I’m currently writing a 4 part piece for the ‘Jack Swan’ fanzine, about my quest to join the legendary band of football fans whom have visited all 92 premier and football league grounds in England and Wales, but in my case its purely to watch the Swans!
Done that? Then settle back and enjoy reading Part 3…
The early 1990s saw me start university and undertake a semi-professional rugby playing career with Bridgend. This meant taking up residence behind enemy lines in Tonteg (near Pontypridd), which – as you can imagine – led to many an interesting confrontation with the local Bluebird population. Despite the lack of free time, I still managed to follow the Swans on the road – albeit not as often as I would have liked.
A visit to Twerton Park- home of BathCityand local lodgers Bristol Rovers – on New Years Day 1994, saw the Swans claim a rare victory over the Pirates and I remember it as much for the hundreds of hung-over Swans fans in fancy dress as I do for the police horses trying to stop them invading the pitch. I can honestly say that prior to that day, I’d never seen a football terrace gate being lifted off its hinges like this before! Another ground ticked off and another ‘experience’ to add to the ever growing list.
The Swans very first visit to Wembley for the 1994 Autoglass Final againstHuddersfieldTownwas my first visit to the famous twin towers. Over 17,000 Jacks were present that day and despite being victorious after penalties, I can remember being distinctly unimpressed by the old shoddy wooden benches which were inappropriately called seats! If this was supposedly (at that time) one of the best stadiums in the world then the Vetch Field’s Double Decker stand was up there with the Camp Nou’s of this world. Another ground off the list and one which quite frankly – at the time – I wasn’t that bothered about going back to. Wind the clock forward 3 years and guess what!
If my first visit to Wembley had left me delighted with the result, my 2nd visit for the 1997 Play-Off Final left me heartbroken. The pain and anguish I felt when Northampton scored an 87th minute winner (from a retaken free kick) will live with me forever, as will cursing Jon Coates for committing the bloody foul in the first place! If defeat wasn’t bad enough, we also managed to park in theNorthampton end of the stadium and consequently had to endure a 45 minute plus period of piss-taking whilst we queued to leave the car park. I swear it was one of the longest trips home I can ever remember.
Upon graduating I managed to secure myself a job in the Brummie tourist mecca of Aberystwyth, which bizarrely meant that many of the Swans away games become easier to get to than our Vetch Field fortress. Consequently, away trips to Wrexham,Chester,Shrewsbury, Kidderminster andRochdalewere to become regular features on my ‘away day’ calendar.
A serious rugby playing injury saw me hang up my boots once and for all, but one crumb of comfort was that I was now able to watch the Swans whenever and wherever my budget would allow. I was now beginning to really rack up the grounds to tick off THE list.
Even my fiancé (now wife) enjoyed our little weekend breaks away. A bit of football mixed in with some retail therapy – it was a winning formula and one which still works to this day…despite a huge increase in the therapy costs I hasten to add!
I mean, back in the day, who could possibly be left unimpressed by a dirty weekend away inScarboroughand the wonderfully named McCain stadium. Sadly, neither the ground or the team exist anymore. Similarly a trip to Rochdale’s glamorous Spotland stadium would mean a weekend jaunt toBlackpoolafterwards. Jokes aside though, I always loved going to Spotland – the pies were indeed always pukka and I never saw us lose there, a rarity in the days of the Swans frequenting lower league football.
Fancy dress and football also seemed to be the in-thing on away trips and a relegation party – as both teams were practically already relegated – at Oxford United’s Manor Ground in April 2001 was another away day that I fondly remember. Despite losing 3-1, we had a great laugh dressed as Mexicans, making then manager John Hollins aware of our feelings i.e “Hollins out” and for having the dubious pleasure of being the last away fans to grace the ground on a Saturday afternoon before Oxford’s move to the Kassam stadium.
Amidst the doom and gloom, even the Tony Petty era failed to dampen my enthusiasm for travelling around “Ingerland” watching the Swans. Even Tuesday night trips in mid-winter to glamorous places such as Scunthorpe’sGlanfordPark, brings back lots of memories. For starters it was the first time that I’d had my digital camera confiscated for taking pictures at a football match, and my wife will never let me forget the soggy chips and greasy sausage roll that she had for supper. The away support numbered less than 65 that night, but this to me was hardcore and typified what supporting your team was all about – loyalty.
On an altogether more pleasant note were the Swans numerous trips to the English Riviera and an overnight stay in Torquay – as Plainmoor was often a happy hunting ground for the Swans. The “We want Petty Out, Say We Want Petty Out” brigade were in fine voice before, during and after the Swans 2-1 win and it merely served to show everyone how defiant the Swans fans were off the field and how Colin Addison and Peter Nicholas had made the team on it.
Any trip to the Racecourse in Wrexham guaranteed a warm north Walian welcome (not) and a 4 nil drubbing for Nick Cusack’s Swans signalled that a turbulent season ahead. The events of the 2002/2003 season will go down in Swans folklore and I’m proud to say that I was with the Jack Army that travelled in such large numbers for trips to Kidderminster (my 2nd visit), Macclesfield, Shrewsbury (my 3rd visit) and Rochdale (my 4th visit) during our quest to stay in the football league.
The passion and commitment showed by the fans during this time made me realise how much the club meant to the people whom supported them through thick and thin.
The final chapter in my continued quest to join the 92 club will take a look at happier times in the Swans turbulent history, starting with the day the Jack Army took over the Lancashire town of Buryand a ‘Big Willy’.
I hope you enjoyed reading my on the road adventures with the Swans. If so look out for Part 4 which will be out at the end of the season in the pubs, clubs, shops and of course online here 🙂