Swansea fans have had nothing short of a roller coast ride following their side, full of ups and downs, but mostly the latter. Having spent nearly all their history in the lower echelons of the Football League the Jacks, as they are affectionately known, have been on an unusual journey. An odd mix of regular European football – thanks to Welsh Cup successes – alongside regular financial strife has given followers an bizarre supporting experience.
Early Years (1912-1964)
Traditionally Swansea had always been a rugby union area with the first noteworthy football team established in the area in 1912 with the formation of Swansea Town AFC. The newly formed outfit joined the English Southern League to play alongside several other South Welsh town clubs, their first professional game being against Cardiff City at Vetch Field on 7 September 1912.
Vetch Field was the club’s home for over 90 years and the cauldron atmosphere it produced dragged the side through many tough battles. The stadium name came from the dirt ground that the children of Swansea would play football on. On that ground a cabbage-like plant called vetch that was used as cow feed was grown. When the owners of the land, Swansea Gas Light Company, failed to follow a Parliamentary sanction to utilise the field for the installation of a Gas Plant it was made available for rent. A committee of the Swansea League, formed that same year, rented the field and the rest is history.
The Swans, as the club is also affectionately known, starred in the Second Division of the Southern League from 1912 and achieved promotion the season immediately before the First World War. As a result, following the War, the Jacks became founder members of Division Three in 1920 when the Southern League Division was incorporated into the Football League. After a fifth place finish in their first season, Swansea continued strongly and were promoted in 1925 having been crowned champions of the renamed Third Division (South).
The club fared well in their debut season in Division Two, finishing fifth as well as having a memorable FA Cup run which saw them reach the semi-final. The thirties saw a decline in the club’s fortunes but the side managed to keep their Second Division status right up until the season immediately after the Second World War.
Swansea showed great character by bouncing back in 1949 and remained in the Second Division for a further 16 seasons. During that period Swansea enjoyed other successes, becoming the first Welsh club to appear in European competition when they faced Motor Jena of East Germany, and in 1964 they went on to reach the FA Cup semi-final, where they lost to Preston.
Hard Fall (1965 – 1977)
The end of a poor 1964/65 season resulted in the relegation of Swansea to Division Three and just two seasons later they were once again demoted to the Fourth Division. As the club battled for points in the basement division, the 1969/70 season saw hopes rekindled as the renamed Swansea City achieved promotion. However, three years later they were back in the basement. Things had become so bad that in 1975 the club had to re-apply for League election. But things would soon see a remarkable improvement.
Meteoric Rise (1978 – 1982)
The 1977/78 season started well but as performances in the second half of the campaign dipped, manager Harry Griffiths resigned and, at the age of 28, John Toshack took over as player-manager. With Griffiths as his assistant the club began an astonishing climb from the Fourth Division to the very pinnacle of the entire league system. Promotion was achieved under the tutorship of Toshack but before promotion was secured tragedy struck as Griffiths died of a heart attack prior to a home game with Scunthorpe United.
Spurred on by the tragedy the Swans achieved back-to-back promotion with a third place finish propelling the side back to the Second Division for the first time in 14 years. After a season of consolidation Swansea challenged for promotion once more and a victory over Preston secured a third promotion in four seasons and a place amongst the football elite.
The 1981/82 season is one that will live long in the memory of all Swansea fans. An opening day 5-1 victory over Leeds United powered the side to the top of the First Division, completing an unbelievable transformation as the club swept from the basement league to its very summit in barely three years. The Swans finished the season in sixth place, topping the table on several further occasions, and defeated the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham en-route.
Extravagant Collapse (1983 – 1986)
After such an astonishing rise the fall was even more mind-boggling. After such a successful first season in the big time, the next saw City suffer relegation. A second consecutive relegation the following season saw Toshack sacked and by 1985 the club’s remarkable downturn saw the club fighting on two fronts. On the field the Swans were relying on a combination of young guns and old timers, whilst off field creditors lined up a High Court hearing with the aim of liquidating the club. The news all fans didn’t want to hear was delivered in December 1985 as the club was issued with a winding up order. The club though had a saviour in the form of local businessman, Doug Sharpe, who took control of the club and saved the side from extinction. Though Swansea had won the off field struggle, it was a different matter on-field as the Jacks were relegated in 1986 putting the club back where it had started just eight years previous.
Starting From Scratch (1986 – 1996)
As the High Court finally approved the club’s rescue plan and lifted the transfer embargos the club achieved promotion through the inaugural playoffs in 1988. In a spell of stability, firstly under Terry Yorath and then Frank Burrows, the club continued to make several appearances in Europe, reached the the playoff semi-finals in 1993 and made their first Wembley appearance a year later as they won the AutoGlass Trophy against Huddersfield on penalties.
The side failed to live up to expectations in the season that followed despite exciting runs in both the FA Cup and Auto Windscreens Shield and in the 1995/96 season were relegated after a complete collapse in the second half of the season. During the season four different men managed the club including Kevin Cullis, appointed by a consortium looking to buy the club. Cullis, previously manager of non-league Midlands club Cradley Town, was not the big name that had been promised and the outgoing Doug Sharpe invoked a contractual clause and cancelled the deal to resume control once more. Fair to say Cullis left the club soon after.
More Tough Times (1996 – 2001)
Following relegation, Jan Mølby, a former Liverpool player taking his first steps in management, took over as manager and managed to reach the final of the Third Division playoffs in his first season. Swansea unfortunately lost and Mølby was sacked a few weeks into the following season. The managerial merry-go-round continued as Alan Cork was appointed and then sacked following the club’s lowest finish in 23 years before John Hollins took charge. Things improved under Hollins and the club reached the playoffs once more, only to lose out to Scunthorpe United, and caused a shock in the FA Cup defeating a star-studded West Ham United. Under the new management set-up the club won the Division Three championship despite a nail-biting final day of the season. An unusual sense of optimism swept across the terraces but Swansea struggled and were relegated the following season.
Meltdown (2001 – 2003)
Following relegation back to the Third Division, the club was sold to managing director, Mike Lewis, for £1 in July 2001, and then subsequently sold to a consortium of Australian businessmen headed by the outspoken Tony Petty. The controversial move incensed fans as seven players were sacked and eight others had their contracts ripped up. Amid threats of sanctions by the Football League, a rival consortium bought out the new owners, headed by ex-player Mel Nurse. The board crisis led to the creation of the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust, which sought to save the club and ultimately guarantee supporter representation on the club’s board. January 2002 saw Petty’s group eventually sell their stake after a bitter standoff but the club still struggled on the field. As the managerial merry-go-round continued, the Swans only managed to avoid relegation to the Football Conference on the last day of the season, ironically at the expense of Exeter City whose vice-chairman was none other than Mike Lewis. Things though were soon looking brighter.
Moving Onwards and Upwards (2003 – 2007)
After arguably the most taxing period in Swansea’s history, the club went from strength to strength. The 2003-04 season saw a top half finish under manager, Brian Flynn, and the following season Flynn’s successor, Kenny Jackett, led the Swans to promotion as the club said goodbye to its home – Vetch Field – the final ever game being a 2-1 win against Wrexham in the FAW Cup.
The 2005-06 season saw Swansea move home to the impressive 20,532 capacity Liberty Stadium – some fans though refer to it as the Morfa or the Whiterock Stadium. The Swans’ first season in League One ended with playoff heartache after losing on penalties to Barnsley at the Millennium Stadium. However, the club did taste success, winning the Football League Trophy for the first time since 1994, beating Carlisle 2-1, as well as the FAW Premier Cup for a second successive year.
Having been so close to promotion, expectations were high but it was very much a stop-start campaign as the side missed out on the playoffs. However, the Swans did make the headlines for their FA Cup heroics as they travelled to Premiership outfit Sheffield United and won 3-0 at Bramall Lane. A change in management followed as Kenny Jackett left, claiming a lack of support, to be replaced by fans’ favourite Roberto Martínez.
Promotion? (2007 – 2008)
With Spaniard Martínez at the helm, his broad knowledge of European football has helped to bring in several gems and his side has got off to a great start in League One. The football has been a lot brighter and automatic promotion to the Championship seems a real possibility. The club topped League One going into the New Year, winning all four games in December, and at last the future looks bright for Swansea City.
- Address: Swansea City Association Football Club Limited, Liberty Stadium, Morfa, Swansea SA1 2FA
- General Enquiries: (0)1792 616600
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- Division Two – Third Place (1980/1981)
- Third Division – Champions (1999/2000)
- Third Division (South) – Champions (1924/1925, 1948/1949)
- Fourth Division – Play-Off (1987/1988)
- Welsh Cup – Winners (1912/1913, 1949/1950, 1960/1961, 1965/1966, 1980/1981, 1981/1982, 1982/1983, 1988/1989, 1990/1991) Runners-up (1914/1915, 1925/1926, 1937/1938, 1939/1940, 1948/1949, 1955/1956, 1956/1957, 1968/1969)
- Football League Trophy – Winners (1993/1994, 2005/2006)
- FAW Premier Cup – Winners (2004/2005, 2005/2006) Runners-up (2000/2001, 2001/2002)
- Biggest Victory: 12-0 v Sliema Wanderers (Malta), European Cup Winners’ Cup, First Round, First Leg, 15 September 1982
- Biggest Victory (League): 8-0 v Hartlepool, Fourth Division, 1 April 1978
- Biggest Defeat: 0-8 v Liverpool, FA Cup, Third Round (Replay), 9 January 1990; 0-8 v Monaco (France), European Cup Winners’ Cup, First Round, Second Leg, 1 October 1991
- Biggest Defeat (League): 1-8 v Fulham, Football League, Second Division, 22 January 1938
- Highest Attendance (Vetch Field): 32,786 v Arsenal, FA Cup, Fifth Round, 17 February 1968
- Highest Attendance (Liberty Stadium): 19,288 v Yeovil Town, League One, 18 November 2005
- Highest Position: 6th, Division One, 1981/82
- Lowest Position: 22nd, Division Four, 1974/75
- Most League Appearances: Wilfred Milne, 585, (1919 – 1937)
- Most League Goals: Ivor Allchurch, 166, (1949 – 1968)
- Most Goals in a Season: Cyril Pearce, 35, (1931/32)
- Highest Transfer Fee Received: £400,000, Steve Torpey, Bristol City, July 1997
- Highest Transfer Fee Paid: £340,000, Colin Irwin, Liverpool, August 1981
- Most Capped Player: Ivor Allchurch, 68, Wales
- Ivor Allchurch
- John Charles
- Trevor Ford
- Cliff Jones
- Giorgio Chinaglia
- Dai Davies
- Alan Curtis
- Robbie James
- Leighton James
- Ante Rajkovic
- Dzemal Hadziabdic
- Nigel Stevenson
- Ray Lewington
- Peter Kitchen
- Chris Coleman
- Lee Trundle
- Roger Freestone