Garry Monk recalls 'brilliant' Swansea memories as return looms with Birmingham

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Garry Monk returns to Swansea with 'unbelievable memories'

There were 270 appearances, three promotions and two glorious days at Wembley.

Then, having gone from player to manager overnight, Garry Monk delivered Swansea City's finest Premier League finish.

Yet just seven months after guiding his team to eighth in the top flight, Monk was gone.

A stellar Swans career which spanned more than a decade ended with the sack in December 2015, leaving Monk to reflect that he might have received more support from the club's hierarchy when results waned for the first time.

Monk makes a maiden return to the Liberty Stadium - aside from a testimonial game - when his Birmingham City team take on Swansea in the Championship on Tuesday night.

The primary focus will be the football, of course, but Monk's emotions are bound to be stirred.

"I have a lot of unbelievable memories of that stadium and that city," Monk told BBC Sport Wales.

"As players you all have dreams - we all want to play in World Cups and the biggest championships.

"Not everyone gets those opportunities, but it's about understanding what the best dream you can have in your career is.

"In my career, I couldn't have asked for more than to go from the bottom division to the top, establish ourselves, win the League Cup, the club in Europe and playing in the Premier League.

"That was so unrealistic and unimaginable when we were in League Two in the last season at the Vetch.

"It was an unbelievable experience. Everyone who was part of that will always remember it - they will be the days you remember when you finish.

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"They are just brilliant, brilliant memories. There were some great people, great team-mates, fans loving the journey. I made some really good friends, friends for life, and I will never forget that."

Monk met his wife in Swansea and his children were born in the city.

He fulfilled his dreams as a footballer in a Swans shirt and then established himself as a manager of considerable promise.

There were many important contributions, numerous moments to cherish during what was the most successful period in the club's history.

Fairytale rise

Having signed on a free transfer in 2004, Monk helped Kenny Jackett's Swansea mark the final season at Vetch Field with promotion from League Two.

After a Football League Trophy triumph at the Millennium Stadium in 2006 - and a play-off final loss to Barnsley - Swansea won the League One title under Roberto Martinez in 2008.

The biggest promotion of all came in 2010-11, as Brendan Rodgers' Swans beat Reading in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

If Monk's playing career is remembered for one moment, it will be the block he made to deny Reading what looked a certain goal at a pivotal moment in an enthralling game.

Swansea had led 3-0 at half-time, but Reading scored twice in the first 12 minutes of the second half to put the contest firmly in the balance.

The Swans were on the rack.

When Noel Hunt shot towards a gaping net it seemed Reading had got back to 3-3, but Monk stretched out a leg and his team survived.

And when Scott Sinclair made it 4-2 with 10 minutes remaining, Rodgers' men could start the party.

Alan Tate, Garry Monk and Leon Britton celebrate Swansea's promotion to the Premier League in 2011
'I remember sitting with Leon and Tatey in an empty Wembley having a beer and thinking about what we'd just done' - Monk recalls promotion to the Premier League

"It was a rollercoaster - we wouldn't do it any differently would we?" Monk says.

"I met a Swansea fan after that game who'd had a few drinks on the day. He went to the toilet at half-time and fell asleep.

"He came back out at the time when Scotty scored the fourth goal, but he didn't realise it was 3-2.

"He thought it was 3-0 so he was wondering why everyone was so panicky.

"I don't really remember the block - the game is a bit of a blur because so much was riding on it and it meant so much to everyone.

"It's more about the things around it. I remember sitting with Leon (Britton) and Tatey (Alan Tate) in the dugout afterwards, in an empty Wembley having a beer and thinking about what we'd just done.

"We'd done something we never thought we'd be able to do."

Swansea's rise did not end there.

Having captained the club in all four divisions, Monk lifted silverware at Wembley for a second time when Michael Laudrup's team won the League Cup in February 2013.

Just under 12 months later, he moved from dressing room to dugout following Laudrup's Liberty exit.

Garry Monk's Birmingham are 13th in the Championship, two places and one point behind Swansea
Garry Monk's Birmingham are 13th in the Championship, two places and one point behind Swansea

Monk's reign began spectacularly as Cardiff City were beaten 3-0 and he steered Swansea clear of relegation danger with something to spare.

The following season saw Swansea finish eighth - their best effort in the Premier League era - with a club record 56 points.

The 2015-16 campaign started well, too, with Monk registering his third victory in three attempts as a manager against Manchester United.

Yet when Swansea's form dipped in the autumn - they managed one win in 11 games - Monk was relieved of his duties.

"A lot of things had gone right, even the start of that last season had gone right," he recalls.

"Then (came) the first period where it became difficult, (and) you reflect on what you could have done better.

"Yes I felt I should have had more support from the club than I did and stuff like that, but that's all part of the journey and the experience.

"That's stood me in good stead to move forward.

"I have said all along Swansea will be the hardest job I'll ever have. Everyone thought it would be easier because I knew everyone and didn't need time to settle in, but it was actually the opposite.

"Because of my attachment with the club, the people I cared about and the relationships I had, every single decision was emotional. It was very draining.

"That's why I feel I'm a much better manager now than I ever was at Swansea.

"I am always grateful for the opportunity Swansea gave me and I will always wish them well."

Touted as the next England manager when things were going well in Wales, Monk suddenly found himself out of work.

Garry Monk was sacked as Middlesbrough manager in December 2017 with the club ninth in the Championship
Garry Monk was sacked as Middlesbrough manager in December 2017 with the club ninth in the Championship

He resurfaced at Elland Road, impressing during a season which saw Leeds United come close to reaching the Championship play-offs, before a stint at Middlesbrough ended in a matter of months even though they were within three points of the second tier's top six.

Monk then accepted the challenge of keeping Birmingham City in the Championship last March.

They were in the bottom three when he arrived and now, despite a transfer embargo, the Blues are in mid-table.

Swansea, meanwhile, are a point better off having seen their stay in the Premier League draw to a close last season.

They went through a succession of managers after Monk, battling their way out of relegation trouble for a couple of years before succumbing last spring.

"Unfortunately it's a sadder ending to that journey than everyone expected," Monk said.

"I don't think what's happened at the club has been because of any bad intentions.

"It's just decisions here and decisions there, not just from the board and players, but from everyone involved.

"But everyone has a journey. The club have had a few situations where they have gone down and come back fighting. I'm sure they will do that again."

Monk should know. There are not many, after all, who have served Swansea as he has.

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