Swansea may just be a small city in the west of Wales but it’s a proud place. It’s proud of its history built on metal, coal and shipping. It’s proud of beautiful beach and spectacular coastline. And it’s proud of its football club. For a century the Swans have put Swansea on the map. They have made the name known, not just throughout Britain but beyond too. They nurtured some of the world’s great players and reminded people near and far that there was much more to Welsh sport than rugby.
The club seemed to sum up the place too. The Vetch Field, the club’s home from 1912 to 2005, was nestled in-between terraced homes, overlooked by hills and a stone’s throw from the sea. Even when things weren’t going well on the pitch, you could hear the sound of the crowd across the city. Much loved as the Vetch was, things progress and the move to the Liberty Stadium was a sign, not just of the regeneration of a club but of a city too. It stands where a copperworks once did. Whereas once Swansea’s copper went round the world, now its Premier League football does.
All football clubs are proud of their history. All football clubs have their ups and downs. The Swans are no different but perhaps their highs and lows have been rather more concentrated than most. For decades the club spent most of its time in what used to be called Division 2 and the club seemed at home there. But by the late 1960s that stability had been lost and the large crowds and reputation for playing attractive football had slipped away and the club was to be found near the bottom of the Football League.
But some dared to dream and in 1978 the club took a new player-manager from Liverpool. Under John Toshack, the Swans flew to the first division in just four seasons, and even sat at its pinnacle for two all too brief moments. But the rise had come too quickly and too much money had been spent. It couldn’t last and successive relegations and bankruptcy followed. The club was saved from closure but the dreams were dashed and the club found a new stability as a regular in the bottom divisions. Yet the fans never lost a belief that the Swans should or could be flying higher.
A remarkable rise
In 2003 the Swans came within a game of relegation out of the Football League. An epic 4-2 win over Hull City at a packed and emotional Vetch Field secured their survival on the pitch. This came little more than a year after a consortium of local businessmen, aided by the Supporters’ Trust, had brought the club back from the brink of bankruptcy and extinction.
From these low points, the rebuilding of the club began. A new team was assembled that began a gradual but steady rise through the divisions. When former-player Roberto Martinez took over as manager in 2007, the club gained a reputation for a slick passing game that had echoes of the club’s cultured teams of the 1950s. That philosophy was continued by the managers who followed him and won the club promotion to the Premier League in 2011, less than a decade after it had nearly gone out of the league and out of existence. In 2013 the club won the Carling Cup, its first major English trophy.
What was perhaps more remarkable was that this rapid ascent to football’s top table had been achieved without breaking the bank. The fans in the boardroom knew their club’s history and the dangers of living beyond your means. They showed the football world that financial sustainability and success on the pitch were not incompatible.
The club is now under new ownership and the threat of relegation from the Premier League looms. But the Supporters’ Trust continue to own a substantial proportion of the club and the fans’ loyalty does not depend on what division their team is in. Whatever the future holds for the club, its fans remember their shared history. The Swans are part of their lives and it is the fans who breathe life into the football club and make it more than just a team of hired professionals.