The journey of Swansea City from the bottom to the top
In 2002, Swansea were 92nd of 92 teams in the English Leagues.
Swansea, Glamorgan. It’s on the south coast of Wales. The land visited by Romans and the Vikings, trading coal and smelted copper on Welsh soil. The place was destroyed over three nights of bombing during the Second World War in February 1941. It was officially upgraded from a town to a city the same year in which Catherine Zeta Jones was born here.
It is a land of rugby and some cricket too – Garfield Sobers hit six sixes in one over here.
Football? The team is great. Among the best run club in the league. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe wants to make his club like Swansea City. It’s just that nobody affords them enough credit.
Football in a non-football town
Swansea City’s founding came about in unlikely conditions. Like Leeds and Wigan, Swansea was steeped in rugby, a hurdle that was nevertheless overcome with the founding of Swansea Town in 1912.
They rented out The Vetch Field (after a legume that grew there) which would become the setting for many moments of joy and heartbreak over the next 90 years. One of the first was a 2-1 win over Exeter City in 1925, which confirmed promotion to the Second Division. After 13 years as a football club, Swansea Town were on their way.
Roberto Martinez transformed Swansea
Manager Kenny Jackett resigned mid-way through 2006-07 but losing a manager means nothing to them, as Swansea were about to prove. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the response to this departure was the move that laid the groundwork for the club’s subsequent success. For the board’s man of choice was Roberto Martinez.
He is as important a figure as any in Swansea’s modern history, simultaneously developing a smooth, crowd pleasing, passing side, imbibing both British grit and subtleties of the continental aesthetic.
The affable Martinez lay the foundations for intelligent, cutting edge football that not only elevated them above their peers, but the hours of technical grinding on the training ground ensured that their makeup was not wiped off by the harsh lights of the Premier League.
Swansea returned to the second tier, finishing 2007-08 as League One champions, collecting 92 points in the process.
A famous win at Anfield
Swansea’s progress over the next 20 odd years was interrupted twice by war. They yo-yoed between divisions for a while before the breakthrough was achieved.
In 1949, they came back up to the Second Division where they would stay for the following 15 years, occasionally threatening promotion to the top tier.
Swansea went down again in 1965, but they first successfully withstood a ferocious second half assault at Anfield in the 1964 FA Cup. Liverpool were on their way to their first league title since 1947, but Swansea recorded a famous 1-2 win, goalkeeper Noel Dwyer saving a penalty from Ronnie Moran in the closing stages.
Finally achieving the dream
After the departure of Roberto Martinez and his immediate successor Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rogers did them one better. Finishing third in the Championship in 2010-11, he finally made good on the dream.
An utterly triumphant 4-2 playoff final at Wembley represented a complete 180 from the summer of 2003, when Swansea, in deep financial difficulty and with the threat of dropping out of the Football League looming above their heads, only just managed to hang on to their league status, instead consigning Exeter City to the drop.
Toshack makes history
Swansea’s fortunes then oscillated over the rest of the century. The bad times were truly horrific, but when the pendulum did swing their way, the Swans made history.
The golden spell began in 1977. Swansea were in the old Fourth Division at the time. When they defeated Preston on May 2, 1981, they confirmed promotion to the First Division. Bottom to top in four incredible years. Go figure.
Former Liverpool forward John Toshack had become the youngest manager in the Football League’s history at 28, and he created more history before he was through.
On January 1, 1982, Swansea City stood atop the First Division, nine points ahead of eventual champions Liverpool, who were twelfth. The Merseysiders rallied to produce one of their greatest ever runs, and Swansea could not maintain the early season pace. They eventually fell to sixth, thereby recording their best ever league finish.
The first trophy – and Garry Monk takes charge
The sale of Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair in 2012, following a 11th place finish, led to Swansea netting two hefty cheques for two replaceable players. Brendan Rodgers also left for Liverpool that same summer, but as we now know, such trivialities do not bother Swansea.
In came Michael Laudrup, and he set about the task with gusto. Swansea won the League Cup that season (2012-13), their first major English honour, defeating Bradford 5-0 in the final.
Swansea returned to Europe in 2013-14, progressing through the group stages of the Europa League before being halted by Napoli in the last 32, but not before handing Valencia a 0-3 defeat in the Mestalla.
For the supporters who were around when Swansea slumped to an abject 1-0 defeat to Boston United in 2002, which left Swansea 92nd out of 92 teams in the Football League for the first time, they may as well have been in an alternate universe.
Laudrup was sacked in February 2014 after a poor spell and rumours of discontent. He was replaced by former defender Garry Monk, a popular figure by all accounts, and a slightly more earthy character than the much travelled Laudrup.
Monk didn’t disappoint, doing the double over Manchester United in his first full season and mustering an 8th place finish, making it two consecutive top ten finishes for a club who weren’t even in the Premier League four years prior.
Superior financial management
The bad days of the early 2000s and a narrow escape from utter ruin taught Swansea some harsh lessons. But, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Today, Swansea’s board has fan representation. This is matched by the stake of the supporters’ trust in ownership, an extremely healthy arrangement that makes it the model Premier League club. Even chief executive Richard Scudamore describes their pattern of ownership as ‘ideal’.
Fan ownership is, for better or for worse, not particularly widespread in England. Completely fan owned clubs are a rarity the higher up the league structure one ventures and the Swansea supporters’ trust’s 20% ownership of the club is the best you will get.
Although there was only a slight increase in turnover from 2011-12 to 2012-13 (£2 million), the following year saw a huge rise to £99 million, mostly because Swansea finally reaped their just reward from the coffers of the Premier League’s extremely lucrative television deal.
Swansea have also turned in a profit all three years, despite a hefty increase in dividends for owners and interest payments in this time, partly due to an ability to not spend too much of what they bring in on playing staff.
Encouragingly, as a percentage, this figure has not risen higher than last year’s 64% in Swansea’s case, despite the wage bill rising sharply in Swansea’s three years in the top flight
Smart transfer business is crucial. Call them products of astute scouting – Swansea uncannily acquire the right fits for their system each time. A perfect example is the Wilfried Bony signing. Initially arriving from the Netherlands, he provided a good 18 months of service before being sold to Manchester City for more than double the initial fee.
All this is managed while living within their means – an age old household sensibility perfectly applicable to a football club, but one which is regularly flouted in the most extravagant fashion possible – Queens Park Rangers, a club who haven’t achieved even a fraction of Swansea’s success, being one such example.
Perhaps the most heart warming marker of financial performance is being debt free. That’s right, all this has been managed without every straying into the red, for all three years.
The European Dream?
So Swansea made it, after all. They are an extraordinarily popular success story as they have thrived in the Premier League with shrewd financial management and an aesthetically pleasing style of football over all this time despite a constant flux of managers, placing them above similar, but less well regarded success stories *cough* Stoke *cough*.
Swansea are well regarded by the rest of the Premier League and their partisan supporters, and with a progressive style of football and plans for expansion of the stadium thickening the air as each day passes, one suspects that regular European football is the next step.
The destination is too far into the future. For now, Swansea must enjoy the ride.