The 7th September is the 100th anniversary of the first professional game played by Swansea Town AFC. At 3.30 on a Saturday afternoon, the Town team faced Cardiff City in the 2nd Division of the Southern League, at the hastily-prepared Vetch Field. The result was a 1-1 draw.
Here is Swans100 volunteer Peter Dawson’s account from his research into the newspaper archives of the time:
Swansea Town v Cardiff City 7th September 1912
First competitive match, Southern League Division II
There was plenty of press interest in the debut match played by the new Swansea Town club at the Vetch Field on Saturday 7th September, 1912, and what we would nowadays call the build-up to this historic occasion. The Western Mail previewed the game on that morning, and mentioned that
“…the Swanseaites did well on their opening engagement at Merthyr in the Welsh League…”
the Swans having put out a near full strength side in their reserve fixture at Merthyr on the previous Tuesday, losing 2-1. Merthyr were regarded as “the Welsh premier side” at the time, being in Division I of the Southern League and were due to play Portsmouth at FrattonPark that day.
The local Herald of Wales weekly concentrated on an earlier trial match played at the Recreation Ground in front of over 2000 spectators, such was the interest in the new club – though the crowd that day didn’t have to pay. The new professional side played against the Swansea League, and though the result wasn’t important enough to mention the Herald stated that
“A splendid understanding exists between the players signed on for the Town team.”
Above the report was a photo of the new Vetch Field being prepared, though it looks more like three men standing on a pile of bricks! In the background is a hut which looks suspiciously like the old North Bank gents’ toilets, though in reality they came much later. We do know that there was no turf on the Vetch in that first season – but hopefully they did move the bricks. During the previous week the Western Mail had reported on the building of the new stand at Cardiff Arms Park, designed by Archibald Leitch who was responsible for football stands all over England and Scotland. This would make the capacity of the Arms Park 44,000 so the Vetch – and Welsh soccer generally- clearly had a way to go! All was not well in the world of rugby, though, as reports of players signing professional forms for the Northern Union – later Rugby League – are prominent in all the papers at the time and perhaps explain why professionalism in the Association game, as it was often called, was so easily accepted in South Wales.
On the sporting front elsewhere another sign of those very different times was the close and exciting draw at Neath between the Gentlemen and Professionals of Glamorgan Cricket Club – a sport where amateurs and professionals co-existed on the field if not always off it. The news reports that day were dominated by a suffragette demonstration during Lloyd George’s speech at the Wrexham National Eisteddfod which had led to crowd trouble of a sort more usually associated today with Swans-Bluebirds derbies. Violence was also a problem in Dunvant according to a local schoolmaster who took out a summons against a man – possibly an annoyed parent or ex-pupil – who had allegedly called at the school and assaulted him. Not such innocent days after all.
One thing which doesn’t seem to have changed much in 100 years though is the stance of the two main local dailies when Swansea take on Cardiff. It is a matter of record that the game ended in a 1-1 draw and that this was generally regarded as a fine achievement for the new team. The Cardiff based Western Mail felt that
“…the Town enjoyed all the luck that was going…”
Whereas the South Wales Daily Post, later to become more familiar as the Evening Post, felt that
“…it was luck on the Cardiff side rather than skill which kept the Swansea men from scoring the winning goal.”
In fairness to Cardiff, though Swansea evidently enjoyed the better of the second half, injury had reduced Cardiff to 10 men for two thirds of the game – a fact carefully omitted from the Daily Post report! It is interesting that the nicknames Swans and Bluebirds were still in the future at this stage; Swansea being “the Town” or “Swanseaites” while Cardiff are “the Citizens”. The crowd was similarly a point of disagreement between the two reports, the Swansea paper estimating 10,000 while the Western Mail preferred 5,000. Elsewhere in that day’s Post however, a report gave the official “gate” as £153, which when allowance is made for boys (were there no girls?) paying 3d suggested a crowd of 8,000. This was obviously helped by the fact that neither the All Whites at St Helen’s nor Llanelly FC were at home. Presumably the men – and ladies if there were any – paid 6d, hence the old “tanner bank” name for popular terraces. The Post also published the first two action shots of the team, though they are vey poor in quality and most of the “action” seems to have been drawn in later!
It would be wrong to suggest that the new club’s draw against Cardiff was the main focus of press attention on Swansea triumphs that week, though. In fact far more column inches were generated by the triumph of two Swansea Male Voice Choirs at the Wrexham Eisteddfod on Friday. Swansea and District Choir took first place, followed in second by Swansea Ebenezer and apparently “a large number of people from Swansea” were in the audience. It would be interesting to know if any of them made it back to the Vetch the next day. It’s also interesting to notice that a number of the choirs they defeated were English, showing the change in the nature of the Eisteddfod in 100 years. After their triumph the conductor of the Swansea and District choir was “carried shoulder high around the park” amid “scenes of great enthusiasm”. Unlike the suffragettes or Willy Gueret, however, no-one seems to have been arrested! Another striking report in Monday’s Post concerned an incident on Swansea Pier – presumably what we now call the West Pier – when a group of doubtful characters insulted a respectable couple walking on the pier. One got a punch in and ran away, but his friends discovered that they’d picked the wrong man and received “a well directed uppercut” and were “chastised until they whined for mercy” – rather like a similar occasion many years later when a reveller in drag attacked on the Kingsway apparently turned out to be a cage fighter in training! Where, the Daily Post wanted to know, were the police?
For a detailed and perhaps more objective match report the sports enthusiast had to wait for the Herald of Wales on Saturday 14th. Under the heading “Sport of the Week” the paper published a two column account which focused in detail on the players of both sides and the Town in particular. At the end the reporter concluded
“To sum up, I was indeed surprised at the excellence of the exhibition against an established XI like the City.”
All in all it had been a very promising start for the new club.