For a time, I worried it wasn’t going to come. There is no greater stress, I said, than the “Who Are You?” series. Then, in the nick of time, Phil Sumbler*, chairman of the Swans Trust (swanstrust.co.uk) – a remarkable example of supporter involvement in a football club – and leading light at the planetswans.co.uk fan site, came back with a grand set of answers to Salut! Sunderland‘s questions ahead of a match of vital importance to both teams. And second thoughts on that stress: it’s only the second biggest source, after Steve Bruce’s team selections …
Thumped at Manchester City but not as heavily as we went down there last season. What did you make of the start?
That was welcome to the Premier League for sure. Manchester City need no introduction as a quality side and in the end that quality shone through on the pitch and of course was reflected in the scoreline. However, like many of the travelling Jacks at the game there was enough for us to be positive about and we have to take that positivity into the coming games.
Even before the start, most pundits had you tipped for relegation. Irritating or just a spur to prove them wrong?
It’s the easiest thing in the world to tip the Championship play off winners for immediate relegation and it was to be expected. We are under no illusions that it isn’t going to be easy but we are used to being written off by the media – even last season when we were in the Top 2 at times most believed that Reading, Forest, Cardiff and even the likes of Leicester were more likely to succeed. Who is in the Premier League and where are the rest?
The last time I saw Swansea v Sunderland was in 1979; we were hopeless, lost 3-1 but still went up that season. Any memories of your own from games between our sides?
Bluntly put but no. I did watch Sunderland in the Carling Cup at the Stadium of Light two years ago though – does that count?
What are your minimum and maximum expectations from the season? What will the pattern of support be, home and away?
Maximum expectations would definitely be staying up and that is probably as far as I would go. I have taken a viewpoint that having worked through the real low moments (needing to win to stay in the football league, facing the possibility of not existing) then I am here to enjoy the ride and make the most of it while it happens. we will be backed by good support home and away although promotion has spawned the overuse of the word ‘plastic fan’ but the travelling Jack Army is never quiet and won’t be in the Premier League.
Which players will prove vital to your season and where are you still weak?
We’re going to lose more than we win I would imagine so the defensive side of the team will be the busiest and I would still like us to bring in 1 or 2 new faces to add extra cover and extra competition for places in this area. We have some good defenders at the moment but can you ever have enough?
Which of our players would you dearly like in the Swansea side?
Nobody would naturally spring to mind but I should add that I did have to look your squad up just to double check. Don’t take that as an insult…!
Who is the best player you have seen in Swansea colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
It’s a straight choice between Alan Curtis and Robbie James. Both were total Swansea legends and played in all four divisions for us. Both would be worth many millions in today’s game. Legends and one now on our coaching staff (Curt) and while I am here RIP Robbie.
What have been the highs, apart from promotion last season, and lows of supporting your club?
Lows – being 2-1 down to Hull on the final day of the season in 2003, had we not come back to win the game we were a Conference football team and that could have finished us. At the time a massive low was the day then owner Tony Petty tried to rip the club apart but with hindsight it was a fantastic time as it galvanised the club and pretty much we haven’t looked back since. Without him this would never have happened as we would have drifted around in the lower leagues with 3000 supporters.
Highs – I really am struggling to top Wembley and promotion last season but to be honest coming back to win the previously mentioned game against Hull ranks up there as one of the highest – that elation was huge.
Is the rivalry between you and Cardiff as bitter and nasty as it has been, or are things moving in keeping with a different age?
Games between us are bubble matches now all the way from stadium to stadium so nothing really happens any more. I just cannot see the bubble being lifted as I don’t think anyone would take the chance. I would imagine that somewhere up in FA towers there was a massive sigh of relief when Reading beat them to reach the play off final.
Name this season’s top four in order, and the bottom three.
Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool
From bottom up – Blackburn, Wigan, Norwich
Where will each of our clubs end up, if not already mentioned (!).
We’ll be 17th, you’ll be 14th.
What is your honest view of Sunderland: club, city, region, fans?
TBH I have a lot of time for people from the North Eastern region. Done quite of bit of work in the region the last few years and met some really good people. In terms of Sunderland I used to work for a company with a head office in Doxford so again met/spoke to many from the area and they are good people. As with Newcastle you seem to have a strong, passionate support and much like us a new stadium made a real difference to your club. All you need now is the breathaking coastline of say Swansea…
The Barton Question: play-acting, feigning injury, waving imaginary cards at the ref, short-pulling, diving – what form of cheating annoys you the most and what should be done to stamp it out?
Wasting time. It really annoys me that sides come away from home and start wasting time from the first minute yet refs are unwilling to do anything about it until the 93rd minute. Wave a yellow card at the keeper (usually the keeper) early doors and it ends.
I don’t suppose you care about England’s fortunes at international level but with Wales constantly struggling to compete, do you think Uefa should ever gets its way and make us combine the “home” nations into one?
No, the home nations need national identities no matter how bad they (sorry we) are. When you reach 117th in the world then you’ll appreciate…
What one step should the footballing authorities of Swansea City take to improve the lot of the ordinary football supporter?
Get a time machine, go back three years and implement a loyalty scheme that will take effect the moment we reach the Premier League. First three away games were Man City, Arsenal and CHelsea – you can imagine that demand far exceeds supply on those occasions. Football clubs in general should also appreciate that fans are more than just paying customers.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
Yes in the same seat I have held since the Liberty opened in 2005. We need a goal, we need a win to give us a boost before the international break. I suspect you do too so that probably makes for a 0-0 draw but I’ll predict a 2-1 home win as anyone who predicts 0-0 is boring…!
* Phil on Phil: I started supporting the Swans back in the late 70s as they undertook their first rise from bottom to top – a feat they repeated between 2005 and 2011. Since that time I have kept a passion for the club despite periods exiled through work. Currently a sales manager managing other sales managers across the North, I prays every season for loads of away matches in the North to save me staring at hotel walls. In 2001 I was presented with the chance to run Jackarmy.net, the Rivals.net Swansea site, something I carried on until 2007 when Rivals became a classic company who killed a working product with something substandard. I jumped ship and planetswans.co.uk was born and quickly became established as an essential home for Swans fans to share their views. Four years later, the site receives almost 750,000 visitors per month and appears to be growing all the time. The media often use it as their place to get the views of fans when they want to save time..!
More important, I am also chairman of Swans Trust (swanstrust.co.uk) who are the only Premier League Trust to have a stake as high as 20 per cent in the club. With around 15,000 members, the Trust represents the supporters and also has a director on the board of the club. The Swansea City model is unique as far as the Premier League is concerned.
Interview: Colin Randall