The 2011/2012 season was always going to be a big deal for any Swansea fan, as the club took the plunge into the big, scary world of Premier League football. The period would also be a big deal for me personally as I, just like Swansea City, delved out into a bigger world; for me it was the world of full-time work. Having completed my PGCE (teacher training for those not familiar) in secondary English in Liverpool in 2011, I was about to start my first teaching job in a small satellite town at the most western point of Greater Manchester called Irlam.
One of the biggest thrills I get from football is travelling to different town and cities, meeting fans and embracing the collective joy that the great game has a capacity to deliver, on and off the pitch: not every football fan is a hooligan or a dick. Since moving to the North-West last year I have had much more opportunity to travel to various different footballing arenas – although the adverse effect is that I now struggle to make it down to the Liberty Stadium as I often as I would like to. Lost Boyos was founded in January 2012 of this year and since then I have brought to you some snippets of the fun (and not so much fun) I have had on my trips around the country watching football in my ‘Lost in…’ series; this is to be my review of my travels from July 2011 to May 2012. My 2011/12 season began at the Marston Stadium in little old Afan Lido and ended with two trips to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, Old Trafford (one for Manchester United v Swansea, the other for Soccer Aid). Here is my best of what I have experienced this season…
Bury 2-4 Leicester City (23/08/2011 Carling Cup 2nd Round)
This was my first of two visits to Gigg Lane during the 2011/2012 and what a game it was. Having never visited Gigg Lane before I had it pencilled in for a visit at some point during the football season, but when I found out the morning of their Carling Cup fixture against Leicester that it was £5 ticket I decided to tick it off right away. What a bargain for a £5.
Sven’s Leicester had brought a large contingent of fans to Lancashire to watch the fixture and there was plenty of lively ‘banter’ between the fans, which resulted in several fans (mainly Leicester fans) being escorted out of the ground by the stewards throughout the game. Leicester dominated throughout but Bury just would not give up and eventually took a 2-1 lead through a superb Ryan Lowe free kick. The game was played at a relentless pace which eventually proved too much for a hardworking Bury. Leicester scored three superb goals through Paul Gallagher, Lloyd Dyer and Neil Danns to pull themselves back from 2-1 down to win 4-2 and progress to the third round of the Carling Cup.
Aston Villa 0-2 Swansea City (02/01/2012)
It finally happened. Just short of 20 years and Swansea finally secured a victory away from home in the top flight and they did it in style. There was a feeling amongst the Swans fans that day that the Swans might just do it, especially after an impressive display against Tottenham 2 days previous.
Many fans were bemused to see Andrea Orlandi make the first XI playing in the attacking midfield role behind Danny Graham, but Orlandi excelled throughout the game and was a large factor in securing the victory. Swansea took the lead in the opening 4 minutes through Nathan Dyer (the salute celebration to the Jack Army, was one of my favourite moments of the season) and Swansea never looked back as they infuriated Villa players and fans with their unyielding possession. I also witnessed probably the worst individual performance I’ve seen all season, as ex-England international Stephen Warnock looked like he wanted to cry every time Nathan Dyer got on the ball – he was truly screwed over by the little winger for 90 minutes.
Just after half-time, ex-Villain Wayne Routledge scored his first ever Premier League goal (after 116 Premier League appearances) to make it 2-0 and to bury Villa. As the Villa fans launched a tirade of abuse towards manager Alex McLeish, Swansea fans launched into their own response: “We love our manager! We love our manager!” The game finished 2-0 but Swansea had utterly decimated Villa on the pitch in one of their finest performances of the season, as well as the Jack Army being at their loudest and most boisterous in the stands. A brilliant day!
It was a special day for me as I travelled down from Manchester for my first Swansea home game of the season – and what a good choice it proved to be. In the car en route to the Liberty, our discussion somehow turned to Luke Moore, a player I have always stuck up for during his time at Swansea; half-serious, half-joking I claimed that Luke Moore would score the winner to beat the Champions-elect later that day. Not a chance.
The atmosphere inside the Liberty Stadium was incredible, one of the best I’ve witnessed there actually, and it clearly transferred to the players as Swansea went about humiliating their multi-million pound opposition. Swansea should have been 1-0 up after Routledge was brought down in the box, but Joe Hart saved Scott Sinclair’s penalty to keep the score 0-0 (the only penalty Sinclair has missed in his Swansea career). It was noticeable how star players such as Aguero, Silva and Balotelli were not really on top of their game and Swansea began to smell blood, passing the City team to death. Balotelli was getting particularly infuriated and in rage launched a shot from the halfway line which got nowhere near the Swansea goal – Roberto Mancini cut a furious figure on the touchline.
After the break, the game was a much more even contest as both teams went for the win. Swansea were still playing their nice, intricate passing game but with little penetration. Introducing Luke Moore. As Moore strolled onto the pitch in place of Danny Graham I smiled at my companions and declared: “He’s going to score the winner.” 13 minutes later, Moore rose above the City defence to bury a header passed Joe Hart to cue wild scenes in the stands, including myself who was jumping up and down screaming “I told you so! I fucking knew it! I knew it!”
Despite Micah Richards celebrating for about 20 minutes as he thought he’d scored a equaliser (cheers for correctly flagging him offside Sian Massey) Swansea held on to secure a famous 1-0 win and one of their most famous victories in modern times. I wish I’d put a bet on Luke Moore to score the winner though!
Taking football out of the equation the Anfield area of Liverpool will always have a special place in my heart, having lived nearby as well as it being the place where I completed my first school placement of my teacher training. Despite the shady reputation that many associate with the streets surrounding Liverpool’s famous football ground, the locals are some of the nicest people you could possibly meet; they are all also crazy about their football.
The word ‘Anfield’ immediately has connotations of glory, passion and good football and perhaps more than any other ground I’ve been to, the history of the club resonates from the ground: the statue of Shankly, the Anfield gates, the Kop and the poignant Hillsborough tribute – only Manchester Untied come as close to celebrating their history around their stadium. The ground is a long way from being the most externally attractive football arena, but with the atmosphere and feeling surrounding the place it is still one of my favourite grounds in the country to visit. This season I visited the ground to watch Swansea and Liverpool battle in a thrilling goalless draw; the class of Liverpool fans was demonstrated at the end of the game with many Liverpool fans staying behind to applaud the Swansea team off the pitch. I am obviously disappointed to see Brendan Rodgers leave Swansea for Liverpool, but he is now at the helm of a fine football club. I’m sure the prospect of rousing the Kop with his attractive brand of football was too hard to resist for the Northern Irishman.
As I stated in my ‘Lost in…Huddersfield’ post, I had wanted to go to the Galpharm Stadium for quite a while and I was more than happy to have a free ticket to go watch Huddersfield Town take on Yeovil Town in an end of season clash. It must be said that the game was fairly slow and dull, so the stadium took the starring role for me on the day. There are not many new build stadiums like it in the Football League and it certainly displays unique attributes. The classy looking 4 separate standing semi-circle stands with woodland hugging the far stand certainly give the stadium its own individual look. Huddersfield have a stadium that very much displays its own character, but it also has friendly and helpful stewards, the town centre is just 5 minutes away and the prices at the ground are very reasonable. This is how new build stadiums in the Football League should be!
I made my feelings about the Etihad Stadium very clear in Part One of my ‘Lost in…Manchester’ posts, but just to sum it up: the Etihad Stadium is superb! There is not a slicker, better looking ground in the country at the moment….and yes, that includes Wembley and the Emirates Stadium. The ground can maintain a good atmosphere and City fans are generally very vocal. My favourite feature (apart from the spiralling walkways that go up the sides of the stadium – always fun to walk/run up) is City Square: Manchester City’s very own fan-zone with various bars, food outlets and stage for bands to perform pre-match. As well as all this, the city centre is a ten minute walk away. It may well be my favourite stadium in the country.
One of the funniest moments of the season! In the build-up to Swansea’s trip to Anfield, Kemy Agustien revealed his new Mr. T-inspired hairstyle; it was only fitting that as the popular Dutch midfield-enforcer began warming up on the sidelines near the Swansea fans at Anfield, that the Jack Army burst into the famous tune – Kemy was clearly delighted, as a huge grin spread across his face. When Kemy finally entered the fray towards the end of the game, the crowd went wild chanting the theme as if the famous black van itself was about to shoot up a ramp and land on the Anfield turf. Unfortunately, Kemy got rid of the hairstyle shortly after the game so the chant was never revived.
“This is how it feels to be City/This is how it feels to be small/You sign Phil Jones, we sign Kun Aguero! Kun Aguero! Kun Aguero!” (Manchester City fans)
It really has been a great year to live in Manchester with both Manchester clubs battling it out at the top of the league for the title. I’ve had much joy heading into the city centre to watch both teams’ games on TVs in Manchester’s bars and pubs, but perhaps my favourite thing about my trips into the city centre to watch City and United games is the bickering and chanting that occurs between the inter-city rivals’ fans. I must admit that City have a much better arsenal of humorous/derogatory chants at their disposal to attack their United rivals with; I always enjoy the Balotelli chant, but the “This is how it feels to be City” is still my favourite.
The chant was originally a United chant, sung to the tune of the Inspiral Carpets song “This is it How it Feels” and was sung to belittle United’s ‘small club’ neighbours – it was usually sung when United were losing a game or after they had lost a game; the original chant went “This is it how feels to be City/This is how it feels to be a small/ This is how it feels when your team wins nothing at all! Nothing at all”. City adopted and adapted the chant to reverse the belittling as they now mock United fans from behind their financial clout.
Although the words to the chant are quite funny it is the sheer passionate way City fans sing it that always impresses me most, as they bounce around the stands/pubs like lunatics whilst singing it, as seen here.
“Twist and Shout” (Accrington Stanley fans aka The Stanley Ultras)
One of my more surreal adventures this season was my trip to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground. Despite Stanley getting beaten 4-0, the action on the pitch was not particularly thrilling, but the Stanley fans, especially in the 2nd half, were great fun. The highlight of the day, as I mentioned in my post at the time, was their amazing rendition of Twist and Shout with one fan accompanying the singing on drum. I’ve since discovered that a few other club’s supporters launch into renditions of this song up and down the country including Barnet, West Ham and Coventry, but I’ll always remember it as a Stanley song after a great day out in the small Lancashire town.
Best Player Performance(s)
Gareth Bale (Tottenham v Swansea)
Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a bit obsessed with the flying Welsh winger and I always look forward to seeing him play in the flesh. I’ve seen him on several occasions in the past and he has always played really well, but not quite to his phenomenal best – that was until watching him against Swansea this year.
Angel Rangel did everything he possibly could to stop young Bale, but when Bale is on one of his days he is genuinely unstoppable (just ask Maicon). Spurs sauntered to a 3-1 victory over Swansea at White Hart Lane, with goals from Van der Vaart and two from Adebayor, but Bale was easily the star of the show.
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City v Swansea City and Manchester City v Porto)
You know you’re in trouble when the player that is coming off the bench costs more than your club’s stadium; it also doesn’t help that it is the substitute’s Premier League debut and that he wants to make a good first impression. This was Sergio “Kun” Aguero’s Premier League debut and what a debut!
Swansea had battled bravely and thanks to an inspired Michel Vorm, also making his Premier League debut, the Welsh side were only 1-0 down – in the 59th minute, enter Aguero. 8 minutes later, Aguero had got his first goal, before superbly setting up David Silva 10 minutes after that to make it 3-0. The icing on Aguero’s debut cake would come in the game’s closing stages as he picked the ball up 30 yards away from goal before effortlessly rocketing the ball into bottom left corner to make it 4-0.
I witnessed a similarly superb performance 6 months later with Man City taking on Porto in the Europa League. Aguero demonstrated his excellent turn of pace, trickery and power throughout and even netted within the first 19 seconds of the game.
Aguero would easily be the best player I’ve seen this season if it wasn’t for a team-mate of his…..
David Silva (Manchester City v Swansea City and Manchester City v Porto)
Quite simply the best player I have ever seen live! In Manchester City’s 4-0 victory over Swansea, David Silva completely dominated and excelled, although arguably his performance was overshadowed by Aguero bursting onto the scene.
The 2011/2012 season would be a vintage year for Premier League football and Silva will be remembered as one of the stand out performers in it (particularly the first half of the season), as he helped guide City to their first title in over 40 years. On that Monday night in mid-August, Silva unveiled his intentions to step his performances up a notch from the season previous, as he constantly left a trail of Swansea players chasing at his heels and even comically falling to floor as they tried to get near the ball. He rounded his performance off with a simple goal after excellent work from Aguero.
At the Etihad Stadium’s City Square fan zone before City’s Europa League tie against Porto, the large screens littered around the area played a video of everything single assist and goal scored by Silva since he joined the club in 2010 – it was an enthralling ten minutes or so. From watching him on these screens to then watching him in the flesh shortly after, he once again led the opposition a merry dance as he helped orchestrate Man City’s 4-0 triumph over Porto, once again grabbing a goal for himself.
A true footballing genius!
Sebastian Sessegnon v Swansea (21/01/12)
Craig Gardiner contributed an excellent 25 yard goal in this game, but I felt that Sessegnon’s earlier effort was much classier.
A classic counter attacking goal with a touch of class. The opening 15 minutes was played at a relentless pace with both teams looking very dangerous; Swansea created a great opening 12 minutes in, only for Scott Sinclair to duly launch his left footed effort high into row Z from close range. From the resulting goal kick Sunderland got themselves into Swansea’s half with Sebastian Sessegnon floating around the Swansea penalty area. Sessegnon played a quick one-two with the impressive James McLean before galloping into the box and curling a sidefooted effort into the far corner past an outsteched Michel Vorm. Gardiner’s long ranged volley may have been more eye-catching, but Sessegnon’s goal, scored right in front of me, was technically perfect.
Jonjo Shelvey v Bristol City
As October ended and November began, Britain was hit by a weekend of unexpected hot weather. The only thing to possibly do on such a scorching Saturday afternoon was to go to the seaside to watch some Championship football, in this case Blackpool v Bristol City. Blackpool smashed the Robins 5-0 with Jonjo Shelvey, on-loan from Liverpool, MOTM by quite a distance. The highlight of the game would come in the 66th minute. A free kick, around 40 yards away from goal; there were very few Blackpool players heading towards the opposition penalty area it soon became clear that Shelvey was lining up to hit it – and hit it he did. A smash with the outside of his right boot sent the ball swirling through players before crashing into the bottom left corner past Dean Gerken’s hapless outstretched arm. An extraordinary free kick from a player I believe could be extraordinary in a few years time.
Darren Ambrose v Manchester United
This could well be the best goal I have ever seen live, as I discussed in my post about my various trips to Old Trafford. There had been very little action in the first 45 minutes of Manchester United’s Carling Cup fixture against Crystal Palace and the 2nd half had begun in an even slower fashion. I had begun to daydream in my Stretford End seat, until I saw Ambrose touch the ball past the United midfielders around him and unleash a 35 yard drive into the top corner. I let out a whelp of joy (it was a strange noise) before realising I was with United’s most fervent fans on the Stretford End. An ustoppable goal and an absolute textbook long distance drive.
Best Matchday Pub
The Sandon Pub
Arguably, one of the most important pubs in the history of world football, the pub acted as Everton FC’s headquarters during the club’s time playing at Anfield in the late 1800s, in pre-Liverpool FC Merseyside. The pub even acted as dressing room for the Everton team, who would then make the walk across the road through the crowds to Anfield. In the same year that Everton moved to Goodison Park in 1892, Liverpool FC were formed by John Houlding in the very same pub that he had formed Everton FC 14 years earlier.
I had visited the Sandon once before in my Liverpool-dwelling days, but it was only on my visit this season that I realised the true size of the place. The pub has a very Tardis-like dimension to it, as despite it looking like an average size pub from the street, the place is almost cavernous as each function room seems to open up onto another one and another one and another one in a neverending chain of rooms. A great, friendly place for both sets of supporters to enjoy a drink with plenty of bar staff to deal with the large crowds.
On April Fool’s Day this year, I made a visit to White Hart Lane; it was a great day out, but the Tottenham area was rather desolate with very few places to enjoy a drink for away fans – a complete contrast to their North London rivals Arsenal.
On arriving in the Finsbury Park area, I was not really sure what to expect, but I soon found that there was a whole load of pubs, bars and takeaways to keep me busy and refreshed in the build-up to kick off. Recommended to me by some fellow Jacks was the Twelve Pins pub so I headed there. The Twelve Pins is a very spacious pub, a large bar so service is quick and with plenty of TV screens to watch any football that is on. There was a great atmosphere in the place with both sets of fans gregariosuly mingling with each other, so much so that two friendly Arsenal fans (father and son, Nigel and Lee Stapley) befriended us and were determined to buy our pints for us. We got on so well that we all met up after the game to share our reflections on the game and to share a few more pints in the Twelve Pins. If I head down to the Emirates again next season, I’m pretty sure I owe the Stapleys a few pints.
Despite the fact that Blackburn is a fairly local away trip for me, one of the main reasons I was quite disappointed to see Blackburn get relegated to the Championship was the fact that I would not have a real excuse to go back and visit Ewood Park next season and the amazing Fernhurst on the doorstep of the ground’s away end. On my December trip to Ewood Park, I arrived at the Fernhurst at 11am and remained there until just before kick off having an absolute blast! The pub is completely away fan-designated, so the atmosphere in there can be very lively and enthusiastic. Two large rooms make up the pub and there is plenty of space to fit in a whole away end of fans. In the pub’s car park are burger vans and another mobile bar, so you can get your drinks quicker. With the Fernhurst Lodge linked onto the pub for any fans wanting to spend the night in Blackburn (any takers?) the area acts like a makeshift fanzone for away fans. The place is also a perfect place to go to reflect on your club’s performance after a match at Ewood Park, just as we did after Blackburn/Yakubu beat Swansea 4-2. For all Chmapionship fans travelling up to Blackburn next season, I highly recommned the place.
And most importantly….the award for Best Pie
Accrington was freezing and there was only one way to keep my gloveless hands warm – buy hot food. Just before kick off I headed to the little shack behind the Clayton End for a pie to warm my pies. Despite the sub-standard football ground facilities the meat and potato pie was exceptional and more importantly warmed my cold hands. Nice one Accy!
On my first visit to the DW Stadium in October 2011, I was disappointed to miss out on having a half time pie after they had sold out. My friends had informed me that Wigan was famous for its pies and demanded that I purchase one as it was the ‘thing to do’ in Wigan. On my second visit to the DW this season I was determined not to miss out on Wigan’s local delicacy. I opted to buy my pie before kick off this time with a pint. I chose a standard meat and potato pie and what an excellent choice it proved to be! Also if you read my post about Wigan, you can find out why Wiganers are really called ‘Pie-eaters’.
Pie of the season had to go to Norwich didn’t it? Otherwise Delia would have been letting herself down. The most impressive thing about Norwich City FC’s catering service on match days are the pies that are made on the day to reflect the visiting away team. For Swansea’s visit to Carrow Road the catering staff decided to follow a Welsh theme, so the Jack Army were treated to Leek and Potato pies. I’m not actually that big on leeks so I opted for the homemade Steak and Kidney pie, which was certainly a cut above any pie I have had at a football match before – actually perhaps also one of the nicest pies I’ve had outside of a footballing arena.
So that’s what I thought; it would great if people want to get in touch, whatever team you support, to let me know what your favourite moments and highlights of the season were on your footballing travels. Contact me on Twitter either at @mophead_88 or via the @LostBoyos account.