Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Swansea City

Swansea City FC are a football club from the coastal city in South West Wales of the same name. The area is a traditional rugby union heartland, which meant City were not formed until 1912, when they were named Swansea Town FC.

The club entered the second division of the Southern League and acquired the Vetch Field, a piece of land near the town centre owned by the Swansea Gaslight Company as their home ground. In 1920 'The Swans' or 'The Jacks' as the club are nicknamed became founder members of the Football League Third Division.

Within five years the team were promoted to the League's second tier, where they lasted until 1965. The Vetch paraded some of the clubs most famous names during that period including Ivor Allchurch, Terry Medwin and Harry Griffiths. They also reached the FA Cup semi finals of 1926 and 1964 as well as lifting the Welsh Cup on several occasions. In 1969 the club changed names to Swansea City FC, two years after relegation to Division Four.

By 1974 the club had been promoted and demoted once again. Crowds dwindled and record low League gate of just 1,358 saw The Swans entertain Northampton Town. Former star Griffiths had a spell as boss until he stepped back to assist former Cardiff City, Liverpool and Wales hero John Toshack who arrived as player manager. Promotion was soon won. Unfortunately Griffiths died of a heart attack just before the end of the season.

A further promotion was achieved the following season as Swansea returned to the League's second tier after an absence of fourteen years. Toshack chipped in himself with some vital goals. Quality players began to join the club to link up with the youth system. After a season of consolidation, a 3-1 win at Preston North End sent The Swans to the top flight for the first time in their history. Stars of the time included Ian Callaghan, Tommy Craig and Leighton James, Robbie James and Alan Curtis.

City hit the ground running and in their first match in Division One they demolished Leeds United 5-1 at The Vetch, with debutant Bob Latchford netting a hat trick.

To see the massacre, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xS43ILnd5Q

The side finished the season in sixth place, despite topping the table on several occasions and defeating the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal along the way.

Sadly, the success came at a massive cost. Too much money was spent on players and some poor transfers. This coupled with injuries led to successive relegations and the sacking of Toshack. Worse still, the club was under severe threat owing to the crippling debts it racked up. The club was saved by local businessman Doug Sharpe in December 1985, but the following year they found themselves back in Division Four. Within eight years City had gone right from the bottom of the League to the top, and then back again.

A promotion was won in 1988. Sharpe kept the pursestrings tight but managers Terry Yorath and then Frank Burrows did well with what they were provided. They had a couple of play off appearences and a Football League Trophy triumph, before they returned to the bottom tier in 1996. That year turned out to be an embarrassment to the club as it went through four different managers. New owners came in and employed Kevin Cullis as boss. 

His only previous experience had been as youth team coach of the small non league club, Cradley Town. Sharpe triggered a clause in the sale when he didn't receive his promised cash and returned to the helm. Cullis was sacked after just six days and replaced by Danish international and former Liverpool star Jan Molby.

Molby soon departed as did the new incumbent Alan Cork. The experienced John Hollins came in to settle the ship. Premier League West Ham United were dumped out of the FA Cup and in 2000 City were promoted as champions. They lasted in the higher division for just one season. A new owner Mike Lewis and his company The Petty Group based in Australia took over the club and immediately cut back on staff angering fans who set up a Supporters Trust. Another experienced boss Colin Addison replaced Hollins as a consortium led by former star player Mel Nurse tried to buy the club.

Statue of club legend Ivor Allchurch
outside The Liberty Stadium
They succeeded in purchasing The Swans in January 2002, but Addison and then Nick Cusack were sacked as manager. The club only stayed in the League on the final day of the season under Bryan Flynn at the expense of Exeter City following a win against Hull City, where Lewis was Vice Chairman and was about to be jailed along with his sidekick John Russell for fraud.

To see the historic Hull City game, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYFXJ_95d40

The following season Kenny Jacket took over as manager and promotion was won on the final day of the 2004-05 season in the final ever game at the now dilapidated Vetch Field. A new ground had been in the pipeline for many seasons and at last the club moved to the sparkling Liberty Stadium at White Rock, named after Liberty Properties Ltd won the naming rights. The stadium was to be shared with the franchised regional rugby club, Ospreys.

In 2006 The Swans won a second Football League Trophy before former playing hero Roberto Martinez moved into the managerial hot seat. He immediately installed a delightful style of passing football, with the ball being kept on the deck as much as possible, leading to another promotion. He was lured to Wigan Athletic, with replacement Paulo Sousa being more conservative. Sousa was replaced by the highly rated Brendan Rogers.

The side finished in third place in Rogers' first season, going on to win a wonderful Play Off Final at Wembley 4-2 against Reading. Swansea City became the first Welsh club to reach the Premier League, just eight years after staying in the Football League by beating Hull City. Their first season in the top flight saw the club impress and finish comfortably in mid table. At the end of the campaign Rogers departed to be replaced by Michael Laudrup.

Laudrup's side played some scintillating football throughout his first season in charge as Spaniard Michu scored goals aplenty. The Swans lifted the League Cup at Wembley as Bradford City were swept aside, after Chelsea had been defeated in the semi final. This meant Europa League football for the fans at the Liberty Stadium.

Wilfried Bony took over as top scorer in the 2013-14 season as Michu departed. In a shock to most people Laudrup was dismissed in February 2014 to be replaced by former playing favourite Garry Monk. Bony departed in the January 2015 transfer window, but the Swans continued to impress.

Bony's contributions were replaced by the skills of André Ayew and Bafétimbi Gomis, while Jonjo Shelvey continued to blossom in midfield. Monk was dismissed in December 2015, with Alan Curtis once again filling in until the appointment of Francesco Guidolin helped steady the ship and take the side to a safe position.

Swansea City FC will play in the FA Premier League in the 2016-17 season.

My visits

Swansea City 3 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 16th January 1988) Division Four (att: 4,366)

It was Scarborough's first ever season in the League and they were doing reasonably well. I was lucky at the time that a mate Jon Doomie Dyer went to every game in his car. I was working as a Postman at the time and had to work and do a delivery that morning before setting out on the mammouth journey.

Doomie was a driver of Grand Prix proportions. He picked me up by The Angel pub in Scarborough at 10am, with Mick Young and my brother Nick on board. I expected us to just about make it for kick off. I little I knew!

To cut the story as short as the journey, we passed the Boro team coach near the Welsh border and were waiting for them for half an hour at around 1.45pm in the cramped streets behind the ground and by the old jail when they arrived. I was friendly with Boro winger Steve Adams at the time and he would leave me a ticket on the gate when there were any available. I saw Addo as he went through, and he told me to hang on. Ten minutes later, manger Neil Warnock came out and gave us sixteen tickets to distribute amongst the travelling support as non of the players had any relatives going to the match.

We went to the pub for a couple of drinks. I found the locals to be very friendly and they were keen to tell us how much better supporters they were than Cardiff City's. An older gent told me that when Swans fans had returned on the trains from clinching promotion at Preston, Cardiff fans hurled missiles at the carraiges, smashing lots of windows as the train went through the city. I'd hears about the intense and bitter rivalry, but I didn't realise it was that bad.

We returned to the Vetch having handed out the tickets and took up our seats in the Main Stand. The Vetch really was a strange cramped ground, but I liked it. The Main Stand was quite low and wooden, with a terraced block at the far end. To our left The West Terrace was a double decker stand, with a steep seating deck over a terrace for visiting fans. Eventually the seating was closed and then built over towards the stadiums final days. Opposite was The North Bank, which was a large covered terracing where most of the noise came from. The final end held The East Stand. This was an unusual shaped large seating deck over a small terrace which ended level with the far penalty area.  It also had an unusual floodlight on it, which stood out for some distance. It had been the final development to the ground as the club went on the their promotion run.

We were optimistic of Boro getting a result, but we were well and truly put in our place as The Swans got revenge for their 2-0 defeat in North Yorkshire earlier in the season. Boro had new signings Kenny Lowe and former Irish keeper Seamus McDonagh in their line up. They were totally outclassed on the day, with veteran Robbie James scoring with a long range effort past the flailing McDonagh who was well past his best.

City eventually finished sixth in the table, but were promoted courtesy of an aggregate win over Torquay United in the Play Off Final.

Swansea City 2 Arsenal 2 (Sunday 6th January 2013) FA Cup Round Three (att: 18,848)

The third round of the world's greatest cup competition is always one of my favourite weekends of the football season. When I saw that the game at The Liberty Stadium was scheduled for live TV on my day off I began to make plans to try and attend. On my way to Bournemouth the previous week I'd eventually got through to the ticket office and managed to secure a ticket for £30, which I was told was on the half way line. I couldn't wait!

As ever I booked my train in advance, although not as early as I'd wished. The only service that would get me there in time left Paddington at 8am and was likely to be busy with travelling fans looking at the price. As I expected there was large groups of 'Gooners' mingling waiting to board on the actual day. I moved from the supposed 'quiet' carriage after groups of obnoxious youngsters took it over. I feared the worse for the four hour ride, but in fairness the fans were excellently behaved.

The journey was long, stopping at lots of towns along the way. Travelling through Cardiff I saw the Millennium and Cardiff City Stadiums' before he took in the highly industrial scenery of Port Talbot. It was grim. From Neath the train wound down towards the coast, going past The Liberty and into the station.

I had read in advance that the ground was up to two miles from the terminus, but with no buses being due for twenty minutes I followed the crowds and walked it. Now I know that I can get a march on, but I really didn't expect to be in the queue to collect my ticket within twenty five minutes. The queue was dealt with expertly so I had an hour to kill before kick off. The nearby Harvester pub and the Frankie and Benny's selling alcohol were so packed that I didn't fancy the effort, so instead I walked round to my gate and went inside.

I had a beer for £3 and then took the meal deal of a good pie and a beer for £5.40. The concourses were showing the ESPN build up to the game on the TVs, while I flicked through the excellent programme which cost £3. I had put a bet on the game ending 2-2 before I went in, but when I saw that Swansea were starting without Michu and Pablo Hernandez while Arsenal were fielding their full strength line up I put a cover bet on a 3-0 away win.

When the lady told me that my seat would be on the half way line I was happy, but I remembered buying tickets elsewhere with similar endorsements, only to find myself in a corner. Therefore when I went upstairs and saw where I was to sit I was delighted. I was just a few seats off the centre.

I really liked The Liberty Stadium. It was well designed and every seat had good legroom, no doubt to cater for the well built rugby fans who visited to cheer on the Ospreys. The stadium was a continuous bowl, with the seating on two tiers seperated by a walkway. The far West Stand had corporate facilities at the back, while scoreboards hung from the roofs at either end.

To see the teams go out, click on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMC_moA1r3c&list=UUuIHNmGQ2lRbtwwp7tLYDDQ&index=1

Because it was the FA Cup the visitors got an extra allocation of seating and Arsenal had a following that filled the North Stand. They were in good voice, as were The Swans faithful as the game kicked off. The first half was lacking in too much goal mouth drama, but it was lovely to watch so many technically gifted players on show. Swansea were so good to watch as their players always seemed to have time on the ball. Leon Britton, Chico and Ben Davies impressed me the most.

After the interval both sides moved up a gear and the pace increased although chances were still at a premium. Swans boss Michael Laudrup introduced the missing two before an hour was out, and this move had an immediate effect when Michu used great skill to get away and finish past Wojciech Szczęsny. They looked in control until Laudrup gave Britton a rest,no doubt with that weeks League Cup semi final against Chelsea in mind, after sixty eight minutes and this changed the game.

Arsenal gained more and more possession and brought mistakes from the home team. Lukas Podolski was introduced as a substitute with nine minutes remaining, and this had just as dramatic effect as when Michu came on as he equalised two minutes later with a classy finish. Arsene Wenger's side had the momentum and it was no surprise when Kieren Gibbs smashed home a volley completing a clever one two to send The Gooners behind the goal wild with delight. I couldn't see a way back for Swansea.

However, I failed to take into account Arsenal's defence which drove their fans mad in frustration on several occasions throughout the season. Korean international Sung-Yong Ki had a good chance to level the scores which he fluffed, but from the ensuing corner he teed up Danny Graham who belted the ball into the roof of the net.

No-one was more delirious than myself with my bet very much on the forefront of my mind as I mentioned it to those around me. "It's not over yet" replied a local, and indeed the home team had another half chance. I forget myself and groaned when it came to nothing along with everyone else. After five minutes of stoppage time Howard Webb brought an end to proceedings as both teams received a well deserved ovation.

I left and rung my Dad. Sometimes when at a game you can see it to be better than it actually was as you get carried away in the atmosphere but he confirmed that it was a cracker. I also concurred that my winning betting odds of only 10/1 were extremely skinny. I arrived back in the city centre within twenty minutes with my train not leaving until 6.50, giving me the best part of three hours to kill.

Now I love pubs and even more so in towns I've never been out in before. Often time beats me, but Swansea definitely proved to be the exception. I was advised that Wind Street was the place to be, and indeed there was lots of bars, but it seemed more suited to weekend evenings. In the end I opted for Wetherspoons Bank Statement. It was OK, but nothing startling and I wanted to see some of the Mansfield v Liverpool match. After two pints I went in search of a pub with hand pumps. I was to fail.

It was rather ironic that I'd been earlier involved in a conversation on Facebook regarding on how the price of drinks in Australia had gone through the roof since some of us had visited. I entered the Aussie themed Walkabout as I knew that I could get a small bottle of Tooheys New in there, which was at least palatable. I nearly fell over as I was charged £3.70 and then young Sophie poured it into a plastic pint glass. She apologised but said it was pub policy. I was not hugely happy, and it was only her charm and looks that saved her from a rant. To make matters worse, the bar appeared to be filled with screaming young drunks.

I moved on to The Varsity, having used other establishments of that chain in the past. Alas there was no proper ale, but at least it was a decent place. I noticed that all the pubs had doormen on despite hardly anyone been out! I still had time for one more on the way back so I chanced on The Adam and Eve. This pub was superb if you enjoyed screaming kids, 80's music and ale that tasted like it had been in the pump for a week. It was that bad I left half of it.

There was still time to buy some food from one of the many tatty take aways near to the station. I purchased a supposed meat feast 9' pizza, fries and a can of coke for £5.70! It was only when I got on board the train and began it that I realised I'd been overpriced by about £2 on quality. It did a job and I slept like a baby until we approached Reading.

It had been a long day out, but I really enjoyed the game of football and the stadium. If I was to ever visit the town again, for cricket perhaps, then I'd definitely look to head to The Mumbles of an evening. It has a great reputation, but it wouldn't have to be much to beat the pubs of Swansea!

The pictures, apart from those courtesy of Bunner, have been taken from the internet as I didn't take a camera to The Vetch.


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