The programme from John Toshack’s first match as manger of Swansea City.
Swansea City v Watford, 3 March 1978. Division 4.
The programme from John Toshack’s first match as manger of Swansea City.
Swansea City v Watford, 3 March 1978. Division 4.
My career as a Swans supporter has structured my life. I cannot put it any more strongly. Relationships have come and gone (and the Swans have played a part at times), my career has changed and my life circumstances have altered, but the Swans have been a constant throughout it all. Even though the fortunes of the team have fluctuated wildly over the years I have supported them, the club have always played a huge role in the background of my existence, and have been the thing I have planned my everyday life around. Without the Swans, how would I idle away time on rumours or arguments on forums? How would I plot the months between August and May? What would I do? No idea. Supporting the Swans is a kind of totalising world … My friends, my social life, my moods – all intricately dependent upon the Swans. I celebrate this, rather than bemoan it! STID
These words were written as a response to a survey to record fans’ memories of supporting Swansea City FC, a club that after decades of languishing in the lower division joined the game’s elite in the Premier League in 2011. The project was part of the commemoration of the club’s centenary in 2012 and, as this quote illustrates, the themes it raised both extended beyond football itself and also illustrated the powerful role the game has in some people’s lives and perceptions of the world.
Through a series of prompts and open questions people were asked for their memories of supporting the Swans and to reflect on what the club meant to them. What I want to do today is to examine some of the themes that arose, in particular those of nostalgia, identity and family. These are not specific to football in Swansea or Wales but understanding recent and contemporary Welsh culture should not just mean concentrating on those few aspects of cultural life that are unique to Wales. Indeed, one of the most powerful lessons of studying Welsh sport is how Welsh popular culture exists within a wider British and indeed western context. The basic needs, rhythms and concerns of the Welsh are not specific to Wales.
Football has a powerful sense of its own history. Supporters boast a strong sense of the traditions and identities of their clubs; many fans hoard old programmes, ticket stubs, scarves and other pieces of memorabilia that signify their club’s history and their personal history of attachment to it. They may not go through these very often but they keep them in shoe boxes, in attics and in the garage, unwilling to throw away relics of a lifetime of commitment. Similarly, videos and books of past triumphs are popular products and often compensate for a lack of present success. Moreover, there is often a strong sense of nostalgia for the past, a past where, in the imagination at least, football culture was somehow better.
What exactly there is nostalgia for is difficult to pinpoint and varies across the generations. For fans whose memories stretch into the early 1960s and beyond, football’s past is perceived as an era when players were working men and the terraces smelt of woodbines and heaved with locals in flat caps who cheered on the boys but knew how to behave. For the next generation, the nostalgia is for a more flamboyant, pre-Premiership era when players were macho stars, and the terraces were packed with noisy young tearaways who liked a ruck with their football, but were essentially good lads at heart who only picked on their own kind.
Nostalgia has clearly become evident at Swansea City in the past few seasons, not so because of the club’s elevation to the Premiership in 2011 but because of the 2005 move to the Liberty Stadium from the Vetch Field, the club’s home since its creation in 1912.
Amongst older fans there is a general welcoming of the new stadium. It is quite simply cleaner, more comfortable and more modern than the Vetch. With better sightlines too, the new stadium offers a superior all-round experience to the middle-aged and older generations. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t had to be adaption for those fans. New routines, new travel routes, new parking places and new drinking places have all had to be developed. The rhythms of people’s Saturdays have changed but the process of change seems to have been relatively painless. Such habits and behaviours may on the surface just seem to be trivial and inconsequential but we should not underestimate the importance of what some historians call the ‘everyday’. If history is about people as much as processes then the ordinary is as important as the extraordinary.
The celebration of the Liberty Stadium is something shared by a younger generation in their teens. For them the Vetch Field is the subject of hazy childhood memories or even just something talked about by older family members. They have grown up in an era of all-seater stadiums, not just for the game’s elite but for any club that aspires to join them.
For another generation, those who grew up going to the Vetch but whose legs are still young enough to happily stand for two hours in the cold there is a more divided view of the change. There is a memory that while the terraces could be noisy, full, fun and electric, they could also be cold, sparse and aggressive. Some of this generation show the pragmatism of football fans, where there is a willingness to sacrifice tradition and history in the name of progress. As one 31-year-old fan put it, the move to the Liberty was ‘a step back in experience, but a massive step forward for the club as a whole’. Such fans accept that new a stadium was inevitable in the modern game, a necessary change to bring higher revenues, attract better players and assist the club’s move up the leagues. The fact that in less than a decade the club has moved from nearly falling out of the professional league structure altogether to residing in the top division with the game’s elite provides a vindication of that view, a confirmation that more has been gained on the pitch than has been lost off it. And ultimately football is a game about success. Results matter.
Even though there is awareness of the danger of a rose-tinted view of the past, this generation still tend to think that much has been lost. Sitting down in stadia means not being able to choose who you are with; groups of friends used to standing together are now dispersed across the Liberty. Some feel this has brought a loss of atmosphere as the singers are dispersed and sitting itself makes people more reserved, less likely to shout and let forth. People are also aware that the change is illustrative of a wider shift in football culture, where the game has somehow lost something of its soul. A 39 year old reflected, ‘The matchday experience is not what it was – queuing for ten minutes for a plastic pint doesn’t appeal to me. The Liberty experience is much more corporate. Overpriced beer/food etc. You shouldn’t serve French fries at a football match.’
The sense of loss can be quite profound, illustrating the depth of feeling some have for the club and for football. A 47-year-old reflected:
I loved the Vetch it was OURS. I loved the smell of the turf and the liniment, tobacco & booze, 3 inches of piss on the floor of the bogs, the swearing, shouting, singing & fighting. The Liberty’s only ok in a bland 21st century, Sky TV obsessed way. I hate the fans in front of me constantly on their smartphones, texting, chatting & playing bloody games when they should be getting behind the team. I can’t stand vacant eyed kids slopping down overpriced shitty junk food and pawing at Dad (or worse Mum) to go and get them fizzy drinks. The view’s good though.
Even those less emotional about this can have the feeling that something is not quite right. A 33-year-old said of the new matchday experience: ‘doesn’t feel like the club I loved as much. Feels like I’m cheating on my slightly backward underachieving Mrs with her better looking, high flying sister.’ Even a 21 year old could say: ‘I feel it doesn’t have the same special feel as going to the Vetch and smelling the burger vans and hearing Daydream Believer playing with the North Bank singing. Being at the Vetch was just simply more entertaining than the Liberty (the quality of football is much better these days though)’.
Yet these feelings cannot be interpreted in a straight forward fashion. Some of the longing for the Vetch is mixed up with the experience of men looking back fondly on their own youth, a time of fewer responsibilities, of more drinking and hanging out with mates. They will also fade with time. One 23-year-old remembered of the Vetch ‘you could feel the history within its walls’. Now, as the Liberty stadium ages, it is becoming associated with more and more new memories, especially as the club as moved up the leagues. The Liberty is getting its own history, moments, that on the pitch at least, even exceed what happened at the Vetch.
Nostalgia is a common condition in post-industrial societies such as Britain and a reaction to dislocating and unwelcome changes. For many Swansea fans, nostalgia is also furthered by a sense that the club is no longer theirs so much. For non-season ticket holders getting into matches is now very difficult. The resentment of this amongst lifelong fans is compounded by a sense that the tickets are being taken up by what is termed ‘plastics’, fans who are only there because of the club’s recent success and who will disappear again should the club get relegated. There are fans who have been attending regularly all their lives, for decades, yet were unable to see a single game last season in what was perhaps the club’s most successful year. It is little wonder then that there is a nostalgia for a past, when you could just turn up, when you were one of a select few, when your support mattered and couldn’t just be replaced by someone else in the queue for tickets. The club has defined much of such people’s lives. They now feel cast aside and their pride in the club’s achievements is tinged by a sense that they have had little thanks for helping make sure that the club exists at all.
It maybe that online surveys of the type employed by this project over represent the extent of nostalgia. Those willing to reflect on their experiences through writing are perhaps those who tend to dwell on these things, whereas other fans are just more content than their club is now doing well. But, whatever the case, there is an important point here about how the present shapes our view of the past that always need to be remembered in oral history. Studying the club’s history at a time of unprecedented success is unavoidably going to colour how people remember that club’s past.
The project has also revealed some trends in the history of the club that run counter to assumptions about the nature of football fandom. For all the talk of the tribal and unconditional loyalty of fans, of being Swansea ‘til I die as the song goes, attendances have ebbed and flowed according to fortunes on the pitch. Some fans like to talk in these terms: ‘SCFC is like a family member to me. I was at the Vetch with crowds of 3000, I’m there now in the premiership, and if we went back to League 2 with crowds of 3000 I’d still be there.’ They talk of how, to quote one 44-year-old, ‘The Swans always have been and always will be part of who I am’.
But others, when reflecting on their lives, articulate how their interest and attendance has fluctuated according to family and financial circumstances and the performances of the team. Having young children in particular has taken men and women away from watching. Going away to college or working weekend shifts are other factors that hit attendance. Fewer admitted to not going when the team was not well, no doubt because loyalty is generally regarded as an important quality in football fandom, but average attendance patterns clearly show how significant these shifts have been.
One of the defining features of Swansea fandom is the relationship with rival club Cardiff City. Yet the intense and sometimes violent rivalry between the Swans and Cardiff seems rather different when placed alongside the memories of people from the 1940s, 50 and 60s of watching both clubs. This was partly about seeking entertainment, with some fans being willing to travel across south Wales to see whichever of the two clubs had the most attractive fixtures or was playing the best football. Indeed, in 1952 the manager of the club even asked the league if home games could be scheduled when 1st division Cardiff City were away because he feared fans would prefer watching the better standard of football forty miles away.
Those fans most likely to watch both clubs were not from Swansea but the south Wales valleys. Transport links did mean there were natural catchment areas for both football clubs but the spread of working-class car ownership in the 1950s and 60s and the associated improvements in roads brought more flexibility in people’s choices over which teams to support.
Such behaviour declined significantly from the late 1960s when in the face of the rise of the televised game loyalty to a single club became a significant feature of fan culture amongst smaller clubs across the UK. Moreover, alongside this, regional rivalries replaced regional identities. Many Cardiff and Swansea fans thus began wanting the other to lose and even singing about hating one another. This does not mean a common Welsh identity lost all relevance. It still helps explain the hatred that can be found, with football being intermingled with a sense of resentment over the Welsh Cardiff-centric media and government. Other fans, meanwhile, continue to want to see Cardiff doing well, but just not as well as Swansea. Indeed, throughout the post-war period fans have seen the club as representing Wales against English opponents.
There does not appear to be any clear correlation between ‘hating’ Cardiff and coming from Swansea. Nor do those fans who replied to the survey who are not from Swansea itself appear to talk about their loyalty to the club in less powerful terms that those from the city. Yet the civic importance of the game is still very clear and many fans articulate that they support the club because they are from Swansea. A 45-year-old put it simply: ‘Swansea is my city therefore the Swans are my club’. Indeed, even people with little interest in the game have been expressing pride that their city’s club is now playing in the world’s most watched league.
Those who have left the city to live elsewhere also use the club as a way of both physically and psychologically keeping in touch with their roots, whether that’s through using visits to games as reasons to visit family or symbolically through using their support to express their roots in an alien environment. As a 59-year-old man living abroad said: ‘Once a Jack always a Jack!’
Football’s place as part of the civic identity of towns and cities is, of course, unsurprising. After all, most teams are actually named after the place where they are situated. When Swansea was granted city status in 1971 the football club immediately changed its name from Swansea Town to Swansea City. Clubs are also part of the urban landscape. Until the modern redevelopments of the last two decades, most stadia were situated, quite deliberately, in the heart of residential areas in order to make it easy for fans to attend games without the cost and time of travel that might put them off. This meant that crowds pouring to games along narrow streets were unavoidable and the game became part of everyone in the area’s lives, whether they liked it or not. For children, a football ground could be part of their urban playground and the survey revealed many memories of children sneaking in to have kick-arounds on non-match days.
The new modern Liberty stadium is still part of the urban landscape and its crowds (and their cars) have made football part of the lives of a new part of the city. But the stadium is not interwoven into a residential area in the same way the Liberty was. It stands on the edge of town, on a redeveloped industrial site, closer to large modern retail units than people’s homes. But, in that, the council-built stadium is also a marker of the changes and developments of what was once an industrial city with a clear identity based on copper but is now a service-based city, dependent on the public sector and multinational companies based elsewhere. Football remains a symbol of civic identity.
Change is often unsettling for people. That is most obviously true of personal upheaval but it also applies to the world around them. Historians sometimes forget that people witness long-term rather than just short-term changes. Sociologists in Swansea the 1960s were discussing how old people were bewildered by how much life had changed in their lifetimes. Even today there can be considerable unease at the general direction of society, with discomfort about everything from climate change, technological revolution to immigration and crime.
Football too has changed but it also offers a powerful source of continuity for people, a link to their past, to their roots and their youth. A 49 year old reflected, ‘Once it’s in your blood it don’t leave. If you are a true Jack you are married for life. It’s like having children. You love your children irrespective of what they do, you love the Swans through good and bad.’ A 50 year-old concluded, ‘I’ve still got the same feeling on match days as when I was a boy’. It is also a source of continuity which they are sure will still be there in the future. As one fan put it, ‘You can change jobs, move house, change wives, even change sex nowadays – but you can’t change the football club you support’.
This sense of continuity and security is exacerbated because of the relationship between football and family. Some men remember how being taken by their fathers as a child in the 1950s was some sort of coming of age ritual, an acknowledgment they were now big enough to be with the men rather than left at home with the female family members. Although most fans graduated from going with their parents to going with friends in their teens, there is a reoccurring pattern of people returning to viewing with their parents as they get older and take great pride in passing on support to their children.
Another 46 year old remarked: ‘All the family are involved. Wife, 2 kids, brother, nephew, mother and father all have season tickets. Main topic of conversation!!’ In other words, football helps bind some families together. This is particularly important because it is family that offers an important source of support and happiness in a modern world that many found unsettling and unhappy. Family remains at the core of what makes society and how people perceive the world and live their lives. The words of one 43-year-old fan show this better than I can.
My dad was a big supporter like myself. He died in 2011, before he could have a smile about us being in the premiership. I remember crying at Wembley after we had beaten Reading 4-2 because the only person I wanted to share my elation with was my dad, and he wasn’t here anymore. He left me a mint copy of Swansea vs Preston at Villa Park, semi final of the FA cup 1964. It seems quite apt that Swansea’s first Prem away win was at Villa Park, and I was there. I looked up to the sky and just smiled. I think my dad knew why.
Whether your team is winning or losing, football is a game of emotions and of stories, and not all of these are related to what happens on the pitch, especially during your team’s lean times. The survey for this project produced a collection of memories of goals, fights, drinking, jokes, funny sights and characters. Most of the stories were remembered because they evoked emotions, whether that was happiness, pride, anger, frustration or laughter. Some no doubt had grown and been polished in the re-tellings. They were often fragmented, undated and chronological-less. But this does not mean they matter any the less. Stories help structure our understanding of both our individual and collective past. It is football’s ability to create stories and memories that lies at the heart of its cultural importance. It is these stories that define the game’s contribution to individual and collective identities.
But not all people have the same memories. The experience of listening to a match on poor radio reception is obviously rather different to actually being at the game. But even where people are at the same match, their experience will vary according to who they are with, where in the ground they are, how much they have had to drink and why they are there. In this, we run into one of the fundamental points about the past: collective experiences are also individualized. Yet the collective experience of being at the football is more powerful than the shared experience of millions watching the same television programme in millions of different homes. Football is a game watched in crowds and that creates a powerful sense of literally being part of something bigger in a way that is not often replicated. The scale of football can be very powerful and that is part of its drama and attraction. But even for those not there, those who find out the results from friends or from the paper, or whose interest does not extend far beyond extending wondering what mood a husband will be when he returns home, football is still part of the shared cultural milieu of interests, loyalties and memories that binds families, communities and even nations together.
By Martin Johnes (Swansea University). Written in 2013.
In 1966 a team of Swansea-born internationals played a charity match at the Vetch. And what a team it was:
Jack Kelsey, Harry Griffths, Ray Daniel, Mel Charles, Mel Nurse, Barrie Hole, John Charles, Ivor Allchurch, Len Allchurch, Trevor Ford, Barrie Jones.
It’s a pity they never all played for the Swans…
You can download the programme here. international xi 1966
Fans, including the father of Mel and John Charles, discuss Swansea’s chances against Liverpool in the FA Cup quarterfinal in 1964. Published in the Daily Mirror, 27 February 1964. Reused for non-commercial purposes from www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
Click to enlarge and zoom in.
Dylan Thomas described Swansea as an ‘ugly, lovely town’. He was not a sports fan but he might have said the same words of his hometown’s football club. For over a century, the Swans have entertained, delighted, frustrated, and angered fans.
The club is part of life in Swansea. It has decided what shifts were worked, when holidays were taken and even when weddings were held. Results on an afternoon have decided whether nights are for dancing or for moping. Families have been brought together by parents and grandparents passing on their love and loyalty to their next generation. Some choose to be Jacks, others have it forced upon them but appreciate it all the same.
Even for those not much interested in football, the Swans have always mattered. Football meant crowds to avoid and parking problems to complain about. It meant the annoyance or relief of family members disappearing for an afternoon. Yet no one had to go to the game to feel pride when the club did well or to hear the noise of cheering crowds drift across the city.
The Vetch was part of the landscape of Swansea, and its irregular floodlights gazed down upon Sandfields and across to the city centre. What it lacked in elegance, the Vetch made up for in character. It squeezed into a gap between houses that was too small but which ensured some gardens a free view over a wall. The East Stand didn’t fit behind the goal so it sneaked around a corner instead. The old wooden double decker was grand but had to come down because of the fire risk. The centre stand was rickety and uncomfortable; in its last days its roof showered its inhabitants with crumbling paint.
But it was the North Bank that was the heartbeat of the Vetch. That was the place where youngsters yearned to be old enough to stand, where the singing and cheering was loudest, where everyone had their spot surrounded by the same familiar faces each week. You might not know the name of the bloke in the old rain mac but you knew he had it in for the left back, what his favourite swear words were, and that he cared as much you did. The North Bank was rough and ready, sometimes vulgar, but always passionate.
The Vetch is no more and the Liberty’s now home: a new, smart, slightly-stiff sweater to replace the comfortable, worn-out but well-loved one we wore for years. Some say it lacks the Vetch’s passion but everyone says the toilets are better. And slowly it’s making its own memories to be passed down to those too young to know what it was to stand on a crumbling football terrace.
At Vetch or Liberty, to watch the Swans was to be part of something bigger, an army, a tribe, a family. On Saturdays, or whenever the tv schedulers decided fit, we’ve cheered, we’ve chanted and clapped. We’ve taunted the visitors, declared our pride in Wales and our team, and sung for Super Johnny or whoever was our favourite at the time. And sometimes they more than repaid our love. When Curt did a turn, or Robbie hit a screamer, or Gylfi flicked a deadball, it was as beautiful as any of Dylan’s poetry, even if an old man might tell you later, ‘Ivor could do it better’.
It hasn’t always been like that. There have been plenty of defeats that caused us to curse and despair. Sometimes the men in white just weren’t good enough but the fans forgave that as long as those on the pitch cared as much as we did in the stands or terraces. Sometimes anger was aimed at the board, when fans thought they weren’t doing their best to create a team worthy of wearing the shirt. Sometimes the fans turned on each other, when someone was felt to be too critical or too quiet. At the Swans, everyone has their part to play.
The size of crowds have ebbed and flowed over the years. There’s only so much money to go round and not everyone wants to watch a team that’s struggling. But even when crowds were down to a few faithful thousand, the rest of Swansea didn’t stop caring. At ten past five on a Saturday, old ladies would still stop anyone in a scarf wandering through town and ask ‘How did the Swans get on?’ Because, in Swansea, football is part of our culture.
1920s Swansea Town Cigarette Cards
Before the Second World War, professional footballers’ contracts were limited to one year and there was a maximum wage in force. This prevented a wage war between clubs and ensured they were not lumbered with long-term costs for players they no longer wanted. It also meant every summer they was a set of new negotiations with players.
In 1927, the whole of Swansea Town first-team refused to sign new contracts after the directors tried to lower their wages by a pound a week and make up for it by a bonus scheme based on the number of games played.
The players stated they were objecting to the financial loss they would suffer if they were injured. They claimed they didn’t mind if they lost money if were dropped because of loss of form, although this was probably a sensible public statement to ensure they did not lose popular sympathy.
In an act of solidarity, those first-team players who the change did not affect because they were already on lower wages, also refused to re-sign. The squad seems to have chosen its moment carefully making the decision the week before the club was due to leave for a tour of Portugal and Spain.
Despite the strong position the players’ collective action put them in, they failed to secure what they wanted. The next day, the press reported that many of players had re-signed, although it was unclear on what terms. By the following day, only two players had not agreed terms.
The club had held out and won. Once some of the players had broken ranks and signed the others were vulnerable. In the days of strict contract constraints, the only thing players had on their side was collective unity and that was not easy to achieve in the lower divisions where everyone was replaceable.
Sources: South Wales Echo, 5-7 May 1927.
In 1935, Swansea Town found itself with serious financial problems and there were genuine fears that the club would go bankrupt. With the help of the press, the club began a campaign based on an appeal to community spirit and the conscience of supporters.
Its launch was presided over by the mayor with ‘moral support’ from representatives of Swansea RFC and the best wishes of a local MP. A doctor was even there to encourage attendances through the benefits of being out in the air: ‘Speaking scientifically, every time you go to a match you do yourself as much good as if you took a 3s. 6d. bottle of medicine’!
An editorial in the South Wales Evening Post (15 June 1935), under the heading of the ‘Swans must be saved’, asked supporters if they were ‘going to leave in the lurch the people who have provided them with the opportunity of seeing most of the best sides in the game?’
A shilling fund, a boxing match, a dance at the Vetch and smaller events all around the town were organized by locals to raise funds for the club. Here was a community fighting to help its soccer team.
Thanks to the fund raising the club survived but it was not to be the last financial crisis the Swans faced.
Swansea Town v Queen’s Park Rangers, 31.1.1914
F.A. (“English”) Cup, 2nd Round
By Pete Dawson
As the 2011-12 season drew to a close one of the inevitable topics among Swans’ fans, and football supporters in general was undoubtedly the cost of following your team. With Premier League away tickets often costing £40 to £50 the price of success is often felt where it hurts – in the pocket. Yet even these days there would be a shock if the Swans were to double the admission price for a special home game – and that’s exactly what happened in January 1914.
Having narrowly failed to add promotion to the Welsh Cup in their first ever season, Swansea Town were obviously hoping to add yet more glory in their second campaign at the Vetch – and although once again the great prize of promotion was to elude them it was the F.A. Cup – usually known in those days, and not just in Wales, as the English Cup – which captured the imagination of supporters and the press. Swansea Town entered the competition in the Preliminary Round, as they had no record in the Cup to draw on, and though it is very hard today to trace all the results it seems that the Swans had won no fewer than seven ties when, having beaten Merthyr and become the first Welsh club to reach Round 2, they were drawn against Queen’s Park Rangers who were in the Southern League Division 1. Excitement was high in the town as this represented the last 32, equivalent today to perhaps a Conference club reaching Round 4 and mixing it with the Premier League giants. But before the game could be played there was the controversy of the “gate” money!
On the Wednesday before the game the South Wales Daily Post’s London correspondent reported that confidence in London about QPR progressing had taken a blow with a heavy defeat at West Ham the previous Saturday, though Rangers were fielding a full strength side apart from their “brilliant winger, Jones” who was injured. They would travel to Swansea on the Friday accompanied by up to a thousand supporters on a special train concerned at facing a side who had already accounted for two Southern League First Division teams.
In Swansea, however, talk was all of the increase in the ground admission from 6d to one shilling – a 100% rise! Costs had apparently almost doubled from the Swans’ first season, wages and ground improvements having taken their toll – remember a turf pitch and a grandstand had appeared at the Vetch for that second season. Merthyr and Llanelly were apparently struggling financially and the Swans’ directors did not want to waste the chance to pay off some debts. The supporters were less impressed and their letters were summarised in the Post. Some alleged that it was the fault of the visitors and pointed out that Merthyr had only charged 6d when QPR had visited in the League. “Gougho” suggested supporters would rather go to watch the rugby than part with their shilling, but “Soccer” pointed out that the directors had not agreed to switch the game to Rangers’ Park Royal ground, where the gate charge would have been a shilling anyway and Swans would have forfeited the ground advantage.
So what else could these indignant letter writers have done for entertainment that week? Well, there was a huge range available in those days before radio and television. The Cinema was still in its infancy with silent movies which were mostly on a single reel, so if you went to the cinema you had a full bill of entertainment rather as you would have had in a variety theatre or music hall. Prices ranged from only 3d up to a shilling for the best Circle seats. These advertisements give just a few of the choices; “In Peril of the Law” a “sensational melodrama 3,100 ft in length” at the Castle sounds as if it might have equalled a cup-tie for thrills and there was orchestral music too – which you certainly wouldn’t get at the Vetch.
At the Vetch your controversial shilling would only have paid for a view in the open on an earth bank. In Oxford Street however you could enjoy the palatial luxury of Swansea’s newest cinema, the Carlton. This stunning building, which Swansea residents still know well as the home of Waterstone’s bookshop, boasted 900 seats on “sumptuous premises” with “no pillars to obstruct the view”. Built in a Renaissance style it had cost £20,000. Again there was an orchestral band, it boasted concealed lighting, and the best seat in the Circle would have cost you just the shilling the Swans were demanding for the QPR tie.
If your interests were more educational you might have been tempted by the illustrated lecture on Scott’s fatal polar expedition. On Thursday that week a “large audience” at the YMCA’s Llewellyn Hall building was “thrilled” by a talk by Mr Frank Wild, who had been a companion of Scott’s on earlier expeditions and was due to accompany Sir Ernest Shackleton on his attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. The lecture was accompanied by “limelight and cinema views” and due prominence was given to the heroism of local man Edgar Evans who had died with Scott.
And, of course, there was always rugby union, the well established alternative. The All Whites were also in action on Saturday 31st January – and by coincidence also had big name opposition from England as Leicester were due to visit St Helen’s. And their admission price was still the traditional sixpence, as these advertisements show clearly:
Though how much you’d be able to see by the end of a 3.15 kick off at the end of January is doubtful – no limelight or concealed gas mantles at St Helen’s! A final alternative was absolutely free. The controversy over Votes for Women was at its height and at the Junior Imperial League, Castle Buildings on Monday a debate was scheduled between pro and anti Women’s Suffrage speakers. The organisers must have bee aware of the Cup-tie gate controversy, because they billed their event as a “Great Suffrage Tie” with Alderman David Davies as “Referee” and a guarantee of “No Gate Money Charged”!
Friday’s Post contained a long letter from the Swans’ Chairman Mr Frank Newcombe justifying the price increase. “No match of the same importance has been played in South Wales before” he claimed. “The contest for the English Cup is everywhere recognised as THE EVENT OF THE SEASON.” Further worrying news for Swans’ supporters was the price paid for a 2-1 victory at Oswestry in the Welsh Cup on Thursday. Captain Jack Nicholas was injured and would not face QPR; while the directors (not the manager in those days) had to decide between the claims of Messer and Mayo for the right wing spot after some disappointing recent performances. If Swansea Town won they would be the first ever Welsh club to reach the Third Round and the Daily Post reflected the excitement by printing a picture of the “doughty” Rangers team, champions of the Southern League only the season before last.
After all this it was perhaps inevitable that the match itself turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. The price increase possibly kept the attendance down a bit – at 14,000 it was the third highest of the season after previous cup ties against Merthyr and Cardiff City, who presumably attracted a larger travelling support. The record gate takings for a football match in Wales, £770, presumably justified the directors’ decision. On the field, though, the absence of Nicholas and what seems to have been an all round nervous performance did not help and Rangers won 2-1 despite Swansea taking an early lead – a disappointment but not a disgrace. “Ajax” felt that “the Swans form was the poorest they have shown in the whole English Cup series” and that if they had played as well as they had against Cardiff and Merthyr the result might have been different. The Swans did not lack effort but their passing and combination play was inferior to QPR; the degree of disappointment reflected in the press reports, however, emphasises just how far the Swans had already come.
Swansea Town v Pontypridd, 24 April 1913
Welsh Cup Final played at Mid-Rhondda FC, Tonypandy
By Pete Dawson
With Merthyr, the acknowledged top dogs of South Wales football, having been defeated 3-0 at Penydarren Park it was becoming apparent by February that the newly founded Swans had a genuine chance of capturing the Welsh FA Cup at their first attempt, as well as still challenging for promotion to Division I of the Southern League. In the semi-final Swansea Town would again play Cardiff City on February 15th.
The sympathy of the local public had been recently engaged by the discovery of the tragic fate of Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, including Gower man Petty Officer Edgar Evans. Although Scott and his men had died nearly a year before, news of their deaths had only just reached Britain with the return of the expedition ship “Terra Nova”.
However local sporting enthusiasts would have been concentrating on the forthcoming cup tie against Cardiff City and in the South Wales Daily Post “Ajax” stated that “The interest of Swansea’s sporting public is almost entirely centred in the Swans’ semi-final engagement with Cardiff City at Ninian Park…and the rugby engagement with the Taffsiders has been absolutely obscured.” He went on to predict that “…the winners of this game can look upon the Welsh Cup as theirs.” Such interest in what has become a second tier competition may seem strange today, but the Welsh Cup had been established in 1877, being dominated by North Wales clubs until the advent of professional football in South Wales shifted the balance of power – Cardiff themselves being the first South Wales winners in the previous season. There were no equivalent Rugby competitions at the top club level until the 1970’s, and interest was such that an excursion train to carry supporters would leave Swansea High Street at 1.10 p.m. The game had been switched from the neutral venue of Penydarren Park to Ninian Park to attract a higher gate, so the Swans would effectively be playing away.
By Monday the Daily Post could proudly proclaim “Swansea’s athletic superiority over Cardiff” as not only did the Whites triumph but despite being 2-0 down at half time the Swans scored four unanswered goals and registered a remarkable 4-2 win – albeit against nine men by the end. The report referred to “Swansea’s Glorious Triumph” and the final goal was scored by Billy Ball who was establishing himself as an early Vetch Field legend with the popular cry of “Give it to Bally!”
The Swans then had to wait until April 19th for the final, which was again scheduled for Ninian Park against Pontypridd. Although they had narrowly missed out on promotion to Southend they would start as favourites against the Dragons who were in mid-table in Division II of the Southern League. In an uncanny echo of the shocking disaster at the Gleision Colliery in the Swansea Valley 98 years later, two miners were reported trapped underground at the Gleision mine in the Daily Post on Wednesday 16th April; but on this occasion the paper could report “Thrilling Valley Rescue – Entombed Men Saved” by the Friday. Many colliers in that period were not as lucky.
In the same day’s paper the realities of professional football were emphasised by an advertisement placed by the Swans’ directors inviting applications for 5 Shilling Shares in the club to gain more capital. Apart from the cost of players’ wages, travel and so on a great deal of work still needed to be done on the Vetch Field.
Disappointingly the final was an anti-climax. The score was 0-0 and after the 20,000 crowd at the semi-final only just over 8,000 turned up at Ninian Park. Apparently the 4.30 p.m. kick-off deterred many and that decision was criticised. In pre-television days the same day’s FA Cup Final between Sunderland and Aston Villa would hardly have been a major counter-attraction, though the gate of 121,000 who saw Villa’s 1-0 win may have contained a few from South Wales as excursion trains to cup-ties were very popular at the time. The Daily Post reported only briefly on the game that Monday with the Swan’s chairman quoted as saying they “should have won.” The Swans’ Welsh League game at Mardy referred to, incidentally, was not played; the ground was in such a state that the Swans refused to play. Given that the Club did not have two full teams of professionals, and that skipper Hamilton who had played on Saturday and was due to replay the Final on Thursday might have had to play, this is not entirely surprising! It does seem odd to us though that the referee was not the ultimate judge of conditions in those days.
On Thursday the readers of the Daily Post were treated to an enormous front page advertisement for corsets; if they could drag themselves away from that there was a preview of the Final Replay at Mid-Rhondda F.C.’s ground in Tonypandy. Mid-Rhondda themselves were a new club, the ground having previously been used for Rugby League, and the foundation of the Association Club having been delayed by the Tonypandy Riots! Although it was a working day 500 Swans’ supporters were reported to have taken the excursion train and the kick-off was apparently late enough to accommodate local colliers coming off shift. Injuries had forced changes in the Swansea forwards and this caused some doubt about whether success could be obtained.
As it turned out the doubts were misplaced and on Friday the corsets were replaced on the front page of the Daily Post by the report of “Crowning Triumph: How The Swans Won The Cup: Memorable Homecoming.” “Ajax” was given plenty of space and began by describing the Swans’ return with what was already a famous trophy – crowned (as it still is today) with goats and a dragon. The crowds packed High Street, Castle Street and Wind Street as far as the New Cut Bridge and the enthusiastic supporters pulled the team’s brake (an open four wheel carriage) themselves to the Royal Hotel, dispensing with the more usual horses!
As far as the game itself went, the conditions were awful. The ground was a mud heap and it was raining steadily, and the Swans had gone down 5-0 at Mardy in similar conditions. Pontypridd were stronger and adapted more quickly to the pitch, but as the game went on the Swans, like the team of 100 years later, began to get a passing game going. “Their movements would have done credit to them on the best of grounds” wrote “Ajax”, and “the ball was slung about with splendid accuracy…” Eventually right half Duffy took the ball forward and fed his winger Messer. His shot was saved; Weir could not convert the rebound but Grierson – whose fitness had been in doubt – was on hand to score from close range. The conditions told in the second half, though, and Pontypridd were well on top when they were awarded a penalty ten minutes from the end. With the crowd anticipating another half hour in the rain for extra time, though, Hall’s penalty was saved by Fisher who had replaced the player-manager Whittaker as first choice goalkeeper and he was rushed by his team mates. “Some even embraced him, whilst the crowd yelled themselves hoarse.” The Dragons were slain and the Swans had won the Welsh Cup.
A long editorial also congratulated the Swans and commented on how the League structure and the principle of promotion and relegation sustained interest throughout the season, which might have been a veiled comment on amateur Rugby Union which, unlike professional rugby and soccer, refused to countenance leagues for many years. Given the dreadful weather and the late afternoon kick off it was hardly surprising that the Post had no photographs of the match, but a picture of skipper “Jock” Hamilton and scorer Grierson with the Cup in all its glory was included.
Even the Western Mail had to admit that the Swans were “immeasurably the superior side”, though “Hotspur” was kinder to Weir in claiming that he had started the move leading to Grierson’s goal by passing to Messer. In the murk of a rainy Rhondda evening it must have been hard to see clearly! Incidentally, one has to feel sorry for what was apparently a “depleted” Risca side who conceded TWENTY goals to Mardy in the Welsh League on the quagmire the Swans reserves had refused to play on that Monday.
After all this drama it must have been a relief to turn to the Daily Post report of a Breach of Promise of Marriage case in East London. Miss Charlotte Boyle felt that her fiancé, Richard Holdstock, who earned “two guineas a week and had an additional income as a banjo player” had neglected her in favour of the Boy Scouts organisation, then only six years old. He had apparently told her “The boy scouts come first” which presumably did not carry the connotations which it might now have! Unimpressed by her case and noting that she seemed to have made the first move to break off the engagement, the Under Sheriff awarded her a farthing (a quarter of a penny) in damages. Mr Holdstock’s passion for Miss Boyle might have cooled, but the love affair between the Swans and the local sporting public had started on much more cheerful terms.
Swansea Town v Mardy, 18 January 1913, Southern League Division II
By Peter Dawson
By January 1913 Swansea Town were establishing themselves as a force in Division 2 of the Southern League, a competition which at that time was dominated by South Wales clubs. Ten of the thirteen clubs in the division were from South Wales, and the travelling expenses of Southend United must have been a drain on club funds – not that this held them back as the Essex club would eventually pip the Swans for the second promotion spot. Swansea were a respectable 6th in the table despite having played fewer games than any other team, with a record of won 4, drawn 3 and lost none. Cardiff City were at the top but had played a remarkable six games more.
The weather had been very bad during December and January, perhaps accounting for the fixture backlog. In the week leading up to the Mardy game the South Wales Daily Post reported the cancellation of the All Whites’ game against Llanelly due to heavy rain, which as St Helen’s has a reputation as a fast draining ground gives an indication of the conditions.
Swansea Docks was enjoying a near monopoly of tinplate exports from Britain, and The Post also reported that Miss Nellie Le Breton was appearing as Jill in “Mother Goose” at the Grand Theatre; the readers of those days would hardly have imagined that in future days Kevin Johns would provide a link between the Football Club and the panto with appearances as match day announcer and pantomime dame! “Typical scenes of religious fervour” were reported at a gospel meeting in Cwmtwrch showing that the Welsh religious revival was still in full swing, but football supporters would have been more interested in a series of articles by Billy Meredith, famous winger for Wales, Manchester United, and Manchester City and founder of the Players’ Union which showed that sporting celebrity was already well established.
Most excitingly though that week the Daily Post reported the appearance of the world famous escapologist Houdini at the Swansea Empire music hall in Oxford Street. Houdini had accepted a challenge to escape after being “trussed” to a plank and broomstick by three local men, a captain and two seamen – this apparently being the way mutinous sailors were secured at sea. A huge crowd assembled to see this feat, as many being locked out as got into the theatre, with traffic nearly being brought to a standstill. Houdini escaped in seventeen minutes – claiming (as he presumably did in every town) that this had been his hardest challenge.
Many of those who had queued to see Houdini must have been in the crowd at the Vetch – its shale surface possibly better able to withstand the rain than turf – to see the Swans take on Mardy the following Saturday. They were able to boast a perfect home record up to that point and would have been favourites against the team from the Rhondda (Maerdy as it is now known) who would eventually finish eleventh. However the Swans found their defence even harder to escape from than Houdini had found the sailors’ ropes at the Empire and they scraped a 1-0 win. “Ajax” in the Daily Post felt that weakness in front of goal was the only thing holding back Swansea’s promotion challenge. Wales were also reported to have been rather lucky to escape with a 1-0 win against Ireland in Belfast, Billy Meredith impressing the crowd with “some splendid dribbles”. The Welsh soccer side was weakened by withdrawals, as it often seems to be a hundred years later.
The Western Mail that week seemed more interested in Wales’s 12-0 home defeat by England in the rugby international. This was England’s first ever win at Cardiff Arms Park but the Swansea papers had shown less interest than usual; the selectors had chosen only one West Walian player despite the All Whites’ unbeaten record and the Post and Herald of Wales both felt this had contributed to the poor showing and, despite the ground improvements, disappointing crowd. It would be many years before the West Wales public conceded that Cardiff was the home of Welsh international rugby! The Western Mail report of the Mardy game is briefer and emphasises Swansea’s poor finishing rather than the Mardy defence or bad luck.
“Cynicus” in the Herald of Wales also felt the Swans should have won by more but was more inclined to praise the visitors’ defence. Another curiosity is that Mardy featured John Goodall, a veteran former England international and their player-manager, at centre forward. The Western Mail thought he showed “great cleverness”, but the Daily Post claimed he was “undoubtedly too slow.” As Goodall was nearly 50 years old at the time this was hardly surprising! Goodall’s story in itself is a remarkable one. He was born in England of Scottish parents, his brother played for Ireland (the first example of two brothers representing different countries), and his professional career spanned nearly 30 years with appearances for Preston North End, Derby County and Watford. He won 14 England caps and kept pet foxes! His views on the Vetch shale pitch are sadly not recorded, but it must have been hard on aging knees even with the knee pads apparently worn.
So by January 1913 the Swans – as they were now known – were established in their league and successful. The following week they faced a much greater challenge – a trip to Penydarren Park to play Merthyr Town in the quarter finals of the Welsh Cup. Merthyr were the acknowledged top side in South Wales and had beaten West Ham United 6-2 on the previous Saturday. It is a matter of record that the Swans won 3-0, and it was the Welsh Cup which would bring the new club its first taste of real glory.
South Wales Evening Post 5 May 1949
We had rehearsed our part. We had caught up with the new signings, with the promotions from the reserves. We knew all about the prospects for the coming year not only in the English League, but also in the Football Combination, and the Welsh League. We knew all about our opponents – for we identify ourselves with the place which commands for the time being our presence – and were accordingly prepared to depreciate any action originated by West Ham United that was likely to disturb our temporary loyalty. We had read two evening and three daily newspapers. We had obtained the latest and the most authentic information from the nearly subterranean offices of the club, where we had gained our stand tickets, and where the presence of my eleven-year-old companion had loosened tongues that otherwise might have been laconic.
We sat down in excellent time and observed the craze two-tiered stand behind one goal; the signal gantry behind the other which was to have – but did not –semaphore the half-time scores; the long thin line of spectators perilously close to the opposite touchline; the ageless parade of the borough police force; and the great mountains in the middle distance, taking suburban Swansea rather closer to the heavens than suburbs as a rule deserve to go.
Percy Young, Football Year (1958).
By Gwyn Davies, September 2017
PL 22 WON 3 DRAWN 6 LOST 13 FOR 26 AG 36
Home: 12 Away: 10
11/09/2016: Swans drew 2-2 v Chelsea (h)
15/10/2016: Swans lost 2-3 v Arsenal (a)
19/11/2016: Swans drew 1-1 v Everton (a)
02/04/2017: Swans drew 0-0 v Middlesbrough (h)
12/09/2015: Swans lost 0-1 v Watford (a)
19/10/2015: Swans lost 0-1 v Stoke City (h)
21/11/2015: Swans drew 2-2 v Bournemouth (h)
02/04/2016: Swans drew 2-2 v Stoke City (a)
13/09/2014: Swans lost 2-4 v Chelsea (a)
19/10/2014: Swans lost 1-2 v Stoke City (a)
22/11/2014: Swans lost 1-2 v Manchester City (a)
16/03/2015: Swans lost 0-1 v Liverpool (h)
16/09/2013: Swans drew 2-2 v Liverpool (h)
19/10/2013: Swans won 4-0 v Sunderland (h)
23/11/2013: Swans won 2-1 v Fulham (h)
15/03/2014: Swans lost 1-2 v W.B.A. (h)
15/09/2012: Swans lost 0-2 v Aston Villa (a)
20/10/2012: Swans won 2-1 v Wigan (h)
30/03/2013: Swans lost 1-2 v Tottenham (h)
10/09/2011: Swans lost 0-1 v Arsenal (a)
15/10/2011: Swans lost 1-3 v Norwich City (a)
19/11/2011: Swans lost 0-1 v Manchester United (h)
There is one more incident that really stands out for me and it’s from a Wales v Czechoslovakia European Championship qualifier played on 21st April 1971. Despite being just under 11 years old, it’s stick in my mind every since.
Wales were leading 1 – 0 with less than quarter of an hour to go but eventually lost 3 – 1.
Their goalkeeper, Ivo Viktor, was outstanding on the night and pulled off many great saves. At the time, he was rated about the best in Europe and certainly lived up to the billing that night. I was standing behind the goals on the old bank that had railway sleepers that you stood on. Just before the referee blew the final whistle, an old man shouted to Viktor who turned around. The old man then managed to pick up a piece of one of the sleepers and huled it at the net shouting “You’ve saved everything tonight, see if you can save this?” Viktor looked at the old man and burst in to a smile.
Despite being just under 11 years old at the time, it’s stuck in my mind ever since and at least we had one good memory from the night!
By David Bevan
A poem about the Vetch by Geoff Tanner
Newsreels were shown at the cinema before the main feature. In the 50s and 60s, with little football on tv, they were most the common way for fans to see big clubs in action or the important away games of their own teams.
Swansea Town v Arsenal, FA Cup sixth round, 1926
Derby County v Swansea Town, FA round 4, 1935
Newsreel footage of Swansea Town FA Cup and Welsh Cup matches from the 1950s and 1960s.
Newsreels were shown at the cinema before the main feature. In the 50s and 60s, with little football on tv, they were most the common way for fans to see big clubs in action or the important away games of their own teams.
FA Cup round 5, Swansea Town v Newcastle United 1952
Newcastle United v Swansea Town, FA Cup round 3, 1953
FA Cup round 4, Swansea Town v Stoke City 1955
FA Cup round 5, Swansea Town v Sunderland, 1955
Burnley v Swansea Town, FA Cup 1961
Welsh Cup final 1961 Swansea Town v Bangor City, Ninian Park
Preston North End v Swansea Town, FA Cup semi-final 1964 at Villa Park
Swansea City v Wigan Athletic 12/08/00 – Nationwide League Division 2
Following this fixture a group of 40 Swansea supporters made their way to a public house. On leaving the pub some of the Swansea supporters came across a group of students. The Swansea group mistakenly thought the students were from Cardiff and attacked them. One of the students had a bottle smashed into the side of the head, causing a wound that later required 40 stitches. The other seven all received injuries. The eight students eventually managed to escape and ran to a nearby pub pursued by the Swansea supporters. With the assistance of the staff the doors to the pub were shut and locked preventing the pursuing mob from getting in. The Swansea supporters proceeded to smash every window in the pub with an array of missiles found nearby, resulting in several of the customers who were already in there being cut by flying glass, some later requiring stitches. Police arrived and five Swansea supporters were arrested for serious assault and criminal damage.
Millwall v Swansea City 11/09/2000 Nationwide League Division 2
150 Swansea City hooligans travelled by train to London and made their way to London Bridge. A large police presence prevented any disorder before the match. After the game known Millwall supporters were forced back past South Bermondsey station. Serious disorder occurred with Millwall supporters throwing bricks, bottles, pieces of wood and scaffold poles at police officers. The Swansea group was escorted direct to Victoria. At Victoria, CS gas was discharged by one of this group. Eventually they were taken to Paddington and placed on an escorted train. When this train reached Cardiff Station the Swansea group attempted to alight and fight with a group of Cardiff hooligans who were waiting for them. Batons were drawn and order was restored. One man was arrested.
Swansea City v Stoke City 14/10/00 Nationwide League Division 2
A group of 80 Stoke supporters made their way to a local public house in Swansea. A group of around 200 Swansea supporters had gathered at another public house. There was a great deal of mobile telephone organisation between the two groups. The Swansea group then started to make their way to where the Stoke supporters were. A strong police presence prevented the two groups from clashing. The Swansea group then made a concerted effort to attack the coaches carrying visiting supporters. A large police presence with batons drawn forced them back. The Swansea group were dispersed and taken under escort to another pub, where a police presence was maintained. A decision was made to clear the lane of people drinking and to house them in the pub. Requests were made and warnings given, before the fully protected officers moved to clear the area. At this time missiles were thrown at the officers, batons were drawn and the majority of the violent supporters were cleared from the lane into the pub Some of this group made their way back to where the Stoke supporters were. The Stoke supporters were then walked under police escort to the stadium. Several attempts were made by the Swansea group to attack the Stoke supporters, but they were unable to do so due to the presence of Police.
Swansea City v Bristol City 31/10/00 – Nationwide League Division 2
A coach carrying Bristol City supporters made their way to a public house used by Swansea supporters. This group caused criminal damage estimated at around £10,000. There followed running battles with police as Swansea supporters attempted to get at the Bristol supporters. During these periods of serious violent disorder three police officers were injured and a police dog was blinded in one eye by flying glass.
Swansea City v Millwall 10/02/01 – Nationwide League Division 2
As the Millwall supporters were being escorted to the ground the escort came under a missile attack by a large group of Swansea numbering in excess of three hundred. A marine flare was fired towards the direction of the escort. The Swansea group was forced back by police officers with batons. They were supported by mounted and dog units. The Millwall group under escort was placed inside the ground. At the same time four coaches containing around 200 Millwall supporters were stopped on the outskirts of the City and a search carried out. A number of weapons were recovered from one of the coaches including an axe, Stanley knife, knuckle duster, lock knife, wing knife, Chinese rice flails and pool balls together with a small amount of drugs.
Just after the game had re-started, an attempt was made by Swansea to get at the Millwall fans. By climbing up on to the trackside the Millwall supporters attempted to climb the 8ft high perimeter fence to attack the Swansea supporters. After the match the Swansea group again subjected the train escort to continued attacks. They were again kept apart officers supported by mounted and dog unit officers. Prior to the escort setting off a search was made of the route and a cache of petrol and milk bottles with rags together with marine flares were discovered concealed in undergrowth near the foreshore.
Port Vale v Swansea City 16/04/2001 – Nationwide League Division 2
This was a ‘police-free’ match and there were no problems at all until the Vale fans discovered that there were about six Stoke fans in with the visitors. At the end of the game, there was a gathering of more than 100 Vale fans near to the visitors’ exit gates. The stewards guided the Stoke supporters out of another part of the ground but the Vale fans continued trying to find them amongst the Swansea fans. The stewards and police kept them apart until police resources arrived and dispersed the Vale fans to the town. Due to this, no disorder occurred and no arrests were made.
Oxford United v Swansea City 28/04/2001 – Nationwide League Division 2
A group of Swansea supporters were in a pub on the edge of the city and remained drinking there until their bus was bought to them at 2 pm. Just prior to the bus arriving the group began to smash the pub up and police entered the pub to clear it. Some arrests were made. The group was then escorted to the ground. This group left the ground after 30 minutes. They were rounded up and placed on the coach and which were escorted into Wales.
Merthyr Tydfil v Swansea City 08/05/2001 – Welsh FA Cup Semi-Final
Fifteen minutes after the start of the game, a group of around 12 Swansea supporters left the ground and went to a lounge bar nearby. An hour later 35-40 Cardiff supporters made their way to the same bar and began to confront the Swansea supporters. Police officers forced the Cardiff supporters away, batons were drawn and one Cardiff fan was arrested after a struggle with police officers. The Swansea group then attempted to leave the bar, but was forced to remain by police. The Cardiff group was then escorted out of the area and into the town centre. Subsequently, the group of Swansea supporters were taken to the station and placed on trains, with no further incidents occurring.
Sport, Football, pic: circa 1927, Colour illustration presented by ‘Boys’ Magazine’ shows a badge style card ‘Well Played Swansea Town’ featuring Swansea player J,Sykes (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Swansa Town v Arsenal, FA Cup, 6th round, 1926
Swansa Town v Arsenal, FA Cup, 6th round, 1926
W Milne 1926
1933 cigarette card
1934 Cigarette card, Harry Hanford
Sid Lawrence, Swansea Town right back, who won 8 Wales international caps from 1932-1938
The record attendance for a match at the Vetch was against Arsenal for the FA Cup 4th round in 1968. 32,786 people somehow squeezed themselves into the Vetch, only to see the lads go down by the only goal of the match, scored by Bobby Gould. Fans remember being squeezed into the ground ‘like sardines’.
To put the crowd size into perspective, only a month later, under 4,000 watched the home draw with Lincoln City.
Arsenal were rather lucky to win, as this report in the Daily Express noted.
Swans’ team: John, Roy Evans, Vic Gomersall, Herbie Williams, Brian Purcell, Davis, Humphries, Ivor Allchurch, Keith Todd, Screen, and B Evans.
The match was also one of the first to see serious crowd trouble at the Vetch.
In 1912, Swansea Town played its first ever professional match, a Southern League game against Cardiff City. Although 12,000 people attended the 1-1 draw, it was a match that drew very little attention in the wider world. Professional football was still in its infancy and new clubs were being set up across the UK. There was no guarantee that any of them would last.
But last they did and, after the Great War, football’s popularity in south Wales soared. Cardiff and Swansea both joined the Football League and Cardiff quickly rose to its first division, becoming one of the most famous clubs in Britain. Its elevation meant derbies were not common but 1929 saw Cardiff slip out of the first division, bringing the first Football League match between the two clubs. Special trains and buses were put on to the game from across south Wales. Such was the interest that Merthyr Town even rearranged a match to avoid a clash.
The game mattered to Swansea more. In 1925, the Swansea chairman had suggested that a league match between the two clubs might help decide the ‘vexed question’ of the capital of Wales. Although it was not until 1955 that Cardiff was officially declared the capital, Swansea still felt in the shadow of its larger neighbour, especially since Cardiff was a city and Swansea was not. Moreover, there was some feeling that Cardiff’s claim to capital status was unfair because the city was more anglicized than Swansea. Football matches between the two clubs thus offered the Swans the opportunity to prove their equality with their larger neighbour.
Cardiff’s lesser interest in the derby was illustrated by a 1925 fifth-round Welsh Cup match between the two. Feeling the league and its imminent FA Cup final more important, Cardiff City appeared to deliberately play badly, indulging in, according to one Swansea newspaper, ‘childish methods’ and ‘pompous swank’. Despite winning 4-0, Swansea Town had missed out on an opportunity to secure a meaningful victory over its rival and its supporters felt insulted.
The proximity of the two clubs did, however, mean attendances at the derby were very high. In 1949, there were 60,855 at NinianPark for a Division 2 match between the two teams, a record for the derby that will probably never be broken. Fans remember the derbies of the 1940s and 50s as having a friendly atmosphere. There was certainly banter between the unsegregated supporters but nothing worse. Indeed, both sets of fans were happy to see the other do well, bound by a common south Walian identity.
Some supporters, particularly those who lived somewhere between Cardiff and Swansea, were also willing to pay to see whichever of the two clubs had the most attractive fixtures or was playing the best football. In 1952, the Swansea Town manager asked the league if home games could be scheduled when first-division Cardiff City were playing away. He feared Swans fans would prefer watching the better standard of football forty miles away.
A hint of a more bitter rivalry emerged in 1960, when Cardiff, angry at the scheduling of the match, fielded a reserve side for a Welsh Cup fixture between the two teams. This brought a 350 guinea fine and a rebuke from the Football Association of Wales, who told the capital’s club to show the competition more respect. Swansea’s directors were also insulted by their Cardiff counterparts refusing to join them in the boardroom. It was a bad tempered match that saw three players sent off.
Football crowds were in decline by this time. Standing on a cold terrace was less appealing than watching television, doing DIY or taking the family out for a spin, all pursuits enabled by the new post-war working-class affluence. Many family men thus stopped going to matches. Crowds grew younger and began to take on the characteristics of the modern youth culture that emerged in the 1950s. With their confidence and opportunities boosted by rising wages and near full employment, boys and men in their teens and early twenties travelled to away matches in large numbers, adopted fashions that made them stand out, drank more than earlier generations and acted more aggressively. The result was that fighting, swearing and obscene chanting all became relatively common at football matches in the 1960s and the sport gave young men a fun outlet for proving their masculinity.
Alongside these changes, patterns of regional support declined. This was a reaction to the rise of the televised game and more affordable travel, which both contributed to the biggest clubs drawing more and more supporters from outside their traditional catchment areas. For younger supporters who stayed with their local teams, there appears to have been resentment about people following other teams and regional rivalries began to replace regional identities.
The relationship between the two sets of fans thus changed and many began wanting their local rivals to lose. By 1969, this had spilled over into the first crowd trouble at the south Wales derby. In a two-leg Welsh Cup final, Cardiff fans vandalised a train on their return home and then, at the second leg at Ninian Park, they attacked two coaches carrying Swansea fans, smashing windows and denting the sides.
There was no league derby between the two sides between 1965 and 1980 and that held back the derby from becoming too embroiled in the growing football hooligan culture. But the 1980 derby inevitably saw trouble and two weeks later fans clashed again after a bizarre decision to hold an FA Cup replay between Swansea and Crystal Palace at Ninian Park. There was considerable fighting on the terraces between Swansea supporters and Cardiff fans who had either turned up to see the match or perhaps just to enjoy a scuffle. The low point came outside the ground when a Swansea fan was stabbed to death in a fight with Palace supporters.
It was the 1980s that really saw the tensions intensify. Football hooliganism was peaking everywhere in Britain and south Wales was no different. Cardiff fans, however, had a new reason to dislike their neighbours down the M4. In 1981, Swansea were promoted to the first division and their manager was John Toshack, a former Cardiff City cult hero. This created not just jealousy but a feeling that the natural order of things had been turned upside down. In a derby in Swansea’s promotion season, their fans threw bricks at cars and houses. At the 1982 Welsh Cup final, it was golf balls that were exchanged between the two fans and a policeman was hospitalized by a dart.
As both clubs fell on hard times, the extent of the rivalry became something of a badge of honour. Some fans looked at it as something that put their teams on the map. They might not be able to compete with the big boys on the pitch but south Wales had a derby to rival anywhere. It was gaining its own legends and language too. Swansea fans became ‘Gypos’, in reference to the perceived poverty of Wales’s second city. Cardiff fans were greeted by breast-stroking players and supporters who sang ‘swimaway, swimaway’, a reference to a group of teenage Cardiff fans being chased into the sea at a 1988 derby.
The climax of trouble came at the 1993 ‘Battle of Ninian Park’. Swansea fans ripped up seats and hurled them at rival fans, which prompted a pitch invasion. Mounted police and dogs had to clear the pitch and control the situation. The game was delayed by forty minutes, eight fans were hospitalized and nine were arrested.
It was a turning point. Cardiff City chairman Rick Wright announced ‘If we allow these savages to enter our stadia and take their money, we cannot hold anyone else responsible for the scenes of carnage they create. It is all too easy for Cardiff to blame Swansea, for Swansea to blame Cardiff, for Cardiff and Swansea to blame the police. But the responsibility lies with the clubs.’
The result of the new determination to do something was the banning of away fans from the fixture. But the damage had been done and the next time the two clubs met in 1994, just 3,711 turned up to the Vetch. For many supporters, the derby had become something to avoid rather than get excited about.
Although hooliganism was a problem at most clubs, and Welsh fans were certainly playing up to the expectations of the time, there were some unique factors to the south Wales derby. In Swansea, there was some feeling that the BBC was too Cardiff-centric and that the club’s rise up through the divisions had not been given adequate coverage. Accusations of a Welsh media bias towards the capital grew and extended from the BBC to HTV Wales and the Western Mail. The size, extent and placing of coverage were all carefully scrutinized and Swansea fans could be quick to take offence at both real and imagined inequalities.
The regeneration of Cardiff Bay in the 1990s, funded by millions of pounds of central government money, threw another source of resentment into the mix. There was little surprise when the National Assembly was located in the capital but there was bitterness over how Swansea had been given the impression that it could win a farce of a competition over where to locate the new home of Welsh democracy.
Things did get better. Hooliganism went out of fashion. Policing and stewarding became better organised and managed. Both clubs got new all-seater stadiums that were closely monitored by CCTV. It was easier to identify troublemakers but people were also simply less likely to cause problems if they were sitting down. When away fans returned to the fixture in 1997, they were herded in and out of the ground in police-escorted convoys. There was little opportunity to get anywhere near a rival fan, although that did not stop some vandalism of their rivals’ stadium or a few minor skirmishes with police.
Of course, not all fans have shared in the hatred. There were many on both sides who saw it as a bit childish or who were quite happy to see a fellow Welsh team doing well. Many Swansea fans have certainly welcomed Cardiff’s promotion to Premier League because it was an opportunity to have a derby again. There is even at least one person who has season tickets for both clubs.
By 2013-14 the two clubs were meeting in the Premier League and the derby was a long way removed from the first match between the two clubs in 1912. The audience was global and the atmosphere far more hostile. No doubt there were some songs sung and gestures made that would have shocked the supporter of a hundred years ago and confused the modern foreign audiences watching. But, however much local pride is at stake, one thing hasn’t changed. You do not get more points for beating your neighbour than you do for beating any other team in the division. In that sense at least, even if in no other, it’s just another game.
In the days before extensive coaching networks, you could always advertise for new players. That’s what the Swans did in 1923 and here’s an ad the club placed in the Athletic News, a paper with close ties to the Football League, on 14 May 1923.
In this era, clubs retained a player’s registration even if their contract had expired and they were no longer being paid. The ad thus asks about the transfer fee a player’s previous club might expect. In practice, not many clubs did retain players’ registrations and demand fees for players they were not paying. If word got around, that a club made it difficult for any player to move on after his contract expired, then finding new players might be difficult.
Huw Bowen (written in 2005)
A dictionary defines the word ‘vetch’ as ‘a genus of plant, mostly climbing, some cultivated for fodder, especially the tare’. For some, therefore, the phrase ‘Vetch Field’ might conjure up a soft and pleasant image of a rural idyll, with colourful plants and flowers dotted across a rolling green meadow. To the modern football follower and to the inhabitants of Swansea, however, the words ‘Vetch Field’ create a vision of something very different: a dilapidated, crumbling, eccentrically constructed football ground wedged uncomfortably between tight, narrow streets of terraced housing. Overlooked by Townhill, and standing next to a Victorian prison ‘way down by the sea’, the Vetch might charitably be considered as ‘quaint’, but journalist Frank Keating was perhaps rather closer to the mark when he penned a fond description of the ground as a ‘variegated Heath Robinson cartoon’. ‘Nowhere’, he wrote, can ‘Wales’s inherent soccer culture be better evoked than in those paint-peeled stanchions at Swansea’s Vetch.’
This strange decaying home of Swansea Town and City for almost a century has seen great days and grim days; excitement and tedium; drama, tragedy, and more than a little farce. Some truly great football artists have graced the Vetch; but over the years a rather greater number of plodding artisans have plied their trade on the characteristically uneven, sloping playing surface. Occasionally the sun has shone; more often it seems to have rained. But throughout it all, the awkwardly positioned stands, banks, and terraces of the Vetch have served to create a very special sporting arena, where successive generations of supporters have given expression to the joys and despairs of following the fluctuating fortunes of ‘the Swans’. From time to time, the club has threatened to reconstruct the ground as a modern, well-appointed venue, but until recently the march of progress has somehow always been stubbornly resisted, as if the Vetch itself has delighted in its own downright oddness.
Before the modern age of the purpose-built all-seater sporting stadia boasting corporate facilities, bars, restaurants, and conference suites, the establishment of football grounds in Britain was mostly unplanned and haphazard. Sites were acquired and cleared; then proper grass playing surfaces were created, together with small pavilions or wooden grandstands for the well-to-do; before, finally, rudimentary viewing facilities were provided for large numbers of working-class spectators in the form of raised ‘banks’. Early grounds thus evolved in piecemeal fashion, often coming into being in a matter of weeks and then evolving only very slowly over a number of decades. No more so was this the case than in Swansea where, in bold defiance of the basic laws of geometry and common sense, a football ground was somehow wedged awkwardly into the triangular communal space that represented the only large and open area of flat land anywhere near the centre of the town. By making a home for Swansea Town Association Football Club at the ‘Vetch Field’, the pre-First World War pioneers of professional football in Swansea created a sporting home whose physical location dictated that its architectural characteristics were thereafter to be defined by sharp angles, broken lines, and complete lack of any sense of symmetry. Indeed, there could be no greater contrast than between the chaotic jumble of the Vetch Field ground, and the clean shape, metallic shine, and perfect dimensions of the new home of the Swans built a couple of miles away at White Rock.
It is, however, somehow appropriate that Swansea’s major football ground was created on a site squeezed between the County Jail, the Royal Arsenal, Hancock’s Brewery, and the Salvation Army Barracks, all of which were to provide various forms of comfort and services for several generations of Swans’ fans. At the same time, the fact that the Vetch Field was bordered by the terraced houses and back yards of Glamorgan Street, William Street, Gam Street, and Little Madoc Street meant that Swansea Town was almost literally carving out a place for itself at the very heart of the local community in the Sandfields area of the town. Again, there is a marked contrast with the new stadium which stands in splendid isolation on a reclaimed industrial wasteland on the banks of the River Tawe.
The occupation by the Swans of the Vetch Field site meant that, whether for good or ill, soccer and the soccer ground were to form an integral part of the social fabric and landscape of Swansea. Consequently, as Swansea itself became the ‘ugly, lovely town’ of Dylan Thomas’s famous description, so too the Vetch Field in its own way became an ugly, lovely football ground. Cramped, misshapen, uncomfortable, and idiosyncratic, ‘the Vetch’ swiftly took on a unique character, which was reinforced by the early generations of supporters of the Swans who collectively gave powerful and passionate expression to an identity that was both local and very distinctively Welsh. In its early years, the community of fans who took up their Saturday residence at the Vetch Field gave vociferous backing to a team that certainly carried the hopes of the whole of Swansea, but which also was seen to be representing wider Wales. This ensured that from the very beginning the ‘Vetch experience’ brought together a rich mixture of very special ingredients to create a unique setting and atmosphere for ‘the dribbling code’ of football.
For all the importance of 1912 in the history of the Swans, it is important to remember that association football was far from being new to the Vetch Field in September of that year when Swansea Town took to the field for the first time in a competitive fixture against Cardiff City. The game of ‘soccer’ as it was then universally known in South Wales had been played on the ground since the 1890s, but it was by no means a foregone conclusion that the Vetch Field would ever become a permanent home of the town’s first properly established major club. During the intervening years a number of clubs representing ‘Swansea’ had briefly flourished and died, and several of them had played their football elsewhere in the town. Indeed, if events had followed only a slightly different course then the modern-day football follower in Swansea might well be a supporter of a team called Swansea United who played their games at Danygraig or Morriston. This is not as far-fetched as it might seem, because at times between 1900 and 1910 the prospects of a professional football club ever making a permanent home for itself at the Vetch Field were virtually non-existent.
Before the 1890s the Vetch Field might well have been a meadow sown with plants and vegetables, but it had recently become a wasteland where the town corporation dumped refuse and ash. Thereafter, however, a concerted effort was made to transform it into a sports or athletics ground. The local auctioneers Messrs Teague and Jenkins endeavoured to create an all-purpose sports ground, to be known as ‘The Swansea Central Athletic Ground’, which in keeping with the physical efficiency movement of the day, would be devoted throughout the year to the recreation of local young people. Teague and Jenkins enclosed the ground, levelled the field, built changing rooms, and laid out an inner cinder cycle track as well as an outer grass trotting track for horses. This enabled the Vetch Field to be used for a wide variety of sporting events such as cycle and foot races, and it hosted general ‘sports days’ on public holidays. But a wide variety of other general forms of entertainment was also provided for the people of Swansea. Fêtes and galas were regularly held at the ground, together with special events such as balloon ascents and boxing matches. Visiting circuses made the Vetch their temporary home, and during the early years of the twentieth century Buffalo Bill and his Indians camped out on the ground, thus, cynics might say, blazing a trail for the later generations of footballing clowns and cowboys who were sometimes to be found performing at the Vetch.
The Vetch Field sports ground provided an arena for all forms of public entertainment, and when a newly formed Association Football Club was established in Swansea during early 1893 the soccer players who trained and played matches at the Vetch had to take their place alongside all manner of other sporting enthusiasts. This meant that games had to be played on a very poor playing surface, caused by the existence of the cinder cycle track which cut across the pitch in several places. Moreover, the popularity of the Rugby football on offer at St Helen’s ground meant that the fledgling Swansea club only attracted only very thin gatherings of spectators to the Vetch for games against teams such as Pembroke Dock, Brecon, Knighton, Carmarthen Training College, and the Second Battalion of the Devon Regiment. Poor public support and lack of substantial financial backing ensured that the club failed properly to establish itself at the Vetch. Although exhibition matches against Preston North End (played at St Helen’s) in 1894 and against Cup finalists Derby County in 1898 demonstrated that in the right circumstances soccer in the town could attract crowds of over 2,000, the 1890s were, overall, a time of failed hopes and ambitions for the team that took to the field wearing its very distinctive black-and-white hooped jerseys.
In keeping with the early trials and tribulations of Swansea Association Football Club, the 1890s ended with the local corporation evicting the club from the Vetch Field. Rumours suggested that the ground was soon be built upon, and local people lamented the loss of the one and only open space in the heart of the town, but in the event the Vetch Field was sold to the Swansea Gaslight Company, and it began to use the site as a coal storage depot in support of its nearby gas works. The early link between the Vetch Field and soccer was not entirely broken, however, because the Gas Works team played Swansea and District League fixtures on the site, but the sale of the Vetch almost immediately sounded the death knell for the pioneering Swansea club. In August 1899 Swansea withdrew from the South Wales League ‘from the mere want of a ground’, as the South Wales Daily Post put it, and the club soon ceased to exist.
For the next few years soccer continued to flourish at junior level in the town, but no club stepped forward to represent the whole town until 1906 when Swansea Town was formed. As with its predecessor, this club suffered because it could not find a permanent home, and it had to make do with playing its home games at Victoria Park, and it also had to withstand the challenge of the recently formed Swansea Villa who played at the same venue in the west end of town. Two years later, in 1908, yet another team stepped forward aspiring to represent the whole of the town, when East Side who played at Dan-y-graig adopted the name Swansea United and entered the South Wales Cup. With first Villa and then Town falling by the wayside, Swansea United were left to carry the flag, although it was Swansea & District XI teams that took the field at Dan-y-graig against Bristol Rovers in 1909 and Crystal Palace in 1910, and then at Morriston against Cardiff City in 1911. All of these games were lost by the local team, but the performances and crowds were encouraging, and a further effort was made to establish a first class soccer club in the town, with a view to it joining the English Southern League, which was then vigorously seeking to recruit new member clubs in South Wales.
The size of both the town and its ‘healthy, virile’ local soccer league, which had 2,000 registered players in 1912, were such that it was widely agreed that Swansea was ideal territory in which to establish a professional football club, but the stumbling block remained the lack of a suitable ground. Indeed, the key to success for any professional soccer club in the town was said to depend ‘almost entirely upon the acquisition of a centrally and conveniently situated ground’, but in reality the options were very limited. The St Helen’s ground of Swansea RFC was considered to be an ‘impregnable citadel’, and only the Vetch Field had demonstrated in the past that it could accommodate crowds of any real size.
With these factors uppermost in people’s minds, a new club and company was formed under the stewardship of Chairman J.W. Thorpe and Secretary S.B. Williams in the early summer of 1912. These two founding fathers of Swansea Town Association Football Club, together with an elected committee, organised the raising of the £2,000 share capital that was necessary to make the club financially viable, and they paved the way for the club’s election to the second division of the Southern League in time for the 1912-13 season. The aim was to bring together a squad of ‘imported professionals’ who would each be paid £3-£4 a week, and over the summer twelve experienced players were signed from league clubs in England, including the goalkeeper-manager Walter Whittaker who had previously played for Exeter City. Two Welsh amateurs were also signed, and it was one of them, Willie Messer, who gave the fledgling team its only personal connection with the town it was to represent. The early Swansea Town hardly drew at all on the local talent that supposedly existed in great abundance, but although the team was considered to be an ‘unknown quantity’ newspaper columnists were certain that it had the potential to capture high levels of support.
In the early summer of 1912 hopes were also high that the ground problem could be solved, and negotiations took place with the Swansea Gaslight Company, which, quite fortuitously, had been refused permission to build on their Vetch Field storage yard. This enabled the Football Club to take out a seven-year lease on the Vetch Field in July 1912, with a view to clearing the site and preparing it in time for competitive Southern League action against Cardiff City just over a month later. Indeed, in the opinion of ‘Ajax’ writing in the Cambrian in August 1912 the football club had stolen an important lead on their rugby neighbours because the Vetch offered a much better location than the rugby ground: ‘It is situated right at the heart of the town – far more conveniently placed, in fact, as regards the railway stations than St Helen’s’. This offered the prospect of the club attracting large crowds, including those ‘rugbyites’ who were believed to have ‘gone over’ to soccer, having become disillusioned with the stodgy fare that had been served up in recent years by the All Whites.
Finally, after almost a quarter of a century of false starts and setbacks, a professional football club was about to establish a permanent home for itself at the Vetch Field, a ground that seemed well positioned to attract sporting enthusiasts from near and far. Local newspaper headlines pointed to a ‘soccer boom’ occurring in Swansea during the summer of 1912, and J.W. Thorpe confidently predicted that the Swans would soon be serving up much better entertainment than that on offer down the road at St Helen’s. It was said that ‘bumper gates’ could be anticipated for the visit of clubs such as Leyton, Luton, Croydon Common, and Southend United, and some newspaper correspondents even began to offer over-optimistic speculation about whether there was much of a future for rugby in the town.
The town that the professional players of Swansea Town Football Club stepped out onto the Vetch to represent in 1912 was described by the poet Edward Thomas as a ‘dirty witch’ of a town. Once Swansea had aspired to be the ‘Weymouth of Wales’, a genteel seaside resort town, and even as late as the 1920s, some older residents could recall the days when the town had been little more than an extended village opening out to the west on to green fields and meadows. But during the nineteenth century Swansea had in fact developed rapidly into something quite different and, although the surrounding area remained well known for its natural beauty, the town itself soon grew into an ugly sprawling metropolis, blighted by pollution and an industrial landscape that was deeply scarred by the after-effects of unregulated smelting, plating and mining activity. On the back of export-led copper, tinplate, and coal production, Swansea became a major industrial town linked to the British Empire and wider world through its large thriving port. In its wake, industrial and maritime growth brought rapid population expansion based upon sustained immigration from West and Mid Wales, the Welsh Marches, Devon and Cornwall, Ireland, and Mediterranean Europe, notably Italy. Swansea became a remarkably cosmopolitan town, with small transient communities of Chinese, Russian, and Polish labourers who sought work in the docks.
Victorian expansion had brought wealth and prosperity to some sections ofSwansea society, but by the early twentieth century many people in the town still experienced a harsh working environment, centred upon unremitting hard and dangerous physical labour, and the rewards were often meagre. As a result, daily life was tough and living conditions were often very poor. This meant that out of sight of those who lived in the relative comfort of Brynmill and the Uplands in the west end of the town were countless slum dwellings crowded around the docks and wharves of the lower Tawe valley. Visitors to Swansea were often shocked by what they found in this part of the town, and as late as 1938 the noted Australian test cricketer Jack Fingleton wrote in his diary that ‘There could be nothing more gloomy than the walk I took through Swansea slum areas’, and he contrasted this scene with the ‘most glorious countryside imaginable’ that he found only a few miles away.
Poverty and desperately poor social conditions co-existed with widespread drunkenness and lawlessness in parts of the town, and beneath a thin veneer of respectability Swansea was a boisterous and at times very violent place. As one American social observer noted during the early 1920s, ‘Before dark I took courage to go down what is called the Strand, where murders are said to be frequent. I saw more male and female wrecks of humanity, drunk and sober, with dirty children about them, than ever in my life.’ Policemen, he reported, ‘have orders never to come down here except in twos.’ He found that things were little different in the main part of town, and he wrote that ‘Up on the main streets every so often – and with increasing frequency as the evening grew – the crowd would gather to see a drunken brawl or to let the police trundle away on a two-wheeled stretcher some dead-drunk worker.’ It would seem that little has changed over the past eighty years or so.
For many inhabitants of Swansea, life had a hard, abrasive edge to it, but the years around the First World War were also extremely fertile and creative in terms of the development of the town and local society. A strong sense of civic pride found architectural expression in buildings such as the Central Police Station (1912), the Exchange Building (1915) and the complex comprising the Guildhall, Brangwyn Hall, and law courts that was constructed during the early 1930s. At the same time, the need to entertain people in new and different ways saw the emergence of buildings and institutions dedicated to leisure activity. A host of theatres and music halls still competed for public attention during the 1920s, but they faced ferocious competition from the cinemas that were springing up in and around the centre of the town, and as if to herald a new era of sophisticated international entertainment the giant Plaza cinema on the Kingsway opened its doors for the first time in 1931. This was also a golden age for clubs and societies, as new hobbies such as cycling, rambling, and angling took hold of the imagination of those fortunate to have a little more time and money on their hands. Swansea was thus poised to change fast in the years after 1912, and by creating a professional club the directors of the Swans were swimming with a strong underlying current of enthusiasm for all things new and exciting.
This enthusiasm was much in evidence on 7 September 1912 when Swansea Town, clad in all-white, played out a 1-1 draw against Cardiff City at the Vetch in a Southern League Second Division fixture. Around 8,000 spectators gathered to watch a game that was described in the Cambrian as ‘extremely exciting and full of incidents from start to finish, there being nothing in the Soccer code like the series of monotonous scrums which we see frequently in Rugby.’ The crowd was far larger than had ever been present at a soccer match in Swansea, and special ‘cars’ or trams ran to the ground from the railway stations in the town. But, despite the great sense of occasion, the club did not accommodate their new patrons in a degree of comfort. Indeed, a conscious decision had been made to invest in the playing staff and not the ground during the first season, with a view to establishing the team’s credentials in the eyes of the paying public. Mounds of ash and brick were used to create an ‘embankment’ for spectators around the entire pitch, but the site as a whole remained largely undeveloped. Indeed, the ground resembled the surface of the moon, an impression that was added to by the pitch itself, which had an ash and cinder surface. The players changed and put on their knee pads in a hastily constructed wooden ‘dressing room’, described as a ‘splendid pavilion’, but there were few other facilities of any note.
It was only at the end of the first season, during which the Swans had played ‘clean and scientific soccer’, that the Vetch began to take proper shape as a football ground. As far as the players were concerned, the most important development in the summer of 1913 was undoubtedly the laying of a turf pitch, while general improvements were made to the spectator accommodation. Slightly higher raised banks were created, again from the conveniently available ash and stone, and a small thousand-seat covered and gabled wooden grandstand was built to run along the middle third of the south side of the pitch. Such a stand was deemed to be absolutely essential to the future of the club because it enabled gate income to be generated even when the weather was poor. Indeed, the need for such a facility was no better demonstrated than when the new stand was occupied by spectators for the first time in September 1913, and a 5-0 victory was recorded against Barry Town in a game played in a torrential downpour.
This stand, which today forms the core section of the centre stand, was to house the directors, local dignitaries, many of the six hundred or so early members of the club, and the well-to-do occasional supporters who almost all sported the then-fashionable homburg hats and boaters. These seated spectators, who from the early days included a sprinkling of women, gained access to the ground from Glamorgan Street, and then found their way to their bench seats, via steps at either end of the stand. The rest of the spectators, who almost universally wore flat caps, paid 6d. for admission through small gates in the corners of the ground, and they then took up position on the banks wherever they chose. They were kept off the pitch by low walls and iron railing fences, and in a few places they were afforded the luxury of resting up against a metal ‘crush barrier’.
The early development of the Vetch enabled more spectators to attend games, and the success of the Swans in the 1913/14 season led to crowds for Southern League matches climbing to over 12,000. As was to become the norm, however, the greatest public excitement was reserved for the FA Cup, which the club entered for the first time, and games against Merthyr and Queen’s Park Rangers (a 2-1 defeat in the last thirty-two), attracted attendances of 18,000, including those who came into the town on special trains from outlying districts. This early outbreak of cup fever was only slightly reduced by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, and when six months later the Swans were drawn against Blackburn Rovers, the Football League Champions, the match was played out in front of some16,000 spectators. In terms of the opposition, if not the size of the crowd, this was by far the biggest game in the fledgling club’s brief history, and it became all the more notable for a heroic backs-to-the-wall 1-0 victory, secured through a spectacular winning goal scored by Ben Beynon, who had only a year earlier had been turning out for the ‘All-whites’ at St. Helen’s. The result was described as a ‘staggerer’ by one reporter, and it was said that whole sporting world was taken by surprise. Certainly the Swansea fans could not contain their excitement. As the Daily Post reported, ‘When the referee blew his whistle for the cessation of the game there were scenes of great jubilation. The crowd jumped over the railings and rushed towards the Swansea players, who they shook by the hands and congratulated upon the success. [Jack] Duffy was carried back to the pavilion where a dense crowd congregated and patted the players on the back as they went back to the dressing room. Cheer after cheer was raised for the Swans.’ The fans even celebrated by singing their own triumphal song, but sadly the joy was short-lived and the cup run came to abrupt end a couple of weeks later with a 2-0 defeat against Newcastle United, after a draw on Tyneside.
The fact that the club was now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Blackburn and Newcastle demonstrated that it had come a very long way in a short space of time, but the bright spark lit by the cup run of 1915 was almost extinguished during the remaining years of the war. Organised league football came to an end in 1915, and, deprived of regular gate income, the club survived on a hand-to-mouth basis by hosting charity and exhibition matches. The side of 1915 broke up, and the prospects for the club were far from rosy at the return of peace in 1918, when there was considerable uncertainty about the future leasing of the Vetch Field from the Gaslight Company. In the event, the lease was renewed, together with hope for the future, and local interest in the Swans was quickly restored in 1919-20, not least perhaps because reasonable success on the field in the first division of the Southern League was based upon the inclusion of a far greater number of Welshman in the side. By the end of the season, the general post-war enthusiasm for sport and public entertainment ensured that attendances reached a healthy 15 to 20,000.
The interwar fortunes of the Swans were very similar to those of the local economy: initial enthusiasm was followed by a great boom, before the onset of a lingering depression that was only occasionally punctuated by good news. In May 1920 moves to expand the size of the English Football League saw the Swans become associate members of the League, and they entered the newly created Division Three. Under the astute stewardship of Joe Bradshaw (who without doubt was one of the best two or three managers that the Swans have ever had), and with a crop of good signings such as Wilfie Milne and Jack Fowler who became Swansea legends, the early 1920s saw the club make good progress on the field. This culminated in 1924/5 when the Swans pipped arch-rivals Plymouth Argyle to the Third Division (South) Championship, clinching the title on the last day of season in front of 25,000 spectators at the Vetch. Such was the crush inside the ground on that tumultuous occasion that the crowd was reported to have ‘got used to seeing ambulance men scuttle across the ground in response to a shriek of pain from some of the spectators or the fainting gasps of some half-suffocated man.’ At the end of the game ‘the pent up enthusiasm of the lusty lunged multitude broke loose in one great convulsive roar. The crowd leaped over the barriers like a sheet of water breaking its banks. The parched ground sent up clouds of dust as the cheering, gesticulating, and joy-maddened mob raced after their fleeing heroes.’ When the players eventually escaped from the dressing room, they were carried away in triumph in a charabanc, which proceeded through teeming crowds at walking pace behind the multi-talented members of the St John’s Ambulance Band who by now abandoned their stretchers in favour of musical instruments. As was fast becoming traditional, the FA Cup also consistently led to attendances of over 20,000 packing into the ground to watch the Swans take on high-profile teams such as West Ham and an Arsenal side led by the legendary Charlie Buchan. Fortunes peaked in 1925/6 with an ‘annus Swanus mirabilis’ when the team almost pulled off a remarkable cup and promotion double. Having defeated Arsenal 2-1, Swansea reached the semi-final of the FA Cup for the first time, disappointingly bowing out 3-0 to Bolton Wanderers at White Hart Lane, and a highly promising league campaign only fizzled out towards the very end, leaving the club in a highly creditable fifth position. At the end of 1926, Swansea Town was on the verge of becoming a major club with a substantial following.
Alas, and as was to happen several times in the future, the club was unable to build on these firm foundations, and things were not helped by the untimely departure of Bradshaw. Occasionally during the late-1920s the Swans put together a decent run in the league, and the FA Cup still provided good crowds and great entertainment, but gradually an ageing side reached the end of its days. Inadequate replacements were brought in for the team that had won promotion to Division Two in 1925, and the club became embroiled in a perpetual battle against relegation, not least because away form was consistently awful during the 1930s. There were occasional shafts of bright light, such as the 35 goals scored by Cyril Pearce in season 1931/2, but, against a background of acute economic depression, the crowds fell away, and when Pearce scored his last two goals in a 2-0 victory against Bury in May 1932 the attendance at the Vetch was a mere 4,281. Until 1926/7 crowds had been higher than the divisional average, but thereafter they were always below the line. Whereas during the 1920s league attendances averaged 13,334, they slumped to 9,785 in the decade that followed.
Clearly the onset of mass unemployment was a major factor in this worrying decline, but the fare served up was often uninspiring compared with the entertainment that had been on offer during the early 1920s, and for much of the time all that local soccer enthusiasts had to look forward to was the arrival at the Vetch of a parade of traditionally strong teams such as Everton, Bolton, Aston Villa, Tottenham, and Burnley who had temporarily fallen from the heights of Division One. These sides all had their stars, and thus during the 1930s Swansea crowds were transfixed by the presence at the Vetch of many present and future stars of the game: Dixie Dean of Everton, Ted Drake of Southampton, Tommy Lawton of Burnley, Frank Swift of Manchester City, and Stanley Matthews of Stoke City. An interest in these ‘national’ football icons helped to keep the soccer flame burning in Swansea at a time when the fortunes of the All Whites and the Welsh rugby team were beginning to recover after some very lean years.
It was against this general playing background that the Vetch Field was developed and then stagnated as a football ground during the inter-war years. At times, money was extremely tight for the Swans, and the Board did well to avoid the fate of the former FA Cup winners and First division members Cardiff City who slumped to the bottom of Division Three, and of Aberdare Athletic, Merthyr, and Newport County who fell out of the Football League, although the County regained their place after a year’s absence. But conditions on and off the field were hardly conducive to a sustained programme of stadium development and the ground as a whole only took half a step forward. During the mid-1920s some noises were made about eventually increasing ground capacity to almost 60,000 but, despite confident pronouncements about the future, there does not appear to have been any realistic or affordable scheme properly to upgrade the ground. As result, the Vetch Field was only improved in stages, one side at a time, as resources became available. And, as time went on, the shape and size of the physical environment became more and more of a constraining factor. The pitch itself simply could not be positioned parallel to the surrounding streets, and this meant that two of the banks could not be extended properly along the full side of the playing surface. As a result, in two of the corners neighbouring back gardens came to within a few feet of the pitch, and both the East Bank and the main Bank had to be tapered sharply at one end. This gave the Vetch Field its unusual lop-sided appearance, and no matter what improvements were made the ground was always to look as though a square peg had been forced into a triangular hole.
Of necessity, the playing surface was quite small and narrow, with the touchlines always close to the spectators, and from the beginning this gave the ground its characteristically ‘tight’ feeling. As a result, the taking of a corner kick was never easy at the Vetch. By the standards of the time, the pitch was considered to be a reasonably good one and because of sandy subsoil it was quick-draining, which meant that very few games ever had to be postponed. Having said that, the pitch suffered from extensive use, and well over eighty games a season must have been played on it. In addition to first-team league and cup fixtures, the reserves played games in the Welsh League and the London Combination League, and the ground also hosted schoolboy soccer, local cup finals, and occasional internationals. Long-serving groundsman George Hart did his best, but his methods seem to have been fairly basic and typical of their time. In the summer of 1927 it was said that the pitch had been ‘given over to sheep grazing’ which ‘has had a fine tonic effect.’ Nevertheless, by the mid-point of any season the pitch was often almost threadbare and entirely grassless, especially down the middle. As a result, it became a dustbowl during fine weather, while heavy rain created a mud bath which often reduced games to a lottery. This was very much the case in February 1936 when Bradford City visited the Vetch, although Swansea supporters were not complaining too much when their team took advantage of atrocious conditions to register a record 8-1 victory.
In terms of architecture, the first stage of the interwar ground development saw the main stand extended in the summer of 1920 so that it ran the whole length of the pitch. The initial aim had been to extend the stand towards Richardson Street, beneath the towering Drill Hall that had replaced the Royal Arsenal, and it was anticipated that this would create 3,000 extra seats. In the event, however, the original wooden stand was extended outwards in both directions, creating what became the ‘Wing Stand’ (which still has its original bench-style seating) at the Town End, and the Richardson Street terraced enclosure (now the ‘Family Stand’), which curved round slightly to meet the West End of the ground. Entrance to the main seating area of the stand was through a very narrow alley way between two houses (now the players’ entrance), and teams emerged on to the ground down steps through an opening at the half-way line, where the current director’s box is situated. The structure remained at this stage a very rudimentary one, and little had been built up by way of office or social facilities either beneath or behind the stand.
To the right of the main stand was the East Bank, an ash and shale bank which remained largely unaltered. Railway sleepers were added to the lower section to create a terracing effect and, as Tom Kiley later recalled of his time on the junior playing staff, one of the painful close season tasks of younger players was to dig out the old worn sleepers and replace them with new ones. The main Bank was raised and deepened at this time, essentially by adding more rocks, ash, and shale to the middle section of the existing mound that ran along the north side of the pitch. Space was tight at the west end of the Bank because of the proximity of houses in Little Madoc Street, but growth and an expansion of standing capacity was made possible in the Summer of 1925 by the demolition of the Vetch Field School, which had temporarily occupied a corner of the site. Again, railway sleepers were added to the lower part of the bank, but critics still complained that work had been left unfinished, and the upper section remained little more than an ash heap, so much so that the ground as a whole was still being described as a ‘rubble heap’.
Certainly, standing on the main popular bank (which was not yet known as the North Bank) offered little by way of comfort or protection from the elements. The steepness of the upper part of the Bank was painful on the ankles, and older supporters have vivid recollections of heavy rain causing torrents of dirty water to cascade down from the top, which meant that they often left games with their shoes or boots covered in grime and their pockets full of water. Indeed, conditions were such that foul weather deterred people from attending games, and in 1921 a torrential pre-match downpour meant that when the fixture against Millwall kicked off there were only around 200 spectators standing on the main bank. But despite much evidence that poor weather knocked several thousand off the gate, it seems that at this stage no thought was ever given to providing cover for those who stood on the ‘popular side’. Indeed, those on the main Bank were provided with little other than an opportunity to find a good spot from which to watch the match. Access to the Bank was still from the sides, although brave souls wanting a quick escape at the end of the game, could go ‘over the top’ at the back and scramble down the shale in the manner of a fell runner or mountaineer.
Without doubt, the greatest architectural advance in the ground came at the Western End which backed out on to Richardson Street, albeit once more at an awkward angle. This too had been a shale bank, but in the summer of 1927 it was completely redeveloped as a two-tier structure, with a lower concrete terrace and an upper wooden seated area. The West stand, or ‘Double-Decker’ as it soon became known, was to accommodate 4,000 standing spectators, the majority under cover, and just over 2,000 seated spectators. One supporter recalls the new stand being regarded at the time as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, not least because it gave the seated spectators in the upper tier a high, panoramic, and uninterrupted view of the pitch. Cushions could be hired to soften the effects of hard wooden benches, and from the beginning spectators marked their applause by rhythmically banging their feet up and down on the wooden floor. Quite what effect this initially had on those underneath remains unrecorded, but the gradual opening of the new stand coincided with remarkable sequence of goal scoring. The upper section of the stand was not ready for occupancy by the time of the first game of the 1927/8 season but those who stood on the lower terrace saw a 2-1 victory over Fulham. A few days later a handful of spectators were allowed to climb the stairs to the upper level for the first time, and they were ‘sent soaring up to the highest flights of ecstasy’ by a 5-3 win against Manchester City. The full opening of all parts of the stand on 17 September was marked by a 6-0 demolition of Wolves, and the next home game saw a further six goals put past South Shields. This frenzy of scoring, including four hat-tricks, can be attributed to the introduction of a new offside law which seems to have completely bamboozled defenders for a short time, but it was still quite a way to mark the opening of the Vetch’s new landmark grandstand.
The opening of the ‘Double-Decker’ in 1927 can be seen to have marked the high-water point for the development of the ground and, apart from an upgrade to the North Bank, things at the Vetch were to remain much the same for the next thirty years or so. Only few cosmetic improvements were made to the internal fabric of the ground, and most notably the addition of the ‘Glamtax’ half-time scoreboard in the north-east corner of the ground helped to provide spectators with the state of play in other games. This telegraph-style scoreboard was in place by the late-1920s, and changes to the teams announced in the printed programme were conveyed to spectators via messages scrawled on chalk boards carried around the edge of the pitch. A rudimentary public address system came into being in order to broadcast music from records, but the tunes could only be heard and identified by those situated right next to the loudspeakers situated in the main stand. Consequently, throughout the interwar period it was customary for pre-match and half-time entertainment for the masses to be provided by bands who offered a staple diet of popular marching tunes. Otherwise, the facilities remained basic. There were a couple of small tea bars dotted around the ground, but those wishing for refreshment had to wait the arrival of boys who carried tea urns or trays of sweets, nuts, and the inevitable packets of Woodbines and Players cigarettes. Such was the prevalence of smoking at the time that the smell of cigarettes always wafted across the ground, and from time to time spectators swigged from flagons of beer that were carried into the ground. Most of all, of course, the crowd wished to be sustained by the quality of the football on offer, and it was this rather than the nature of their surroundings that primarily determined their collective mood and behaviour.
When the Swans had taken to the field for the first game against Cardiff City in 1912, the Cambrian newspaper had taken it upon itself to tell the players, directors, and supporters exactly how they should conduct themselves in the new era of professional football. While the players were told not to lose their tempers because this meant ‘loss of form, and sometimes the match’; the directors were warned not to be too hasty in putting up admission prices because ‘it often cuts down the average attendance.’ For their part, spectators were presented with a code of behaviour which placed a heavy accent on fair play and good sportsmanship:
These instructions can be regarded as a somewhat patronising attempt by the respectable classes to impose their own standards of decency upon unruly proletarian elements, but in fact the crowds at the Vetch for the most part seem to have been well behaved. The crowd certainly gave vociferous backing to their heroes, and in 1926 it was said that ‘ordinarily the cheering can be heard as far as Fforestfach’, which was no mean feat even before the age of heavy noise pollution. Those on the main Bank seem to have required little encouragement to strike up a song, and they often ran through a medley of popular hits and hymns, many of which were sung in Welsh. Thus the crowd often burst into spontaneous renditions of ‘Cwm Rhondda’, ‘Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, ‘Sospan fach’, and ‘Yn y Dyfroedd Mawr a’r Tonnau’. When a visiting Stoke City supporter was told that the last hymn was usually heard at funerals, he looked shocked and then replied ‘If that is so, then we had better hum “Show me the way to go home.”’ The enthusiastic singing of such hymns and arias certainly gave a distinctive Welsh feel to big games at the Vetch, but while the crowd were giving vocal expression to a form of Welshness they cannot be said to have used the game of football to make any wider or deeper political points about nationalism or national identity. Most were only ninety-minute nationalists, and they simply enjoyed participating in mass community singing.
The crowd took up English-language popular tunes with equal enthusiasm, especially in the case of ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ and ‘Danny Boy’. Indeed, with just a little creative imagination a hit song was soon adapted to celebrate the scoring prowess of Jack Fowler, and ‘Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken, lay a little egg for me’ was reworded to become ‘Fow, Fow, Fow, Fow, Fowler, score a little goal for me, We haven’t had a goal since the last match and now it’s half past three’. Tapping into this crowd participation, the club often encouraged the Vetch voices to stretch their musical chords even further. At the Bury FA Cup tie in 1927 mass singing was organised at a game in Wales for the first time when the conductor Thomas Radcliffe was sponsored by the Daily Express to lead the crowd through a repertoire of popular numbers. The ground, it was said, ‘blossomed into song’, and ‘the harmony and melody of community singing rose on the fog-laden air.’ Later, records were played over the PA system in order to get the crowd going, although this did not always have the desired effect. At the Portsmouth Cup tie of 1934 hit tunes were played ‘but a big section of the crowd preferred Welsh hymns and particularly “Cwm Rhondda”’. Following the same game, a reporter also wondered about the wisdom of playing the doleful hymn ‘O God our help in ages past’ just moments after Portsmouth had scored what proved to be the winning goal.
Singing gave people a sense of full involvement in the occasion, but in their excitement they also swayed from side-to-side together in unison. This was unnerving for some in packed crowds, and the practice was considered dangerous by the authorities, but little could be done to stop it. To prevent crushing, small boys were moved to the front ranks of the banks and terraces, and during big games spectators sat on the very edge of the pitch. There was little by way of any official stewarding, but on major occasions ‘packers in’ were used to move the crowd toward the centre of the banks and megaphone-wielding policemen loudly encouraged people to stand as tightly together as possible. They did this in the belief that such a strategy offered the best countermeasure against surges, but this seems now to have been a somewhat dubious practice and on occasions the club managed only narrowly to avoid serious accidents in the ground. ‘Rolande’ wrote in the Sporting News that when the Swans scored against Aston Villa in the Cup in 1925 ‘the spectators [in a crowd of almost 20,000] rose as one person and for a moment one trembled to think what might happen to the barriers at the Mumbles End.’ Nine years later a then record attendance of 27,910 packed into the Vetch to watch a cup tie against Portsmouth, and such was the demand for admission that it was said that the club needed a ground that was twice the size. The crowd were repeatedly encouraged to ‘close up’ but the effect of this was such that at one point before kick off workmen were called in to hammer in wooden battens to support the fencing that surrounded the pitch. This had little effect, however, and ten minutes into the game a barrier gave way at the ‘Wind Street End’ of the ground and dozens of people spilled out on to the pitch, causing the game halted. Fortunately no-one was injured, but then the front section of the Richardson Street Enclosure collapsed, although again, miraculously, no-one was hurt.
As photographs and news reels of the time show very clearly, the Banks and popular ‘cheap side’ were something of an exclusive male preserve, and beyond the seated areas there seem to have been few women present in the ground. Omri Huxtable recalls that women were a ‘rare, rare thing’ at games of the 1930s. Groups of work mates congregated together in their favourite spots on the Banks, where they smoked and laid bets, but many fans also moved around the ground during the game, and it became something of a ritual for large numbers of fans to switch ends at half-time. There were no barriers closing off the separate banks, and thus large numbers of supporters moved from one end of the ground to other in order to stand behind the goal that the Swans were attacking. This freedom of movement did not lead to any crowd trouble, and there is certainly no evidence of aggression towards visiting supporters who intermingled quite freely with the home fans with little fear for their safety. Visitors openly demonstrated their allegiance, as was the case in 1922 when supporters from Merthyr poured into town to back their team. They drove down in charabancs, and by one o’clock ‘the colours of the Martyrs were prominent all over the town’. On the occasion of the epic Arsenal cup-tie of 1926 ‘Two special trains from London crowded to the last inch of corridor space brought down a cheering mass of Arsenal backers, wearing their colours defiantly.’ When Portsmouth played the cup-tie of 1934 they were urged on by a ‘big band of supporters who had arrived from the naval town [and] made a brave show of blue and white streamers and rosettes.’
It is evident that big games attracted large support for the Swans from within the town and immediate district, but they also drew in large numbers of spectators from further a field and this serves as a useful reminder that in those days the club days possessed a very large catchment area, which for a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors has since been lost. When Cup games were made ‘all-ticket’ there were howls of protest from ‘Valleyites’ who complained that they were being denied access because they could not comply with the club’s rule that they must apply in person for tickets. As this suggests, there were plenty of people from across South and West Wales who were prepared to travel to Swansea for major games, and this demonstrates how the club acted as a vehicle for wider Welsh sporting enthusiasms and identities.
The really special occasions could even attract substantial interest from neutrals beyond Wales. This happened most notably perhaps in 1926 when Arsenal came to town for the FA Cup Quarter Final. On that day in March nineteen special trains ran to bring in supporters from near and far. It was reported that ‘advance guards’ of general football enthusiasts came in from Ireland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cornwall, and London, and observers noted the great variety of accents that could be heard in the huge crowds that thronged the streets around the Vetch from the early morning of the game. But the South Wales Daily Post also noted that that this was ‘essentially a Welsh day. North and South Wales poured enthusiasts into the town.’ Six Great Western Trains brought in fans from all over the South Wales coalfield, and football specials ran from places such as Llandovery, Craven Arms, Brynamman, Ystalyfera, Newport, and even Cardiff. This was akin to a full-scale military-style mobilisation of Welsh support for the Swans, and it is not surprising that the official attendance reached 25,158, with the Arsenal supporters said to be outnumbered by fifty to one.
By the time Portsmouth arrived for a cup-tie eight years later, in 1934, different patterns of supporter transportation had begun to emerge. A significant number of ‘football special’ trains were still laid on for this important occasion, but plans also had to be made to cope with the influx into the town from outlying areas of a large number of cars and motor vehicles. The AA put up ‘to the match’ signs at all the approaches to the ground, and khaki-clad officers were on duty to direct the traffic. At the end of games such as the Portsmouth Cup tie, a great tide of humanity surged back out of the ground into the centre of the town. Oxford Street was routinely brought to a standstill, and the massed ranks of supporters hurrying to cafes, pubs, and transport gave way to nothing other than the trams that continued to operate until 1937.
On big match days the town in general could not help but be swept up and carried along on this general tide of enthusiasm. Large crowds gathered at High Street Station to greet visiting teams, and the recently relegated Aston Villa attracted much attention prior to the first game of the 1936/7 when they arrived in a specially chartered one-carriage diesel train. People camped out for hours in the streets around the ground prior to big games, and it was reported that on the evening before the Arsenal game of 1926 ‘enthusiasts’ knocked on the doors of local houses and made ‘extraordinary offers’ in the hope that they might be able to spend the night on the sofa. On several such occasions the ground could simply not cope with such demand for access, but it was nevertheless said that when ‘sold out’ signs were put up those locked outside the big games managed to behave in a ‘commendable manner’. Several thousand ticketless hopefuls were still outside the ground when the gates were closed before the Portsmouth cup tie of 1934 and, although some hung around hoping for late entry, a large percentage of them were said to have gone away in good order to watch the All-whites playing at St Helen’s.
Success gave a healthy boost to local pride and it also was thought to enhance the profile of the town, not least in the long-running battle for civic supremacy that existed between Swansea and Cardiff. More broadly, as the Daily Post put it in 1926, any major footballing victory for the Swans meant that ‘Indirectly the town benefits for there is nothing like sporting eminence to advertise a locality, and the geographical diffusion of interest of an association team is necessarily much wider than can be hoped for with Rugby.’ Rather more prosaically, success on the pitch helped to give a much-needed shot in the arm to local business. For big matches, licensing hours were extended so that thousands of thirsts could be quenched before and after the game, and small entrepreneurs tried to cash in on the influx of supporters. Around the Vetch all manner of favours, streamers, and rosettes were sold, and greengrocers must have done a roaring trade given the large number of giant leeks that were always in evidence at big games. Indeed, it became something of a tradition for a spectator or two to run onto the pitch prior to kick off in order to tie a leek to a goalpost. Before the Stoke cup tie of 1926 those queuing for entry to the ground ‘were serenaded by a number of street musicians, banjoists, and a male quartet’, and by the time the supporters went through the turnstiles most were wearing recently purchased miniature Swans in their hats.
Those living in close proximity to the Vetch took advantage of the fact that supporters were locked out of the biggest fixtures. Fans desperate to watch the game often had to resort to desperate measures, and when a cup tie was played against Aston Villa in early 1924 it was reported that people were standing on the roofs of houses in Gam Street and William Street, and it was said that men had even managed to scramble on to the roof of the nearby brewery. Later, the flat roof of the Drill Hall offered an ideal viewing point, and this caused people to ponder on the full range of benefits on offer to recruits to the Territorial Army. People with homes that backed onto the Vetch also found that they were in a prime location, and they began to offer premium viewing facilities to friends and family, while the more mercenary took in paying guests for the duration of the match. Harry Secombe’s grandparents lived in 38 William Street, and he later recalled the scene on match days: ‘The house backed on to the Vetch Field, the home of Swansea’s Football Club, and in order to watch the games the family erected a wooden stand which could only be reached by a ladder. On Saturdays the Secombe males would turn up in force for their free entertainment, and the platform would rock to and fro with the rhythm of the match. It was strange to see how these gentle little men turned into red-faced militants as they yelled abuse at the referee.’
Harry Secombe declared that he had little interest in soccer although he was often to be found standing on the West Terrace. Indeed he eventually became the founding President of the junior supporters club, and prior to the FA cup tie against Arsenal in 1968 he sent a telegram to the club offering himself as a goalkeeper in the belief that he was by then so large that no one could possibly score a goal past him. He recalled that during the 1930s the club built higher and higher fences around the Vetch in order to prevent onlookers having a view of the game. The building of private stands had become a matter for great concern to the club, especially in view of its own straitened financial circumstances, and in 1935 it was reported that a woman who owned a house in Madoc Street had constructed one capable of holding 35 people, each of whom paid one shilling for a ticket to watch a match. This budding female entrepreneur was eventually taken to court by the Customs and Excise on the grounds that she was not paying entertainment tax on the profits she made from this enterprise.
Of course, not all games generated large crowds and a positive atmosphere, and these years should not be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles as though they now represent some sort of golden age when everyone behaved themselves, threw their hats in the air when goals were scored, and gave three rousing Welsh cheers to both sides. At a time when life was harsh and popular protest was common, it is hardly surprising to find that crowds often gave loud and robust expression to their frustrations. Indeed, some sections of the crowd became a constant cause of concern to the authorities. These so-called ‘unruly elements’ generally did not direct their anger at either the opposition or its supporters, but instead they vented their anger at the shortcomings of the home team and, especially, the referee. From the very beginning, appeals had to be made for the crowd not to resort to heckling and barracking the Swansea players, but these seem to have fallen on deaf ears and the problem seems to have become acute after the First World War. Calls were made for stewards to step in to prevent fans shouting abuse or ‘hurling epithets’ at players who were trying their best, and it was hoped that the club would get rid of a ‘small sprinkling of roughs’. It was of course wholly unrealistic to think that people could be expected to control their emotions and keep quiet, and an undercurrent of barracking was to continue throughout the interwar period. It was not always tolerated, however, as ten-year old John Conibear found out to his cost when he shouted abuse at a Manchester United player and then swiftly received a clout round the back of the head from a complete stranger who was standing next to him.
On the whole, however, any aggression in the ground remained of the verbal type, and there seems to have been no fighting or tribal conflict within the crowd. Certainly the press reported no major incidents of crowd ‘trouble’, or perhaps they chose to turn a blind eye to episodes of misbehaviour in the hope that they could prevent copycat actions from impressionable youths. Very occasionally, some missile throwing occurred and it is known that in 1934 a referee at the Vetch was pelted with oranges by those who were upset by his performance. Rather more seriously, John Conibear has a vivid recollection of the well-attended Swansea-Bolton game of April 1935 when the referee was hit on the knee by a rock or half-brick thrown at him from the East Bank. Fortunately for Mr E.C. Carnwell of Lichfield the damage was slight and he was able to carry on, but the general mood of the crowd is perhaps best summed up by the fact that the offender was immediately apprehended by those around him. He was charged and later convicted of a public order offence, and it is telling that most people in the ground that day were truly appalled by an event they considered as being entirely untypical of the general Vetch experience of the time.
Most supporters paid for entry to the ground on a match-by-match basis, although it was reported that during the years of greatest hardship there were always crowds of boys and unemployed men clustered around the turnstiles hoping for free admission. If they did not manage to dodge, force, or climb their way into the ground, they were at least guaranteed entry for the last fifteen minutes when the gates were thrown open ready to let the crowd. Interwar admission prices stabilised at 1 shilling for ‘Field’ (or Bank) entry for adults, and 6d for boys. A seat in the Main Stand cost 3 shillings, and the seats in the Double Decker stand were priced at 2s 6d, although the entertainment tax introduced during the 1930s added a little more to the cost of entry.
A considerable number of supporters strengthened their commitment to the Swans by becoming ‘members’ or season-ticket holders at the Vetch. Broadly speaking, their numbers fluctuated in line with average attendances and while there were 1,131 members in 1926/7 there were less than 400 in the doldrums year of 1931/2. These people formed the core of the support that gathered at the Vetch, and many of them organised themselves into a very active supporters’ club. Of course, following the Swans was the main point and purpose of the supporters’ club, and excursions were organised to away games. Trips to games in London were especially popular, and trains were timed to depart from Swansea very late on a Friday evening so that people could arrive at Paddington early on the Saturday morning and enjoy a good few of hours sight-seeing before making their way to the game at Fulham, Q.P.R., or wherever. As a reflection of the times, the excursions to London also allowed supporters the opportunity to visit the Cenotaph where they could honour the memory of friends and comrades who had fallen in the war. But the supporters’ club also organised a wide variety of social events such as dances, ‘smoking concerts’, and fund-raising shows, while the close season saw bowls and cricket matches, together with picnic excursions to Gower beaches and beauty spots. Rather more ambitiously, the supporters club organised holiday trips to the continent. In August 1927, after the Swans had returned from a month-long visit to Spain and Portugal during which Real Madrid had been beaten 3-0, a large group of supporters left Swansea for a 10-day holiday in Belgium. A party of 150 headed for Ostend and Brussels to follow an itinerary that included what must have been an extremely poignant charabanc tours to the First World War battlefields. Clearly the Vetch Field lay at the heart of an extended social network that brought together people who were happy to spend much of their leisure time in the company of other supporters. As a result, a substantial community of fans came together for rather more than ninety minutes of footballing action on a Saturday afternoon.
While the interwar Vetch Field was home to the Swans and its supporters, it should not be forgotten that the ground also hosted other teams and indeed other events. Several high-profile boxing bouts featured local stars such as Len Beynon, Ronnie James, and Jim Wilde who fought Tommy Farr for the Welsh Heavyweight Championship before Farr went on to pit his skills against the legendary Joe Louis. Wales played three international soccer fixtures at the Vetch between 1919 and 1939, but they did not draw in the crowds in anything like the numbers that attended FA Cup ties involving the Swans. Indeed, in 1925 a crowd of only 8,000 watched Wales lose 2-1 to England, even though the Swansea goal-scoring hero Jack Fowler was awarded his first cap in what might have been a calculated attempt by the FAW to draw local spectators to the game. A much greater level of public support was evident for some schoolboy internationals, however, especially when the Swansea district provided a good proportion of the team. In 1935 six local lads lined up for Wales against Ireland, and their 5-1 victory was watched by a 16,000 crowd ‘including small boys with gigantic leeks that almost obscured their view.’ No doubt the size of this midweek crowd was determined by the fact that pupils were let out of school for the afternoon, but the town had already developed a voracious appetite for schoolboy football. Under the expert direction of Dai Beynon, who cultivated several generations of top-quality players, Swansea Schools had embarked on a crusade to capture the English Schools Shield. They lost in the final in both 1934 and 1935, on the latter occasion to Manchester Schools at the Vetch, but it was a case of third time lucky and in May1939 they finally lifted the Shield for the first time by beating Chesterfield 2-1 in front of a home crowd of 20,000.
The Swansea Schools victory of 1939 gave the town’s football supporters a tantalising glimpse of a very bright future, but realisation of the enormous potential of the vintage crop of local players had to be postponed because of the outbreak of war a few months later. On 2 September 1939 the reserves were in action at the Vetch and the depressing news filtered back to the crowd that the first-team had lost 8-1 away at Newcastle. This was put into perspective somewhat the following day when war was declared, but it was still not the best way to bring down the curtain for six years on league football at the Vetch. Shortly afterwards, the military authorities took possession of the ground and Bill Woolway recalls that a trench was dug in the Main Bank to house anti-aircraft guns. Fortunately, the ground avoided the devastation that the Luftwaffe inflicted on much of the town centre, especially during the ‘Three Night’s Blitz’ of February 1941, but rumours long circulated that the Vetch was used as a central point to which the authorities carried the bodies of those killed in the bombing. Whatever the truth of this claim, the Swans were denied residence at the Vetch Field between 1939 and 1942, and they were obliged to play fixtures at St Helen’s. The club returned to their home in time to take part in a ‘League West’ competition during the 1942/3 season. This involved sides such as Cardiff City and Bristol City, as well as lesser lights such as Bath City, Aberaman Athletic, and Lovell’s Athletic, and the aim was to give the sport-starved public some competitive action. This served its purpose and, in the absence of men who were away with the services, the wartime games also offered opportunities to budding local stars, the most outstanding of whom proved to be Trevor Ford, who made a more than adequate switch from full-back to centre-forward.
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 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.
In August 1914 war broke out in Europe, driving much of Britain into a patriotic frenzy. Within days, all rugby matches in England and Wales were suspended to help the nation to concentrate on the push for victory.
Football, however, took a different lead. Like so many people, clubs and the FA assumed the war would be over by Christmas. As a professional sport, it had players’ contracts to pay and thus to avoid short-term losses and disruption, football decided to play on. The FAW claimed to do anything else would be “panic legislation”.
This began a barrage of criticism of professional football. Newspaper articles and letters across the country accused football players and fans of being unpatriotic.
One letter to the South Wales Daily News declared: “It is unimaginable that people could look on at a game of football and forget themselves in the ecstasy of a winning goal at the moment when their comrades, maybe brothers, are making gallant and stupendous efforts at the front, even sacrificing their lives for the life of the nation.”
Of course, many fans and players did enlist but those who remained found themselves subject to public pressure in newspapers and even at games. In November 1914, one Swansea newspaper hoped that young men who were looking forward to the next week’s football fixtures would realise how serious the international situation was. It wanted them to do their duty and join the “nobler and more exciting game” of war.
Similarly, a speaker told a recruitment meeting in Mount Pleasant in Swansea that “At a time like this, attention should not be directed to kicking a football but kicking the enemy out of France and Belgium”.
Swansea Town AFC came under pressure too. At the start of the war, the military authorities decided to requisition the Vetch Field. The club objected, pointing out that it had players to pay and could not simply give up its ground without compensation.
The club chairman told the press that he and the directors were all patriots and quite happy to let the military give recruitment lectures at Swans matches. That happened at subsequent games and in the end, club won its appeal against losing the Vetch on the grounds that no financial compensation had been offered.
The anger of the press towards football does not seem to have been representative of wider opinion. It owed much to hostility to professional sport and class snobbery towards a working-class game. But football struggled anyway. Falling attendances, longer working hours and restrictions on rail travel all caused problems and professional football decided to put itself on hold at the end of the 1914-15 season.
But some people’s memories were long and the early 1920s saw some Welsh and English schools switch from football to rugby, while the football authorities became very sensitive to any criticism that might suggest they were too preoccupied with financial matters. Instead, they put considerable efforts into persuading people football was a patriotic sport.
The Swans may have recently been knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of Blackburn but a hundred years ago the result went the other way. Indeed, Swansea’s 1915 FA cup first-round victory over Blackburn Rovers is one of the great giant killings of all time.
Blackburn Rovers were then Football League champions, had won the FA cup five times, and had five internationals in their side. The Swans, on the other hand, played in the Southern League and were less than three years old.
Professional football’s reputation had been damaged by the game’s decision not to cancel its senior fixtures because of the First World War. Transport problems and longer working hours were hitting attendances too but the clash at the Vetch still managed to attract 16,000 fans, helped by those in uniform being given half-price admission.
The Blackburn team had considerably more experience but the Swans contained the champions and scored in the twentieth minute through a counter attack. The scorer was Benny Beynon, a Swansea RFC player who had only switched to football after rugby cancelled its fixtures because of the war. In 1920, Beynon won an international rugby cap but then signed professional terms with the Swans four days later. The Welsh rugby authorities refused to give him his cap.
Back in 1915, Beynon and his Swansea colleagues enjoyed some second-half luck. Blackburn were awarded a penalty but Billy Bradshaw missed, despite having apparently scored his last 36 attempts. There were no substitutes in this period and injuries left the Swans down to nine men for the last 15 minutes but they hung on for a memorable victory. At the final whistle, the crowd invaded the pitch and the players were mobbed by jubilant fans.
Afterwards, the South Wales Daily Post declared “But for the fact that there is a war on, the Swans’ success would be emblazoned forth to all quarters of the world, and their praises would be loudly sung all over the country. Circumstances demand that we shall not attach as much importance to the game as in normal times, but still, ‘twas a glorious victory.” Another newspaper called the game “A humiliation that staggered the football world”.
Swansea paper, the Cambrian Daily News, was less impressed. It wondered if the young men at the game had thought of the trenches where other fans were standing in the cold ‘facing the perils of the field’. It concluded ‘We cannot bring ourselves to the note of exultation over a football triumph when we remember how nobly our men are playing the greater game’.
Yet Swansea fans who were actually in the forces wrote home to ask for copies of the match report to be forwarded on to them. Some of those in France worried about the game and struggled to find out the score.
Later in the month, a member of the Army Transport Service wrote to the Cambrian Daily News that he wished he had been at home to see the game. However, he said “my King and Country needed me here, so I waited until some chance should come, that I might be able to see the result in some paper.” He signed off his letter hoping that Swansea would be at home in the next round and that he would have a chance of capturing the Kaiser.
As it turned out, the Swans were drawn away to Newcastle United. They secured a 1-1 draw but lost the replay 0-2 at the Vetch. You can read the match programme here.
The cup run was an important part of the process of the process that saw football establish itself in south Wales and overtake rugby as the most popular club sport. But its memory became tinged with sadness. Joe Bullock, the Swans captain against Blackburn joined up 11 months later and in April 1918 he died of head wounds received at the Fourth Battle of Ypres.
In 2014 the Supporters’ Trust unveiled a plaque at The Liberty Stadium to commemorate the three Swansea Town players or former players who were killed during the First World War. The three were popular figures who had played for the club during its early years, and even though none of them were local boys their loss was very keenly felt in Swansea. Lest we forget, we remember them as members of the Swans community who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country in the Great War of 1914-1918.
Spencer Bassett was born in 1885 in Blackheath, Kent, and made his name playing for nearby Maidstone United. His early promise was such that he signed for Arsenal in 1909, but, having scored one goal for the Gunners, he soon moved on to Exeter City where served as a reliable centre-back for three seasons.
Spencer joined Swansea Town for the 1913-14 season, making his debut in a Southern League Fixture against Caerphilly. In all he made 32 league and cup appearances for the Swans, scoring two goals in an 8-0 victory over Treharris in February 1914. By now a skilful and clever right-half, he initially re-signed for the 1914-15 season but in the upheaval and uncertainty caused by the beginning of the war he eventually joined Southend United.
Whilst with Southend Spencer enlisted at Woolwich to serve with the Royal Garrison Artillery, and by 1917 he was Acting Bombardier with the 140th Siege Battery. He was wounded in the early stages of the Battle of Arras, and later died of those wounds, aged 32, on 11 April 1917. He is buried in the Pozieres British Cemetery, Oviller-La Boisselle.
Joe Bulcock was the son of a Burnley cotton weaver. He played reserve team football for Burnley and Aston Villa, before going on to appear for Bury and Exeter City. He then spent five seasons with Crystal Palace, where he developed a reputation as one of the best backs in the Southern League. He was part of a representative team the FA sent to tour South Africa in 1910.
Bulcock joined Swansea Town late in the 1913-1914 season and went on to captain the Swans on number of occasions, including in their famous 1915 FA Cup victory over Football League Champions Blackburn Rovers. That match’s programme contained a pen portrait of him, describing him as a favourite on and off and the pitch. Unusually for a footballer of the time, the accompanying photograph showed him wearing a bow tie and boater hat.
After professional football ended in the summer of 1915, he lived in Llanelli and worked as a plumber’s mate. He joined the Welch Regiment as a private in December 1915 and was sent to France in September 1917. He died on 20 April 1918 of head wounds received at the Fourth Battle of Ypres in Flanders. He was 38. He is buried at Haringhe (Bandaghem) military cemetery in Belgium.
Ted Mitchell was a native of Middlesbrough who joined the Swans from Reading in 1913 as a forward, but who soon found his niche in the Town side as a sturdy and tenacious left-back. To the newspapers of the time he was ‘a popular hero’ whose versatility was appreciated. When he was moved to play on the right wing for a FA Cup tie against QPR, the report declared that his ‘dash’ was ‘extremely useful’.
Ted was a reservist, and so was called up immediately on the onset of hostilities: a great crowd of Swansea supporters turned up to cheer him when he left by train on 5 August 1914. He was at the front by 9 September, serving with the Royal Field Artillery but at the end of the month he was in a French hospital with a bullet wound. He returned to action and was promoted to sergeant.
Ted returned to Wales briefly in the summer of 1915, to marry his sweetheart Dolly Jones of Llandeilo on 22 July. The newspaper report notes that he ‘went to the altar in mud-besmeared khaki’: four days later he was due back at the front.
He was killed in action on 6 January 1916 and he was widely mourned by Swansea’s fans as ‘one of the most popular of all the Swansea Town players’. He is buried at Bethune town cemetery.
Professor Huw Bowen, Dr Martin Johnes, and Dr Gethin Matthews, Department of History and Classics, Swansea Univesity
The Second World War disrupted football as it disrupted nearly aspect of life on the home front.
For a period the club had to share St Helens with the local rugby but that at least forced improvements at the Vetch because in the club’s time away the pitch turned into a quagmire.
Much of the old slag on the playing surface was removed and new ‘sea-washed’ turf from Loughor was planted. The new pitch was said to be “springy and tough”. Improvements were also undertaken on the North Bank for those “who prefer to receive their soccer thrills when standing” (Evening Post, 1 Sept 1942).
The club struggled to field a team at times but continued to play friendlies and in makeshift leagues. It did, at least, achieve some fine results in this period. You can read some match reports from 1942 by clicking on the files below.
Click on the images to enlarge
Swansea City completed their spectacular rise through the leagues by clinching promotion to the first division for the first time in their history with a 3-1 away win at Preston. Just six years earlier, the Swans had been forced to apply for re-election to the Football League after finishing bottom of the Fourth Division but the win at Deepdale secured a third promotion in 4 seasons for John Toshack and his side.
Swansea went into the match knowing that a win would be enough to pip Blackburn Rovers to the third and final promotion place thanks to their superior goal difference. Preston needed the points for very different reasons. Languishing in 20th place in the league, they sought to ruin the swans’ promotion party in order to keep their survival hopes alive.
The Swans were backed by more than 10,000 supporters who made the long trip to North West England. This was the biggest away support for the South Wales club “since Swansea met Preston at Villa Park in 1964” (South Wales Evening Post, 2 May 1981). Unusually, the Preston supporters were outnumbered by jacks in their own ground. Throughout the match, the travelling contingent backed their team vocally and “included Cwm Rhondda and the Welsh national anthem in their musical repertoire” (South Wales Evening Post, 2 May 1981).
The Swans were without captain John Mahoney who picked up an injury in a 2-2 draw with Luton Town at the Vetch Field earlier in the week. In the opening periods of the game, both sides enjoyed periods of pressure but it was Swansea who struck first. After cutting inside from the left wing, Leighton James broke the deadlock with 24 minutes on the clock. Preston goalkeeper Roy Tunks stood little chance of saving James’ shot which sailed over him and into the top corner. Within minutes, the swans had doubled their lead after Neil Robinson’s cross found an unmarked Tommy Craig whose shot struck the Preston keeper before trickling over the line. The Swans now had a foot in the door of the First Division and left the pitch at half time with a 2 goal lead following a fast paced first half.
Determined to beat the drop, Preston had no choice but to push forward in the second half and several convincing attacking moves reminded the travelling Swansea fans that the game was far from over. The pace of the second half was slower than that of the first and as the game progressed, Swansea seemed the more comfortable of the two sides. Alex Bruce pulled one back for Preston on 78 minutes after Swansea goalkeeper David Stewart failed to deal with a high ball in the box.
It was now nail-biting time for the many thousands of Swans fans inside the ground. With 87 minutes gone, Jeremy Charles put the game beyond doubt with a powerful drive from just 10 yards out which sent the travelling supporters into absolute delirium. The match was won and Swansea City had secured themselves a place in the top flight of English football for the first time in their 69 year history.
However, this was not the end of the season for the Swans who still had a Welsh Cup final against Hereford United to look forward to. Having already qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup due to Hereford’s ineligibility to represent Wales, the Swans added some silverware to their cabinet following a 2-1 victory over the Bulls in the final which was played over two legs.
The 1980-81 season and particularly the promotion clincher at Deepdale will live long in the memories of all Swansea fans who were fortunate enough to experience them.The speed of Swansea’s rise from the Fourth Division to the First earned them praise from many highly respected figures in football. Never before had a side managed to climb the league system as quickly as the swans did under John Toshack. Bill Shankly, whom Tosh had played for at Liverpool, applauded the club’s remarkable achievements. In an interview with BBC Sport shortly after the match at Preston, he asserted that Toshack could be “manager of the century”.
“This is the greatest day in the history of Swansea City and there’s no reason why they can’t stabilise themselves in the big league” he added.
There was a time when football fans were not treated very well. Hooliganism led to supporters all being tarnished with the same brush: animals to be controlled and caged. Fences were erected in front of terraces across the UK in the 1970s. Some were scaled down after the Hillsborough disaster but it was the late 1990s before they were removed completely at the Vetch. As this 1980s photo from Swansea shows, the fences didn’t stop fans enjoying themselves but they were degrading and at Hillsborough they cost 96 people their lives.
Photo copyright of South Wales Evening Post.
We’re never ever going to win the Premier League / I’ll doubt we’ll even stay in Division 3.
Listen here 1orN4P?src=5
Are you a Swansea City fan aged 11 or younger? Do you want to win a football signed by the Swansea City players? Do you want to help Swansea City celebrate their 100th birthday?
If the answers to these questions are yes then here’s a competition for you! Swansea City Football Club is 100 years old this year and to celebrate we want to know why kids support the greatest team in Wales. So all you have to do is to write a short project on “Why I love Swansea City”!
Whether you’ve got one reason or loads of reasons to love the Swans write them down! If you want to add some pictures then great! You can write it or type it – we don’t care. We just want to hear all about why you love the Swans.
The best project will win a ball signed by the Swansea players. One of the players will even present it to the winner! The best projects will also appear in a special book that is coming out this year to celebrate the Swans’ 100th birthday.
Please send your projects to: “Why I love Swansea City”, c/o Philip Bethell, History Department, Swansea University, SA2 8PP
Or you can email it to us at email@example.com
Please make sure you include your name, age and the name of the school you go to.
Closing date is Friday 11 May. We are happy to accept batches of entries from schools.
Entries can be in English or Welsh.
This competition is only open to children at primary school aged 11 or younger. Entries may be included in publications related to the Swans100 Swansea City centenary project. For full details of the project please visit www.swans100.org.uk. For all queries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Come along on Sunday to the Central Library in the Civic Centre, and meet the Swans100 team from Swansea University. Hopefully everybody is aware by now of the fantastic project under way to create an on-line archive of fans’ experiences and stories about being a Swans supporter. We will be in the Discovery Room at the library from 11 – 3, and you can come and talk to us to find out more about the project; bring in your memorabilia for scanning and photographing; record your thoughts about the Swans; complete our supporter questionnaire; talk to other fans!
Come along and join in – the archive will only be as good as you all make it. Have a look at what we have done so far at http://www.swans100.org.uk
See you on Sunday! And after the Open Day it’s to the pub to watch the Spurs game…
With the project gathering pace and loads of material and memorabilia coming in, we plan, together with the Supporters Trust, to publish four books to mark the club’s centenary year. The books will be on the theme of ‘My Swans’ and one of them will be a ‘people’s history’ devoted to the thoughts and memories of fans of all ages. We will include material from the project’s fan survey and also short pieces written by school children from across the region.
We would also like to include mini-essays from fans on why the Swans matter to them. We don’t want more on great goals and games, but we want pieces on the joys, trials, and tribulations of being Swans fan. We want contributions that are quirky, funny, and poignant but above all colourful and interesting.
So this is an invitation to you to write your own little bit of Swans history. Obviously we can’t guarantee to publish everything we receive in the book, but we will put all contributions on the project website so that they will be there for posterity.
There are four practical matters:
1. We have to reserve the right to edit material, although it is our intention for as much as possible to be published as it was written.
2. Pieces can be as short or as long as you like, up to a maximum of 1500 words.
3. The final deadline for submissions is 30 April.
4. Send all contributions to email@example.com
We look forward to hearing from you, so get scribbling.
Today, it’s fairly easy to see the highlights of Swans’ games. There’s the internet and, if even if you don’t mind waiting until the end of the show, Match of Day. But even just a few years ago it wasn’t that easy. Then it was a case of waiting for that show beloved of all Swansea fans Soccer Sunday. Go even further back and there are many away goals that just a handful of Swans fans saw.
One way to see the goals was at the cinema where they sometimes featured as part of the Newsreel items that preceded the main film. Here’s an ad from 1925 advertising the highlights from a match against Stoke.
You can watch a newsreel report of a Swans game from the 1950s here
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.
BY JACK CARTER
Coca-Cola League 2.
Forbes’ early strike wins Jackett’s Swansea promotion on dramatic final day.
It was clear from the offset of the 2004-2005 season that promotion was the goal for Swansea City in Kenny Jackett’s first full campaign as manager. Jackett had been given the resources needed to bring in many new signings over the duration of the season, and no fewer than 6 of these players started on the final day of the season as the Swans headed to Gigg Lane, Bury, hoping to better the result of promotion rivals Southend United who faced a trip to Grimsby.
Despite the fact that the team were reliant on the Shrimpers dropping points at Blundell Park, the buoyant Jack Army travelled in massive numbers to Greater Manchester, still on a high from the 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury in what would prove to be the final League game at The Vetch Field. Such was the demand from Swansea fans to see the team clinch promotion; the host side Bury allocated 5,000 tickets to the visitors, much to the dismay of many Bury season ticket holders who were forced to relocate seats for the fixture, the 5,000 tickets were snapped up by the travelling Jacks.
Following the final league game at The Vetch, where Swans fans were encouraged to all wear white, the club issued a similar challenge to supporters, asking them to “turn Gigg Lane Red for the day” – red being the colour of the away strip that the Swans would be turning out in against Bury. The fans accepted this invitation en masse, and the site of two packed out sides of Gigg Lane dominated by red was certainly an impressive one.
Bizarrely, Bury had also decided to invite a Samba band to march around the four sides of the ground for their season finale, this only added to the Carnival atmosphere for the Swansea fans, many of whom were making themselves at home in the local pubs in the vicinity of Gigg Lane.
So the game got under way to the melody of a Samba beat, and many fans had barely positioned themselves in the stands when local boy and Player of the Year Kristian O’Leary hit a brilliant 30 yard ball over the top for Adrian Forbes to run onto, the winger headed the ball down before unleashing a thunderbolt of a strike past Welshman Glyn Garner in the Bury goal. 1-0 Swansea after just 25 seconds of the match, cue delirium from the travelling masses who spilled onto the playing area to celebrate with their heroes.
Unfortunately, we still had another 89 minutes of football to play, plus lengthy periods of stoppage time due to constant infringements onto the pitch by Swansea fans, much to the anger of the players and fans of the home side.
After the chaotic scenes that followed Forbes’ early goal the game settled down into an uneventful, yet full blooded affair. Bury certainly weren’t thinking of their summer holidays and came close to equalising before the end of the first half, whilst Swansea’s star man Lee Trundle was struggling to get into the game on a very boggy surface.
At half time, all the talk in the away end was of Grimsby v Southend, which was still deadlocked at 0-0. The dream was on!
News got better early in the second half as reports filtered in that Grimsby had taken the lead against Southend; Michael Reddy’s strike for the Mariners was greeted like a Swansea goal. There was almost a double celebration moments later as Trundle was played in on goal, however he couldn’t keep control of the ball on the muddy surface and fluffed his chance to seal the game. This would prove to be Trundle’s last contribution on the pitch as he was substituted minutes later as Kenny Jackett looked to preserve the 1-0 lead. Despite this, Trundle was called into action in the final 10 minutes of the game, asked by Police and Stewards to help appease the Swansea fans behind ‘keeper Willy Gueret’s goal, many supporters had encroached onto the playing surface in anticipation of the final whistle, Trundle encouraged the fans to climb back behind the advertising hoardings in order for the game to finish smoothly.
Bury players appealed to the referee to call both teams into the tunnel and abandon the game; this did not go down well with Swansea’s substitute full back and “hard man” Andy Gurney who reportedly head-butted one of the opposition staff during a skirmish between the two benches as the game wore on. There was one final scare for Swansea when Bury forward Ricky Shakes was played in on goal; however he blazed his chance high over the bar and into the stand of jubilant Jacks.
Following what seemed like an eternity of injury time (not helped by yet more infringements onto the pitch from Swans fans), referee Colin Webster blew the full time whistle to spark the mother of all pitch invasions as Swansea fans from both stands swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate with their side. “Kenny Jackett’s Barmy Army” and “The Jacks are going up” rang around Gigg Lane as the players emerged from the directors’ box armed with champagne to greet the adoring masses.
But this is Swansea City. And at Swansea City things never run quite as smoothly as they should. During the celebrations goalkeeper Willy Gueret entered a heated discussion with police officers, which ended with the Frenchman being handcuffed and bundled away in just his football shorts, having thrown the rest of his kit to the fans. The players were soon forced into the stand and the celebrations on the pitch were cut to an abrupt finish.
Despite the intervention of Greater Manchester Police the smile on Swansea fans faces didn’t disappear for very long, as fans and players alike would have another chance to celebrate just days later at The Vetch Field’s final match, a F.A.W Premier Cup Final against Wrexham.
The Swans were promoted into Coca-Cola League One and manager Kenny Jackett had achieved the goal of Automatic Promotion in his first full season in charge. This success was important as it meant the club would now be playing their first season at the new stadium in Landore outside of the bottom division. The feel-good factor around the City and the Football Club was clear for all to see. Attendances at the last season at The Vetch had averaged 8,457. The following season in League One they had risen to 14,155. Many of the team that day at Bury would go on to help the team on their subsequent promotions to the Championship in 2008 and the Premier League in 2011. After four seasons in the bottom division Swansea City had climbed out, and this time around they looked much better equipped to not only stay out of it, but to strengthen as an outfit and expand the gap.
What they said:
“Sometimes in football, it’s your day, and this was our day. I’ve won promotions before as a player and a coach and I’ve played in the FA Cup final, but this is the best moment of my career by far. It’s a fantastic achievement, not just for myself and the players, but everyone at the club. It’s been a big, big team effort. Someone came up to me and said, ‘Last time we won promotion, we came straight back down.’ The usual optimistic Swansea supporter, then. He didn’t even say ‘Well done’!”