Do we fans of Swansea City simply attract undesirable hangers-on that attempt to exploit our good nature or are we merely easy prey? Easy prey that is, until we fight back. First it was Tony Petty who tried to kill us off and now it appears it Swansea County Council and burger-lovers McDonald’s are severely attempting to hamper any potential growth we have a club, a city and a region through their own brand of selfishness and short sightedness. Dylan Thomas once described Swansea as the “Graveyard of Ambition” and outside the hallowed walls of the Liberty Stadium, it would appear he has a case.
Swansea City Football Club has been on an incredible ride over the last decade. In the grand scheme of things we may have appeared to be just another minor provincial club, one of many, but to the fans the club has meant everything and more. The crux of the matter is that when we were offered the Liberty Stadium in 2005 it was ample enough and gladly received with both hands. Things change in an instant in sport and the ambition of the board coupled with key decisions have led the club to grow exponentially in a way many would never have dreamed of. As of May 2011, Swansea City is no longer a provincial club. It is a worldwide brand up with the big boys and with an opportunity to really take advantage of its sporting standing to transform the community it is the very beating heart of.
We have a ground with a current maximum of capacity of 20,532 whilst our current average annual attendance’s in recent memory have been 15,186, 15,407, 15,507 and after promotion to the biggest sporting league on the Globe 19.930. The sudden leap is clear and with the stadium not being able to accommodate any more Swans fans this has led to a regularly farce surrounding the weekly scramble for match tickets. In the summer there were queues around the stadium as many attempted in vain to obtain a Season Ticket and rumours abound there are up to 6,000 people on a waiting list for next season already. The maths is simple; the Liberty Stadium cant currently cope with demand and matters will reach a head should the club continue to grow off the field to match their on the field success. This naturally leads to discussion on ground expansion, something vital to ensuring the club gains not only maximum support in the stands but additionally maximum revenue in the bank. Of course, this increased support for the football club has also led to other logistical problems which any person whom has attended a recent match at the ground can only attest to. Parking is an issue despite attempted alleviations by the Club and Authorities and many fans and shoppers find themselves trapped in traffic chaos for over an hour post-game. Whilst increased attendances are a must for the club to continue prosper, so is the acceptance that any impediment in the way will only drastically escalate any traffic issues around the area.
It is into this situation that the Council have effectively cast aside any ambitions to see the region grown on a national scale through the effective administration of the Football Club on its own doorstep by drafting in yet another “get-rich-quick” type scheme that typifies the McDonald’s corporation. Much of the land surrounding the Liberty is owned by the neighbouring Morfa Retail Park including a sizeable plot of land adjacent to the Stadium’s South Stand. With a car park that has been zoned off in recent memory creating not only an eye sore but an annoying lack of vehicular utilisation for many fans, this land has repeatedly been put forward as a clear possibility in plans for expansion. Whether or not it is owned by the Retail park is surely irrelevant. As it is currently not being used there has always been the possibility of the club acquiring the land itself for its own purpose. That is to say, it was possible to acquire up until the Council sold its soul and its community to the all-powerful McDonald’s conglomerate.
What is particularly galling to Swans fans whom have been slapped in the face by a very Council many would have helped vote into office is the sheer arrogance of such a collective. The application appears to have been submitted back in May 2011 and initially recommended for rejection by the Council’s OWN planning committee. How many personal applications once recommended for rejection never again see the light of day? If recommended for rejection, then there are clearly satisfactory reasons for reaching such a conclusion. Liberty Stadium Management Committee themselves also objected for this on grounds of Pollution, increased Traffic and even more food outlets in a tight area already consisting of Pizza Hut, KFC, Rossi’s, Harvesters and Frankie and Benny’s. Despite the recommendation of the Planning officers and the clear objections from a sizeable business in the area, the Council overruled all decisions in a vote 8-1 and made a final, binding decision on 7th February 2012. They are now refusing to accept any objections or appeals, branding their decision final for yet another McDonald’s in the City and are instead palming off supporters fears on twitter to an alternative account. The Twitter account @DemocracyatCCS simply has a statement saying “Liberty Stadium/McDonald’s Planning App was granted on 07/02/2012 – as the decision has been made the Authority are unable to take comments”. There are currently McDonald’s in the City Centre, Fabian Way, Junction 47 Penllegaer, Cwmdu and Morrison and it is hard to justify yet another outlet in the area. Is the demand really that high for a McFlurry and Mc Nuggets? The planning officers stated that a new drive-thru land, parking and access points would “accentuate the cramped nature of the site layout” and “compromise pedestrian movement”. That is, more than it is already.
Of course, Swansea East MP Sian James disagrees, proudly flaunting that this new McDonald’s will amazingly create 60 jobs in the area whilst seemingly oblivious to the success a football club generates for the immediate area. Millions of Pounds in tourism, World Wide exposure, thousands of extra fans in the area all don’t compete with a few hundred people a week buying a cheap burger. The inadequacy of understanding simple economics is incredible to say least, as is grasping at immediate reward over long term gains on a larger scale. McDonald’s benefit’s McDonald’s. Swansea City FC will benefit South Wales. Then again Sian James is a member of the same party that in August attempted to extort more rent of the Swans in the very same sentence as congratulating them on their achievements. What a baffling way to endear themselves to a fan base numbering at least 20,000 people in their electorate.
Swansea City Football Club is the jewel in the crown of the region and should be protected, encouraged and supported at all costs by those in power. They forget that WE voted these people in to speak for US. Whether we actually expand or not is not the issue, it is that we are considering expanding and therefore should be given an appropriate time to set up plans for this with the help of a Council for whom we as a club are indirectly helping with our success. Let us put it to the Council, what should happen a decade down the line when Swansea City potentially have to leave the Stadium due to a lack of help from this council. What will they do with such a big empty White Elephant? I’m sure that little McDonald’s next to it encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle will be worth it to the out of work ex-councillors.
Perhaps it’s best to end this with some choice words from Swansea City Chairman Huw Jenkins whom, as per usual, hits the nail on the head of the matter. “The club’s board of directors was shocked and disappointed at the short sightedness of this decision. The local authority was well aware of our concerns and objections for a fast food outlet on the perimeter of the stadium and it remains to be seen whether the decision will have a detrimental effect for the further expansion plans we have for the Liberty Stadium. Everyone is well aware that we have already started exploring the possibility of increasing the capacity at the stadium, improve fan facilities and car parking. We were already working on plans”
“There are thousands of supporters who would love to watch the Swans in action in the Premier League and we are keen to facilitate that. This decision may jeopardise that opportunity now for the people of Swansea. Also, to increase traffic in the area on match and non-match days is baffling to say the least, especially considering we have been in constant dialogue with the council to alleviate and improve traffic congestion around the stadium. Swansea as a city has made too many short-term decisions over the years. Again the view of creating a handful of jobs is more important than the development of the Liberty Stadium and the overall growth of the city that Premier League football can promote and deliver. The expansion of the Liberty Stadium, its facilities and the long term growth and success of the football club will create far more jobs than another McDonalds. The council have been shouting from the rooftops since Swansea City gained promotion to the Premier League about the massive benefits it has brought to the city in terms of business and tourism. Yet they make a decision which goes against everything they have been preaching. It’s baffling. Yet again it seems to be a decision that fails to put the best interests of the community first and typifies why Swansea as a city has failed to grow and develop over the years”.
The Swansea City fans are rightfully keen to see that their club gets all the necessary opportunities to grow and put their hometown on the map and have therefore created a petition. Please visit the Facebook page “No To McDonalds Behind the South Stand” set up by the Swans trust to sign the petition doing the rounds and sign the petition here http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/notomcdonalds/signatures. Together we can voice our displeasure at an act that threatens the direct growth of our Club after all, Who Are We?!
A casual Facebook status recently had me breaking out in an almost uncontrollable fit of laughter, the content of said status unleashing wild images in my mind of the crazed actions of a prestigious minority. These select few are an unusual breed, lumbered with a reckless and rugged devil-may-care attitude often redeemed by a god given talent to entertain the masses in their chosen field. A roll call of misdemeanours that would make the hardened criminal proud is often offset with trophies and glory, their sins temporarily forgiven as soon as their next act of inspirational genius is unleashed. The South American footballer is the subject in mind and in particular the more “loco” extremes of that colourful contingent, a self-destructive cartel that seems to be one constant still prevalent in the new capitalist greedy and murky world of Globalised football and all that entails.
To the regular viewer of the polished Premier League we are often privy to the incredibly boring and repetitive actions of our footballers outside of the game. The stories that do explode of the front pages of the country’s press tends to be more focused on the sex life’s of the 20-somethings as opposed to genuine ‘loco’ behaviour, a constant stream of threesomes and affairs by the immoralistic and hedonistic young men being paid ransoms to kick a ball around our pitches. There have been minor blips in this carefully constructed PR haven however, names such as Eric Cantona, Paolo Di Canio and lately Mario Balotelli providing jaw-dropping glimpses into their extrovert personalities that have occasionally bubbled over. Yet, does this country compare with the best South America can offer? No chance.
Lets study some of the more extreme actions of South America’s most infamous loco’s and check out their rap sheets. How about beginning with the player whom best encapsulated the crazy South American stereotype, even earning the nickname “el Loco” due to his extracurricular (and sometimes curricular) activities. Rene Higuita was born in 1966 in Medellin, Colombia and through his undoubted talent as a goalkeeper progressed into the national team for whom he ended up winning 68 caps over a decade. El Loco Higuita is perhaps best remembered by UK-based sporting fans for his incredible save from a tame Jamie Redknapp cross-cum-shot in a 1995 friendly between Columbia and England at Wembley. Expected to be nothing other than a simple catch for the eccentric keeper turned into one of the greatest sporting moments, Higuita launching his body forward before clearing the ball with the soles of his feet, calling the incredibly picturesque yet professionally risky move “the Scorpion kick”. Cue this writer and many other school children taking to the playing fields all across the country and winding themselves countless times trying to re-enact the pointless clearance. Higuita had infact become famous five years earlier when during the 1990 World Cup he inexplicably began dithering and dribbling on the ball way out of his usual remit, being dispossessed by the eternally young Roger Milla whom proceeded to score in the unguarded net and eliminate Higuita’s Columbia from the competition. Emanating from a nation probably best known for its drug barons and production of Cocaine, why a professional footballer of international repute felt the need to get involved is not evident to normal people but to someone of a Loco temperament it may seem normal. The result? Imprisoned for profiteering from a kidnapping and missing the 1994 World Cup as a result. That’s correct, Higuita acted as a go-between for infamous barons Pablo Escobar and Carlos Molina and his ill-gotten gains of $64,000 landed him in jail. After being released from his seven month sentence, the cult hero stated in an interview “the best moments of my life are the ones I spent in jail. In jail I found a different kind of loyalty – from the so-called delinquent, the so-called narco-trafficker, the so-called terrorist. I learned to know his heart, and it is a noble heart”. El Loco indeed.
Whilst having one madman in your team may seem bad enough, then you must feel some sympathy for the carthorses that made up Columbia’s talented 90’s generation for they were also lumbered with another madman in the cart wheeling dynamo that was Faustino Asprilla. Notable to British fans as the man who, unfairly and incorrectly it must be said, was considered the catalyst for Newcastle’s implosion in the 1997 title race ‘Tino nevertheless left Tyneside awash with memories of historic European nights. This was never best demonstrated by his one-man show against the mighty Barcelona in the Champions’ League group stage when leaping like a salmon his hat-trick put the sword to the Catalan giants with aplomb. The Colombian’s silky skills were often overshadowed by his off the pitch temperament, which goes some way to highlighting just how mad “The Octopus” and one time FIFA top 6 player in the world nominee actually was. As Parma’s star striker, he was expected to lead the line in the 1993 European Cup Winners Cup final but was forced to sit it out through an injury that no doubt would have been avoided if he was a little bit less, well, mad. Involved in a routine car accident with a bus driver in Columbia when he attempted to exit his vehicle to take up his issue with the offending driver his opposite number slammed the door shut on him, forcing Tino to kick at the windows. The result was perhaps inevitable, his foot went through the sturdy glass and he was out of a major European final. After moving to Newcastle he was being wined and dined in the stadium before settling down to watch his new teammates with a glass of wine still barely down his throat…within an hour the Toon’s newest star was on the pitch scoring. It wasn’t a lengthy stay on Tyneside and before long the man who wore his shirt outside his shorts and his socks round his ankles like a naughty schoolboy was back at Parma before winding down his career with as a journeyman on his native Continent. In 2008 the mercurial Colombian was arrested after becoming so enraged at a standard checkpoint in his native country he began firing at the security forces with a machine gun, peppering the area with bullets as though in a Scarface movie. The Octopus became allegedly enraged when his friends were refused entry into a farm at the check point and thus began the shooting, 29 bullets being fired from the firearm although no one was hurt. Not the first time Tino landed in hot water for use of an illegal weapon, at the height of his powers in 1995 the international superstar almost found himself imprisoned for firing his gun outside a nightclub. Another infamous story, which he dispels himself as nothing more than a training ground prank, was when he turned up to training whilst playing in Chile with a firearm and threatened to shoot the players if they didn’t run. What he claims was a joke was still reported by a watching journalist and adds yet another outlandish incident in a lifetime of unstable behaviour from the El Pulpo.
Jose Luis Chilavert
When it comes to crazy goalkeepers, after one has thought of Rene Higuita and his hair, thoughts quickly turn to the goal scoring menace between the posts for Velez Sarsfield and Paraguay; Jose Luis Chilavert. Noted for a brawl with the aforementioned Tino Asprilla in 1997 when they came to blows during a World Cup qualifier, whilst Higuita was more of a crazed persuasion Chilavert was certainly more temperamental, a typical Latin hothead. He also nearly came to blows with fellow South American legend Roberto Carlos after a qualifier between Paraguay and Brazil when he was sent off and banned for spitting at the famous left back, although he alleged that he did so as he was the victim of racial abuse from the Brazilian. The crazy Chilavert then went further into the realms of the ridiculous by exploding the myth of South American unity by claiming that his action of spitting on the Brazilian was justified as the match was a war and referenced the claiming of Paraguayan land by the Brazilians in the 19th Century War of the Triple Alliance. After leaving Velez at the beginning of the millennium Chilavert temporarily played in France for Strasbourg and in 2005 it was because of this short spell he received a suspended Six month prison sentence by French authorities for falsifying documents in an attempt to claim undue compensation from RC Strasbourg. It is perhaps fitting that the last we have heard of Chilavert was with an outburst of his combustible temper in an airport when he was caught on CCTV confronting and trying to fight his agent over a monetary dispute in a way more befitting an episode of The Sopranos than a lauded ex-international star. An lauded he certainly was. In amidst the off-the-field outbursts and the explosive free-kicks not only was Chilavert the first recognised Goalkeeper to score a hat trick in a top level game but was voted the IFFHS World Goalkeeper of the Year an unprecedented three times in 1995, 1997 and 1998 as well as his strong showing at the 2002 World Cup.
Another goalkeeper with a suspect mental capacity but of a more innocent nature was England’s tormentor from the 1998 World Cup Carlos Roa, a top quality goalkeeper who at the peak of his powers abruptly retired and removed himself from public life in accordance with his devout Seventh –Day Adventist Church beliefs that the world was due to end on the cusp of the new millennium. Probably the most bizarre retirement reason the game has ever seen from an international sportsman, “The Lettuce” eventually accepted the inevitability that the world had indeed not ended and returned to his old club Mallorca to begin a gradual decline through the Spanish leagues, his undoubted talent having been irreparably tarnished by inactivity.
Another player whom has seemingly vanished of late but with completely different outlook to life is the Ecuadorian fireball that is Armando Paredes. Unlike his exalted company on this list, Paredes is much lesser talent whom has only earned 2 caps for his country but arguably would be a lot more if he wasn’t…well, loco. As missing training sessions and having an overactive social life being minor to him, Paredes came to prominence when he was substituted by his manager at Emelec and proceeded to not only throw his shirt to the floor in anger and disgust but to launch a tirade of death threats towards his boss. As well as attacking photographers Paredes also found himself arrested in 2009 for attacking his former partner, her mother and the maid after breaking into their house in an intoxicated manner. Before being arrested by the police officers he had insulted, he also managed to scrape through a scuffle with his ex-partner’s relatives before innocently proclaiming he had “only wanted to relax with his daughter” when quizzed on the incident. After being dismissed from yet another club in 2010 for refusing to give blood for a standard test (something to hide perhaps?) Paredes has yet to resurface, although it is surely only a matter of time before his path of destruction comes back to the fore.
When you have earned the epithet “The Animal”, it would take a very brave man to encounter ex Brazilian World Cup runner up Edmundo without even a hint of trepidation. Once described as having a “lion-like temper” by an ex Chairman and receiving seven red cards in one year, Edmundo has a pretty impressive, or unimpressive as it may be, rap sheet of immaturity, assault, going awol, alcohol and even death. Again as seems to be the norm, Edmundo had incredible talent and was often lauded as one of the world’s best strikers but with the incredible handicap of being, well, himself. In what would turn out to be a vintage year of misdemeanours, 1995 began with a bang when during the South American quarter final against Argentinean team Velez Sarsfield he responded to a tough challenge from an opposition player by slapping him square on the face, earning a punch back for his trouble. The result would be an all out brawl between both teams and coaching staffs as belligerents on all sides aimed kung-fu kicks and punches at each other. That same year he was also temporarily detained in jail in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil after lashing out at a TV Cameraman after missing a penalty in a Copa Libertadores match before being pardoned when the Brazilian Foreign Ministry stepped in. Incredibly this would be a tame incident compared to what happened in December that year when an inebriated and intoxicated Edmundo crashed his speeding pickup truck into another car, killing the three passengers whilst he himself would only receive 10 stitches. After he was found guilty of drink driving and manslaughter incredibly he wasn’t jailed outright, but rather was essentially given a free pass due to his profession and at the time of sentencing would only spend a few nights imprisoned. Finally in 2011, after spending some time on the run, the ex Brazilian star was arrested and commanded to serve the four years jail time he had originally been sentenced to. The final incident for which the Animal is perhaps best remembered was the occasion in 1999 when for his son’s birthday party he hired an entire circus for his back garden and proceeded to fuel a chimpanzee with beer and whisky, earning the ire from animals rights groups and the police. With a name like “The Animal”, Edmundo was never going to be a quiet shrinking violet.
To some Garrincha was even greater than Pele. The disabled child with the bend legs whom grew up to win two World Cups possessed the kind of talent which genuine football men always appreciated even if general acclaim from an ignorant public was never as forthcoming as it was with his great teammate Pele. By all accounts, on the pitch Garrincha was a dream, floating past players with ease using his unequalled dribbling skills. As well as being a two time World Cup winner, the 1962 edition’s player of the tournament and scoring an incredible 232 goals in 581 games for Botafogo, Garrincha was honoured when the home dressing room of the Maracana was named after him whilst the away dressing took the name of Pele. As great as his on pitch career was, just like George Best it is the off field tragedy that propels him from mere sportsman to flawed icon. Just like his father, Garrincha developed a lethal liking for the taste of alcohol from a young age and would continue to be addicted to the juice for the rest of his life. His wayward drinking didn’t seem to affect his social life, for Garrincha also married young and fathered 8 daughters with his wife before controversially leaving her for a famous Brazilian samba singer. By his death he was believed to have fathered at least 14 children although rumours have been known to put this number at 30 plus. By the late 1960’s Garrincha was a full blown alcoholic and despite never legally learning to drive regularly found himself behind the wheel in an intoxicated state, having got into numerous crashes including running over his father once. The lowest point of his life no doubt came in 1969 when he drove into a lorry in a car wreck that caused the death of his mother-in-law. Garrincha continued to deteriorate before finally succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver in 1983, passing away at the young age of 49. Strikingly, it was only 20 years after his peak atop the world game of football.
No article on extrovert and crazy South American footballers is complete without the King himself, El Diego. The rap sheet of the greatest of all times is so littered with controversy it’s impossible to know where to begin. Gun crime. Assault. Rants. Weight Gain. Dictators. Drugs. Maradona has seen and done it all, both on and off the pitch. Let’s begin with his cocaine addiction. Allegedly becoming hooked in 1982 whilst playing for Catalan giants Barcelona and carrying the habit throughout the next two decades, he has been suspended from the sport on two separate occasions for his addiction. There was the time he was given a 15 month ban whilst at Napoli in the early 90’s before incurring another ban during his decline in 1997. In between this came arguably his most infamous suspension when he was tested and found positive for ephedrine during the 1994 World Cup, being sent home in disgrace from a tournament he had temporarily lit up with a wide-eyed celebration more becoming of a madman than a sportsman. Further proof that he hadn’t learnt his lesson and continued to use the white powder came in 2000 when he was busted by Uruguayan police with the drug still in his system and further in 2004 when the obese 20-stone legend suffered a heart attack allegedly brought on by a cocaine overdose. Maradona had retired in 1997 on his 37th Birthday and immediately descended into a coke-addled mess, his weight ballooning to unrecognizable levels before he began to overcome his cocaine addiction in 2005 together with a stomach stapling operation to control his weight.
Aside from his unrivalled on-pitch skills that led him to becoming the world’s most expensive player (twice) in the early 1980’s he first came to prominence away from his football skills for an incredible on-field brawl in the 1984 Spanish Cup final when chaos broke out between his Barcelona team and those of their rivals Athletic Bilbao after the match. Although by no means the only player whom erupted, Maradona was infamous spotted launching a series of karate kicks at anything that moved, his acrobatic attacks catching their targets on more than one occasion. It doesn’t need to be highlighted that this was also the period that the unhappy Argentine began experimenting with cocaina. After moving to Naples after Barcelona, El Diez reached the peak of his powers on the pitch but also began cavorting with the shadier elements of Neapolitan society off the pitch, namely the Mafioso-like Camorra. An investigation by the authorities into links with the Camorra’s drugs and prostitution rackets were only abandoned shortly before his 1991 failed test and his nocturnal activities around Naples were not innocent to say the least. A recent story emanating from the mouth of an incarcerated Mafia don was that the Camorra had even melted down his 1986 World Cup Golden Ball trophy in another example of the incredible community that Maradona immersed himself in. It was also whilst in Naples that one of El Diego’s many extramarital affairs resulted in the birth of a lovechild dubbed Diego Maradona Jnr in 1986. Maradona had always denied parentage of the child even though Italian Courts had ruled contrary in 1993 after the icon refused to undergo DNA tests. He is even on record as stating “my legitimate kids are Dalma and Giannina. The rest are a product of my money and my mistakes”. Although still not playing an active part in his son’s life to the present day (who now goes by the name Diego Sinagra and is a beach soccer player in his native Italy) he did meet the boy for the first time in 2003 when the youngster tricked his way onto an Italian golf course and confronted his absentee dad. His time in Italy would also have another consequence that he continues to fight to the present day, two decades after he ceased to work and live in the country. Italian authorities recently reported in March 2009 that the ex-Napoli hero owed the Italian government €37m in taxes and that so far he had only repaid €42,000, two luxury watches and a pair of earrings that were seized when he made a short visit to a clinic.
Always a target for the press for stories such as these and the fact that Diego himself would never shy away from a barbed comment on a wide range of topics, he took it a step further prior to the 1994 World Cup tournament when he confronted journalists camped by his property by firing an air-rifle at them, some of them reporting injuries to the police after being struck. Additionally in 2000, again irate at what he felt was an unnecessary intrusion into his life by the paparazzi, he attacked one such chancer by punching the photographer and then breaking his car window. Referring to his infamous “Hand of God” goal at the height of his athletic prowess, Diego commented in typical self-absolving style “if, in 1986, I said the goal against the English came from the ‘Hand of God’. Today I announce this broken glass comes from the ‘Hand of Reason’.” Maradona was again involved in a dubious incident with a member of the press on the day the then-Argentina manager announced his anticipated 23-man squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Making his way to the venue to make the announcement, the short-fused Diego seemingly hit a cameraman with his car and rather than apologizing or at least feigning concern as most decent people would, he immediately began launching a vicious verbal assault at the stricken man culminating in the epic retort “what an asshole you are! How can you put your leg there where it can get run over, man?!”. This outburst itself had only come a short while after his infamous and sordid rant during a press conference in the immediate aftermath of a climatic qualifying campaign where the normally resolute Argentines had struggled. Only mere minutes from being eliminated from the qualification spots for the World Cup, Maradona’s Argentina incredibly clinched a victory in their penultimate game against all odds and the dramatic reprieve sent the extrovert Diego into a crazed and wild spring town the touchline which culminated in a theatric “Klinsmann”-type dive on the waterlogged pitch. Clinching another victory to sneak into the World Cup a few days later Diego then shocked journalists and football bureaucrats the globe around by shouting at the press “to all you who did not believe in us, and I apologize to the women in here, you can suck it and keep sucking it”. Cue a fine and a ban from FIFA. Under threat from the game’s administrators and warned about his conduct at the game’s showpiece event, Maradona seemingly forgot this during another press conference after his team had satisfactorily defeated South Korea in their second group match. Theatrically hugging and kissing his players when celebrating on the touchline, when questioned about this Maradona replied in his customary manner; “Well I still prefer women. I am dating Veronica who is blond and 31-years-old. No I have not gone limp wristed”. Not his first reference to homosexuality, he issued a barbing retort to his constant nemesis Pele in 2009 after his Brazilian rival for the “greatest ever” title admonished him as a bad role model. Maradona outrageously and cheekily stated “what do you want me to say? He debuted with a lad”.
However, my personal favourite moment of the most outrageously outspoken but incredibly talented footballer of all time is his constant admonishing of the United States government in a way almost all other sports stars wouldn’t dare do. Maradona doesn’t care and feels passionately about many issues which always leads to fantastic outbursts, including nonchalantly referring to George Bush as a “murderer” to wearing a “Stop Bush Nazi” t-shirt with a Swastika on depicting the ex US president. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Diego Maradona, the greatest and craziest of them
Whilst last season’s Swansea City season preview began in a much more sombre and contemplative mood after yet another managerial change, there is indeed only one way to begin the preview for the 2011-2012 season.
“We Are Premier League say We Are Premier League!!!”
An understatement when I say I could chant that for hours on end, the forthcoming season will be one that will never be forgotten by those fans about to witness Swansea’s maiden Premier League campaign. Whilst the initial unabated furore and ecstasy may have dimmed post-Wembley in the midst of what is seemingly the longest pre-season in history the City and County of Swansea has been slowly building up in its excitement at the coming season. No doubt all of this pent-up impatient at the longevity of pre-season is going to erupt in one big explosion of joy at the first home match against Wigan on August 20th. Pre-season has so far consisted of ticketing worries, queues, new merchandise, transfer targets, wage structures, capacity increases, contracts, relegation worries, money worries, tactic questions and much more. Eager doesn’t quite cover the Swansea fanbase’s feelings towards the first game at Manchester City on August 15th.
So what can we expect from this season? Club wise, Swansea City Association Football Club is arguably in its strongest position ever which is an incredible achievement by both fans and board considering it was under a decade when it seemed all was lost. The club is unrecognisable from the mess at the turn of the last decade be it on the pitch, in the stands or in the bank. The Liberty Stadium (capacity concerns or not) is firmly established as the home fortress of the Jack Army and there is surely not many fans who have not become accustomed to the relatively plush and comfortable surroundings that we now enjoy. A reasonably attractive stadium with good views, facilities and structure is just the first embodiment of the new found success of the club. The board are also still in place and whilst the Premier League may be the home of boardroom squabbles, wars and takeovers by foreign investors Swansea City is the admirable exception. With figurehead Huw Jenkins leading the same group of men whom saved the club in 2002 the Club remains in safe and secure hands with the fans still having a major say via the ever-incredible Swansea Trust. The fans have also played their part and although accounting for some loyal fans missing out due to a plethora of reasons the fact that 16,000 season people have signed up to Season Tickets for this coming season is incredible when one recall’s the dreary nights down the Vetch when barely a few thousand people would be present. Voices of discontent have been raised about the new Season Ticket holders and those accused of jumping onto the promotion bandwagon but from a club perspective new fans equals new streams of revenue and all season tickets sold does essentially mean guaranteed income regardless of performance over the next 38 games. What is important and imperative is that entire fanbase remains united for the coming campaign, both with each other and also behind the team and players. Everyone will have to pull together for Swansea to have a fighting chance of remaining in the league and to this end any targetting of certain players will need to be rethought. Another aspect of crowd behaviour will be the need to transform the Liberty into a fortress, an intimidating arena to pampered Premier League stars visiting for the day in any small attempt to throw the opponents off their stride. Who are we?! Jack Army!
Whilst having stability and support in the boardroom is a positive in establishing firm roots for a successful campaign the most important component of any football club is no doubt the playing staff and the management staff. Somewhat ironic considering the trepidation surrounding the start of last season regarding yet another managerial upheaval, Brendan Rodgers’ 12months in the hot seat has been a unanimous success. Essentially a back-up choice when appointed last summer amidst a plethora of managerial candidates that came and went from the interview room, Brendan has seemingly found the perfect position to display the potential he first showed on the backroom staff during the Jose Mourinho Chelsea era. There have been a few murmurs of disapproval during a couple of games here and there but the vast majority of his maiden campaign was almost flawless in its implementation, two notable but ultimately irrelevant losses being the League Cup exit to Wigan and the home loss to arch rivals Cardiff. Rodgers came with an impressive pedigree only slightly tarnished by a 6-month spell at Reading. With a tactical nous cultivated under the tutelage of Mourinho in his previous guise as Chelsea coach, “Buck” Rodgers has managed to seamlessly blend the attacking qualities of Roberto Martinez to the defensive strength of Paulo Sousa’s style. The football is once again a joy to watch with a generally stern defence adding a secure base from which to launch wave’s of attack via the midfield. With Rodgers’ impressive grounding at Chelsea an obvious advantage, it has also exposed Swansea to his contacts and the opportunity to increase the calibre of transfer targets, imperative to help the club move onto the next level. With Sousa’s European super-pedigree it was a disappointment that his so-called contacts never materialised, Rodgers already proving himself in the acquisition of Scott Sinclair and loanee Fabio Borini. Almost everything Rodgers does at the moment is impressive, including the courteous and personable way he handles the media. Friendly, accessible and even charitable, Rodgers is a manager building his reputation not just as a footballing coach but also as a man the Jack Army are happy to have leading them. A further plus to the Rodgers appointment appears to be his man-management skills, in particular re invigorating peripheral players such as Mark Gower and Alan Tate as well the continued progress of Joe Allen and Neil Taylor. The coming season is no doubt going to see the man from Carnlough in Ireland further cement his burgeoning reputation as a manager on the rise whatever happens and with that first trophy in his repatoire he will undoubtedly be eager to test himself against greats such as Kenny Dalglish, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. Manager-wise, Swansea are in the best position they can possibly be in my opinion; a manager whom feels at home in the area and respects the local working class mentality, a manager whom understands the fabled “Swansea way” of free flowing and attacking football and finally a manager whom has already been more successful than any other in history in reaching the top division (Toshack withstanding ofcourse and even that wasn’t the treasure chest that is the Premier League).
Moving onto the squad, its a big ask for any team coming into the Premier League from below to instantly have a squad of proven top-level quality and the gulf in class will normally point towards a swift return whence the club came from without substantial outlay. That being said, Swansea’s style is very much based on the overall quality of the team rather than the component parts. Mediocre players elsewhere are transformed when put into the Swansea system and equally seemingly spectacular performers lose their way once transferred out. Looking at the retained basis of the squad first of all, a major plus is the retaining of defensive colossus Ashley Williams. Strong as an ox and a vocal point in the start of Swansea’s passing game out of defence, Welsh international Williams has improved with each season he’s been in a white shirt and has seemingly come into his peak in time with his first opportunity at the top level. Captain Garry Monk and loyal servant Alan Tate remain ever present within the club although playing time this season may be restricted to a rotation and substitute basis which in itself still ensures they remain an integral part of the coming campaign. Either side of the central defence will see Angel Rangel in the right back position he has undoubtedly made his own in the last 5 years whilst the improving Neil Taylor will start on the left. Despite his now fractured relationship with the fans over the flirtation with Newcastle Taylor is a player on the rise and his attacking mentality from the back always adds another facet to the Swans offensive. A minor worry is that cover for the wing backs is scarce and Jazz Richards seems to be MIA under the Rodgers regime whilst other defensive cover will come in the guise of the club’s youngsters such as Daniel Alfei and Joe Walsh. The midfield is undoubtedly the strongest part of the Swans team, normally the section of the squad responsible for the majority of the wins last season. The fulcrum of the team will include the ever impressive Leon Britton who has been a man rejuvenated following his mediocre 6-month spell in Yorkshire last season as well as Joe Allen whom is again progressing into an important homegrown talent that will hopefully be at the heart of Swansea and Wales for years to come. Kemy Agustien has also been impressive in pre-season and there is a hope despite alleged issues with his mentality that this is the season the tank of a Dutchmen fulfils the obvious potential he has, whilst Thomas Butler, Shaun MacDonald, David Cotterill will take a backseat. Regardless of signings there is a feeling that the most important newcomer to the squad this season will be the seemingly fit Ferrie Bodde, returning hopefully for the last time from yet another disastrous knee injury. Epic pre-injury, there has always been a sense that Bodde was always a Premier League quality player trading in leagues below his talent and his comeback could prove to be absolutely vital in adding some steel to a team expected to be in a relegation dogfight. Mark Gower has been retained and whilst age is now beginning to work against him as well as the promotion possibly being one too many the basic usefulness of the utility player (he played 42 games last season) will once again ensure he will be as vital to the match day squad as Tate is to the defence. Coming to the club from League 1 will be Ryan Harley and although clearly a talented player the step up of two divisions may initially prove too big to expect match-winning displays immediately, the substitutes bench possibly becoming a regular haunt for the ex-Exeter man along with Andy Orlandi.
With the attacking third being where Swansea’s patient build up play turns dangerous and manifests itself in relentless punishment, the importance of central attacking midfielder Stephen Dobbie with Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair either side can’t be underestimated. Farmed out on loan two seasons ago to Blackpool, Dobbie has been recreated as an exciting and creative force, the Glaswegian becoming the vital conduit between the ball-winning midfielders and the goal. After last season’s goalscoring exploits and more importantly the Wembley hat-trick Scott Sinclair is the poster boy of the club and the man with all the media attention but for actual displays Nathan Dyer arguably outperformed the former Chelsea trainee last season albeit without the end product, an ongoing issue that is thankfully rendered somewhat irrelevant by sheer chances created. The pure pace and skillful ball control from both will be an important tactic in achieving victories this season, their penetrating runs past confused and humiliated wing backs often the source of Swansea goals. Whilst lacking an out and out goalscorer last season up front was Swansea’s weakness until the inspirational loan signing of Fabio Borini added an extra impetus however he was lost to Parma during the pre season with the Swans unable to clinch the signing of the loanee. Still on the clubs books but looking at reduced playing time this season injuries and suspensions not withstanding are Craig Beattie and Luke Moore, both of whom in my opinion will not offer the goals needed.
Whilst the core of the above squad is in place signings this pre season have also been imperative and if the unreliable national press are to be believe it has been a busy time for Swansea, the board and related agents. Speculation aside there have been a number of new recruits secured, each of whom can expect to be in contention for the first team. One glaring omission from above was the lack of Goalkeepers and this has been the most worrying position. With the shocking defection of Dorus de Vries to Wolverhampton Wanders for no discernible reason other than financial the club have been scouring Europe for a replacement. One signing has been Jose Moreira from Benfica whom comes with an impressive pedigree however if short pre-season outings are anything to go by the Portuguese looks to be a back-up keeper and no more albeit definitely ahead of youngster David Cornell. Not confirmed at time of press, it appears that Swansea’s number one this season will be Dutch international keeper Michel Vorm, a player with an even more impressive resume and whom was part of the Holland World Cup squad whom were beaten finalists in South Africa 12months ago. Coming into defence to slot in next to Ashley Williams is on-loan Steven Caulkner from Tottenham Hotspur, a tall and solid centre back tipped as a potential future England international and looking to get vital Premier League experience in a similar way to Jack Wilshere at Bolton two seasons ago. Although only 19 years old, the 6 ft 3 was considered to be one of the best performers in the Championship last year whilst on loan to Bristol City and has all the credentials to be an impressive performer over the next 38 games. As consistent and dynamic the wingers were last season there was no credible back up or replacement on either flank which has been rectified with the eventual signing of Wayne Routledge from Newcastle. Although never quite living up to early promise at Crystal Palace, the utility winger has still built a solid career at lower Premier League, top Championship level and will clearly contribute a number of goals and assists in the coming season as well as being one of the few players in the squad with valuable top tier experience. With the aforementioned issues up front from last season strikers were also another priority and the early and record signing of Championship top-scorer Danny Graham went some way to establishing the intent of the club to do all they can to retain top flight status next season. £3.5m clinched the signing and with his first goal in the pre-season game against Real Betis showing the lethal finishing that made him head and shoulders above the rest of the Championship last season even in a struggling squad, hopes are high for the North-Easter to make the increasingly difficult step up in class that has been too much for many previous hotshots. Another striker signing from the Championship albeit with Premier League experience is the enthusiastic bundle of energy that is Leroy Lita. Whilst not the most prolific of strikers, a roughly one in two tally throughout his career is enough to qualify Lita as a legitimate threat and he will battle with Graham for the sole striker slot in Rodgers’ formation.
The squad does require fine tuning in certain areas such as wing back but with the goalkeeper situation seemingly resolved the team that will be Wales’ first ever Premier League combatants is now shaped. Fourfourtwo magazine predicted the Swans will finish 17th whilst almost every other preview has them down before the season begins, seemingly comparisons to Blackpool going up and down being enough to satisfy most pundits. This Swansea team is better than last years Blackpool team and whilst I personally think a season of highs, lows and ups and downs will eventually result in a close-fought relegation battle we have as much chance of staying in the league as do around 5 or 6 other teams. One worry is that last season the relegation battle went down to the last few minutes of the season and with that in mind Swansea’s last two games of their maiden Premier League campaign are against Liverpool and Manchester United. A strong start is imperative to build morale but April is going to be a month that will make or break the season. The first 6 games include, amongst Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, three winnable games in Wigan, Sunderland and West Brom and points in these games are a must. As Blackpool established last season winning at the big boys and losing to the perennial struggler’s is by no means a way out of trouble. The free flowing possession game that has become the Swansea way is here to stay however there will be a need for increased doggedness and the ability to grind out results more than ever before. Will the Swans do it? Can they do it? Either way, its going to be an historic and exciting campaign unlike one we may ever experience again.
A controversial subject that has gone through many ups and downs over the last few years has once again erupted into a verbal battlefield this month as the opposing factions play a game of ‘he says, she says’ over the contentious issue of a united Great Britain and Northern Ireland football team.
Some are for, some are against. All have opinions. The core of the issue is whether the four separate Football Associations within the United Kingdom should combine to field a representative team at next years London Olympics with the argument being that it would be a popular attraction for the fans to see a “fantasy” team represent the British people. First raised as a possibility in the run-up to and immediately after the 2005 announcement that the British Olympic Association (BOA) had won the race to host the 2012 Olympics, the United Kingdom team has been anything but united. Supporters of the team have regularly stated that this would be a one-off opportunity to put forward a competitive team in a home-based international tournament that would no doubt capture the support and goodwill of the entire nation whilst casting aside any regional differences. Surely if the British and Irish Lions can come together every four years and battle courageously why can’t the football teams join for a one-off competition they argue.
As a Welsh football fan, like many but it must be said not all Welsh fans, I am firmly against this team being created and if it must go ahead then it should have no Welsh representation or be on behalf of Wales. There are various reasons for this and I must admit here that as a Welsh nationalist and someone with separatist leanings with regards to the British union I personally can not and will not support a combined representative team. My own politics will not allow me to follow and support a premise that is against what I passionately belief in. That is for another article however and concentrating on solely footballing matters there are other, more valid reasons for the rejecting of a tacky, politically and geographically-incorrectly named TeamGB football team. The biggest concern to those against the idea is that it can be detrimental and perhaps even fatal to not only the independent status of the Welsh national football team but also to the English, Northern Irish and Scottish team as well. Dismissed by some as paranoia and scaremongering by others, the threat is a very real one and is more than capable of being carried out by the powerbrokers that waddle through FIFA headquarters in Geneva.
The four constituent nations of the United Kingdom each have their own football teams and have had so since the inception of international football in the 19th century. What many people on this isle don’t realise is that according to the FIFA statutes this shouldn’t necessarily be the case as to become a FIFA member each nation must be ratified and recognised by the United Nations as an independent country. In our case the nation is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and not the separate nations that make up the state. The fact that the so-called Home Nations not only play sanctioned and therefore official international football but can also compete in World Cups and European Championships is a bitter issue for many of the World’s burgeoning and newer nations who feel they are losing out on qualification spots to nations that shouldn’t be competing. There are also additional feelings of anger towards the status the home nations have from the various autonomous but not independent regions throughout the globe whom are left on the sidelines playing meaningless unsanctioned friendlies, examples being the Spanish duo Catalonia and the Basque Country, both of whom arguably have greater power within their respective state’s than any of the home nations have. Each dissenting nation or would-be nation feels it is unfair that the UK essentially has four attempts at qualifying for tournaments in their various guises and if they have to play by the strict rules then so should the home nations. The main reason that the home nations are each permitted to field individual representative sides, apart from the obvious historical fact of being existing and competing teams decades before the game took off on a global status, is that in 1947 the four associations collectively saved FIFA from bankruptcy in the post-war environment and therefore were rewarded with an official FIFA statute protecting their privileged status as independent footballing nations.
The second controversial aspect of the existence of the home nations as separate, competing nations is the fact that the four associations are integral in maintaining the laws of the game and are therefore de facto leaders of the World game along with FIFA. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is a committee that determines how the game is run and the council consists of the Football Association (England), the Football Association of Wales, the Scottish Football Association, the Irish Football Association and FIFA. The home nations each carry one vote each and FIFA carries four. What this essentially means is for a law to be passed FIFA requires the other nations to agree in order to reach a majority vote and as such is powerless to enact any changes it feels are warranted without the input of the other associations. Naturally for an organisation such as FIFA this is a wielding of power that it would rather it could do without and the obvious way around this would be to render the separate associations extinct by combining them into one association. Tied into this issue is the envious fact that the home nations automatically provide the FIFA vice-president, essentially the number 2 man below the incumbent President which is currently the controversial Sepp Blatter.
Regardless of Blatter’s recent quotes suggesting FIFA would be willing to accept a one-off British team with no consequence to the home nations, the words of a man currently in the midst of a major corruption controversy are not something we will accept in good faith. Particularly when Blatter has contradicted his own promises on numerous occasions previously, not least in March 2008. He claimed “If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympics, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team?”, reinforcing a point he had previously raised about the unusual status of international football within Great Britain. As head honcho within FIFA and naturally power-selfish, Blatter has a vested interest in ended the individual British teams. It would end the influence and hold the historic associations have over FIFA via their positions on the IFAB board as well as enabling Blatter or his successor to input their own man as Vice President as opposed to having a Briton foisted upon them. It is foolish to even consider FIFA have not explored this possible outcome and considered it attractive. Voting and supporting “TeamGB” premise is comparable to the old adage of Turkeys voting for Christmas. If the team goes ahead and is successful then FIFA has the ammunition it needs to put forward a motion to disband the individual teams. If TeamGB can obviously work together for an Olympics tournament then surely it can work together on a permanent basis they will argue. From an English FA and English supporters point of view this doesn’t seem to be of particular worry. As the largest and most well known association there is the obvious worry that they will dominate the future TeamGB in a similar way they do with the England Cricket Team where all Welsh involvement has been absorbed and deleted. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish are no doubt proud of their individual cultures and will not want to see it eroded into an English-concept of Britishness on the national football stage. Which anthem will be played? Which badge? Flag? Kit colours? Home ground? Fans? A British national team will become the English national team in another guise and will leave the other home nations excluded. If you are a passionate supporter of your country and want to continue supporting your own team like generations before you then you should be against this outrageous gimmick. No to Team GB.
As I’m sure all football fans will agree, there is nothing quite as exciting or pleasing as seeing a local youngster make the breakthrough from age-grade football into the first team and then blossom into an integral part of the club. Time and time again such players have been reared and raised on the goodwill of the fans from timid and shy youngsters with raw talent into vital cogs of the club’s soul to earn the epithet “fan favourite” and “cult hero”. This is something that is not a modern phenomenon but something that has always been a part of the game, although one may argue it is less rare and thus more important in today’s multinational and global game.
Infamous local lad’s made good include Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher at Liverpool, two young lads who were watched by fans as they were 13 and 14 years old and still learning the game. Whispers of their talent and words of encouragement would have passed between fan and teenager as they graduated through the levels before making their debuts accompanied by a rapturous applause. The sad fact is that many a 19 year old debutant at higher clubs eventually drift out on loan before getting free transferred, but the ones who make it become part of the club’s fabric. Gary Neville at Manchester United is another, as was Tony Adams at Arsenal and Paolo Maldini at Milan. As a Swansea fan arguably my favourite player at the club is Joe Allen, a young player who grew up local and graduated through the club’s system to take his place in the squad. Whilst there have been more technically proficient and experienced players available for selection from a multitude of nations across the globe, nothing makes me prouder than seeing Joe continue to grow as a player and move from League 1 to the Premiership and International Football. He returns this mutual feeling by giving his all in action-man displays, none more evident than when he scored the winner in a South Wales derby and disappeared into a crowd of his fans, his people. There are of course many an outsider who have taken a club and a region to their heart but they are very much a minority. I don’t hide my dream of seeing a Swansea team with a full Welsh squad. Indeed, Celtic still hold their infamous 1967 Lisbon Lions in such exalted fashion it is near blasphemy to criticise them. It is not the mere European Cup winning exploits that make this team so special, it was the incredible and unmatched fact that the entire team was born and bred within 30 miles of Celtic Park.
The days of this are seemingly gone. Today’s game is a high pressured world that is slave to the money men, every game at the top level potentially worth untold millions and the patience of owners at an all time low. There is no longer the time available to carefully train and cultivate a youth team player into a top quality star, evident by the lack of English youngsters breaking through at the top clubs. A case in point would be Chelsea; Roman Ambramovich’s insatiable quench for success has repeatedly led to managers bringing in proven talent from abroad for instance results as opposed to planning for the long-term. The result is that in recent memory only perhaps Josh Mceachran appears to have a battling chance of making the breakthrough whilst other youngsters with untold potential such as Scott Sinclair and Daniel Sturridge are repeatedly farmed out on loan to other clubs before eventually leaving the training ground for the final time.
Yet there is one club that has consistently brought through youngsters from their youth academy and refused to succumb to the growing globalisation of the game. This club has many critics but the core policy of only picking their own is not xenophobic, racist or outdated but rather something to be commended. The club is ofcourse Athletic Club Bilbao and their infamous “Basque-only” policy is perhaps the most infamous constitution in World football. To understand the policy is to understand Spanish politics and delving into the background of Spanish history can take many books, thesis and dissertations just to get a grasp of the delicate situation within the Kingdom. Most fans will be aware of the El Clasico derby between Barcelona and Real Madrid whereby the Whites tend to represent the Crown and Spain itself whilst Barcelona are understood to be representing Catalonia, the autonomous region with a strong independent and nationalist mentality. The Catalan’s have an intense pride in their statehood and nationality and reject Spain as their country. Barcelona is their legitimate and popular medium for broadcasting their ideology to the wider world to the point whereby every sports fan is aware that Barca is “mes que un club”, or More Than a Club.
Across the Kingdom is another autonomous region that has become more infamous for its violence as opposed to its sport. The Basque County (Euskal Herria in its native and unique tongue) is home to the equally fierce and nationalistic Basque people whom tend to take their patriotism a step further than the Catalans. A constant uprising amongst members of the Basque Community has caused havoc both in and outside the region for decades as ETA, denounces as terrorists by some but freedom fighters by others, have taken to violence to “force” their independence from the Kingdom which oppressed them under previous regimes. Whilst Barcelona have succeeded in exporting their Catalan culture to the world via their club, the Basque’s are by nature more insular and this is manifested itself in Athletic Bilbao’s extraordinary century-old policy of only picking Basque players. Barcelona may be more than a club, but the Basque take it a step further and have arguably shunned commercialism and success in an incredible show of dedication to the cause.
Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country and with a nationalist mayor in charge of the city it has long been a bastion of Basque support. The city’s football club is no different. In keeping with the Spanish tradition of “Cantera”, the club is similar to Real Madrid and Barcelona in that the club’s youth policy is an integral part of ensuring continuity of ideology and ensuring the club continues to bring through quality youngsters. The amount of money that Barcelona have saved by developing Xavi, Iniesta and Messi for example must be over a hundred million pound in potential transfer fees. What separates Athletic’s “Cantera” from the others however is that as opposed to simply scouring the Globe to tie down any youngster who has the necessary talent regardless of passport they instead choose to keep their recruitment policy Basque only. The club’s own attitude to this can be summed up with the motto “Con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación”, translated as “With home-grown support and a fan base, you don’t need foreigners”, whereby the term foreigners even applies to Catalans, Castillians and other people whom come under the citizenship of the Kingdom of Spain. For example, Xavi or Cesc Fabregas are not eligible to represent the team that represents the Basque people because of the very reason, they are not Basque people themselves. Officially the club will only sign players from the greater Basque Country, including those from the areas of Biscay, Gúipuzcoa, Álava, Navarre, Labourd, Soule and Lower Navarre. In a recent relaxing of the rules the club will now pick players who may not have been born in the region but whom have been trained and brought up in the region as youth players or of undoubted Basque heritage to battle the growing phenomenon of Basque emigration. The bottom line is “if your not Basque, you will not represent the Basque people”.
This has brought both criticism and commendation, ranging from claims of racism and xenophobia from the critics yet also admiration from supporters for their unwavering nationalism. Although trophy less since the League and Cup double of 1984, the club have been one of only three clubs to have never been relegated from the top tier of Spanish football (no prizes for guessing who the other two are) and have provided more players to the national Spain set-up than anyone else bar Real Madrid. They have won 8 La Liga titles in total and 23 Copa Del Reys. The system has worked incredibly when one considers that the selection pot for Basque-only players is very bare considering there are only 3m Basque nationals in all.
The youth facilities of Athletic are top of the range and are no doubt an important part of creating the next generation, vital for the club’s survival should they keep up their policy of not conforming to the capitalist agenda that is currently the norm across the sport. Lezama is the facility that has helped produce many great stars of the Spanish game, the latest potential superstar being the much-coveted and prodigious striking talent that is Iker Muniaiz, a first teamer by 16 and someone wanted by every major European club.
To select only players who are connected ethnically, linguistically and culturally with the fans ensures the club will always have a unique relationship with the terraces and one popular quote is that the vast majority of the Socio’s will happily accept relegation for the first time in history if it meant keeping the policy intact. This relationship is perhaps best exemplified in the way Bilbao legend Joseba Etxeberria played his final season for the club without accepting any wages, an incredible stance considering the way footballers are these days considered immoral, money-grabbing souls with no ounce of loyalty to any one club. As expected, Club Captain Etxeberria was eventually clapped off into retirement with the well wishes and gratitude of an entire Basque nation and has remained the prototype of loyalty and integrity.
Personally, as explored earlier, I would love for my club to implement a Welsh-only policy however I fear with the dearth of talent available it would be the end of Swansea City as a credible footballing force especially due to the lack of pride in nationality when compared to the ferocity with which Basque’s have for their homeland. Would Chelsea compete by adopting a West London only policy or Manchester United with a Manc-only selection criteria? I highly doubt either would be incredibly successful which once again highlights the achievements that Athletic Bilbao have attained throughout their history. A unique club in an ever-increasingly detached and money-driven game, Athletic are a club to be admired and revered.
As an ardent reader of each day’s press publications as well as an obsessive browser of various footballing forums, I have been extraordinarily dismayed by the rewriting of history that appears to be taking place at the expense of the club I support. The weekend of the 11 and 12th June has seen me enter into my local newsagents to be greeted with such sickly headlines as the following;
“Loyalty does exist in Football” -Mirror
“Why did Martinez Stay? Because he is a man of integrity and philosophy” – Independent
“Is this the most honourable man in football?” Independent
“Martinez seals his loyalty with a kiss” – Daily Express
“Martinez has given new life to old virtues” – The Independent on Sunday
“Why King Roberto should be hailed as a last bastion of loyalty” – Sunday Mirror
In truth I had thought that I, like most Swansea fans, had overcome our rage against the Spaniard with regards to his defection as despite his best attempts to cripple our growth we have moved forward as a club and indeed have just attained promotion into the richest and most watched league on the Globe. And then came this weekend. My head gets more confused with each newspaper I read and the anger levels within me rise as I read quotation after quotation where mere words are being accepted by ill-informed people with no desire or motivation to look past the lies to discover the truth. One of my greatest annoyances is the power that the British Tabloid’s wield over an ignorant and uneducated public, a mass of humanity whom read headlines instead of content and believe what they are being TOLD as opposed to what the facts are. Indeed, in this particular case I have become so outraged that I feel compelled to write about it in order to put across once and for all, in a concise manner, the reasons why most (not all) fans of Swansea City consider Roberto Martinez nothing more than “El Judas”.
Roberto Martinez is an ex-Swansea captain and Manager who has played an integral part in the story of Swansea over the last decade. Famously plucked from the lower reaches of the Spanish footballing hierarchy by David Whelan’s Wigan in 1995, Martinez spent 6 years at Springfield Park as an important part of their rise through the leagues. Revered as a cult hero in that particular rugby-dominated part of Lancashire, there is no doubt a bond between the man from Catalunya and his first British employers. Indeed, it is this bond that is now proving troublesome and sickly for Swansea fans as it was THEM who were led into believing they had the unbreakable bond with their clever, articulate and intelligent midfielder-cum-manager. The player left Wigan after a pleasant six season’s and after unspectacular spells at Walsall and Scottish Premier League side Motherwell discovered himself on loan to a Swansea side battling with every fibre in their make-up to avoid relegation out of the Football League and into probably administration and insolvency. It was not a mere battle for footballing survival but survival period.
In a squad rife with loanee’s with something to prove to their parent clubs it would have been easy for them to simply look out for themselves, play a few games and return to their clubs when the season was over. As seems to be the case on a more than regular basis, any player who pulls on the Swansea shirt more often than not forms a bond with the club that remains after they have left the club, as evident during the play-off Final at Wembley where many an ex-Swan were part of the 40,000-strong Jack Army. Martinez quickly built up a rapport with the club’s supporters as everyone pulled together and the ultimately successful battle against relegation led to players such as Martinez, Alan Tate and Leon Britton become adopted Jacks and thus cult heroes.
Over the following 3 seasons the club underwent something of a makeover, both on and off the field. Martinez, as club captain, was at the forefront of these changes and skippered the team to promotion from the bottom division, successive FAW cups, a Football League trophy and the move from the beloved-but-outdated Vetch field to the shiny Liberty Stadium. After a fall out believed to be over preferred tactics rather than anything personal, Martinez was released on a free transfer in 2006 and such was his feeling towards Swansea he resolved not to sign for another club in the same division and therefore dropped down a league to join Chester City. Whilst at the time Martinez was despondent at being “forced out” of the club he had grew love, it turned only to be a small sabbatical as he was quickly headhunted as the man to replace his executioner Kenny Jackett as the Swans manager at the incredibly young and inexperienced age of 33. Whilst outsiders may have looked on in bewilderment at the appointment, the revered ex-captain was welcomed with open arms by the fans and as he proclaimed in his 2009 Autobiography “As I drove down to Swansea to start my new job I felt like I was going back home.”
What followed was the ex-skipper beginning what he pledged was to be a 5-year plan to establish Swansea as a Premier League club with its own distinctive style. This was in addition to ensuring the club was self reliant as opposed to relying on unsustainable debt (something that has now been achieved without Martinez although every Swansea fan will credit him for helping set the club on its way). As well as coming “home” there was also the welcome and endearing boast, if a quote that has been the noose from which he ultimately hung himself in the eyes of Swans fans, that after being kicked out by Kenny Jackett the previous season he would now have to be “forced out”. Indeed, what followed over the next two years was a continuous stream of Martinez’s consciousness in interviews that centred around his loyalty to the club, his belief that everyone else should be equally loyal and his resolute determination that his leadership of the club would be the beginning of glorious times at Swansea. A prominent quotation from the man at the time of his appointment was “I feel flattered. The long relationship has always been in my mind. The contract is for as long as we can work together in terms of fulfilling other’s ambitions”. As well as overhauling the playing system and implementing a “Swansea way” of play, the beloved manager even begun to put in place a structure that will eventually blossom into a top academy at the club. Martinez was here for the long haul and god forbid anyone whom didn’t share his loyalty and long-term vision.
Swansea is a club that falls deeply in love with its cult players and during Martinez’s leadership the two shining beacons of the team were Andy Robinson and Lee Trundle, two Scousers with mercurial talent and a penchant for connecting with the working class fanbase. For varying reasons both eventually left the club and both were lambasted by Martinez, seemingly taking offence that Trundle had dared leave the club and bleating that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. Martinez then essentially went completely over the top in praising his side and the players whom stayed at the club to win promotion in a not-so-subtle dig at the departed striker. At the time the consensus was that Martinez was merely defending the club that he loved and cultivating an insular atmosphere within the team that would only create a greater team morale although subsequent events have now caused many to look back with incredulity that he dared to state such things when his own loyalty was suspect.
And so to the break. As far as Swansea fans were concerned at the time, Martinez had strong feelings for the Lancashire club where he had spend a happy 6 years however from the words he said, the plans he implemented and the promises he made, Swansea City was his club and he would never leave. Indeed he mentioned on more than one occasion that his job would not be complete until he had reached the Premier League. Then one day in pre-season Swansea fans woke up to find he had agreed in principle to go to Wigan. Just like that. Then followed 2 weeks of no statements, quotes or explanations. The Swansea that Martinez professed his never ending love and loyalty for were extinguished from his life and his heart and he was back to his first love. It can be compared to leaving your wife for your first girlfriend.
Then came even MORE promises before the divorce proceedings began. Martinez stated confidently and in a concerted effort to rebuilt his tarnished reputation amongst his former fanbase “I would never go back to Swansea just to do that and pinch players” when questioned about his links to his former players. He followed that up by the absurd claim “we will not do things that are not honoruable”. To this day any Swansea fan can tell you what happened almost immediately afterwards. Wigan took the free-scoring Jason Scotland and Jordi Gomez from Swansea and then decimated the entire backroom staff by taking Graeme Jones, Kevin Reeves, Inaki Bergara, Richie Evans and Oscar Brau with him. The heart and soul was torn out of the club and things were very bleak. THIS is why Swansea fans will for the most part never accept Roberto Martinez as the personification of loyalty and integrity when everything he has preached both before and after the episode is in stark contrast to how he conducted himself in those final days.
Two quotes that have been republished en masse over the weekend with regards to Martinez have been the following;
“Over the last two years the chairman has been very supportive to me and loyal, and now I feel I need to be loyal and supportive back“
“I haven’t finished my job at Wigan Athletic, there is much work still to be done. I don’t know how long that will take but such is the belief I have always had I would only decide to move once the club is ready for a new manager”
Both are essentially quotes and promises Martinez used at Swansea yet this has been conveniently overlooked in the media’s quest to paint the man who turned down a undesirable job at Aston Villa as the most honourable man in sport. Where is the loyalty shown to a chairman in Huw Jenkins who plucked the man from the backwater was Chester City to be appointed manager at 33 years old in the face of criticism? Sorry but ask a Swansea fan about Roberto Martinez, the successful ex Swansea Player, Captain and Manager and be prepared for an expletive-filled and Biblical-tinged rant. You have been warned. Martinez, loyal? Not in South West Wales.
So that was Wembley. The infamous home of football and the very hallowed ground whereupon legends were born and myths cultivated. From the 1923 White Horse final to the 1966 World Cup final and from the 1988 Wimbledon FA Cup upset to Barcelona’s master class merely a week ago, both incarnation’s of the incredibly revered stadium have witnessed many unforgettable moments in the “Beautiful Game’s” history. That said, I would venture to say that despite the illustrious events that any football fan can reel off that have taken place under either the Twin Towers or the new Arch, only one will stick out in the minds of every fan in one picturesque corner of South West Wales.
Monday 30th May 2011 will forever be a date etched in the mind of every Swansea City fan dotted all around the globe. It will be revered as the date that the 40,000-strong Jack Army invaded North West London with such passion and fire in their bellies that negative thoughts were immediately banished in favour of the feeling that destiny and fate and propelled them to this very moment. Merely 8 years ago the club couldn’t pay the electricity bill and yet now here they were on the grandest stage of all playing for an estimated £90m in a match they dared not lose. Too many glorious memories, not enough time or space to recall them all.
Having been outside Wembley before on a non-match day and being distinctly unimpressed, the transformation on game day is awe-inspiring. The stadium looms above all and the arch cuts through the sky with the ease of a knife through the softest of Welsh butter. Fresh from the constant pouring of lager down our throats in the Torch pub and being inebriated enough to not remember the walk down the road to Wembley way, the second you hit the mass of humanity on the famous walkway jolts you back to reality whilst also ensuring you realise the dream is right here and right now. Unexpectedly long, it is perhaps thankful that once off Wembley way there are escalators to take you deep into the bowl of the stadium and before you realise it the infamous glean of the red seats draw your eyes away from the bar. So highlights of the day? Where to begin? Apart from the obvious footballing aspect of the day which I’m sure have been recounted incessantly by the media since the final whistle, everyone has their treasured memories. Amongst mine would have to be the way 40,000 Jacks held their hands aloft, puffed out their chests and broke into a synchronised chorus of the well-known and well-loved Rugby song “Hymns and Arias”, a unique and spine tingling anthem that has recently worked its way into the hearts and throats of the Swansea faithful. Some even whisper it may have been the loudest song ever heard at the New Wembley. If the Welsh are known for singing, then by god let’s sing! I still have goosebumps from the moment and it evidently impressed the hierarchy at Sky as a video montage was seemingly immediately authorised and has become a Youtube favourite in West Glamorgan and beyond.
Closely following that has to be the wonderful and sombre tribute paid to tragic ex-Swan Besian Idrizaj during the post-match celebrations by a squad that by and large were fellow team-mates and indeed friends of the young Austrian. In a sport often accused of a lack of sentimentality and morals amongst the top tier of players, it is inspiring to see a collection of young men whom are still honouring and remembering Besian one year later and whom turned what could have been a hollow gesture into a fulfilled promise by securing promotion. To see Alan Tate, Gary Monk et al joyfully raise the Play-Off trophy towards the heavens adorned in Besian t-shirts ensured that a player who was only at the club for a short period will remain in the minds of Swans fans and players for a long time. A great personal touch in an ever increasingly detached society.
The third and final prominent memory of the day (amongst literally hundreds for which I have neither the time nor blog space to include) is the camaraderie of the fans themselves. Fans do regularly interact with each other during games but apart from their common hobby for all intents and purposes everyone is a stranger. During the game though, the way in which every single person jumped about, hugged, laughed and screamed with each other was incredible. It was as though an instant friendship was conjured up out of nothing but goodwill and occasion. From working in the city as well, it seems as though the goodwill is going to continue deep into the summer. A cross section of Society, bonded together for an extraordinary journey by a common interest. The good times have begun, long may the continue.
“It’s best to have failure happen early in life. It wakes up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes”
The Phoenix is an ancient and mythical Greek firebird that has endured throughout time as the defining symbol of rebirth, renewal and resurrection. The myth goes that when the bird dies, it spontaneously erupts into engulfing flames before being reborn from its own ashes and this completing its miraculous and sensational comeback. For Phoenix, read Swansea City Football Club, for ashes read 2003.
In one of the affectionate quirks that makes sport such a passionate hobby of the masses, all teams and supporters go through ups and downs and highs and lows. Some of course have deeper lows than others and the rare few are lucky enough to experience a constant stream of highs over an extended period of time. United fans, I’m looking at you. However it seems to be that even the smaller clubs will eventually experience their days in the sun even though that may be hard to imagine when all around you is grey, dark and bleak. The only differing component between each club is the length of time they have to suffer before they experience the glory that comes with success. Manchester City fans went 35 years without a trophy and were roundly ridiculed by their neighbours across the city for their drought whilst Rochdale remained in the same dreary division for 36 consecutive years.
Swansea City FC are a club that over the last two generations have experienced great highs and extreme lows, their fans enduring periods of unadulterated joy tempered with prolonged periods of pain. Many clubs can lay claim to being Phoenix-like in their resurgence from the bottom of a seemingly never-ending pit yet perhaps only a rare few have comeback with such aplomb as Swansea City. Whilst you have your AFC Wimbledon’s and Chester FC’s courageously beginning at the bottom of the pile and working their way back up, the chances of them reaching the very top seem long.
Swansea City’s are currently in the second sensational rise of their history and many may consider their current resurgence as one that characterises just what it means to be a fan. Whilst the first surge up the Football League back in the late 1970′s culminated in a season in the top division under John Toshack and has entered local folklore, if Swansea were to complete the so-called fairytale on May 30th at Wembley there will be a new bed-time story for legions of South West Wales schoolchildren for the next few generations. Promotion to the so-called “promised land” that is the uber-capitalist Premier League would be the end product of a long struggle from the seemingly inevitability of closure to unimagined wealth within a decade.
For the uninitiated, the club appeared all but doomed at the turn of the new millennium, their on-the-pitch actions rendered almost irrelevant by off-the-pitch mismanagement. The late 1990′s had been a period of uncertainty as the club cluttered around the lower reaches of the Football League, a position they had maintained since their disastrous fall from the top division some 15years earlier. A rare bright spark during this period was the Division 3 Championship winning campaign in 1999, although even that was badly immortalised in memories as the campaign where fan Terry Coles was killed by a police horse at the title-winning game in Rotherham. The fabled and loved Vetch Field was in disrepair, coaches and players came and went and attendances were dropping.
With spiralling debts in the boardroom, the club was eventually sold in July 2001 by owners Ninth Floor plc to fellow director Mike Lewis for the solitary figure of £1, albeit with the daunting acquisition of the £801,098 loan to the outgoing shareholders. Later in the year an Australian by the name of Tony Petty was at the helm of the club and his reign was so unpopular he was eventually ousted from the club with the kind of venom and vitriol last seen during the Miners’ Strike. Incredibly hated, the club under his stewardship came extremely close to being wound up and declared insolvent. Players wages were not paid, some were sacked, morale dipped and the very real spectre of closure loomed large across the city. Vicious pitch invasions, signs comparing the Australian to Osama Bin Laden and repeated chants against his ownership were common place as the club tumbled down the division. By January 2002 the club was described by Petty to be “very close now to the end of the road” and in one of the most heartbreaking events for the loyal fans, at one point the gates to the Vetch Field were locked and chained in a symbolic gesture of imminent closure.
The controversial Aussie was eventually removed from power that same month when a deal was finally agreed with ex-Swansea stalwart and community man Mel Nurse, members of his consortium and the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust. Although pleased the club was back in local hands, the very real threat of relegation and thus potential extinction still loomed over the club. The 2002-03 started warily, the club hoping to turn a corner but also lumbered with a squad low on talent and experience and it was obvious after the first few games that the hangover from the previous regime would directly impact on how the season would unfold. The club was still in such a financial mess that after the hiring of Brian Flynn as Director of Football and then Manager, the supporters trust had to pay the wages of young Manchester United loanee Alan Tate. Together with another young Premier League loanee in Leon Britton, the squad were adding inexperience if well-intentioned players to their relegation-threatened team and soon found themselves in a battle for their very survival.
All Phoenix’s require destruction via flames before they can be resurrected. In Swansea’s case, the period 2000-2003 was one long and heated blaze. Re-birth would come on the day that could have potentially been the worst of them all. Saturday 3rd May will be the day that will remain in the hearts and souls of all Swansea fans as local-lad James Thomas erupted infront of his home crowd to score the most important hat-trick in club history. Would it be a mere exaggeration to call the 3 goals the treble that saved a club? Witness the scenes of jubilation and relief of that day and the question answers itself.
Surviving by the skin of their necks for at least another year, the re-birth was under way. A bright white Swan masquerading as a Phoenix and beginning its flight up the Football League ladder to battle with giants. From that season, Alan Tate and Leon Britton remain and can complete one of the most incredible sporting rebirth’s in British history should they complete the job on May 30th. Whatever should happen at Wembley, a fantastic footballing team with international players, a profitable bank account and shiny 20,500 seater stadium suggest Wembley would merely be the icing on the cake. When one remembers those padlocks being closed on the Vetch gates merely 8 years ago, it’s great to be a Swansea Jack and if we do go up, it will definitely be great to be back.
The Football League Play-Off’s are often described as the height of drama and excitement, of unadulterated joy and unequalled heartbreak. A chance for the nearly men to redeem themselves and gain one more opportunity for promotion and for the rank outsiders to launch a late and unexpected burst of freedom into the exciting confines of a higher league.
As a neutral, they are fantastic to watch, particularly the Championship duel which is regularly stated to be, at £90m, the single biggest game financially in world sport. You tend to see an equal measure of perennial contenders always on the cusp of promotion and the historically lower-league clubs thrown into this volatile end of season lottery, providing irresistible viewing. In recent years for example, there has been a varied mix of clubs such as Birmingham and West Ham reclaim what they may consider their rightful place amongst the elite whilst Burnley, Hull City and Blackpool have spoiled their respective fanbases with excursions to Anfield and Old Trafford via their Wembley play-off victories.
Inaugrated in 1987 after the Football League decided to reduce the sizes of the divisions, the Play-Off’s have in some eyes rejuvenated the last months of a league campaign and ensured that non-title chasing teams still have something to play for as opposed to drifiting into mid-table obscurity with much of the campaign left to play for.
Much like the majority of football fans, when as a neutral I love the concept, and cheering on random ‘smaller’ teams in an effort to see some new blood in the increasingly ring-fenced Premier League. However I also hate them. Hate them for the way my team Swansea fell at the final hurdle in the 2006 League One final by a couple of blundered penalties, a heartbreaking conclusion to an exciting season that lasted well into the next one. I also hate them for how they dropped out of the Championship play-off reckoning with 2 games left of the 46-game season last year to be overtaken by a Blackpool team who eventually went up. With my beloved Swans hanging onto the final spot with their very fingertips at the end of last season, every weekend brought more misery as our place became more unstable and precarious until the inevitable result of our place being usurped.
Are the Play-Offs worth the drama, excitement, heartbreak and unbearable tension in remaining in the 4 vital spots after 46 games and then manoeuvring through 3 more? In the interests of football I would say almost certainly. They offer incredible tension and excitement on par with any of World football’s major events and it’s great to see fans of constantly struggling clubs getting their one day on the big stage that they have perhaps never experience before or will never experience again. As a fan of a club who have secured their place in the end of season lottery (thank god after last season’s bottling!) with two games left and thus with a vested interest in the current season’s outcome as opposed to a neutral, I’ll let you know after the final whistle has rung at Wembley on May 30th. If we fall at the first hurdle or even worse at the national stadium just as we did 5 years ago then you will no doubt know my feelings surrounding this sporting import from across the Atlantic. And should we be victorious and our captain climbs the infamous steps to claim the Play-off trophy to raise to the heavens, then I will be the greatest supporter of the Play-off’s in the nation. Fickle, moi? Never.
At its heart, Wales is a socialist country with a history and culture steeped in the advancement of equality regardless of background or class. The valley’s are old Labour strongholds and the country is the home of the great health reformer Nye Bevan who initiated the NHS to allow free medical care for all. It is therefore not unusual to encounter that old bastion of socialist control that is rife throughout Wales in the guise of a committee and its members. With rugby union being vastly played across the South Welsh region for example, every club is seemingly run by the omnipresent and mysterious “committee”, a gathering of people elevated to such a position to ensure the smooth running and advancement of their organisation whilst ensuring no one person gains total control and thus preventing any dictatorships.
Committees and their purpose are not only restricted to rugby union. Indeed, there are committee’s to be found in politics, corporations, academia and even organised crime in an effort to quell any issues or to make decisions upon a vote. With the amount of members varying accordingly depending on size of the committee or organisation involved, nevertheless they are designed to ensure the best possible action is taken on the basis that most, if not all, voting members concur on a specific issue.
With this in mind, why does the Football Association of Wales continue to be controversial in both its policies and actions. Surely a committee or council-based organisation is designed to eliminate such sentiments and ensure the smooth running for the good of its aims. The FA, that is the English Football Association, is no stranger to controversy itself but as a whole the organisation tends to do its job well without bringing the sport into blatant disrepute. Its points of criticism tend to revolve around everyday footballing matters such as yellow cards, goal line technology or manager disobedience regarding refereeing decisions.
The most recent outrage regarding the FAW was the ridiculous ticket fiasco for the European Championship qualifier between Wales and England. With the clubs employed as “ticketing agents” for the fixture to ensure all stubs were sold to genuine Welsh football fans, Newport County and Wrexham were outraged to learn that the tickets they had sold to their fans did not actually exist and due to a system error the FAW had in fact oversold 1,500 tickets. These phantom tickets no doubt caused a lot of consternation amongst both Welsh and English fans who were under the assumption that they had secured entry to the highly anticipated international derby match in Cardiff and ensure the credibility of the organisation took yet another large hit.
Indeed, regarding an England-Wales qualifying game this is not the first time the FAW has received a plethora of negative press. During the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign the cross-border rivals met at Old Trafford and a trip to the Theatre of Dreams was once again high on all Welsh fans lists. Instead of pandering to this demand from hardcore and loyal Welsh fans, each of the 27 men were given 50 tickets each of an already limited away allocation to distribute as they saw fit. An outrageous and very generous gift indeed.
A further criticism levelled at the FAW is its questionable disciplinary processes. Bangor FC are currently in dispute with the organisation after they took seven weeks to hit captain Jamie Brewerton with a 5-match ban. The outraged club point towards their English equivalent’s 2 day process to ban Wayne Rooney and have demanded answers into why it has taken so long to ban their integral defender. The most infamous of the FAW’s disciplinary methods occurred in 2008 and revealed to the majority of British football what Welsh fans were already aware of. An accusation levelled at the FAW for a long time has been that they are pro-Cardiff City and they did not help these claims with the overturning of Cardiff captain Darren Purse’s ban just before the club’s appearance in the 2008 FA Cup Final. Sent off for a challenge on Burnley’s Andrew Cole in a league game, it was very much expected that the defender would justifiably miss the season showpiece and thus greatest day in his club’s history due to a warranted suspension. The tackle itself was described as the worst tackle the ex-Manchester United and England star had received throughout his illustrious career and left Cole needing 10 stitches. With all Welsh clubs coming under the jurisdiction, including those whom play in the English pyramid, the suspension and discipline was left to the FAW as in all previous and subsequent cases. In an astonishing and seemingly blatant occurrence of bias and favouritism the expected 3-game suspension was evaporated as the FAW rescinded the red card and overturned the referee’s decision, cue incredulity from cup final opposing manager Harry Redknapp. Their cause was not helped with the allegations that of the three-man panel, at least one was a Cardiff season ticket holder and had been a regular for the past four years.
A further inflammatory action of the FAW and yet another feather in the caps of Anti-FAW protesters within close confines of the Liberty Stadium is the 3-match banning of Swansea’s Alan Tate in December 2010. Tate was dismissed after a fracas with QPR’s Clint Hill and whilst the sending-off is technically a ban the FA decided common sense was needed after QPR appealed and Hill’s red card was rescinded. Tate’s however was not after their equivalent appeal was put to the FAW, raising the ire of Brendan Rodgers.
The FAW have an un desired reputation of amateur idiocy as well as very much being a “jobs for the boyo’s” environment. They fail to run the Welsh national team with any confidence or professionally and treat its member clubs within the English football hierarchy with any respect. Rodgers himself was distinctly unimpressed when he received an invite to an awards dinner from the FAW with an invitation addressed to previous incumbent Paulo Sousa, who had vacated the Swansea hotseat four months previously. Swansea City and Cardiff City have in recent times become contenders for promotion to the FA Premier League and should either or both be successful, it will be interesting to see how the FAW’s procedures cope under the immensely stressful spotlight that accompanies the world’s most infamous league. Time to leave the FAW for the big two? As someone who identifies as a Welsh nationalist I find it sad that I feel for the advancement of Swansea City and Cardiff City they need to throw away the shackles of a dinosaur organisation and look towards getting on a more sound footing with the FA, who whilst may not be perfect at least treat their member clubs with something approaching professionalism, clarity and equality. Corrupt? possibly. Amateurs…definitely