This weekend the eyes of the world turn to South Wales for the much anticipated clash between rivals Cardiff City and Swansea City on the grand stage of the Premier League. I thought this was as good an opportunity as ever to celebrate the fixture. I originally wrote this article for top football website Outside of the Boot at the start of the 2013/2014 season. Go check out their excellent site here. This article has been slightly edited from the original version.
23rd September 2008
It’s a fairly warm September night on the South-West coast of Wales. All eyes in South Wales are turned towards one place: a football match at the Liberty Stadium. It is 0-0. It is the 56th minute and Swansea’s midfield maestro Ferrie Bodde is lining up a freekick. From my seat near the halfway line I feel myself shaking with excitement as I’m certain Bodde can score from here. He’s certainly more than capable of it. Bodde steps up, feints and suddenly Jordi Gomez runs at the ball instead and hits a powerful left-footed drive. It ricochets off the studs off an opposition player and glides into the far corner, past the desperate stretch of the goalkeeper. Swansea are 1-0 up and I can literally feel the Liberty Stadium shake.
This is still one of my favourite moments ever supporting Swansea. This isn’t a cup final winner or a last ditch goal to prevent relegation, it is merely a winner in a standard 1-0 victory in the Carling Cup 3rd Round. However,it is anything but standard. It is the winner against Cardiff City. The enemy. The rivals. The scum.
Premier League, meet the South Wales Derby
United v City. Liverpool v Everton. Villa v Birmingham. Newcastle v Sunderland. Arsenal v Spurs. The Premier League loves a derby. Fans love a derby. The 5 previously mentioned derbies have become stalwarts of the Premier League era. Everybody loves the vociferous nature of watching two rival teams battling it out and two sets of fans heckling each other for the honour of local bragging rights. Of course, in recent seasons some derbies have morphed far beyond just battles for the following day’s bragging rights and have turned into full on silverware deciders. Arguably, Vincent Kompany’s header at the Etihad last season to sink Manchester United 1-0 was what propelled City to their first Premier League crown. However, some might argue that some of the intensity of these derbies has dried up slightly with Sky neatly packaging and tidying up these encounters ready for their sporting prime time slots. For me, if we were to judge a Premier League derby on pure hatred, the winner would have to be the one season the Premier League ‘welcomed’ the return of the Burnley v Blackburn fixtures in 2009. However, I have no doubt that the Premier League is about to witness it’s most hate-fuelled, bile spilling and exciting derby in its history. On 16th April 2013, after years of failed attempts, Cardiff City achieved promotion to the Premier League and thus the stage is now set for the return of the South Wales derby on the grandest stage it has ever graced.
Cardiff hate Swansea. Swansea hate Cardiff. Simple. The games themselves are almost always feisty affairs, but pre-21st century, it was almost always off-the pitch antics that stole all the next morning’s headlines. However, if you head back in time to Swansea Town’s (the club became City in 1970) first ever game, which was incidentally against Cardiff, it is clear that the two South Wales clubs began on friendly terms in front of 8,000 fans at Swansea’s Vetch. In fact, throughout much of the first half of the 20th century there are very few clues at all to suggest tribalism between the two cities or clubs with some supporters even attending games at both clubs on alternating weekends. Some argue that Swansea’s resentment towards the city of Cardiff began in 1955 with Cardiff’s selection as the capital city of Wales. It was supposedly not so much Cardiff’s initial ascension to the title of ‘ capital city’ that incensed the Swansea locals, it was more the way the Welsh government began to bolster and finance the city of Cardiff, whilst ignoring the proud city of Swansea just 30 miles down the coast. You could argue that many in Swansea still feel to this day that they are ignored by the government, as new riches are repeatedly lavished on Cardiff, as well as many Swans fans suggesting that the Welsh media massively favours Cardiff (some Swans fans comically refer to BBC Wales as the “Bluebird Broadcasting Corporation”).
Reports suggest that the origins of the true footballing hatred between the two clubs arose from the actions of some Cardiff City directors before a 1960 Welsh Cup quarter final. The FAW had refused to reschedule Cardiff’s match with Swansea to aid their fixture list and in rage Cardiff refused to field a strong team, which subsequently led to the club being fined 350 guineas. Tempers seethed further when the Cardiff directors declined to join the Swansea directors in their boardroom during the game. As off-field issues simmered, that Welsh Cup quarter final also flared up on the pitch with the game resembling a brawl more than a football match. Along with the ‘city-envy’ on Swansea’s behalf, the series of events would be the catalyst and the foundations for the volatility, hostility and disdain that now supports and surrounds the South Wales derby.
The first South Wales Derby took place on the Vetch field in Division Two of the Southern League, but now we are awaiting the first derbies to take place in front of a truly global television audience at Swansea and Cardiff’s plush new homes: The Liberty Stadium and Cardiff City Stadium; neither stadium is as cherished as the previous South Wales football abodes of The Vetch and Ninian Park, but both clubs are certainly in much fitter states to enter their new more aristocratic football surroundings thanks to their more aesthetically pleasing homes.
Not even a simple, sunny day at the races can quash the Cardiff/Swansea tensions. On 14th July 2012 at Newbury racecourse, groups of Swansea and Cardiff fans clashed leading to the closure of all the bars nearby and a call for extra police to come combat the rioting fans. Just three were arrested, but around thirty people were said to have instigated the trouble. This used to be (and still is to a certain extent) a common occurrence at Welsh national games as the cocktail of Swansea and Cardiff fans (plus a few Newport fans thrown in for good measure) mixing together in the terraces would lead to explosions of violence. In 2003, a relative of mine attended Wales’ 4-0 loss to the Italians at the San Siro; he reported that even the Italian Ultras were shocked to witness sections of the Welsh support battering each other after the game. The Ultras had supposedly waited to attack the Welsh fans, but on finding Cardiff and Swansea fighting amongst themselves, the Ultras had little else to do but leave them to it and head to the bar.
I’m not meaning to glorify the ‘hooligan’ aspect of each club. Of course, I love the ‘banter’ that occurs between both sets of fans, but the violent side of the derby just baffles me. However, it is hard to argue against the fact that some of thuggish behaviour of both sets of fans is in embedded in the culture of the two clubs. As the years past and the 1970s and 80s saw the rise of football hooliganism, the derby took a dark turn and became a very tribal and animalistic affair.
Cardiff’s ‘Soul Crew’ firm, a named derived from the 1970s founders love for soul music, are one of the most infamous hooligan crews throughout the land. On the other hand, Swansea still celebrate their most famous off field victory over Cardiff by singing ‘Swim Away’ in ode to one particular Swansea/Cardiff clash. The ‘Swim Away’ chant (complete with breast stroke actions) derives from a Swansea v Cardiff encounter in 1988; following the Bluebirds triumph over the Jacks at their Vetch home, the Swansea fans hunted down some of the Cardiff contingent (it seems the number of Cardiff fans varies from whoever is telling the story) and chased them towards the beach until the Cardiff fans attempted to escape the Jack Army by diving into Swansea Bay an attempting to ‘swim away’ from their pursuers. Since that day in 1988 the ‘Swim Away’ chant regularly resonates from the Jack Army in a taunt at Cardiff fans supposed cowardice. Even current and former Swansea players have performed the ‘Swim Away’ as a goal celebration much to the delight of the Swans faithful (as Darren Pratley demonstrates against Cardiff here).
The players of both clubs have enjoyed indulging in fan-inciting following Swansea’s 2006 LDV Vans Trophy final victory over Carlisle at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Swansea legends Lee Trundle and Alan Tate retrieved and proudly displayed a Welsh flag from the crowd emblazoned with the words “Fuck Off Cardiff”. Whilst ex-Cardiff players who have scored at the Vetch/Liberty regularly incense the Jacks by performing the ‘Ayatollah’ – a head tapping motion performed by Cardiff fans (demonstrated by the Bluebird fans here); the action is usually ignited by the Cardiff chant of “Do the Ayatollah..(insert player/manager name)”.
Undoubtedly, the darkest day in the derby’s history came in 1993 in a game that became known as ‘The Battle of Ninian Park’. The game made the national press as Cardiff fans invaded the pitch and Swansea fans teared up seats to launch them at their Bluebird counterparts. The scenes were brandished all over national newspapers the next day and subsequently the FAW opted to ban away fans from any near future fixtures between Swansea and Cardiff – the first ban of its kind in British football history.
The introduction of both the clubs’ new stadia, heavy police presences and the introduction of ‘bubble games’, has seen the violent side of derby day certainly diminish massively. Although there are still a handful arrests that take place on derby day, mainly through skirmishes with the police. In 2009 hundreds of Swansea fans waited behind after their 1-0 Carling Cup victory to abuse the departing Cardiff coaches and several arrests were made. However, Cardiff were far from angels that evening either as they vandalised the Liberty Stadium by destroying toilets, ripping up pipes and breaking doors, leaving Swansea City with expenses of thousands of pounds – an act Cardiff fans performed again the next year. Later that year in the league derby at Ninian Park a coin thrown from the home end struck referee Mike Dean on the head and left him bleeding. Many Swansea fans still hate Dean for succumbing to the home crowd intimidation that day and awarding Cardiff a decisive, very soft, last minute penalty. It allowed them to equalise the derby following Joe Allen’s goal (complete with wild celebration) that looked to have clinched the derby for Swansea on enemy territory.
Part Two coming tomorrow.