Category Archives: club

“Every time you go to a match you do yourself as much good as if you took a 3s. 6d. bottle of medicine”

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.

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1914: When football was accused of being unpatriotic

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”.

sporting news 15 aug 1914

Sporting News, 15 August 1914

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.

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Swans at War: In Memoriam

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

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.

Joseph Bulcock

Mel Clare041

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.

Edward Mitchell

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

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Swansea Town/City average league attendances


Year Average
1921       13,370
1922       11,685
1923       15,050
1924       14,870
1925       12,600
1926       16,118
1927       14,286
1928       12,153
1929       11,201
1930       12,101
1931       10,506
1932         9,756
1933         9,566
1934         8,204
1935         8,332
1936         8,966
1937         9,880
1938       12,015
1939       10,843
1947       21,039
1948       17,858
1949       22,535
1950       21,571
1951       19,398
1952       18,228
1953       20,469
1954       17,197
1955       21,052
1956       19,487
1957       16,585
1958       15,711
1959       14,612
1960       14,355
1961       12,084
1962       12,174
1963       10,365
1964       10,911
1965       10,467
1966         7,694
1967         6,390
1968         5,855
1969         5,664
1970         8,406
1971         8,034
1972         6,412
1973         3,104
1974         2,815
1975         2,070
1976         2,932
1977         5,311
1978         8,108
1979       13,746
1980       14,391
1981       13,143
1982       18,226
1983       11,704
1984         6,980
1985         4,421
1986         4,306
1987         5,169
1988         4,471
1989         4,897
1990         4,223
1991         3,665
1992         3,367
1993         5,199
1994         3,534
1995         3,582
1996         2,996
1997         3,850
1998         3,443
1999         5,225
2000         5,895
2001         4,913
2002         3,690
2003         5,160
2004         6,853
2005         8,458
2006       14,112
2007       12,720
2008       13,520
2009       15,187
2010       15,407
2011       15,507
2012       19,946
2013       20,370
2014       20,407
2015       20,555
2016       20,711
2017       20,619

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The Vetch – The Board Room (1960s?)

Click to enlarge. The Board Room under the Centre Stand. Later this room became part of the Harry Griffiths Bar.

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White Rock by Richard Lillicrap

A closer look at White Rock

The large white jug was old but in startlingly good condition.    In large blue lettering which covered the front was inscribed

“This jug belongs to the Club at the Royal Oake at the White Rock.  May 5 1771”.

My visit to Swansea Museum on a wet Sunday was transformed in an instant from family chore to intense interest.     Up until this moment White Rock was little more than a name to me but here, right in front of me was hard evidence of the history behind the name.

I’m more than a little embarrassed that my knowledge of local history is, to say the least, scant.    I was born here, grew up in the fifties and sixties and clearly remember some of the local ‘attractions’ now long gone.    The Mumbles Railway – the most fondly remembered.  The working South and North Docks, Weavers flour mill, the Carbon Black Works, Tir John and the slag and wreckage of the works in the lower Swansea Valley are not widely missed.   But I had no knowledge of the real history.

I rootted around in the Museum shop and for around £3.00 came away with Factsheets on the Copperworks, Coppermen, Copper Industry and White Rock Ferry.     With due acknowledgement to the Museum and their contributors I’ve set out some of the story behind White Rock below, but I would urge anyone with more than a fleeting interest to get down to Swansea Museum and buy them for themselves.

The first copperworks in the area was at Aberdulais and the first on the Tawe opened in 1717.    The White Rock was arguably the most significant and was established as a copperworks in 1737.   It featured on the Swansea Valley landscape for the best part of 250 years.

Swansea was a busy port and market town back then but the population at the time White Rock opened was no more than 3,000.    The arrival of the copperworks sparked a period of sustained growth.     In 1801 the population was 7,000; by 1901, 130,000 and by 2001 230,000.

The copperworks with local coal mines (in places such as Landore, Penclawdd, Graig, Plasmarl, Morriston and Llansamlet) paved the way for growth in the docks, railways, brickworks, potteries and  smelting in lead, silver and aluminium and expansion into tinplate, manufacturing and other industries.

White Rock was set up by John Coster, a Bristolian, who is credited with having perfected the copper smelting process.    This process became known worldwide as the “Welsh process”.     Copper ore was combined with coal in a mix of 1 part ore to 3 parts coal.     The mix was heated and run through a series of 10 furnaces, each one increasing the copper purity, with the final product being 97% pure.

A final treatment would render the metal pliable so that it could be rolled,pressed and cut for the many different copper based end products then in demand.

Swansea quickly became a natural centre for copper smelting.    Although some works were set up in Neath and Llanelli, the Tawe provide better navigation.   The bulk of the ore was mined in Cornwall a short hop across the channel.    But with three parts coal it was cheaper to bring ore to where the coal was.

Most works were set up on the East Side of the Tawe.    This was ‘over the border’ from the Swansea Town Burghers who had visions of a resort town that didn’t sit comfortably with sulphur belching copper works.     More importantly was the coal wagon-way, later replaced by a canal and a railway which brought in the coal.

Ore bearing ships from Cornwall could navigate the Tawe and White Rock had its own wharf, apparently still visible to this day.   Manual labour was used to move the ore around – 70,000 tons a year at its peak.    The ships could also add to their profits by taking coal on their return journey.

The copper workers were extraordinary.     The finery men, the picklers, polers, splatchers, ladlers, and labourers.     The knowledge of the refining process was kept secret and handed down from father to son.     Jobs at the copperworks were well paid (by standards of the day) and these jobs were kept within families.     Wives and daughters were also employed and made up as much as 15% of the workforce.

One report tells of a girl, Elizabeth Matthew, who received an ear bashing for failing to turn up for evensong.   Her excuse was that she had spent the day wheeling 23 tons of ore in 150 separate loads in a nine hour shift.    That’s 24 stone each load and some 16 loads each hour.

The boys of 10 – 13 also got involved with shifting the ore and coal.   It was manually wheeled up onto the roof of the foundry to create loads of 4-5 tons.    A slat was withdrawn to allow the completed load to drop into the furnace.   Then the ‘finery men’ would take over.     They worked in temperatures of 130 degrees.    A foot thick layer of coke and slag would form on top of the copper mix and they would have to draw off the slag from the molten copper.

This was repeated all the way down the line of refineries.      But only the slag from the first refining would be thrown out.     The rest was recycled back into the furnaces.

Each process would release vast clouds of sulphorous smoke.    And a sweating finery man would consume 2-3 gallons of cheap beer each 12 hour shift (the owners later decided that water was a better idea).

The final process was to create the pliable copper which was useable.    This was ‘poling’.    A layer of charcoal was added to the pure copper and a fresh wooden pole used to manually stir the mix.    These activities were all fraught with danger.   The skill, agility, tolerance and strength of these people can only be imagined.

By 1850, the industry was at its peak.     The Swansea copper market effectively controlled the world copper price.    The town was clearly the most important copper centre of the world.     There were over 600 furnaces in operation in the Swansea Valley.

Swansea’s position as ‘Copperopolis’ declined from this point.    Cornish ore reserves were depleting but new sources were found, notably Chile.    This led to a growth in the docks to handle the larger ships but obviously hit profits.    The ‘welsh process’ was exported first to America and then to Australia as Swansea people migrated to escape the smoke, the slums and the cholera outbreaks.   And a new process using a Bessemer converter was introduced in France.

Despite these developments, Swansea continued to thrive.    In 1871, White Rock was changed to a lead and silver works and other works changed to importing and working refined copper.     Tinplate works started up and thrived for the next 60 years or more.

But there was an environmental cost.    White Rock had produced some 300,000 tons of slag that cut a swathe across the whole Tawe valley.    Kilvey Hill, and all points east, had borne the brunt of the sulphur filled smoke.   All vegetation was killed off leaving a dark barren wasteland.

White Rock was bought out by ICI and in 1929 they reported that it was working ‘atpressure’ on sheet and pipe making.    But terminal decline was now setting in and eventually, White Rock was closed.    The works were demolished in 1963 and work to clear up the slag heap began in 1967.

I can’t remember much of Swansea’s history being taught at school.     And looking back I have the feeling that the town was quite happy to gloss over its past.    The legacy of the industrial past was the polluted wastelands, the dreadful illnesses bequeathed to those who had worked in inhuman conditions and the seemingly insoluble unemployment brought on to a town whose livelihood was in potentially terminal decline.

But now we should be getting over that.     There’s an opportunity to celebrate the history whilst looking forward with a new confidence to writing our own.  The use of White Rock associated with the new stadium would celebrate this history.

Not just locally.   The stadium will become known throughout the UK football world and European rugby world – and hopefully a little beyond that.      We can wave a large flag to say – “Hey – we are proud of our history.    Swansea was the mineral centre of the world during the nineteenth century.    Let no one forget that nor the sweat and toil of those who made it possible.”

It is their descendants who will be at the new stadium to bring it to life with their noise and passion.    And the teams will carry the history and values of these earlier generations, who, through their back breaking endeavours and their close knit, tortuous, yet valuable lives created this passion that we know and love today.

Richard Lillicrap


Since starting this article The City and County of Swansea have announced the Stadium will be officially called “The City of Swansea Stadium”.    I understand the reasons behind this.   There may still be an opportunity to incorporate White Rock.   Eg – the City of Swansea Stadium at White Rock.   In time this will get shortened.   And there is an opportunity to get a small monument on the site to set out the history and significance of White Rock

Richard Lillicrap wrote this article – a remarkably good piece of local history – in 2005.  Tragically he then died two years later.  Richard was a driving force behind the formation of the Supporters’ Trust in the dark days of the Tony Petty.  I used to meet him in exotic places such as Mansfeld, Lincoln, and Kidderminster.  Now that the club is in the Permier League I often think of Richard looking down on the Liberty Stadium with a pint in one hand and a roll-up in the other, cackling with laughter about how unbelievable the re-birth of the Swans has been since 2001.

Gareth Phillips’s obitiary of Richard

Dan Falchikov’s obituary of Richard

For more on the Swansea copper industry

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