The feature is basically all about my quest to join the ever growing list of football fans whom have visited all 92 premier and football league grounds in England and Wales. The added twist in my case is that it’s purely watching the Swans!
The final chapter of my on-going goal of joining the elite 92 club, brings me to happier times in the Swans recent history, kicking off with the day over 5,000 Jacks invaded the small Greater Manchester town of Bury.
Saturday, 7th May 2005 will live long in my memory, as I can’t quite ever remember seeing the Jack Army take over a football ground in such a way as they did at Gigg Lane that day. Such was the travelling support, we were not only given the normal away stand behind the goal, we were also allocated the main stand as well – much to the disgust of the home support (all 2,000 odd of them).
It was a strange feeling sitting in a Bury season ticket holder’s seat – complete with name badge – watching the Swans clinch promotion to League One (thanks Forbesy). However it was an even stranger feeling seeing ‘Big’ Willy Gueret being arrested in the stand after the game had finished! In a show of support for our crazy French goalie, the Jack Army started an impromptu chant of “Free Willy”. I don’t think I’ve seen so many football loving females so happy.
The move to the Liberty Stadium in July 2005 heralded the start of a new era for the Swans and with it brought a whole new generation of Jacks. A new division also meant some new grounds to visit.
Our 3 seasons in League One saw me visit Bristol City, Crewe, Cheltenham (twice), Bournemouth, Leeds (car stereo nicked), Yeovil (first win there in donkeys years), Doncaster (memorable 4 nil win on a Friday night) and Huddersfield.
The visit to Tranmere was an interesting one. Aside from the 2 nil win and meeting Andy Robinson’s twin brother (complete with WAG entourage), its not everyday you get chased along a train platform by Birkenheads’ finest intent on giving you a right old pummelling.
A dour but important goalless draw at Carlisle on a Tuesday night also springs to mind, along with the 04:30am return home. But those moments are made all the more worthwhile when you consider promotion winning trips to places such as Gillingham. I was one of the lucky ones that day being able to savour every minute of Guillem Bauza’s brace, whilst the majority of the Jack Army were at the Liberty enjoying the beamed back version. The Priestfield Stadium will also be remembered for it’s temporary stand, which wouldn’t look out of place at the side of an American Football field at some college in the midwest.
The FA Cup trip to Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane was another away day to savour, with once again over 5,000 passionate Jacks roaring the Swans onto a shock 3 nil victory. It’s also the first time that I can recall us singing ‘Hymns and Arias’ en-masse and it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
Our first venture into the Championship (the old Division 2) for over 24 years in August 2008 made me a very happy travelling Jack given the number of Premier League old boy grounds to visit – such as Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Norwich, Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday.
The opening defeat at the Valley (home of Charlton Athletic) was arguably the most intriguing, mind blowing trip of any away day I’ve experienced to date. From one of our party being bitten by a police horse to the rest of the passengers on the mini-coach adopting a ‘Carling and Coke’ approach to the day – complete with a burning chest hair contest. Who said Ugo’s pop and crisps bus was naughty!? Kindergarten in comparison. Thankfully, the remaining away trips that season were of a calmer, less influenced nature.
Despite our new found status on the field of play, we punched above our weight and results continued to improve. The 2 nil win over reigning FA Cup holders Portsmouth at Fratton Park was one of the highlights of a successful campaign. My visit to the south coast saw me (literally) bump into Mr. Pompey himself – the obese, tattooed, bell ringer whom Sky seemed to pick out from the crowd at every opportunity. The irony of seeing him devour a double greaseburger in front of my very eyes didn’t escape me.
The Championship seasons that followed heralded trips to West Brom, Newcastle, Plymouth, Middlesbrough, QPR, Blackpool and Leicester. Losing 5-1 at Blackpool on a Tuesday night isn’t nice and if you’re scared of heights then I’d give Newcastle a miss too. If you’re into obese men, then its worth going to Leicester to see the topless drummer and contrary to popular belief, Middlesbrough isn’t that much of a sh*thole.
With the slick (slippery?) Sousa departing, our very own messiah arrived in the form of Brendan Rodgers. We all know what happened next!
And so onto the promised land, the Barclays Premier League and an opportunity to visit all those grounds millions of use see on Sky and Match of the Day. In over 32 years of following the Swans, never before did I have the opportunity to visit so many footballing mecca’s and so here I am at the end of this historical, magical season having visited 13 of them (if you can call Ewood Park a mecca?!).
The most impressive ground I’ve visited (ever) whilst watching the Swans, would have to be the Emirates stadium, with Anfield and Old Trafford probably leaving me the most disappointed – more in terms of atmosphere (or lack of it) than anything else. My premier league forays have been well documented elsewhere but one thing sticks in my mind from all of the away games I’ve attended is that the Jack Army are without a doubt a passionate, vocal bunch and the envy of many a club in this country.
My grounds visited tally now stands at 59 and with a maximum of only 2 new grounds to visit next season (Reading plus hopefully West Ham) I’m going to be continuing my quest for quite a few years yet I think!
That said, I’d rather be in the Premier League going to historic grounds such as Villa Park than in League Two frequenting less glamorous surroundings such as Vale Park.
And that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my journey so far and with plenty of grounds still to visit, I’m sure there’ll be many more tales to tell over the coming years.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep my fingers crossed for some ‘new’ grounds to visit in next seasons League Cup and FA Cup!