Swansea City v Cardiff City
Liberty Stadium / Premier League / 8th February 2014
Little did I realise at the time, but Friday 6th October 2006 would go on to be one of the most important and life changing days of my life. Just over 2 weeks before, I had moved 4o miles west from Quakers Yard, the small village at the bottom of the Merthyr valley where I had lived for the first 18 years of my life, to the coastal city of Swansea. The move was prompted by my desire to move out to complete my higher education. I had looked at numerous cities to venture to and dwell in for 3 years to complete my degree in English, but having had offers from Liverpool and Manchester (incidentally 2 cities I would go on to live in) I opted to stay slightly closer to home and head to Swansea. Still probably the best decision I ever made in my life.
After the usual blurry escapades that go on in Freshers Fortnight (yes, Swansea does it over 2 weeks), I’d grown tired of spending most nights on Wind Street and in Time & Envy and I suggested to our football-deprived American friend that we should go along and watch the local football team at their Liberty Stadium home in a Friday night League One fixture versus Tranmere Rovers. As well as trying to educate our Californian pal Nik about ‘soccer’, the trip would also be my first visit to the stadium and the first time I would ever watch Swansea City. As you’ve probably gathered, it wouldn’t be the last.
There was no plan to arrive in Swansea and suddenly start supporting the Swans, but over that first Uni term I found myself going more and more often. Then after Christmas, it happened. After 2 consecutive losses at the Liberty, to Oldham and Scunthorpe, I realised that I was angry and upset that this team had lost. That was the moment I realised I was hooked. Since then I’ve gone all over the country watching the Swans and have even travelled into Europe with them this season. I went to University with my best pal Ed: he met the girl he would eventually go on to marry; I would meet the football club I would fall in love with. I had somehow stumbled into becoming a Swansea City fan.
I’m now regularly asked, “When are you ever going to do a Lost Boyos blog about Swansea and the Liberty Stadium?” and I always respond by saying that I’ll save it for something special. And this week that something special arrived. A Saturday 5.30pm South Wales Derby between Swansea and Cardiff at the Liberty.
Many were surprised that the police had let the fixture be a Saturday evening kick-off, but with Sky seeming to have the majority of power in modern football these days, they were always going to get the biggest say. Needless to say, the Jack Army had decided that with the late kick-off they were going to make a day of it and with that spirit I found myself in the Llwyncelyn pub in Trecynon shortly before 10am with beer flowing and free bacon rolls kindly provided. I had booked myself a place on the Aberdare Jacks’ bus to the game and by 10.30am, we were heading towards SA1.
The first Swansea pub call of the day was to be the Smiths Arms, a pub I had walked past countless times en route to the Liberty, but had never been in before. In fairness, it seems like I’d been walking past a cracking pub all this time. We spent the first couple of hours of the day enjoying our beer, watching the Liverpool mauling of Arsenal and obviously talking all things Swans-related. There had been a lot to talk about, as days before the board had sacked Swansea manager Michael Laudrup and replaced him with club legend Garry Monk. Despite his inexperience as a manager, we were all in agreement that the appointment was a positive one and it had seemed to generally have galvanised the fans and given them a much-needed boost after the club’s recent malaise. There was a huge feel good factor around the club all of a sudden and many were much more optimistic for today’s big derby day than they were earlier in the week in the pre-Monk days. I made sure I recorded some of our chat for the 3rd episode of The JackCast, the Swansea City fan podcast I took it upon myself to create; in fact, it’ll be worth a listen if you are reading this as I basically created a 10 minute audio of my day out with the Jacks at the derby. (Will give the podcast a plug/put up links at the bottom of this for those interested).
Whilst the Aberdare Jacks opted to stay in the Smith Arms, I decided for blog purposes that I would carry on the pub crawl amongst the several pubs in the hills around the Liberty Stadium. Fortunately I did not have the make the trek alone as I had been joined by Chris, another Jack who had travelled down from Quakers Yard with me for the day and who had also opted to join me on the crawl.
Next stop was the Plough and Harrow, purely for sentimental reasons. It was here where I used to go with my new Uni friend Nia and here Dad Jeff before nearly every Swansea home game. In fact, Jeff probably has to take some of the blame for my Swansea fandom thanks to his repeated offering of his spare season ticket during my Uni years. Cheers Jeff! Sadly, the Plough does not seem to be as busy as it once was before Swans games and so having watched some more of the Arsenal demolition at the hands of Liverpool (the Redmen were 2-0 up when we left the Smith Arms, but 4-0 up by the time we arrived in the Plough), we headed a 30 second walk down the road to Commercial.
The Commercial is the prematch drinking hole of Swansea Oh Swansea fanzine editor Steven Carroll; alongside myself, Steve also features on The JackCast (another cheeky plug). Considering I’ve never been in the Commercial before, and although it wasn’t the prettiest inside with the bar lumbered in the middle of the pub, I really liked the Commercial and I’d happily go back – it certainly had a better atmosphere than the Plough anyway.
Having said goodbye to Steve, we headed for another favourite prematch drinking hole of mine: The Globe – situated on the hill leading down to the main road by the Liberty. I’d first been introduced to The Globe by Swansea writer Keith Haynes, who has featured on my travels and on this blog before, as it is usually the landing base for him and his collection of Gloucester Jacks before heading to the game. I was unsurprised to find Keith in there on my arrival and with Swansea writing royalty joining me at the bar I had to record an interview with him for The JackCast. Keith was adamant before recording the interview that a Swansea win today was a foregone conclusion and so he decided that there was no point discussing the match and instead he offered us a host of gardening tips on the podcast instead – “It’s a good year for carrots!” apparently.
By now the Six Nations game between Wales and Ireland had kicked off and much of the already cramped Globe (it isn’t exactly the most spacious of pubs in fairness) was now focussed on the rugby on the screens in front of us. To be honest, most that know me will know I’m not really a big rugby fan and I was more happy chatting to fellow fans about the derby instead.
There has become one pub that has become synonymous with the Jack Army over the years and that pub is the Railway Inn, about 5 minutes away from the Liberty’s West Stand. The Railway has become THE pub for the hardcore Swansea City support and so it would be rude not to make that the final stop on this pub crawl. Predictably, with almost 2 hours to go until kick-off, the place was suitably packed with Jacks.
A trip to The Railway is not complete with out a tip of the cap to its main centrepiece; a monument to a Swansea legend. Alan Curtis? John Toshack? Robbie James? Lee Trundle? No, Marvin Emnes of course. For those unaware, despite only playing four games on loan for Middlesbrough for the Swans, Emnes entered Swans folklore by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win at Cardiff in 2010. In a pleasant stroke of fate,Emnes would be making his second debut for the club today having signed on loan from Middlesbrough and fittingly against Cardiff.
It was great to see all sorts of familiar faces who I’ve befriended over the years supporting the Swans and as mentioned earlier there really was a carnival atmosphere amongst the support today, as people swigged their cans of lager from behind the Railway bar. With the time trickling towards 5pm and with a whole lot of alcohol now in my system, I suggested to Chris that we head to the ground to soak up some of the prematch atmosphere. And what an atmosphere it was.
So, the Liberty Stadium – what of the home of Swansea City? Well, I’m sure many of you are aware that the Liberty Stadium is a fairly recent home for the Swans in regards of their history with the club not moving into the ground until July 2005, alongside their egg-chasing neighbours, The Ospreys. The rest of Swansea’s history, which began with the formation of Swansea Town in 1912, was spent at the The Vetch.
The Vetch was certainly a ground that had character. The ground was renowned throughout the leagues for its ramshackle and rundown, yet intimate and intimidating appearance. The Vetch was a home loved by nearly all Swansea fans and many were sad to depart the ground down by the sea. However, for Swansea to have a sustainable future it was decided that the club needed to move into a new home and with little money to build a new stadium, Swansea council paid up the millions (roughly around £50m for the whole development) to help out the Ospreys and the Swans and to provide them with a new home (owned by the council).
If the Vetch was an old ground oozing with character, then the Liberty Stadium is from a different planet. Obviously, as the home of my beloved Swans, I love the place, but I’ll be the first to admit that it is a bit grey and bland. Throw in the bowl shape, the fact that it is situated just short of 2 miles away from the city centre and it sits on a retail park and the Liberty Stadium ticks a lot of the modern stadium cliche boxes. Don’t mistake these points as me being scathing of the ground, but it’s probably not the most thrilling place for opposition and neutral fans to visit. In fairness, a day at the Liberty is more than a pleasant experience and despite it taking a few years for the Jack Army to truly find their voice in their new home, the atmosphere in there is as good as I’ve heard in the Premier League these days and unsurprisingly today was even better than normal.
I’ll say it now: on entering through the turnstiles into East Stand and onto the concourse, I was already assured that today was going to be the best atmosphere the Liberty Stadium had seen. I arrived through the turnstiles of the Liberty Stadium shortly after 5pm and I was greeted by the glorious scene of Jack Bastards bouncing around manically on the concourse to the beat of Stephen ‘The Prince of Gingers’ Jones’ drum and working their way through the Swansea City songbook. Within minutes I had purchased myself a beer, but I went on to spill a lot of it as I decided to go participate in the ‘scenes’ in the middle. Following the various renditions of the Swansea City Song, a collection of anti-Cardiff classics, plus an ode to ‘the sad Cardiff Bastard’ Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the loudest and most raucous the concourse got was easily for the ‘Come on Wilfried Bony!’ song followed by a joyous rendition of ‘Super Garry Monk’ in celebration of the legend’s appointment. With my voice now certainly warmed up and my legs bounced out (for now), I headed up to the my seat in the East Stand corner nearest the Cardiff City fans.
The mix of alcohol and repeated shouting of Garry Monk’s name had already left my voice rather hoarse, but on heading to my seat in the East Stand corner, I was rejuvenated by the sight of the away fans and the sheer amount of noise resonating from the Swans faithful.
As the Swans and Cardiff came out onto the pitch in their respective famous white and blue…I mean red kits, the place erupted again. I’m sure some will read this as Swans bias, but from the first minute I did not hear a peep out of the Cardiff fans, probably largely thanks to the constant noise created by the Jack Army.
The Swans started the better team and they looked a completely different team to the one that had been playing at a half pace over the past few months under Michael Laudrup with Monk’s charges playing at a higher tempo and pressing every Cardiff player. Although Swansea had all the possession and a couple of half chances, the better chances were going to Cardiff with Kenwyne Jones having the best opportunity to put the Redbirds in front with a header he put agonisingly wide of the post. Despite some nice passing from the Swans, the first half was to prove fairly uneventful on the pitch, whilst the fans off it continued to try roar on the players.
Half-time: Swansea 0 – 0 Cardiff.
Once again the concourse was a lively area with songs of ‘Super Garry Monk’ and beer still being bought, only to be thrown in the air moments later during the ‘bouncing’. I decided against even trying to get near the bar for a half-time drink and I’d probably had had enough by now anyway.
Marvin Emnes had had a good second debut for the Swans so far, but a slight injury doubt had led to Monk replacing him at half-time with Pablo Hernandez. An important move in the game it would prove.
2 minutes into the second half and with Pablo now operating from the attacking midfield role, he turned to face goal near the halfway line and played an inch perfect pass through the heart of the Cardiff defence to the onrushing Wayne Routledge. Euphoric scenes were triggered as the ex-Cardiff player neatly rolled the ball into the far bottom corner. 1-0 to the Swans!
The Swans had their tails up now, although Cardiff came close to equalising as the impressive Craig Bellamy thundered a shot against the bar from 20 yards out with Michel Vorm beaten. However, this looked like it was always going to be Swansea’s day, especially when one of the smallest players in the Premier League scores a header for you. A great cross into the box by Routledge saw Nathan Dyer run into the box, skip between the completely static Cardiff defence and diving header home. 2-0.
To add to the party atmosphere that had been going on for most of the game, Swansea made it 3-0 with 5 minutes remaining. A chipped freekick from out wide by Hernandez was connected with powerfully by Wilfried Bony, who duly headed in to add to the third. Bragging rights, an important three points and a manager who Swansea fans were already in love with. Not bad for 90 minutes.
Full-time: Swansea City 3 – 0 Cardiff City. (That was nice to type).
Of course, after that there was no chance of heading straight home, so onwards we went back to the Railway to carry on the party. Predictably, the Railway was rammed, but we managed to fit in a few cans there, before getting our minibus back to Aberdare.
So that was my day out in Swansea. I said I would save writing about the Liberty Stadium for something special and I don’t think I could have picked a better day for it really. A very special day indeed in a city that is very special to me.
Highlights: best city in the country (undoubtedly biased here), great pubs around the ground, superb atmosphere on the concourse and in the stands, the game itself, especially the first goal, the second goal and the third goal, the whole day was pretty awesome in fairness.
Low Points: in general the Liberty isn’t the most eye-catching of grounds.