Down in the valley(s)…

Right – confession time….I am technically not a member of the 92 club anymore! I know, I know that I continue to talk about my expert knowledge of football stadiums but according to the official rules laid down in the last century my membership ceased to be valid in 2006. The reason for that is that I had yet to see a first class game in the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. I sort of gave up trying to meet the criteria at this point and technically I am in breach of the rules for not going back to visit Dagenham and Redbridge, Hereford United and even Carlisle United for a competitive game (despite the fact of seeing Dagenham play West Ham in a pre-season game in front of their highest crowd for over a decade), and shock horror, I had still not managed to shoehorn a visit into Morecambe. But as I own the domain name (92club.co.uk – go on try it and see where you end up!) I set the rules now and so as I have been to the old Vetch Field then I am still a member – so there!

Anyway, based on my own standards I could not say I had been to every club until the Liberty was ticked off and out of the blue an opportunity popped out. Sometimes situations come together like a rare eclipse, in this case:-

1. CMF wanting to go away with her chums in early March meaning I was “owed” a boys weekend away;

2. West Ham having to move their game versus Man City to Sunday as the poor (!) City players couldn’t cope with 2 games in 48 hours;

3. (In)Active Matt planning on following Charlton Athletic down to South Wales, and staying at his house;

So I could go, with the blessing of CMF, in the chauffer driven company of Matt and Tony the beard, stay in the comfort of a house AND get to see a game – a perfect set of conditions.

Swansea and me go back quite a few years. I had spent some wondeful years in and around the Gower due to a number of events. As a child I used to holiday with the big Fuller’s every year (the same week, the same place – you know what it was like growing up in the 80’s) in St Ives. Another family did the same and I got to know their son, Nick really well over the years. They came from Bridgend and as we moved into our middle teens, we used to meet up a couple of times a year for a bit of Welsh mayhem in and around the night clubs of Port Talbot and Swansea. He taught me a few valuable lessons in life – “Never ever go outside with a girl who says she is from Maestag” was one (he was so true as I would find out to my cost a few years later whilst working in Kos), “Never go near a girl in a club who says her brother is in the club” and finally “Never mention to a girl you meet from Wales that she has a moustache”.

When I was 17 I met my first long term girlfriend – Lynne. She was the daughter of one of my form teachers at school and was a year older and taking a year out. She lived across the road from the school and so in my free periods, where I knew where Mrs Lynne was I used to sneak across the role for a some additional tuition. And the relevance here? Well, she hailed from Swansea and a couple of times a year we would head down to the family home for a weekend of…well lets just leave it there.

I also spent a few weeks in and around the area in the run up to my A-Level Geography, carrying out a number of surveys on the “ring Donut” effect amongst other things.

Finally, there was the legendary FA Cup final weekend in May 2006. West Ham v Liverpool was one of the most entertaining finals in living memory and the whole weekend was one long eventful time. There was a group of 7 of us including Football Jo, and we saw it all on the Saturday night in Swansea. Wind Street is the place to be as it seems the whole cross section of society descends on for in the space of 3 Saturday night hours we saw (in no particular order):-

2 arrested for fighting (different fights) and one female
5 people being sick
3 people walking into the same phone box (you know the ones – big, red and very visible!)
2 girls streak down the street
2 couples having oral sex in said phone box above

But the best moment was when a rather chubby girl dressed in a tiny top dropped her phone on the floor. She then bent down to pick it up giving us all a rather unpleasant view of the fact she had gone commando. She then fell forward as she was so pissed and managed to kick her phone into the gutter. Stretching further to retrieve it her top rolled down exposing her charlies, but she was completely unaware of this and got up and carried on walking down the road, top around her midrift! Classy girl!

Anyway, enough of the memories – this was going to be a good trip – full of deep thinking football chat in the company of two die hard Charlton fans who were in the middle of the worst season in the club’s history, and destined to be playing the likes of Brentford, Leyton Orient and Colchester in local derbies next season. I had a half day and our plan was to get down to Swansea in time for the Wales v France game in the 6 nations, football and beer on the Saturday and then back into London in time (I hoped) for the Bellamy abuse to start at West Ham against Man City.

We travelled down on Friday afternoon and got to the house just after tea time. A swift trip to Tesco was our first job to stock up on Brains beer for our rock ‘n’ roll evening, then onto the Indian for our culinary treat. Whilst waiting for our typical local fayre we headed down the road for a swift half. The pub was rammed with locals gearing up for the rugby. However, with a few minutes until kick off they were showing the England test match. A few seconds later they switched coverage and we demanded that they switched it back – after all we were English and guests in their land….Well, we wanted to ask to switch it back but valued our assets a bit too much.

A few cups of tea, Welsh cakes and Jonathan Ross later our hedonistic night came to an end – well we are all nearly the big 40 and so nights out aren’t exactly what they used to be….”When we were your age…..”

On Saturday morning we headed down to the Gower peninsula for a bit of beach action. Oxwych Bay is one of the most famous beaches in the area and on a grey Saturday morning in February it was empty . Even the offer of watersports (watersports4all.com for more details) could not bring out the tourists and so after a fruitful search for a simple cup of tea (see I told you we know how to live it up!) before heading east through the lovely settlements of Townhill and Mayhill to the Liberty Stadium.

I’d heard good reports about the Liberty Stadium, opened in 2005 as a replacement for the ancient and crumbling Vetch Field. The 20,350 seater stadium is owned by the local council and is shared with the Ospreys rugby team, and has hosted a couple of international matches so far. Since opening the club have gone from strength to strength. Under the management of Roberto Martinez the club were promoted at a canter from Division One and have settled themselves into the running for a play off place with a brand of short passing and creative midfield play. Their recent FA Cup run had put them firmly on the map and I was looking forward to see them take on a Charlton team desperately low on confidence. Swansea hadn’t been in the top division since those almost dreamlike days of the early 1980’s when John Toshack’s team actually topped the old Division One before falling down the leagues to a point where they were within 90 minutes of losing their league status.

We had a wander around the stadium, stopping for Matt to acquaint himself with his “uncle” Ivor Allchurch (it appears that as a child Matt used to play with a girl whose Dad once cleaned Ivor’s cousins windows and so in true older generation style he became “uncle Ivor”).

Charlton’s woes have been written about at length here (see post) but since the “do or die” game with Nottingham Forest things had got marginally better. Whilst they were still propping up the league, they had managed two wins and a draw in their last five games to at least give the 600 travelling fans some hope.

Swansea City 1 Charlton Athletic 1 – The Liberty Stadium – Saturday 28th February 2009

Another late chance goes begging

Another late chance goes begging

We all expected more from the game in truth. We were sat in the middle of the silent majority of Swans fans. The crowd had been boosted by the offer of kids for a quid and a fancy dress competition where it appeared only two people had bothered to enter and one of them was dressed as a flower. Swansea started nervously, trying to pass their way into the Charlton net, but the Londoners were having none of it. The tackles flew in thick and fast and they picked up four yellow cards in the first thirty minutes.

Despite a couple of poor free kicks, Swansea’s play was all huff and puff. However, they did eventually take the lead in the 43rd minute when Nathan Dyer got a lucky bounce in the penalty area and calmly slotted the ball home to send the home team in at the break 1-0 up.

Halftime brought a ridiculous penalty competition with a bear mascot in goal and a free for all amongst the mascots. Spurred on by the performance of their sole mascot in the match above, Charlton came out, with a game plan that was basically shit or bust And the difference was noticable and they stifled the Swansea passing game, and continued to push for an equalizer. And on 55 minutes they got their lucky break as Nick Bailey’s shot from the edge of the area took a wicked deflection and nestled in the back of the net.

Despite the frustration from the crowd and the reluctance of the visitors to push on for a winner, Swansea simply ran out of ideas. a point in the end was useless for both teams based on results elsewhere, but it was a third unbeaten game in a row for the Addicks.

To continue our wild weekend we headed back to the house for fish and chips, Brains SA beer and another turgid performance from our rugby team in Dublin. Who said we lose the ability to party when we got married and had kids!

About the Liberty Stadium
After spending 93 years at their former Vetch Field home, Swansea have moved into the 21st Century, with a new stadium near to the former site of the Morfa Athletics Stadium on the West side of the River Tawe. The stadium was christened White Rock by the Swansea residents, but is now called the Liberty Stadium under a 10 year corporate sponsorship deal.

Built by Interserve for a cost of around £27m, the stadium saw its first game in July 2005. Although fairly conservative in its design, the stadium is still impressive. It is completely enclosed with all four corners filled with seating. Each of the four stands is two tiered and three are of the same height. The West Stand at one side of the pitch is slightly taller, having a row of 28 corporate hospitality boxes, situated above the upper tier. The Club’s offices are also located behind this stand. An unusual feature is the great use of transparent roofing towards the South End of the stadium. This allows more natural light into this area, making for an interesting effect. Both ends have an electric scoreboard situated on the front of their roofs, although for some reason the scoreboard at the North End is larger than the one at the South End. Outside the stadium at the South West corner is a statue of former Swansea legend Ivor Allchurch. The stadium is shared with Ospreys Rugby Union Club.

Thanks to Duncan Adam’s – Football Ground Guide for the above information.

How to get to the Liberty Stadium
Swansea Station is the nearest railway station to the ground and is about two miles from the stadium. Regular local bus services (every fifteen minutes on lines 4, 4a, 120, 122, 125, 132) run to the stadium or a taxi will cost less than a £5.

If you fancy a walk then allow yourself at least 30 minutes. Turn right out of the station and follow the High Street. At the traffic lights turn right into Neath Road. Go straight along Neath Road and you will eventually reach the stadium on your right.

Getting a ticket for the Liberty Stadium
With their promotion into the Championship, more games are classed as high profile and tickets may not be sold on the day. However, they can be easily booked online from the website. Tickets range in price from £20 for a place in the East Stand, and £23 elsewhere in the stadium. The Family Stand offers a £28 for an adult and 2 children. Views are excellent from everywhere in the ground.


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