Hosting West Ham in the Premier League tomorrow, Swansea City can reflect on a successful decade at the Liberty Stadium. Achieved thanks to a fans’ trust, this success is now being put to the test with the big-money sale of Wilfried Bony to Manchester City. Can a fan-backed club really succeed in the UK as FC Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund have done in Europe? Or is a major investor required? Tony Dawber speaks to Swans Trust spokesman Alan Lewis.
Following this story all the way has been Alan Lewis, spokesman for the Swans Trust, the supporters’ group formed in 2001 who currently owns 21% of the club.
‘A lot of us were there in the dark days a few years ago and we have been living the dream for the last ten years,’ says Lewis.
‘But many supporters and people involved with the club have come in since then and have only known success. So, naturally, there have been people asking ‘What next?’ and asking whether we should be pushing on.’
Swansea are one of the nearest clubs in the UK to European fan-owned models such as FC Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund. Having nearly disappeared into oblivion, Swansea not only moved into a new stadium in 2005 but became the first Welsh club to make the Premier League six years later – and have stayed there.
All this has been achieved without a sugar daddy.
But… the imminent sale of Ivorian forward Wilfried Bony to Manchester City, a £30m windfall for Swansea City, throws up a more complex series of issues.
Does the Bony sale actually signal the fact that in the Premier League, fan-owned clubs, even successful ones such as Swansea, ultimately fall short without external investment?
Must the Swans now gamble with an outside investor, or stay as they are, with the worry that the inevitable sale of star players such as Bony will mean they will eventually sink back among the also-rans?
Lewis admits there are tough decisions to make. ‘It’s true that this is very much a challenge for us at this time. But we as a Trust are happy at the moment. I think it’s a case of ‘Be careful what you wish for’.’
‘As a warning, we always look at the example of Charlton Athletic who were a well run club and well established in the Premier League, but then tried to push on. They sacked Alan Curbishley and it gradually went wrong.
‘We at the Trust are very pleased that the club has acted sensibly with the Premier League money and our wish is that they continue to do so.’
And if they do, Lewis believes the Swans can continue to progress.
His sentiments should resonate with fans of every club. Because at Swansea, the supporters can help ensure the club’s future. The Trust has a seat in the boardroom and, importantly, it’s a fully operational one, not just a token fan presence, someone updated after the fact.
‘We have a director on the board, party to absolutely everything that goes on at the club,’ says Lewis.
‘Currently that person is Huw Cooze and he is very competent in the role.’
Cooze is there to oversee constraints on over-spending and other trends in policy of possible concern to supporters – a vital aspect in the way Swansea operates.
The Liberty Stadium success story has inevitably attracted admiring glances from overseas – US investors are rumoured to have made recent overtures.
That might please some excitable Swans fans hankering for a shot at a Champions League spot – but there’s a calm hand on the tiller, and any mogul making overtures might find it harder to waltz in here than elsewhere in the UK.