Earlier this month I was asked by representatives of my son’s primary school if I’d like to write an article for the annual school and parish journal. Fancying myself as a bit of a wordsmith, I didn’t need a second chance and immediately agreed!
Now one of the themes of this year’s journal was celebrating local people that had made a positive contribution to the community.
Being a native of the Swansea valley, it didn’t take me long to think of such a group of people.
Whether you love or hate sport, it’s hard to ignore the positive impact that Swansea City’s centenary season (in particular) has had on the local area and its people. And I suppose it got me thinking about the impact the Swans had on my life over the last 40 years.
This is the piece I wrote, during which I tried to capture that very concept… ‘From Father to Son – How following the Swans has long been a family tradition’.
Thinking back to one particularly cold October evening in 1980, I now realise this was the night that a very special relationship started; a love, a passion – and something which I didn’t know at the time – would lead to a lifelong bond between myself and Swansea City football club.
Why was this night so special? Well it was the first Swans game I ever saw. Sat in the lofty heights of the old double decker stand at the Vetch Field with my Dad, I witnessed a 3-0 drubbing of Oldham Athletic. From that night on, there was no turning back for this particular nine-year-old.
Following the Swans had long been a family tradition, so it was only natural that I should follow in the footsteps of my Dad and Grampa in supporting the local team – which just as the Welsh rugby team – gave the local people something to be proud of and feel a part of.
Friday night games at the Vetch Field were always special and they bring back fond memories of us going as a family to watch the Swans and then on the way home calling into Griffith’s Chip Shop in Pontardawe for a post-match treat.
After my Dad took me to my first Swans away game in October 1986 (a Division 4 league game at Peterborough United), I began to realise just how much I loved watching the Swans play – wherever, whenever and against whomever that may be.
Even during my latter years in school – when playing rugby was my forte – I continued to love watching the Swans. We’d play rugby for the school on the Saturday morning and then all head off to watch the Swans in the afternoon. You couldn’t beat standing on the North Bank with your mates, savouring the noisy, rousing atmosphere.
During my time stood on the North Bank, Roger Freestone became a firm favourite of mine (and many others) during his decade of playing in goal for the Swans.
From leaving school to graduating from university and then getting a job, not even a 13-year stint in Aberystwyth could dampen my enthusiasm for watching the boys in black and white.
Football was part of my life and even my fiancé (now wife) enjoyed our little weekend breaks away to exotic destinations such as Rochdale, Scarborough, Scunthorpe and Hull. A bit of football mixed in with some retail therapy – it was a winning formula and one which still works to this day!
The events of the 2002/2003 season will go down in Swans’ history thanks to the 4-2 win against Hull which ensured our Football League survival. The passion and commitment showed by the fans during this time made me realise how much the club meant to the area and, in particular, the people who supported them through thick and thin.
Roberto Martinez and Leon Britton stick in my mind as two players who helped the Swans survive that season, and both have gone on to write themselves into Swansea footballing folklore for different reasons.
The move to the Liberty Stadium in July 2005 heralded the start of a new era for the Swans and with it a whole new generation of fans. Over the next five years, it also saw the arrival of a Football League Trophy under Kenny Jackett and a League One championship under Roberto Martinez.
In August 2010, my son Alex went to see his very first SwanseaCity game at the Liberty Stadium against Barnet in the Carling Cup. And just as it had with me some 30 years earlier, an emphatic 3-0 win ensured he was hooked and wanted to see the Swans play again.
And so onto the promised land – Premier League football under Brendan Rodgers and an opportunity to witness in the flesh those teams and players millions of us were used to seeing on Sky Sports and Match of the Day week in week out.
Little did I think back in 2003 that within eight years little old Swansea City would be playing the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea every other week in the greatest league in the world, and yet here was I, with my son, going to watch them do just that – just as my Dad had done with me.
In November 2012, Alex went to his first Swans away game at Southampton and, in doing so, the Thomas family tradition of following the Swans had gone full circle.
How fitting then that as Swansea City celebrate their centenary season that they should reach their first ever major cup final and with it write another chapter in the club’s famous history – a chapter which will no doubt see many lifelong passions begin for the people of Swansea and south west Wales.
As probably most writers would agree (be they pros or amateurs – like me), it would always have been nice to write more but in the interests of the journal not becoming a football book they limited me to 800 odd words. Which in hindsight was probably a very good idea.
I hope you enjoyed reading it and no doubt many of you have very similar tales to tell of your childhood… and not fatherhood. It really is a lifelong passion.
Update (25/02/2013): The Swans beat Bradford 5-0 to win the Capital One Cup and qualify for Europe. My wife is already planning the shopping trips.