many fervent fans had queued outside the Vetch a week in advance eagerly hoping to get hold of match tickets. On the date of the game the rain had also lashed down upon the pitch all day providing the ingredients for a lively encounter. Harry Redknapp’s West Ham was able to boast a team with a wealth of talented players which included the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and also Swansea born John Hartson. Such big names however counted for nothing that night as Swansea produced another brave team performance and this time overcame the Premiership side.
Both sides played fast paced football that was end to end creating an enthralling cup game. West Ham showed their Premiership qualities early on with Lampard in particular demonstrating his flair. However, it was Swansea midfielder Martin Thomas who was to be the man who made the headlines that night by producing a handful of impressive chances throughout the match, one being an in swinging free kick that rattled against the post. It was Thomas’s next effort though that was able to put the Swans ahead against their London opponents. His goal came on the 29th minute through an outstanding volley from twenty yards out that swerved manically to trick Hammers goalkeeper Shaka Hislop who could do little to recover from his error and palmed the ball into his net. The entire stadium erupted into a state of euphoria as Swansea demonstrated why the F.A. Cup can be so magic, with minnow clubs being given the opportunity to accomplish the unexpected by overcoming teams considered superior. Extraordinarily, Thomas was able to play despite being in pain from a broken knee cap caused by an earlier challenge. Freestone had to be at his best throughout and was able to make amends for his error at Upton Park by tipping away Neil Ruddock’s vicious shot from outside the box late in the second half to preserve Swansea’s slender lead. It was a save that Martin Thomas described as ‘the best save’ he had ‘ever seen’ and it brought two Swansea players to their knees in relief while the fans had their hearts in their mouths as they feared a repeat occurrence of the away tie. Despite West Ham’s impressive work rate, they proved unable to break down a Swansea side that had played out of their skins and had defended valiantly to hold on to their lead.
John Hollins was successful in orchestrating a shock upset by defeating West Ham’s star studded team to set up a fourth round tie against another Premiership side, Derby County. Once the final whistle was blown, some ecstatic Swansea supporters who were eager to celebrate a well deserved win with the players clambered onto the pitch. Hollins was overjoyed with his team which he was said to have written off earlier in the season claiming them not to be good enough for the Third Division. In a post-match interview with ITV, he stated that for him personally, the victory was his ‘greatest cup moment’. For Swansea City itself, the giant killing of West Ham United is without a doubt one of the club’s proudest F.A. cup memories.