By Rob Stewart
Lifelong Swansea City supporter John Hartson has predicted the celebrations at the Liberty Stadium will be wilder than those of the next Barclays Premier League champions if the history-making top-flight newcomers’ dream does not turn into a nightmare.
As Swansea prepare to become to first Welsh club to play Premier League football, Hartson put the put the challenge facing his hometown club firmly into perspective with last season’s play-off winners set to start their new campaign against Manchester City.
While the Swansea-born former Wales international is relishing the prospect of the Swans entering uncharted territory, he is quick to acknowledge that 17th place in the table at the end of the season will represent a major accomplishment for Brendan Rodgers’ team.
“This is like a dream come true for Swansea fans to be playing in the Barclays Premier League and if we can get to safety it will feel like we have won the title for the fans,” Hartson told Goal.com.
“Lots of fans have waited all their lives for top-flight football and now just staying up will be a massive achievement and would give the club plenty to build on for the future.
“We’ll be starting the season at Manchester City so it could hardly be a much tougher beginning because I really fancy that they will go on to win the title, so it will be good to get that out of the way and hopefully both clubs will have plenty to shout about come the end of the season although we would out-shout them.
“It’s fair to say that we will come up against a lot of top-quality teams next season and there won’t be any easy games so no one is under any illusions how tough it will be. They will no doubt suffer a few drubbings away from home, but they will take some scalps [at home] when they have got the crowd behind them.”
The former Arsenal, West Ham and Celtic striker is savouring the prospect of the Premier League’s leading lights heading to south Wales.
“This is brilliant for Swansea and Welsh football as a whole and irrespective of whether we stay up these are fantastic times for the city and the prospect of the likes of my old club Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City coming here is brilliant,” Hartson added.
“It will be great when the big guns come to Swansea. I always look out for my old clubs so with West Ham being relegated the game I am most looking forward to is Arsenal.
“Arsene Wenger signed me and we have stayed in touch so I can’t wait to see us play them, but I have always been a bit of a Liverpool fan and Kenny Dalglish is a friend of mine so that will be great as well.
“The stadium will be jam-packed for every home game. We took 40,000 fans to Wembley for the play-off final but there are just around 15,000 season tickets available for the Liberty and that is heartbreaking for some of the fans. It would be great to fit them all in so a lot will miss out but the place will be packed out and that could really help us stay up.”
Swansea won promotion from the Championship by beating Reading 4-2 in the play-off final at Wembley and Hartson is confident that former Chelsea coach Rodgers will be able to cope in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premier League.
“We absolutely hammered plenty of teams last year and it will be a whole new challenge this time around but Brendan will know what he has to do to keep us up,” Hartson continued.
“In Brendan Rodgers we believe. He is my new hero. He has done fantastically well with a club that is so close to my heart. I’ve never played for Swansea but I have supported them since before I could walk.
“It is easy to criticise from the sides but he has done such a great job so we have to believe in him and his judgement that he will bring in the right players to keep us up and then take us up. He has taken us up to the next level. He is a very good coach and the lads adore him.”
Hartson concluded: “It just means everything not just to myself but to the rest of Swansea, a real football town which has produced some great players over the years, such as John Charles and Dean Saunders. It is a great place to be right now.
“The feel-good factor down here is amazing because we are about to make history and everywhere I go people ask me whether or not we will stay up and I really do think they will have what it takes to stay up thanks to Brendan’s intelligence.”
John Hartson was speaking at the Liberty Stadium after receiving a Barclays plaque to welcome Swansea City FC to the Barclays Premier League. Barclays are giving away Barclays Premier League tickets every 90 minutes throughout the 2011/12 season - visit www.barclaysticketoffice.com
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