Swansea revisited: looking forward to the Liberty

From that Soapbox of his, memories rekindled by the half of shandy’s worth of commission he’s earned from sales of mugs and pens, Pete Sixsmith looks back on what Swansea Away used to mean, and ahead to the Liberty stadium. Swansea as Steve Bruce’s Swansong? Some of us still hope nothing happens tomorrow to make that a probability …

After what
can best be described as a difficult week (defeats at the hands of the Mags and Brighton and the aforementioned neighbours scraping through at Scunthorpe), we now set off on the longest trip of the season.

It’s 325 miles from Sixsmith Towers to the home of the Swans. It means a start at 5.15am, so let’s all hope that The Brucester picks a team that has at least one decent goalscorer starting the game. Maybe he could start Richardson behind Gyan – it seemed to work at Blackpool last season.

I saw us play at The Vetch Field in November 1979 when we were in a similar position to the one we are in now. Early season optimism had blown away and Ken Knighton’s team were languishing in mid table after a decent start.

No blogs, internet forums or tweets in those days, but the Football Echo’s letter pages would have been full of moans and twists and gripes – proving that some things never change.

This was one of the epic trips, done by British Rail thanks to the Persil Vouchers scheme that gave half price travel. Collect x number of vouchers, show them at the ticket office and 2 went for the price of 1.

The four of us who embarked on this journey (Bob Chapman, Doug Bones, Ian Douglass and me) were not great users of Lever Brothers products. To overcome that problem, I used to volunteer to go to a local cash and carry for the school tuck shop and, when the Fruit Salads, Black Jacks and Sports Mixtures had been purchased, I would slip into the dark corners of the warehouse and, with a borrowed Stanley Knife, cut the vouchers off the bottles of Domestos stacked in the corner.

It was train all the way. The last train for Darlington left Shildon at 11.20, the last train for Kings Cross left at midnight. Fuelled by Cameron’s Strongarm and some strange liqueur produced by Ian, we travelled overnight, arriving in the nations capital at about 4.30.

The first train to Swansea was at 7am so Bob Chapman suggested that we walk from Kings Cross to Paddington. He later confessed that he had confused the home of the GWR and the yellow wellingtoned bear with Victoria, so we were distinctly footsore when we took our seats on the westward bound train.

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We arrived in a cold and damp Swansea at 10.30 and fell into a Brain’s pub called The Adam and Eve, which is still there and largely unchanged. Then, out to The Vetch, a real mish mash of a stadium that may well have fond memories for thousands of Jacks, but has none for me.

It’s named after a cabbage type thing grown in South Wales and used to belong to the local gas company. When football started there in 1912, it was played on cinders and the players had to wear knee pads for protection. It had no symmetry at all, being a collection of stands thrown up at various times. The East Stand, behind the goal, had the strangest floodlight pylon you will ever see, jutting out over the stand.

We stood along the side, with the wall of Swansea prison behind us. After Strangeways, situated next to Boddington’s Brewery, this must have been the most frustrating place to be incarcerated, particularly if you were a football fan.

Ken Knighton picked a team almost as bizarre as the one that turned out at Brighton. Ian Hughes made his one and only appearance, Tim Gilbert made his final one and Gordon Chisholm played at outside left. Current kitman John Cooke was an unused sub.

We started well and Alan Brown scored in the first couple of minutes. But it didn’t last. Swansea equalised before half time and went on to a deserved 3-1 win. We walked back to the station, with Mr Chapman roundly abusing a Swansea fish and chip shop proprietor for selling uneatable fish. The journey home was, as far as I can remember, uneventful.

We pulled around a bit after that and ended up winning promotion. Swansea went up the next year but our paths have not crossed since 1982 when they began their slide down the leagues.

I enjoyed reading Phil Sumbler’s preview, although I hope we can show him that the middle ranking teams in the Premier League are a tad too good for the Swans. After Saturday, I hope they go on a run and ensure survival. If they win, Steve Bruce’s survival becomes even more precarious.

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