The layout of the book is thirty or so interviews of Swansea and Cardiff legends, past and present. Within each of these interviews is a bit of the players’ background and then their greatest memory of a derby match in which they were involved. This is then following by a brief look at the rest of their career in football and what they are currently doing at this moment in time.
It was interesting to read the older players’ stories about what football was like ‘back then’. In his era, Mel Charles, who signed for Arsenal from the Swans for a then British record fee of £45000, picked up a £20 signing on fee with a weekly wage of £20, £4 for a win and £2 for a draw. How things have changed!
It’s amazing in such an intense rivalry between the both sets of fans that so many players actually played or managed for both sides and most were legends at both clubs. Many of the local lads in both sides, who progressed through the ranks also talk about the rivalry in all ages and levels of competition between the two sides, including in a recent under 14 game between the clubs ended before the final whistle due to the trouble amongst the parents.
This book also rekindled my own memories of standing on the North Bank watching some great players such as Tommy Hutchinson. Hutch talks about when he was at the club in the not so glory days of the late eighties. After having a great career at Blackpool, Coventry, Man City and Scotland, he ended up washing the Swans kit every week to help out the club as we were pretty skint at that time!
This is a book for young and old and would be a great present for yourself, a fellow Swans fan or indeed a Bluebird chum. It is also a book that will not date and you can relive their memories time and time again.
What an unexpected treat of a book this turned out to be! If I’m honest I would never have picked this one out thinking it would be all too parochial and simply a mine of statistical information and match reports. However, it’s much more than just a book on the South Wales derby. It has some genuinely interesting and amusing anecdotes from the players themselves and an insight into how they were treated by the clubs in a very different era – disposable commodities irrespective of their loyalty and commitment.
What comes across from the actual players, particularly those of yester year, is a love of the game and just how much it all meant to them. The chapters on latter day heroes Joey Allen and Darcy Blake are equally as interesting and that rivalry and passion clearly lives on today in these two local players.
In his book, Neil Palmer interviews a fairly even number of (mainly ex) Swans and Bluebird players and does so in a balanced and even-handed way asking them each to recount their favourite derby match. In so doing he asks them what made it special as well as picking up on a number of entertaining anecdotes along the way that marked their careers for both club and country.
I love the Swans and I’m passionate about Wales but I never realised that Mel Charles was voted the best Centre Half of the 1958 World Cup Finals! That on his return from the Finals he and a team-mate caught a train back to Swansea from London when he was asked by one of the train guards, “Hi Mel, have you been on your holidays? Nowadays they would be handing out OBE’s and knighthoods to the players”. That the great Mel Nurse calculated that he earned £11,500 in his entire career…
Another favourite of mine is a nugget from Nigel Stevenson who belatedly spills the beans on his departure from his stint at the Bluebirds. Following a practice match where he played a ball to Jimmy Gilligan who wasn’t entirely happy with it. “He continued moaning about it and finally when he failed to shut up, and I punched him”. If Harry Redknapp had been manager he’d simply have given an interview to the Mirror citing that these things happen all the time at training grounds every day of the week and simply handed Nige the captain’s armband…
I think it’s only fitting to end with “Super Joey Allen”, who in his own words, describes the 2-2 draw with Cardiff at their place in April 2009:
“…on the edge of the box I just fired the ball home and the crowd went crazy as I ran to them. I can remember seeing Cardiff player Darcy Blake, who’s a good mate of mine in the crowd and we had been winding each other up on Under 21 duty with Wales the week before and I just smiled at him”. Wouldn’t we all have just loved to have done the same in his place…
Top book and one you can delve in and out of again and again and a nice little Christmas present – 4/5.
The book was reviewed by Simon ‘Winston’ Roberts