Category Archives: vetch

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]

Swans100_00011

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.

the-goal-picture

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.

charity event

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]

goal-posts-7-page-001-e1530289394699.jpg

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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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.

liberty

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.

North Bank v Newcastle 1950 .jpg

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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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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Farewell my dear old friend

A poem about the Vetch by Geoff TannerGeoff Tanner013geoff-tanner014.jpg

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Memories from Rob Blades

Click on the images to enlarge.

Stories about Tony Millington’s testimonial and the infamous 2003 great escape game against Hull City.

 

 

 

Swansea City v Hull City 2003

Swansea City v Hull City 2003

Swansea City v Hull City 2003

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by | July 3, 2017 · 9:32 am

Remember watching football from inside a cage?

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.

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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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Bury 0-1 Swansea City – Saturday, 7 May 2005

BY JACK CARTER

Coca-Cola League 2.
Attendance: 7,575.

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:

Kenny Jackett:

 “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’!”

 

READ ABOUT MORE HISTORIC GAMES

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The Vetch – A vision of the future (1980s)

Click to enlarge. Doug Sharpe points to the future: a new stand for the Vetch

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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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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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Vetch Field Match Day (1)

Click to enlarge. Crowd control outside the Garibaldi.

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The Vetch and the Olympics in 1948

The Vetch and Olympics might seem to have only a tenuous connection, and strictly speaking it is not a Swans-related one, but several older fans have mentioned this game as having been a very memorable one.

In late August 1948 (in the same week that Glamorgan clinched cricket’s county championship for the first time) a Welsh Amateur XI drew 0-0 at the Vetch with an Indian XI who were preparing for the Olympic football tournament.  The fixture was played in front of a crowd of 15,000 and it was described as ‘the best game for seasons at the Vetch’.  What is perhaps most remakable is that all but two of the visitors played without boots on, but the Evening Post report was still able to praise the ‘precision passing of the Indians.’

1948 Wales v India

After the game a celebration dinner was held at the Mackworth Hotel in Wind Street.  A speaker described the Indians as a team of gentlemen’.  The tour manager, Mr Antharay, told the audience that the Indians had learned the game from the ‘British, Welsh, and other regiments in India.’  The hope was expressed that the game was ‘The forerunner of many more meetings’.  Sadly this was not to be the case, and sadly for the Indians they were knocked out in the first round of the tournament when they lost 2-1 to France.

Read more about the Indian tour here.

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Last league goal at the Vetch (30 April 2005)

Click to enlarge: The last league goal scored at the Vetch

Adrian Forbes scores the last league goal at the Vetch on 30 April 2005 in a 1-0 win over Shrewsbury Town.  Here he is seen smashing the ball past Joe Hart who is now (in January 2012) the goalkeeper for Manchester City and England. 

Adrian Forbes is now playing semi pro for Lowestoft Town and coaching for Norwich City FC’s player development centre. You can follow him on Twitter @forbesy7 

Are you one of the ‘faces in the crowd’ on the North Bank in the background?  If so, tell us your story of that emotional day.  Were you on the pitch at the end of the game, and what did you take home as a souvenir?

A reply from Twitter:

Brett Thomas “what a boiling glorious day that was #gonebutneverforgotten”

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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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The Vetch and the Liberty: compare and contrast

Click to enlarge

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Every now and then, for no particular reason at all, I break into that ‘Super Johnny Cornforth’ chant

I was fortunate enough to live in Swansea for a very brief time. The terraces at the Vetch were part of my initiation in Welsh sporting culture. The bleak, sodden midweek matches which invariably ended as scoreless draws were my favourites.

The rain which sleeted down in horizontal chunks, the tepid black stuff that masqueraded as coffee at half-time, feeling sorry for the guys in the prison, Roger Freestone’s heroics and the undying dedication of the hard-core Swannies are memories indelibly forged in my heart.

Every now and then, for no particular reason at all, I break into that ‘Super Johnny Cornforth’ chant.

Janine Stephenson
Port Macquarie, New South Wales Australia.

Letter to Evening Post, Farewell to the Vetch supplement, 21 March 2005.

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Players’ memories of the Vetch

It’s a fantastic place to be, especially when you are part of a winning team. When the crowd gets behind you it’s a wonderful atmosphere. It’s probably even better in evening games. The crowd is almost on top of you and you can almost hear someone ordering his pasty and tea. It has that kind of aura about it and teams do get intimidated when they come to the Vetch. [Colin Pascoe]

Night games hold it apart from any other ground. The atmosphere was always fantastic. Scoring at the Vetch was special. The fans on the North Bank always rushed forward and that was an unbelievable feeling. [John Williams]

As soon as you go out there the first thing you see is the fans on the North Bank. When it’s packed it’s an unbelievable feeling. [Lee Trundle]

It’s a hostile atmosphere. I have experienced both sides of it and I can guarantee it’s better to be a home player. [Roberto Martinez]

As a winger there is no better feeling than running down the flank in front of the North Bank. [Brad Maylett]

I spent many years on the gantry above the North Bank doing commentary. With the wind coming off the sea, it’s got to  be the coldest place on earth. I won’t miss that. [Dai Davies]

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The Club Shop

Do you remember the club shop at the Vetch?

It was tiny, little more than a converted front room in a terraced house.  And on a Saturday afternoon it would be jam packed with fans trying to part with some money and not always succeeding.  If you wanted to browse the limited stock you had to get there early or go mid week.  If you did go when there wasn’t a game on, you might see a player or even get served by one.  I saw Cyril the Swan in there once too.

It’s not clear when it opened but in 1971 the material on sale was very meagre.

club shop 1971

The small size and being located in a side street and opposite a busy pub weren’t exactly good for business and the match programme for the Swans’ first game in Division 1 told fans that they had to ask the police to be let through the barriers if they wanted to buy something.

That year (1981) the club were selling seven types of scarves, ranging from a ‘silk’ one saying “Up, up and away Swans” for £1.20, to a ladies headscarf for £3.50. There were lots of types of pens too and a car sun visor for £1.60. Adult replica shirts were £11.64, which today would be about £35 once inflation is taken into account.  The club was also selling men’s tracksuits at £30.99, which today would work out at about £93. Who said football was cheap in the past! I suspect the club must have sold many more of the 64p rulers that imaginatively declared “Swans rule OK”.

The merchandise available varied over the years in quality and quantity but by the 1990s visiting the shops of other lower league clubs when we played them away made you realise how far behind the times we were falling.

The club shop was as far from the Liberty’s superstore as a corner shop is to Tescos but it was all part of the charm of the Vetch.

Some responses from the fans:

“Do you remember the old club shop?” Oh Yes, more than 7 people in there, jam packed! #jackmemories” Neil

“I only lived a few doors away on William st, and used to go and buy random bundles of programmes for £1 and pennants.” William Grove.

“Dad’s ‘football in the community’ office was upstairs…” Ian Curtis

“Memories of the mountain of pointless match day programmes for sale QPR v Barnsley in old div 2! Got loads in attic!” Dean Daniel

“It was classic and iconic -forget your modern day superstores. Was it Myra who worked there, the old girl? #clubshopisahouse” Jacs y Gogledd

“Myra we loved you. What about the programme shop down the corridor?” Richard Bailey

“Yeah but no matter how many was in there, good old Maria sorted the tickets out no fuss #fablady” Robert Day

“Wow those were the days! Buying tickets,programmes and a few replica shirts in the little old box room!#goodtimes” Jason Evans

“Did 6th form work experience in the ‘commercial dept’. There was a huge mushroom up in a corner of the back room ceiling!” Nick Clark

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It is easier to get into the Kingdom of Heaven than into the dressing rooms

It was the first time I had ever been on the Swansea ground, which, I learned, was called the Vetch Field, but it might just as appropriately been styled the Cabbage Patch – for cabbages were just as plentiful as Vetches. Along one side of the field runs a covered stand, but that was all the covering, for on the opposite side and behind each goal is a mound – the only ground I know which boasts three spion kops. The turf is usually on the heavy side, but the greatest handicaps to the visitors are railings close to the touch-line which keep off the spectators, and the dip on the right wing at each end, which undoubtedly favours the home side, for they know where it is, and therefore do not have to look for it. As regards the dressing rooms, they are under the grand stand, and approached by a subterranean passage lit by lamps, but it is easier to get into the Kingdom of Heaven than into the dressing rooms, during the interval, unless you are a director. I tried to get through with a message from Joe Harris to his old colleague, Brown, who used to play for the City, but was rigorously turned back, whereat I smiled, and the smile broadened when Swansea’s 12th man for the day told me that even he was not allowed in the dressing room that day.

Bristol Sports News, 1922.

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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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