Swansea City FC – Premier League 2011/12 – doesn’t it sound amazing?
From the moment the final whistle went at Wembley, we all had a taste of REAL ecstasy, and I don’t mean the illegal form. Since then, I think many of us have been pinching ourselves and unable to stop smiling EVERY time you heard or saw a report including the Swans mentioned as a Premier League team. I’m still not sure if the reality has sunk in yet, and might not until the players run out against Man City in August.
Over the many, many years of supporting the Swans, I’ve been criticised as someone who has been outspoken and critical of most of the goings on behind the scenes. Living in Moscow doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion, of course, and not being the arse-licking type, I have often made myself extremely popular with my outspoken opinions.
I suppose the first time I became so vocal was when the internet helped me gain access to news and info, whilst affording me the opportunity to voice my own opinion. At the time, I was based in a Siberian city called Irkutsk and this site, run by Gary Martin at the time, was an amazing source of news, rumours and varying opinions.
Doug Sharpe’s lack of investment and reliance on Frankie to find great players for nothing and turn them into successful enough stars to sell on for fortunes eventually caught up with him as fans got impatient and disillusioned. “Get your chequebook out” campaigns were started in the stands and on the internet as Doug found himself under immense pressure when post-Burrows managers failed to spot the stars to sell on and the quality of players plummeted.
The post-Sharpe era has already been well documents on almost all Swans sites, with a certain Mr. Petty and Lewis getting the shock of their lives when they came up against the “keyboard warriors”, the North Bank Alliance and many life-long Swans fans both in Swansea and around the world. This was the start of the internet era – a time when the voice of the fans was starting to be heard and felt not just online.
I still clearly remember Phil Sumbler’s emails and updates on this site’s Guestbook exclusively reporting each player’s “interview” with Petty and each player getting his contract torn up.
How the “World of Swansea City” has changed since then.
Ok, I’ve been hugely critical of certain areas of the Commercial Department and I still believe rightly so. If they would rather ban me from hospitality at games than accept that I might have been talking the truth, it’s their choice, but in other areas of the club, I feel that we’re getting so many things right.
For example, let’s look at the kit. Not that long ago, we were wearing horrible replica tops that shrank in size when you even perspired slightly in them and the team looked like they’d been kitted out in stuff that Kevin Johns would be embarrassed to wear in panto at the Grand Theatre. Since then, we’ve moved forward, slowly but surely, and Umbro’s quality, colours and design last season was the perfect match for the Swans. The all-white kit made in real quality made fans and players actually feel good. It made a difference.
Now we’ve got probably the world’s leading kit manufacturer, Adidas, and the same all-white design. The signing of a major internet gambling firm, 32 Red (thanks to the help of one legendary Swans fan), was a major leap from the likes of tacky local limo companies or generous offerings from companies owned by one the more affluent Board members.
These changes haven’t come by coincidence – it’s the Board listening to the fans and being fans themselves that have slowly but surely (again!) brought us the real thing. How much the Trust contributed to that shouldn’t be undervalued either.
On the pitch, since the Hull game, we’ve just grown and grown and grown. Some say that we were lucky to have a new stadium built by the council and also that we were lucky to get Martinez in when we did, as he drastically changed the way we played – something we’re still reaping the rewards of now.
My belief, in life, in business and in football, is that you make your own luck. If you’re lazy and reliant on luck, you’ll most probably fail. If you do your best to minimise mistakes and do your homework, you’ll most likely get the rub of the green. Huw Jenkins and the Board have made many mistakes over the years, let’s not deny that, but I believe that they have done FAR better than any of us would have done collectively and most importantly, have really learnt from these mistakes.
They’ve taken risks, but calculated risks – unlike our little cousins up the road, whose preferred style was to throw money at the problem and HOPE that it works, we choose to take the frugal route and rely on hunger, desire and passion, rather huge egos, greed and arrogance.
When HJ and Co initially took over – actually, within the first few years – I wasn’t sure what Huw’s real role was and, apart from being a fan and always likely to take the safe option, I thought that he was a strange choice as Chairman when all of Swansea expected or thought that Martin Morgan would have been (considering his wealth and undoubted influence). Huw didn’t seem comfortable in front of a camera and seemed to drop the ball when, for example, announcing players had signed that slipped out of our grasp last minute. Jason Brown, Roger Johnson and one Darren Pratley spring to mind.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen several interviews on TV involving Huw (one of them was even on a flight from New York to Las Vegas – I wanted to stand up and tell the whole plane how proud I was and nearly did!!!) and I think we’ve now got a very strong, quite articulate and confident leader. The Ipswich saga, at the same time as Taylor’s agent was turning the youngster’s head, could have been a PR nightmare for us and most certainly would have been a few years ago, but in my opinion, Huw acted with a level of professionalism and decorum that most of us certainly would never have been able to manage.
The CEO of Ipswich is, allegedly, not the most-liked person in football and Huw could have taken a cheap shot at him, but he rose above it all and during one of his recent interviews on the TalkSport, he came across as a smooth operator who really knows what he’s doing. I was impressed and extremely proud.
We’re now starting a new era for Swansea City FC – both as players, club officials, management and fans. We’ve gone from swimming in a paddling pool with the kids to deep-sea diving in a huge ocean with the sharks. We will have our players being linked with every club imaginable and agents all over the world looking to make some easy money on the back of our success.
There will be pressure on our Board and Trust that we haven’t seen since the darkest days in our history (you know when!), but I think Blackpool’s approach last season will have given us a lot of hope and confidence. I believe we’re better prepared than Blackpool were and believe that our Board will give us the right blend of calculated risk, with a hint of caution thrown in that will see us survive next season.
As has been seen with the loss of Dorus to a team that I believe will really struggle next season, we will hope for the best but prepare for the worst. All new contracts will protect us from financial exposure IF the worst happens so that we would have a soft landing in the Championship, unlike the likes of Hull, Leeds, Portsmouth, Sheff Utd and many others.
As fans….well, I believe we have a job to do right now and for the whole of next season and it’s going to be HUGE job.
We need to be patient – we might not get all the players we are after, but SURELY we have learnt by now that our Board and Manager usually get things right in the end. Let’s not forget that Scott Sinclair wasn’t a Swans player when the season started last season. Let’s give them time and trust their judgement.
We also need to be realistic, which for many is going to be hard. I’ve read a lot of Swans sites recently and one of the things that stands out for me is the number of “new” fans who’ve NEVER tasted relegation or a season of struggle. I read fans’ moans about “plastic fans” but I know that we need each and every one of them if we’re going to be able to compete with even the smallest of teams in the Premier League. What we need from ALL the fans is a level of support that we showed at Wembley.
Should we get stuffed somewhere like Man Utd or Chelsea, we MUST understand that this is going to happen and keep supporting the players and management. Next season will be like a huge rollercoaster, with emotions and heart-rates reaching breaking points for good and bad reasons, but the core support MUST keep the faith and keep singing.
Swansea City in the Premier League could be even more refreshing than Blackpool’s presence last season, so I hope that our fans do their best to enjoy every experience and look for the positives, even in defeat. It’s not easy after being in the top 7 or 8 almost every season since HJ & Co took over, but we really need it.
Whatever happens this season, if you want a reality check just take a look at those “down the road”. Strangled with horrendous debt, a split dressing room, ownership issues and the loss of most of their best players, they are going to be living life close to the edge next season. Failure for them will be disastrous and will probably see them in administration and League 1 within 12 months, but failure for us will see us as one of the richest teams in the Championship and with a squad, Board and management team to be proud of.
Finally, a word about the Trust. They have also been subject of many of my outbursts but last night’s event held in London gives us another example of how we’re growing as a club. Over 100 exiles attended and both the Huw Jenkins and Huw Cooze gave their free time to speak to the fans and answer questions. How many Premier League clubs would have this happen? I think the biggest compliment I can give to the Trust now is that the late and great Richard Lillicrap would have been looking down, with a fag in one hand and a pint in the other, ginning and chuckling with pride.
The season 2011-2012 is going to be really testing but I can guarantee you one thing – I don’t care what happens on the pitch, I’m going to enjoy it. I’m so proud of where we’ve come from to where we are now, that NOTHING will spoil my enjoyment. NOTHING will stop me from forgetting the best day of my whole life at Wembley and NOTHING will stop me from supporting SCFC 100%.
Win or lose, we’ll drink some booze. Lose or draw, we’ll drink some more!!!
Edit – since writing this, we have signed Caulker from Spurs. If Bertrand replaced Taylor, that will give us a defence of a Welsh international, two current England U21 internationals and Angel Rangel….with Tate and Monk as back up! Not bad, eh?