For seven seasons, football held the limelight in rugby stronghold Swansea. After nearly going out of business, Swansea City were in the Premier League. The club won major silverware in 2013 and its new-build arena welcomed the likes of Valencia and Napoli in a Europa League run. A revived Wales were playing qualifying matches at Swansea’s new-build arena, the Liberty Stadium, near the River Tawe.
Moreover, this was a success story engineered by fans. As their beloved club hit rock bottom, the Swansea City Supporters Trust was founded, to save Swansea from ruin and ignominy. The Trust became shareholders. Their story, unique in the domestic game, has been told in book (‘From Graveyard to Ambition’) and film (‘Jack to a King’) format.
And then, slowly, it all went wrong. A consistently poor choice of managers and a majority takeover by absentee American owners led to relegation in 2018. Today, the trust still holds a 21% stake in Swansea City but the club will need to extricate itself from a very tough Championship in 2018-19.
Compared with 2002, however, picture is not so bleak. A mismanaged club and its debts were being passed from pillar to post as successive unsuitable managers failed to raise The Swans from the lowest rung of the league ladder.
A year later, manager Brian Flynn saved The Swans from falling out of the league altogether, a home win over Hull City sending Exeter City to the Football Conference on the last day of the season. The Exeter vice-chairman was Mike Lewis, former managing director of Swansea whom the Trust had opposed the year before in their successful bid to save their club.
The next step was to abandon the Vetch Field, a vegetable patch close to the beach where the original Swansea Town had moved shortly after being founded in 1912. Rugby had long taken root in South Wales, and football was a relatively late developer.
Back in the 1920s, fans were packing its Centre Stand as Wales began to stage full internationals here and Swansea embarked on a number of cup runs. After making the semi-final in 1926, Swansea lost to Reading in the quarter-final of 1927, missing out on a potential semi-final with eventual winners Cardiff.
With each club yo-yoing between divisions, the South Wales derby took place relatively rarely, the first league one coming in 1929.
On New Year’s Day 1980, Swansea player-manager and Cardiff icon John Toshack scored against his old club at the Vetch Field, another step in his new club’s dramatic rise up the divisions. A year later, just as derby day violence was spiralling out of control, Swansea made the top flight for the first time, setting it alight for most of that autumn and winter.
The descent, from a fleeting first place to relegation the following season, and further down, was equally swift.
After the salvation of 2003, Swansea moved to the new Liberty Stadium two years later. Bits of the Vetch Field ground are still kept as souvenirs in attics all over South Wales. The land around it is being used once more for vegetable allotments.
On the new pitch, Swansea were first transformed under Roberto Martínez, then Brendan Rodgers and then the progressive, cosmopolitan Michael Laudrup. The Dane didn’t stay – but his former charges remained a feisty Premier League proposition under Garry Monk.
Managers have since come and gone, Bob Bradley the first American to coach in the Premier. Some may point to the choice of Francesco Guidolin over the possibility of rehiring Rodgers in 2016 as the turning point. Certainly, Carlos Carvalhal had his work cut out in 2018. Current incumbent Graham Potter, behind the extraordinary rise of Östersund in Sweden, seems a wise buy. Certainly, direction is required in terms of player acquisition and, most of all, a return to the exciting football that swept Swansea to the top and forced rugby out of the limelight.
The nearest airport to Swansea is underused Cardiff 42 miles (67.5km) away. There is no direct transport link to Swansea. A shuttle bus (£1) runs to the airport’s rail station, then an hourly train runs to Cardiff Central (Sun every 2hrs, 30-35min journey time, £4). From there, a regular train (£8.20) takes 55min to reach Swansea.
The Cardiff Airport Express bus runs every 20min (journey time 40min, £5/£8 return) from the terminal to Cardiff Central Bus Station. There buses to Swansea (1hr) are equally frequent.
Swansea firm Eastside Cabs (+44 1792 771166) charges £70 from Cardiff Airport.
Several bus companies provide public transport in Swansea – check timetable information with Traveline Cymru.
The Swansea Tourist Information office has directory of local hotels and rates.
There are no hotels by the stadium. Conveniently set by the station, classic railyway hotel The Grand has had a contemporary makeover and now features penthouse hot tubs.
For contemporary city-centre, the four-star Dragon provides a heated pool, saunas and quality gym. The hotel also occasionally puts together ‘Stay and Score’ match packages, including tickets, dinner and breakfast.
In the Maritime Quarter, the Marriott offers weekend deals.
Further down seafront Oystermouth Road, lodgings such as the Oyster, the Arches, the Tudor Court and the Sea Haven (+44 1792 653131) provide modest, affordable lodging in a prime location. Some are in better states of repair than others.
Swansea has two main bar hubs: downtown Wind Street and seafront Oystermouth Road. Venues such as Bank Statement (No.57-58) and Adelphi (No.18-19) rub shoulders with bar chains such as Varsity in Wind Street. Seaz is one of a number of late-night options.
While a younger clientele make mischief in town, seafront pubs such as the Swansea Jack (No.130) attract the usual regulars to Oystermouth Road. Award-winning Bay View strikes an entertaining balance between contemporary sports bar, quality Thai restaurant and nightclub, all in a historic, stand-alone building overlooking the bay in question.
If you just want to catch the match before getting your train, then the Grand Hotel contains a sports bar that shows Swansea games live, with free nibbles at half-time.