So here we are just a couple of weeks from the new season and the reality of what’s to come is really hitting home. Over the next nine months we’ll no doubt be on the end of some hidings, be patronised on Match of the Day, see our better players linked with other clubs and see at least one named in the tabloids as having had an affair with some unknown model. We’re about to step into the celebrity circus that is the Premier League and we should savor every moment.
It may not be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity but it could be. With nearly 30 years separately our last time in the top division how many of us can confidently say we’ll be here if it’s another 30 years until we return? I vaguely remember climbing the leagues up to the old first division as my father took me to a few games.
Living in Carmarthen, with dad working Saturdays, getting to a game was a rare treat and by the time I was old enough to travel by train with friends we were already on the way back down to the basement. I’m very grateful that I’ve got a second chance to see us play at the top level but dad won’t see it this time round as he passed away the night after our semi final win against Forest.
It’s important that we don’t get carried away and remember not to repeat the mistakes of our past. The old adage that those who don’t know their history are destined to repeat it is never truer than now and we mustn’t do anything to risk the future financial stability of the club. But while never forgetting our past I want to focus on our future and the potential legacy that our promotion could bring.
Even if we forget the hype and the £90m headline figures quoted, there is still an unbelievable opportunity here. But there are also huge risks and some clubs are still paying the price for their time in the Premier League and their legacy is a negative one. Charlton and Sheffield United are recent examples of how quickly things can change for the worse.
I read recently that Hull cannot offload Jimmy Bullard, signed for £5M when they were in the Premier League, due to his £50,000 a week wages. Nice player Bullard and he’s been unlucky with injuries but surely someone was living in a different world when they agreed that contract? I don’t blame Bullard as players will take what they (or their agents) can get and I don’t blame the fans either who were probably delighted when he signed. But there is a clear lesson here that we cannot risk the financial stability of our club in a hope of staying in the Premier League. If we stay it must be on our terms and by continuing to play good football and playing as a team rather than by throwing money at new “star” players. I have every faith in the manager, Chairman and Board but it will take guts to follow this path and ensure that the legacy is to a positive and not a negative one.
For the Board to have confidence in such a strategy they need the support of both players and fans. Players have got to realize that we won’t pay a fortune for their services. Existing ones will have to honour contracts and resist the constant whispering in their ear from agents; family and friends telling them how great they are and how they deserve more. Potential signings will have to weigh up the benefits of playing in the Premier League in a team playing attractive football against the possibility of a greater weekly pay packet either in the Championship or by warming the bench of another, more established Premiership side. We, the fans, have also got a crucial part to play. We’ve all got used to watching a winning team over the last 6 or 7 years but even when we’ve been winning there’s been a tendency to have a little moan in individual games and at individual players when things aren’t going so well.
We know it’s going to be harder next season and how we respond will be vital. I remember Leeds last season when we beat them 3 nil. It was a vital game for both clubs but even though the result seriously damaged their promotion hopes their fans sang their hearts out right to the end. I was proud of them and the way they reacted and I hope their players were too. Will we do the same for our team this season? I hope so but I’m not so sure. The Premier League may be an opportunity for players to pitch themselves against some of the best teams in the world and to play in some of the best stadiums under an intense media spotlight. But it’s also an opportunity for us to show how Swansea fans can support their football team in a passionate and good natured manner.
Will we send a positive message to the national media and opposition teams with non stop support for our team over 90 minutes? Will we introduce songs such as Hymns and Arias to a national footballing stage? Or will we just try and prove we can scream “Rooney you’re a wanker” as loud as the supporters of 18 other premiership team do? How will we react when we’re 3 nil down with 20 minutes to go? Will we sing for the team and help them through the last quarter or will we already be streaming out of the ground or shouting abuse at them? What legacy will we leave as fans, regardless of however long we are in the Premiership?
Off the pitch the potential legacy would seem to fall into three main areas. The cash windfall could be used to purchase our own training ground; it could be used to set up and finance our own academy and it could be used to extend the capacity of the Liberty. It’s clear that the club, even with all the millions the Premiership will bring, will not be able to afford all three in one year. Only one is likely and there are rumours that none will be achieved if we only manage to stay for the one season. I hope that that’s not true and whether it’s our own training ground, or the establishment of an academy we should aim to have a lasting positive legacy of our time as a Premier League club.
Of course if we stay for a second season then perhaps a second can be achieved. And if we stay for a second season then why not a third and beyond? Last season, our third at that level, saw us referred to as an “established” Championship club and only if we become an “established” Premiership club should we look to expand the stadium. A cost of £15M has been quoted in the press and I’ve no idea if that’s accurate. What is clear is that we’ll have to find the money ourselves given that the Council won’t have any and the Ospreys simply don’t need the extra capacity given their attendances. I know that this summer if we had had a 30,000 capacity stadium that we would have sold 24,000 season tickets (leaving 10% each for away fans and match days sales) but 20,000 has proved more than adequate in the Championship.
I recognize that this shows a lack of ambition on my part, possibly because I still can’t quite get my head around the current demand for tickets after years of watching the Swans in front of a few thousand or even less. I hope Premiership football and the current public interest lasts but no business plan should be built on hope. I can’t help but equate a potential redevelopment of part of the Liberty with the construction of the new East Stand at the Vetch in 1980. A stand that was never completed and very rarely full over the following 20 years.
But back to the football itself. Over the course of the season I’ll be writing a monthly review and I’m optimistic that we’ll have a lot of positive things to discuss. Above all we (fans; players and the Board) have got to enjoy the experience and I’ve placed my bet on us staying up and bought my new away shirt – even though bright orange is not a great look for a 45 year old man! Enjoyment is what it’s all about after all and we’ve earned the right to be here and should savor the time for however long it lasts. I know there are some outstanding teams in the Premier League but there are also a lot of very average ones, playing unimaginative football with overpaid players. I read this quote from Mick McCarthy last week after Wolves pre-season draw at Notts County. With no sense of irony whatsoever he said “We’ve been trying to work on not just lumping the ball in the box”. We’ve got nothing to fear here – bring it on!!