By John Conibear (written in 2005)
Whenever I hear Tom Jones sing ‘The green, green grass of home’ I think of the Vetch Field. This is very odd considering that when I first heard the song, I had already been going to the Vetch for over forty years.
First of all, I went in my father’s arms and sat on his lap in the Centre Stand. My first visit would have been in 1925 and I actually went to my first away game in August 1925 – at Fulham. My parents were visiting the great Wembley Exhibition, but they could not miss what was the Swans’ first away game in the Second Division.
We stayed in the Centre Stand for a few years until the ‘Eighth wonder of the world’ was completed in 1927-8. I mean, of course, the Double-Decker, later known as the ‘West Stand’. It really was a sensation, a cantilever stand with an apron big enough to give protection to about two-thirds of the terrace accommodation below. The great experience was the wonderful outlook as, unlike all other stands, there were no pillars to obstruct the view.
It was not long before the family season tickets were transferred from the Centre Stand to the Double Decker. It was also about that time that I was getting old enough to know what was actually going on on the field and to adopt my own heroes from the men in white. The West Stand was ‘home’ until 1931 and I remember one of the last games I saw from that viewpoint was against Everton. I am proud to say that I actually saw the great Dixie Dean that day. There were also two ex-Swans in that Everton side who trounced the Swans by five goals to two.
From then on, I cut away from my family and began my journey around the Vetch. It was all new experience for me to be allowed to go off on my own. I sampled the terrace ‘under the double-decker’, the Bank in all its facets, the Town End (the East Bank) and even the Enclosure.
Once inside the ground, the ‘field’ customer had no restriction – he could find his way to any standing viewpoint. He could pass from the Bank to either end and vice versa. In fact, it was popular for fans to gather behind the goal the Swans were attacking in the first half and go to the other end in the interval.
Railway sleeper terracing was provided at the Town End and access was from Glamorgan Street. At the top of this terrace was only a light wire fence between the ground and the back gardens of the houses. Several of these houses, with home-made structures, were able to gain excellent views of matches and it was rumoured that some were charging for accommodation. Eventually the building of the East Stand put and end to what might have been a thriving cottage industry.
Before a game, the crowd gathered steadily for an hour or so; at the end they all left together. At Swansea, it seemed that the entire crowd made a bee-line for Oxford Street, and on match days it was common for the crowd to surge line abreast across that thoroughfare up to the market and beyond. There is one other feature of the after-the-match dispersal that ought to be mentioned. The front of the Bank above its railway sleepers was bad, but you should have seen it at the back. Whereas people going in would approach the Bank from the ends and climb to a convenient spot, in the rush to get away at the final whistle most climbed to the top and scrambled down, black ash and all. It was bad enough on a dry day, but when it rained there was a terrible mess. On really bad days rivers poured down the Bank and the ash was liquefied.
Along the front of the Bank and the Town End there was an iron railing fence about three feet high. There was no vandalism or serious bad behaviour but on days of big crowds this fence was under some strain. There were a few occasions when crowd pressure caused sections to collapse and I remember the odd time seeing people being passed over the heads of the crowd to waiting St John’s ambulance men. On such occasion youngsters were allowed to sit inside the fence.
Crowd behaviour was usually very good. There would be the occasional gentleman who had had too much to drink. The inebriated were treated with indifference by the crowd unless they became offensive in language or demeanour. Then they were put in their place – no violence, just a few appropriate words. Bad language was not tolerated, and anyone using foul or abusive terms was immediately shouted down by those around them.