Category Archives: fans

Swansea vs Arsenal 1968, the Vetch Field’s Record Attendance.

By Stuart Booker

On Saturday 17 February 1968, Arsenal visited the Vetch Field  to play Swansea Town in the Fourth round of the FA Cup. With Arsenal a First Division side, a cup upset was what the Fourth Division Swans aimed to achieve. The Vetch Field broke its record attendance, as 32,796 spectators squeezed in.  Fans remember being squeezed into the ground ‘like sardines’.

A header from Arsenal superstar Bobby Gould was to be the only goal of the game. Gould’s goal ended Swansea’s dream of a cup upset on a historic afternoon. Bert Mee, Arsenal’s manager, felt Swansea were ‘too good a footballing team to be lost in the obscurity of the Fourth Division’.[1]

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Despite its legacy as a record-breaking afternoon, the game is notable for being perhaps the first time significant football-related violence occurred inside and outside the Vetch Field.

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Bobby Gould heads Arsenal to victory. Western Mail, 19 February 1968, p. 16. 

Attendance declining due to affluence…

At the time of the match, football attendances were in long-term decline throughout Britain. The total attending Football League games had fallen from 41.2m for the 1948-9 season to 28.2m by 1971-2.[2] Despite occasional seasons where the figure increased slightly, Swansea’s attendances were in decline. Average home attendance for league games had fallen from 22,535 in 1948-49 to 7,694 by 1965-66.[3] Cardiff City faced a similar problem. Average league attendance at home games went from 35,091 in 1948-49 to 11,005 by 1965-66.[4]

Attendance figures

Swansea’s average league attendance from 1921 to 2017. A breakdown of the numbers can be found here.

The most significant reason for this decline was the rise of affluence among the working class. The 1950s saw an affluent society emerge as post-war austerity had ended. This was a decade of television, cars, DIY and better housing. Historian James Walvin, argues that technological and economic growth led to radical social changes.[5] Disposable incomes rose giving people greater choice in their leisure time. Sitting at home watching television or taking the car for a spin were more appealing to standing on the terraces on cold  afternoons, particularly for those with families and older generations. Family, too, was becoming more important in this better-off and some husbands were increasingly expected to spend time with their loved ones rather than disappear for an afternoon.

With alternative leisure options came the altered demographic of spectators. Crowds grew younger which led to less supervision of its behaviour from older, calmer fans.[6]  Even when older generations attended, they often occupied the increased amount of seated accommodation, leaving the terraced ends to the younger generations.[7] In line with the wider influences of the Teddy Boys and Mods and Rockers, a changing persona in the behaviour of the youth emerged.

Affluence also benefited the lifestyle of young people. Between 1951 and 1963, juvenile weekly wages rose by 83 per cent.[8]  More disposable income meant young fans could travel to away games. Less supervision and travelling away gave an opportunity for trouble to occur.

Despite falling attendance, football is still in demand…

Historian Matthew Taylor believes football in this period, while still extremely popular, was falling out of favour with those who had once supported it.[9] Swansea had gone from playing Division Two football for the 1964-65 season, to playing in Division Four by 1967-68. Despite this, the record attendance shows that football was still extremely popular, especially when the giants of Arsenal came to town.

Swansea’s directors noted the changing in attitude to football. In the match day programme, they voiced their opinion:

“Just like the old times to welcome so many of you to Vetch Field. We know that Arsenal have tempted many of you from your fireside, we think that some of you feel certain that cup football, rather than the bread and butter clashes in the Fourth Division provides the right sort of excitement, but whatever your beliefs – Croeso I Abertawe”.

To put the record crowd into perspective, under 4,000 turned up less than a month later for a league game with Lincoln City.[10] A new lowest attendance to date was then set against Hartlepool in the final game of the season. A mere 3,491 attended the game.[11]

Calm before the storm…

The day of the game was expected to be a chaotic affair, but not due to the risk of violence. The match clashed with the Swansea University College rag procession, a charity fancy dress parade. E.G. Hill, the South Wales Transport traffic manager, stated that people should expect the complete disorganisation of public transport.[12] Arsenal fans were flooding into Swansea from 8am onwards. Many came on special coaches at £1 per head, whilst others made the journey by car or train. Police and organisers were concerned that Swansea would grind to a standstill.

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Swansea University College’s charity ‘rag procession’. South Wales Evening Post, 19 February 1968, p. 1. 

Behind the scenes, some were concerned that the game would not happen. Ground staff arrived at the Vetch on the morning of the cup-tie to find someone had sawn through the goalposts at the east end of the ground. Quick improvisation meant the goalposts were reinforced with an angled iron wand. Match referee T.R. Walters and both managers were happy with the work. Precautionary measures had been taken with goalposts being sent over from Cardiff.

Who was behind the vandalism still remains unsolved today and holds a place in Vetch Field legend. Club secretary Gordon Daniels claimed it was a stupid prank and obviously the work of students.[13] David Rann, chair of the Swansea charities week, objected the allegations, stating how there was no evidence to support the claim.[14]

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Groundsman Syd Tucker examining the severed Vetch Field goalposts. South Wales Evening Post, 19 February 1968, p. 1.

The possibility of violence was not completely ruled out. By 1968, violence was emerging at football games. At the start of the 1967/68 season, Geoffrey Green wrote a column in The Times noting how hooliganism on the terraces had become a ‘universal problem’.[15]

Weary of the potential for violence, The Official Swans Supporters’ News section of the match day programme issued an appeal to notably young supporters. They were asked not to run onto the playing area during the match and requested not to throw rolls of paper onto the pitch.

The violence inside the Vetch…

Inside the Vetch, it was apparent that a small but significant minority ignored the request to behave themselves. The game was stopped for two minutes whilst seven youths were led from the ground by police. Police helmets went flying when police went into the crowd to break up a fight between groups of youths.

youths dragged from field before start of second half

Youths dragged from the pitch before the start of the second half. Western Mail, 19 February 1968, p. 1.

The violence outside the Vetch…

Away from the Vetch, violence occurred throughout the streets of Swansea. Inside Swansea market plums, tomatoes and peaches were grabbed from stalls and used as ammunition in a wave of vandalism. One young girl working in the market was injured during the violence. A nuisance was reported in the British Home Stores on Oxford Street. A group, thought to be Arsenal fans, attacked a number of programme sellers in the town. They made off with an estimated £20 worth of programmes. On reflection, Billy Lucas, Swansea manager, felt someone had to ‘crack down on this madness’.[16]

Other accounts of violence the same weekend…

On the same weekend, football related violence occurred in other parts of Britain. A friendly between Newcastle United and Glasgow Celtic saw twenty-four fans arrested in and around St. James Park. A further seventy spectators were ejected from the ground. The Fourth Round FA fixture between Tottenham and Preston at White Hart Lane saw eighteen arrests made.

Ticket stub from the Arsenal Game. For more, see the Swans100 collection on the People’s Collection of Wales.

A transformed South Wales Derby, a sign of the times… 

The emergence of football hooliganism in Swansea had a significant effect on the South Wales derby. Prior to the Arsenal cup-tie, no significant violence had occurred in meetings between Swansea and Cardiff. In the 1940s and 50s supporters of both teams watched in unsegregated zones. At worse, verbal exchanges in the form of ‘banter’, occurred between fans. United by their interest in South Walian football, no largescale violence occurred. It was not unusual for some fans to watch Swansea one weekend and Cardiff the next.

A Division Two meeting at the Vetch between the two sides in March 1960 epitomised the friendly atmosphere. With Cardiff 3-0 up at half time, Swansea struck back in the second half to draw 3-3. Swansea player Barrie Jones commented how ‘both sets of fans clapped us off at the end… there was about four policemen in the corner of the ground and not a hint of trouble’.[17]

It was a different story when the two teams met in the two-legged Welsh cup final of 1969. The 3-1 Cardiff victory at the Vetch was overshadowed by violence. Supporters were asked not to throw missiles- an action that temporarily halted the game. On their return journey, Cardiff fans wrecked two train carriages. Windows were smashed and seats slashed. With the communications cord pulled ten times, the train arrived in Cardiff 50 minutes late.

Train damage photo vs Cardiff 1969

Part of the train carriage damage by Cardiff fans. Western Mail, 23 April 1969, p. 1.

A representative from the railway summed up the changing atmosphere of the derby. Prior to this, the railway had praised Cardiff fans for good behaviour. The representative hoped the football related vandalism would not be ‘the start of vandalism on the scale experienced elsewhere’.[18]

The return leg at Ninian Park featured further violence. Police broke up scuffles between supporters in the popular bank section of the ground. Cardiff fans attacked two coaches transporting Swansea fans. With windows smashed and dented bodywork, the damage totalled £150. The once friendly atmosphere of the South Wales derby had evidently disappeared.

Summary…

The Swansea vs Arsenal FA cup-tie is remembered as the game which set the Vetch Field’s highest attendance. It is not remembered for being the first time significant football related violence occurred in the stadium and town. The violence was committed by a minority of young supporters, but witnessed by the majority of the record attendance. The violence and unrest that occurred was a product of the time. It was part of a trend that was emerging across football. Falling attendance opened the possibility for younger generation to become involved in trouble. The trend is evident through the transformation of behaviour in the South Wales Derby.

Swans’ team: John, Roy Evans, Vic Gomersall, Herbie Williams, Brian Purcell, Davis, Humphries, Ivor Allchurch, Keith Todd, Screen, and B Evans.

Download the whole programme

Further reading:

  • To view the match day progamme for the Arsenal game, click here.
  • For a general history of football, see: Matthew Taylor, The Association Game: a History of British Football (Harlow: Pearson/Longman, 2008).
  • A brief history of FA Cup, by David Barber, can be read by clicking here.
  • More information on the history of football hooliganism can be found by reading: Steve Frodick & Peter Marsh, Football Hooliganism (Cullompton: Willan Publishing, 2005).

References:

[1] Western Mail, 19 February 1968, p. 16.

[2] Matthew, Taylor, The Association Game: a History of British Football (Harlow: Pearson/Longman, 2008).

[3] Swans 100 Archive, Average League Attendances, available by clicking here.

[4] Brian Tabner, Through the Turnstiles (Harefield: Yore, 1992).

[5] James, Walvin, The People’s Game: A Social History of British Football (London: Allen Lane, 1975), p. 157.

[6] Richard Holt, Sport and the British: a Modern History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 335.

[7] Holt, p. 335.

[8] Holt, p. 335.

[9] Taylor, p. 252.

[10] David, Farmer, Swansea City 1912-1982 (London: Pelham, 1982), p. 174.

[11] Farmer, p. 174.

[12] South Wales Evening Post, 17 February 1968, p. 1.

[13] South Wales Evening Post, 17 February 1968, p. 1.

[14] South Wales Evening Post, 17 February 1968, p. 1.

[15] The Times, 19 August 1967.

[16] Western Mail, 19 February 1968, p. 1.

[17] Neil Palmer, Derby Days: Cardiff City v Swansea City (Skipton: Vertical Editions, 2011), p. 32.

[18] South Wales Evening Post, 23 April 1969, p. 1.

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The gods are with Swansea: looking forward to the FA Cup quarterfinal 1964

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 

Ned Charles

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Football is Culture

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.

Vetch skyline.jpgThe 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.

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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.

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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’.

1950s centre stand

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.

To find out more about Swansea’s bid to be the 2021 City of Culture please visit here.

 

 

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Supporters Celebrate Promotion 1949

SWEP 5th May 1949

South Wales Evening Post 5 May 1949

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A visitor describes attending Swansea Town v West Ham 1950s

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).

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A Supporters’ History of the South Wales Derby

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. 

1912

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Swansea City: more than just a team of players

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.

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104 Years

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 future

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.

 

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Swansea City poetry

It’s common place to hear chants on a Saturday afternoon at The Liberty or in years gone by at The Vetch Field, however over the years some Swansea City fans have been inspired by the team to pen poetry on the team that they love.

We have compiled a series of poems from different fans on the Swans, describing their feelings on their club. To read this collection, please click here. 

 

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The “Swans” War Song – the first club chant from 1913 re-discovered

Staff at Swansea Library have unearthed an incredibly rare document which contains the lyrics to the first specially-written club song. Local Studies Librarian Gwilym Games found what he believes is the only surviving copy of The World of Sport, a magazine produced in 1913 to provide more in-depth coverage of local sporting interests. The first issue from the 7th February 1913 is in very poor condition, but staff were able to scan it. Amid articles on cycling, dog training and other minority sports, there was a report on the Swansea Town Supporters’ Club, and notice of their fund-raising “Smoker”; and the words to the Swans War Song.

The lyrics refer to players of the day, and should be sung to the tune of “The Chocolate Major”. The opening line about the gay crowd heading for the match could be taken in quite a different light today (don’t let the Cardiff fans get hold of it…)

Simon Hurford and Rob Baker have sent us links to the tune “Here Comes the Chocolate Major”. It was written by Bennett Scott and A.J. Mills, and a version sung by G.H. Elliot can be heard on Spotify, and also by following this link: https://www.box.com/s/223be2e275cfc8de8357

Follow the links to other pages on this fascinating story:

To read about the song and its lyrics: Swans War Song

To find out more about the Supporters’ Club in 1913: Supporters’ Club 1913

To learn a bit more about the World of Sport: World of Sport 1913

It doesn’t seem that the World of Sport was very successful – there is no trace of any other issues!

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Swansea Town/City average league attendances

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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Fan Memories – Eileen Morgan (1280 games)

Eileen Morgan saw her first Swans game in 1946, and her survey response contains some very vivid memories.  Click here.

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“Jack Army Collection: Style + Hard + Cool = Beer + Football + Chicks”

Click to enlarge

Before it became purchase to buy replica shirts and official merchandise in the 1980s, fans used to make their own ways of displaying support for the Swans.  As far back as the 1920s, this involved making ‘favours’ (rosettes or ribbons) or even wearing leeks.

We’ve had one home-made rosette from the 1960s donated to the project. It’s a little faded but it was very carefully made, perhaps with some help from Mum for the embroidery? Mothers, grandmothers and aunties were also employed into knitting many a black and white scarf.

Even after official merchandise became available, fans liked to make their own and the development of cheap printing for t-shirts allowed the imagination to be set free.  Many t-shirts took on the style of concert tour shirts, listing the away games that the Jack Army was visiting in their annual tour of English football grounds.

These t-shirts were all part of the close links that developed in the 1980s between fashion and following football. Labels mattered, being cool mattered, wearing the right gear mattered. Sometimes this  was a little tongue in cheek but sometimes it was deadly serious.

Here’s a great ad for T-shirts from the Love, Peace and Swansea City fanzine, issue 6 May 1993.

 

 

 

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Cardiff City: friend or foe?

We have now had several hundred surveys filled in or returned to us.  Thanks to those who have taken the time to complete the form, even though it does take some time.  Your memories are invaluable to a project such as this and they will be preserved on the site.

One very interesting thing emerging from the surveys is that during the 1950s and 1960s significant numbers of fans from Merthyr, Treorchy, Treherbert, and Aberdare watched the Swans one week and Cardiff City the next.  [In fact, and this might come as a surprise or shock to some, I know a couple of people who still attend the home games of both Cardiff and the Swans.  Between games they receive counselling]  When the two clubs played one another during the 1940s and 1950s, supporters mingled quite freely, and on the North Bank at the Vetch the Bluebirds fans congregated at the ‘town end’.  Although banter and only the occasional left hook was exchanged between the different sets of supporters, there was no full-scale violence of the type that became common place later.

It is possible to date very precisely when ‘aggro’ began to occur between fans of the Swans and Cardiff.  This happened on a large scale in Welsh Cup ties in 1968-9 and 1969-70 when trains and coaches were trashed and full-scale fighting broke out for the first time.  This set a pattern of heightened tension which continues to this day, even though there have been long periods when the two clubs have not actually played one another.  So a couple of questions:

1.  Do you have fathers or grandfathers who used to go to both Ninian Park and the Vetch?

2.  When, if at all, did you first experience violence at Cardiff- Swans games?

Let us know, and tell us your stories.

Some replies from Twitter:

smalclacene: “Thought my dad was only man to have held SCFC and CCFC STs. Then my neighbor admitted the same. Valleys boys, see: confused.”

Steven Carroll: “I’ve heard of someone who’s had seasons for both. Can’t understand it personally.”

There are some more articles about the rivalry here.

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North Bank (v Newcastle 1950s)

Spot the female

Click on the picture to enlarge. 

Were you there?!  Let us know

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When Charlo scored it was relief all round!

Preston 1981

By Huw Cooze

I’ve seen many, many games in my 40 odd years following the Swans, none more intense than Preston in 1981. We left the Millers Arms in Ynystawe early in a convoy of six cars, but by the time we reached the M4 just a mile away the convoy had split up.

Despite passing hordes of the Jack Army making their way to Deepdale, we never saw any of our lot again until we hit a pub on the outskirts of Preston. It had not been planned and without the aid of mobile phones it was quite uncanny that all six cars stopped in the same pub. Great minds think alike.

The game itself passed me by although I seem to remember a group of about 50 Blackburn Rovers supporters to our left who had come over to support their Lancashire neighbours hoping for a Preston victory in order for Blackburn to pip us at the post. Why they weren’t at Bristol Rovers supporting their own team was beyond me.

They had something to cheer when Preston pulled one back and news filtered through that Blackburn were winning at Eastville but we were still 2-1 up at this stage as I took leave and went to the toilet.

From my position behind the goal it took quite a while to push through the crowd. The toilets were located to the rear of the stand. There were many grown men there pacing nervously like expectant dads in a maternity ward. They were unable to watch the end of the game. Everyone knew that if Preston scored Blackburn would be promoted and not us.

I got back to my place just in time to see Jeremy Charles score our third goal and seal our place in history. That was the signal for all those ‘expectant dads’ to rush back to the stands to join in the celebrations. Happy days…

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Some ‘Don’ts’ for players, directors & fans from 1912

This is the advice The Cambrian newspaper (13 September 1912) gave to the new Swansea Town when reporting the club’s first ever match.  Somethings don’t change much!

To players

Don’t lose your temper; loss of temper means loss of form, and sometimes the match.

Don’t play to the gallery. Goals count, not pattern weaving.

To Directors

Don’t be too hasty in putting up prices. It often cuts down the average attendance.

Don’t forget that players are human beings, not machines.

To Spectators

Don’t think your team is the only one that can play a clever game. There are others.

Don’t desert your team when they strike a bad match. That’s when they want your encouragement most.

Don’t blame the referee for your defeats. Take them as men.

Don’t go to see one team play. It takes two sides to provide your sport. Give them both a share of your cheering.

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New story added

“I really wanted that scarf”

A new story has been added to the archive about Swans v Man City 1983

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Sitting on the touchlines

Before the Second World War, people used to sit on the touchline  at the Vetch Field at big matches. This was not popular with either the police or the opposition.  In the interest of their players’ safety, Arsenal asked Swansea Town not to allow the spectators to sit on the touchlines at a 1926 FA Cup tie. 

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