The fixtures are out and the pre-season friendlies have started. This is a time of year for unbridled optimism and Swansea City supporter David James can look forward to his team’s first appearance in the top division of the game since 1983. They’ve had quite a journey to get back there, though.
A team that isn’t from England in the English Premier League? Whats that, I hear you say? For those readers from around the world who may not be versed in UK geography, there will be a very special team playing in the English Premier League next season, for the first time since its inception in 1992. Already, the press have been lapping this angle of the Swansea story up and we can expect a lot more of it during the nine months after we kick off next month. Editors, website owners and television editors have probably already got their “Singing In The Valleys” headlines written. We tend to view these cliches for what they are, and such mild annoyance is a minor irritant in comparison with opportunity of a shot at the big time.
Supporting Swansea City hasn’t always easy over the years. Our rivalry with Cardiff City speaks for itself, but the Swans even have considerable competition within our own city. Rugby continues to rule the roost in much of our part of the world, and it wasn’t so long ago that the association football supporter was viewed with the sort of suspicion with which East and West Berliners used to view each other through the gaps in the Berlin Wall. Nowadays, though, the oval-shaped and round balls live alongside each other with a greater degree of harmony. Hell, these days we even share the Liberty Stadium with the Ospreys rugby union club.
The thirtieth of May 2011 was a very special day for the people of Swansea. It was they day the beloved ‘Jack Army’ gained promotion to the English Premier League with a play-off win against Reading at Wembley, after years toiling in the lower leagues of England. In fact, the club was sold for the price of one single pound in those dark gloomy days, a fact which most supporters will never forget. These days, twenty per cent of the club is owned by the Swansea City Supporters Trust, meaning that the club is that much less likely to stake its existence in the pursuit of short-term success than many others may be. Moreover, we are the first club to reach such a level with this sort of ownership structure.
Such excitement is a long way from our darkest days, when we almost fell from the Football League altogether. The Swans needed to rescue themselves in the last day of the 2002/03 season, when a James Thomas hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Hull City saved the club from falling into non-league football. This was all a far cry from the days of the early 1980s, when the Swans raced through the league and into the First Division under the managership of John Toshack. We managed to finish in sixth place in the table in our first season there (including a famous opening day thrashing of Leeds United and a draw at Anfield against the all-conquering Liverpool team of the time), but were relegated again the following season and the hangover was a lengthy one. We were back in the Fourth Division by 1986 and this was the start of two decades’ worth of lean times, which included numerous scrapes with the bank manager and the taxman, all of which led to the narrow escape of 2003. Who knows where we might be now had we not managed to full ourselves clear at the last minute then.
Fast forward eight years, though, and it was another hat-trick hero, this time Scott Sinclair, firing Swansea past Reading in the Championship Play-off Final and into the promised land of the Premier League, sending 40,000 Swansea supporters into ecstasy. It was, though, also a time for reflection. Gone, for example, are the days of the old Vetch Field, our home from 1912 until 2005. The old ground is now a construction site, waiting to be developed by building investors, but the memories of our time there linger long in the memory. Gone are the Tuesday night matches against the likes of Macclesfield Town and Shrewsbury Town in front of 2,000 die hard supporters. Gone are the famous Vetch Field burgers and the accolade of having ‘The Worst Toilets in the Football League’. For all the happy – and, at times, not so happy – memories, though, there are few Swans that would swap the feeling of anticipation for the coming season for a return to those days.
The Swans now play their football in the 20,500 capacity Liberty Stadium, with 16,000 season ticket holders shouting their support, million pound transfer records are being agreed, lucrative advertising contracts are being ironed out, fans have live games against Manchester City, Aston Villa and Manchester United on Sky Sports and ESPN to look forward to. Such a situation would been unthinkable just a few years ago and, whilst many will predict that we will plummet straight back from whence we came, the pre-season period is a time for unrestrained optimism. Why, many Swansea fans will be thinking, shouldn’t we enjoy our time in the sun, and the examples of clubs like Stoke City provide proof that it is possible for promoted clubs to survive and prosper in the Premier League. And if the end of July isn’t the time to be thinking such thoughts, when is?
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