Tag Archives: Football

‘Swansea ‘til I die’: Nostalgia, identity and family in modern football

My career as a Swans supporter has structured my life. I cannot put it any more strongly. Relationships have come and gone (and the Swans have played a part at times), my career has changed and my life circumstances have altered, but the Swans have been a constant throughout it all. Even though the fortunes of the team have fluctuated wildly over the years I have supported them, the club have always played a huge role in the background of my existence, and have been the thing I have planned my everyday life around. Without the Swans, how would I idle away time on rumours or arguments on forums? How would I plot the months between August and May? What would I do? No idea. Supporting the Swans is a kind of totalising world … My friends, my social life, my moods – all intricately dependent upon the Swans. I celebrate this, rather than bemoan it! STID

Leighton (32)

These words were written as a response to a survey to record fans’ memories of supporting Swansea City FC, a club that after decades of languishing in the lower division joined the game’s elite in the Premier League in 2011. The project was part of the commemoration of the club’s centenary in 2012 and, as this quote illustrates, the themes it raised both extended beyond football itself and also illustrated the powerful role the game has in some people’s lives and perceptions of the world.

Through a series of prompts and open questions people were asked for their memories of supporting the Swans and to reflect on what the club meant to them. What I want to do today is to examine some of the themes that arose, in particular those of nostalgia, identity and family. These are not specific to football in Swansea or Wales but understanding recent and contemporary Welsh culture should not just mean concentrating on those few aspects of cultural life that are unique to Wales. Indeed, one of the most powerful lessons of studying Welsh sport is how Welsh popular culture exists within a wider British and indeed western context. The basic needs, rhythms and concerns of the Welsh are not specific to Wales.

I

Football has a powerful sense of its own history. Supporters boast a strong sense of the traditions and identities of their clubs; many fans hoard old programmes, ticket stubs, scarves and other pieces of memorabilia that signify their club’s history and their personal history of attachment to it. They may not go through these very often but they keep them in shoe boxes, in attics and in the garage, unwilling to throw away relics of a lifetime of commitment. Similarly, videos and books of past triumphs are popular products and often compensate for a lack of present success. Moreover, there is often a strong sense of nostalgia for the past, a past where, in the imagination at least, football culture was somehow better.

What exactly there is nostalgia for is difficult to pinpoint and varies across the generations. For fans whose memories stretch into the early 1960s and beyond, football’s past is perceived as an era when players were working men and the terraces smelt of woodbines and heaved with locals in flat caps who cheered on the boys but knew how to behave. For the next generation, the nostalgia is for a more flamboyant, pre-Premiership era when players were macho stars, and the terraces were packed with noisy young tearaways who liked a ruck with their football, but were essentially good lads at heart who only picked on their own kind.

Nostalgia has clearly become evident at Swansea City in the past few seasons, not so because of the club’s elevation to the Premiership in 2011 but because of the 2005 move to the Liberty Stadium from the Vetch Field, the club’s home since its creation in 1912.

Amongst older fans there is a general welcoming of the new stadium. It is quite simply cleaner, more comfortable and more modern than the Vetch. With better sightlines too, the new stadium offers a superior all-round experience to the middle-aged and older generations. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t had to be adaption for those fans. New routines, new travel routes, new parking places and new drinking places have all had to be developed. The rhythms of people’s Saturdays have changed but the process of change seems to have been relatively painless. Such habits and behaviours may on the surface just seem to be trivial and inconsequential but we should not underestimate the importance of what some historians call the ‘everyday’. If history is about people as much as processes then the ordinary is as important as the extraordinary.

The celebration of the Liberty Stadium is something shared by a younger generation in their teens. For them the Vetch Field is the subject of hazy childhood memories or even just something talked about by older family members. They have grown up in an era of all-seater stadiums, not just for the game’s elite but for any club that aspires to join them.

For another generation, those who grew up going to the Vetch but whose legs are still young enough to happily stand for two hours in the cold there is a more divided view of the change. There is a memory that while the terraces could be noisy, full, fun and electric, they could also be cold, sparse and aggressive. Some of this generation show the pragmatism of football fans, where there is a willingness to sacrifice tradition and history in the name of progress. As one 31-year-old fan put it, the move to the Liberty was ‘a step back in experience, but a massive step forward for the club as a whole’. Such fans accept that new a stadium was inevitable in the modern game, a necessary change to bring higher revenues, attract better players and assist the club’s move up the leagues. The fact that in less than a decade the club has moved from nearly falling out of the professional league structure altogether to residing in the top division with the game’s elite provides a vindication of that view, a confirmation that more has been gained on the pitch than has been lost off it. And ultimately football is a game about success. Results matter.

Even though there is awareness of the danger of a rose-tinted view of the past, this generation still tend to think that much has been lost. Sitting down in stadia means not being able to choose who you are with; groups of friends used to standing together are now dispersed across the Liberty. Some feel this has brought a loss of atmosphere as the singers are dispersed and sitting itself makes people more reserved, less likely to shout and let forth. People are also aware that the change is illustrative of a wider shift in football culture, where the game has somehow lost something of its soul. A 39 year old reflected, ‘The matchday experience is not what it was – queuing for ten minutes for a plastic pint doesn’t appeal to me. The Liberty experience is much more corporate. Overpriced beer/food etc. You shouldn’t serve French fries at a football match.’

The sense of loss can be quite profound, illustrating the depth of feeling some have for the club and for football. A 47-year-old reflected:

I loved the Vetch it was OURS. I loved the smell of the turf and the liniment, tobacco & booze, 3 inches of piss on the floor of the bogs, the swearing, shouting, singing & fighting. The Liberty’s only ok in a bland 21st century, Sky TV obsessed way. I hate the fans in front of me constantly on their smartphones, texting, chatting & playing bloody games when they should be getting behind the team. I can’t stand vacant eyed kids slopping down overpriced shitty junk food and pawing at Dad (or worse Mum) to go and get them fizzy drinks. The view’s good though.

Even those less emotional about this can have the feeling that something is not quite right. A 33-year-old said of the new matchday experience: ‘doesn’t feel like the club I loved as much. Feels like I’m cheating on my slightly backward underachieving Mrs with her better looking, high flying sister.’ Even a 21 year old could say: ‘I feel it doesn’t have the same special feel as going to the Vetch and smelling the burger vans and hearing Daydream Believer playing with the North Bank singing. Being at the Vetch was just simply more entertaining than the Liberty (the quality of football is much better these days though)’.

Yet these feelings cannot be interpreted in a straight forward fashion. Some of the longing for the Vetch is mixed up with the experience of men looking back fondly on their own youth, a time of fewer responsibilities, of more drinking and hanging out with mates. They will also fade with time. One 23-year-old remembered of the Vetch ‘you could feel the history within its walls’. Now, as the Liberty stadium ages, it is becoming associated with more and more new memories, especially as the club as moved up the leagues. The Liberty is getting its own history, moments, that on the pitch at least, even exceed what happened at the Vetch.

Nostalgia is a common condition in post-industrial societies such as Britain and a reaction to dislocating and unwelcome changes. For many Swansea fans, nostalgia is also furthered by a sense that the club is no longer theirs so much. For non-season ticket holders getting into matches is now very difficult. The resentment of this amongst lifelong fans is compounded by a sense that the tickets are being taken up by what is termed ‘plastics’, fans who are only there because of the club’s recent success and who will disappear again should the club get relegated. There are fans who have been attending regularly all their lives, for decades, yet were unable to see a single game last season in what was perhaps the club’s most successful year. It is little wonder then that there is a nostalgia for a past, when you could just turn up, when you were one of a select few, when your support mattered and couldn’t just be replaced by someone else in the queue for tickets. The club has defined much of such people’s lives. They now feel cast aside and their pride in the club’s achievements is tinged by a sense that they have had little thanks for helping make sure that the club exists at all.

It maybe that online surveys of the type employed by this project over represent the extent of nostalgia. Those willing to reflect on their experiences through writing are perhaps those who tend to dwell on these things, whereas other fans are just more content than their club is now doing well. But, whatever the case, there is an important point here about how the present shapes our view of the past that always need to be remembered in oral history. Studying the club’s history at a time of unprecedented success is unavoidably going to colour how people remember that club’s past.

II

The project has also revealed some trends in the history of the club that run counter to assumptions about the nature of football fandom. For all the talk of the tribal and unconditional loyalty of fans, of being Swansea ‘til I die as the song goes, attendances have ebbed and flowed according to fortunes on the pitch. Some fans like to talk in these terms: ‘SCFC is like a family member to me. I was at the Vetch with crowds of 3000, I’m there now in the premiership, and if we went back to League 2 with crowds of 3000 I’d still be there.’ They talk of how, to quote one 44-year-old, ‘The Swans always have been and always will be part of who I am’.

But others, when reflecting on their lives, articulate how their interest and attendance has fluctuated according to family and financial circumstances and the performances of the team. Having young children in particular has taken men and women away from watching. Going away to college or working weekend shifts are other factors that hit attendance. Fewer admitted to not going when the team was not well, no doubt because loyalty is generally regarded as an important quality in football fandom, but average attendance patterns clearly show how significant these shifts have been.

One of the defining features of Swansea fandom is the relationship with rival club Cardiff City. Yet the intense and sometimes violent rivalry between the Swans and Cardiff seems rather different when placed alongside the memories of people from the 1940s, 50 and 60s of watching both clubs. This was partly about seeking entertainment, with some fans being willing to travel across south Wales to see whichever of the two clubs had the most attractive fixtures or was playing the best football. Indeed, in 1952 the manager of the club even asked the league if home games could be scheduled when 1st division Cardiff City were away because he feared fans would prefer watching the better standard of football forty miles away.

Those fans most likely to watch both clubs were not from Swansea but the south Wales valleys. Transport links did mean there were natural catchment areas for both football clubs but the spread of working-class car ownership in the 1950s and 60s and the associated improvements in roads brought more flexibility in people’s choices over which teams to support.

Such behaviour declined significantly from the late 1960s when in the face of the rise of the televised game loyalty to a single club became a significant feature of fan culture amongst smaller clubs across the UK. Moreover, alongside this, regional rivalries replaced regional identities. Many Cardiff and Swansea fans thus began wanting the other to lose and even singing about hating one another. This does not mean a common Welsh identity lost all relevance. It still helps explain the hatred that can be found, with football being intermingled with a sense of resentment over the Welsh Cardiff-centric media and government. Other fans, meanwhile, continue to want to see Cardiff doing well, but just not as well as Swansea. Indeed, throughout the post-war period fans have seen the club as representing Wales against English opponents.

There does not appear to be any clear correlation between ‘hating’ Cardiff and coming from Swansea. Nor do those fans who replied to the survey who are not from Swansea itself appear to talk about their loyalty to the club in less powerful terms that those from the city. Yet the civic importance of the game is still very clear and many fans articulate that they support the club because they are from Swansea. A 45-year-old put it simply: ‘Swansea is my city therefore the Swans are my club’. Indeed, even people with little interest in the game have been expressing pride that their city’s club is now playing in the world’s most watched league.

Those who have left the city to live elsewhere also use the club as a way of both physically and psychologically keeping in touch with their roots, whether that’s through using visits to games as reasons to visit family or symbolically through using their support to express their roots in an alien environment. As a 59-year-old man living abroad said: ‘Once a Jack always a Jack!’

Football’s place as part of the civic identity of towns and cities is, of course, unsurprising. After all, most teams are actually named after the place where they are situated. When Swansea was granted city status in 1971 the football club immediately changed its name from Swansea Town to Swansea City. Clubs are also part of the urban landscape. Until the modern redevelopments of the last two decades, most stadia were situated, quite deliberately, in the heart of residential areas in order to make it easy for fans to attend games without the cost and time of travel that might put them off. This meant that crowds pouring to games along narrow streets were unavoidable and the game became part of everyone in the area’s lives, whether they liked it or not. For children, a football ground could be part of their urban playground and the survey revealed many memories of children sneaking in to have kick-arounds on non-match days.

The new modern Liberty stadium is still part of the urban landscape and its crowds (and their cars) have made football part of the lives of a new part of the city. But the stadium is not interwoven into a residential area in the same way the Liberty was. It stands on the edge of town, on a redeveloped industrial site, closer to large modern retail units than people’s homes. But, in that, the council-built stadium is also a marker of the changes and developments of what was once an industrial city with a clear identity based on copper but is now a service-based city, dependent on the public sector and multinational companies based elsewhere. Football remains a symbol of civic identity.

III

Change is often unsettling for people. That is most obviously true of personal upheaval but it also applies to the world around them. Historians sometimes forget that people witness long-term rather than just short-term changes. Sociologists in Swansea the 1960s were discussing how old people were bewildered by how much life had changed in their lifetimes. Even today there can be considerable unease at the general direction of society, with discomfort about everything from climate change, technological revolution to immigration and crime.

Football too has changed but it also offers a powerful source of continuity for people, a link to their past, to their roots and their youth. A 49 year old reflected, ‘Once it’s in your blood it don’t leave. If you are a true Jack you are married for life. It’s like having children. You love your children irrespective of what they do, you love the Swans through good and bad.’ A 50 year-old concluded, ‘I’ve still got the same feeling on match days as when I was a boy’. It is also a source of continuity which they are sure will still be there in the future. As one fan put it, ‘You can change jobs, move house, change wives, even change sex nowadays – but you can’t change the football club you support’.

This sense of continuity and security is exacerbated because of the relationship between football and family. Some men remember how being taken by their fathers as a child in the 1950s was some sort of coming of age ritual, an acknowledgment they were now big enough to be with the men rather than left at home with the female family members. Although most fans graduated from going with their parents to going with friends in their teens, there is a reoccurring pattern of people returning to viewing with their parents as they get older and take great pride in passing on support to their children.

Another 46 year old remarked: ‘All the family are involved. Wife, 2 kids, brother, nephew, mother and father all have season tickets. Main topic of conversation!!’ In other words, football helps bind some families together. This is particularly important because it is family that offers an important source of support and happiness in a modern world that many found unsettling and unhappy. Family remains at the core of what makes society and how people perceive the world and live their lives. The words of one 43-year-old fan show this better than I can.

My dad was a big supporter like myself. He died in 2011, before he could have a smile about us being in the premiership. I remember crying at Wembley after we had beaten Reading 4-2 because the only person I wanted to share my elation with was my dad, and he wasn’t here anymore. He left me a mint copy of Swansea vs Preston at Villa Park, semi final of the FA cup 1964. It seems quite apt that Swansea’s first Prem away win was at Villa Park, and I was there. I looked up to the sky and just smiled. I think my dad knew why.

IV

Whether your team is winning or losing, football is a game of emotions and of stories, and not all of these are related to what happens on the pitch, especially during your team’s lean times. The survey for this project produced a collection of memories of goals, fights, drinking, jokes, funny sights and characters. Most of the stories were remembered because they evoked emotions, whether that was happiness, pride, anger, frustration or laughter. Some no doubt had grown and been polished in the re-tellings. They were often fragmented, undated and chronological-less. But this does not mean they matter any the less. Stories help structure our understanding of both our individual and collective past. It is football’s ability to create stories and memories that lies at the heart of its cultural importance. It is these stories that define the game’s contribution to individual and collective identities.

But not all people have the same memories. The experience of listening to a match on poor radio reception is obviously rather different to actually being at the game. But even where people are at the same match, their experience will vary according to who they are with, where in the ground they are, how much they have had to drink and why they are there. In this, we run into one of the fundamental points about the past: collective experiences are also individualized. Yet the collective experience of being at the football is more powerful than the shared experience of millions watching the same television programme in millions of different homes. Football is a game watched in crowds and that creates a powerful sense of literally being part of something bigger in a way that is not often replicated. The scale of football can be very powerful and that is part of its drama and attraction. But even for those not there, those who find out the results from friends or from the paper, or whose interest does not extend far beyond extending wondering what mood a husband will be when he returns home, football is still part of the shared cultural milieu of interests, loyalties and memories that binds families, communities and even nations together.

By Martin Johnes (Swansea University). Written in 2013.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, fans, 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1960s, fans, Hooliganism, vetch

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.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under fans, Liberty, vetch

Swansea Town FA Cup newsreels 1920s and 1930s

Newsreels were shown at the cinema before the main feature. In the 50s and 60s, with little football on tv, they were most the common way for fans to see big clubs in action or the important away games of their own teams.

Swansea Town v Arsenal, FA Cup sixth round, 1926

Derby County v Swansea Town, FA round 4, 1935

Leave a comment

Filed under 1920s, 1930s, FA cup, Uncategorized

Newsreels of Swansea Town in the FA Cup 1950s and 1960s.

Newsreel footage of Swansea Town FA Cup and Welsh Cup matches from the 1950s and 1960s.

Newsreels were shown at the cinema before the main feature. In the 50s and 60s, with little football on tv, they were most the common way for fans to see big clubs in action or the important away games of their own teams.

FA Cup round 5, Swansea Town v Newcastle United 1952

Newcastle United v Swansea Town, FA Cup round 3, 1953

FA Cup round 4, Swansea Town v Stoke City 1955

FA Cup round 5, Swansea Town v Sunderland, 1955

Burnley v Swansea Town, FA Cup 1961

Welsh Cup final 1961 Swansea Town v Bangor City, Ninian Park

Preston North End v Swansea Town, FA Cup semi-final 1964 at Villa Park

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, FA cup

Swansea Town 1920s and 1930s from Getty Images archive

Embed from Getty Images

Sport, Football, pic: circa 1927, Colour illustration presented by ‘Boys’ Magazine’ shows a badge style card ‘Well Played Swansea Town’ featuring Swansea player J,Sykes (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Embed from Getty Images

Swansa Town v Arsenal, FA Cup, 6th round, 1926

Embed from Getty Images

Swansa Town v Arsenal, FA Cup, 6th round, 1926

 

Embed from Getty Images

W Milne 1926

Embed from Getty Images

1933 cigarette card

Embed from Getty Images

1934 Cigarette card, Harry Hanford

Embed from Getty Images

Sid Lawrence, Swansea Town right back, who won 8 Wales international caps from 1932-1938

Leave a comment

Filed under 1920s, 1930s, Uncategorized

Pen pictures of some of Swansea’s greatest players

Ivor at Coronation event

Ivor Allchurch kicks off a coronation women’s football match 1953

Pen pictures of some of Swansea’s greatest players from the project’s museum exhibition.

Ivor Allchurch

Billy Ball

Benny Beynon

Mel Charles

Alan Curtis

Jack Fowler

Roger Freestone

Billy Hole

Robbie James

Barrie Jones

Cliff Jones

Mel Nurse

Roy Paul 

Cyril Pearce

Joe Sykes

 

Leave a comment

Filed under players