My Second Team: Swansea City
For the fifth post in our burgeoning ‘My Second Team’ series, Alex Quayle compares the regard he holds for Manchester City with his new affection for Swansea City in the wake of two meetings between the clubs in the space of a week. Alex can be followed on twitter at @MisterQuayle.
In the 2011 Championship Playoff Final, as Reading scored their second goal of their comeback to make the score 3-2, it occurred to me that supporting Swansea City was only a single goal from this being a lot like supporting Manchester City. Welcome to another farce, defeat plucked from the jaws of success as Jem Karacan steadied to equalise. It was, of course, not to end like that. Karacan hit the post, and as one hapless Editor of this website sat watching on from the opposite end, Scott Sinclair scored his penalty in front of me. Swansea City prevailed 4-2.
I have, like astigmatism, inherited a love of Manchester City from my family. In the 90s and 00s I remember the amusingly choreographed failures, and have heard the sagas of the preceding decades too many times. It is this City, the daft mongrel, that I grew up with. No reader of this article will be unaware of the recent history of Manchester City, or struggle to find an article from a City fan bemoaning how the club has changed for the worse. I have no desire to rehash these worn arguments, as much as I hold no desire to return to the days of relegation battles or playoff heroics. However, it is true to admit that success has not been without changes that have tempered my enjoyment of the club itself.
In that sense, Swansea City came along at precisely the right time. City were throwing their cash around aimlessly, and Mark Hughes was endearing himself to nobody on or off the field (a tradition which continues, unabated, to this day). A seed had been sown the previous season by a midweek trip to Plymouth to watch Swansea with my partnerâ€™s family. It was a drab 1-1, but nobody had told the travelling Swansea fans. This was a crowd that refused to be moderated by the modest occasion or performance. They were here for a long time, and not necessarily (yet) a good time.
As Manchester City drifted away from the club I knew, Swansea City timed their late run to the top tier perfectly. It is fair to say that I have seen glory years for Swansea, and that has helped to solidify the relationship. But what will keep me there is that away crowd. I have watched City away on several occasions, and never had the same enjoyment. The Swansea away fans are a constant, are noisy and genuinely appreciative of their players. I see no privilege, no expectation, in a way that has become normal at the Etihad. My second team is as much the Jack Army, before it is Swansea City.
My second team then, is as much about the matchday experience as anything else. However, it is true that things I have found in Swansea are absent in Manchester. I like that Swansea are (however partially) supporter owned. They trust youth and rely on the academy for squad players. They are a model of a well-run club, and in particular refuse to break structures and pander to big names – can you imagine Leon Brittonâ€™s agent tweeting that Hugh Jenkins was â€˜sickâ€™ for not buying him a birthday cake? I am attracted by the noise of the fans, and the quiet of the club. It is while doubts over the identity of City have grown that my love of Swansea has sprouted and fixed root.
I became a lucky talisman at games, going my first dozen unbeaten as a Swansea fan, including the League Cup final procession against Bradford. It was no detriment to the occasion that Bradford were in League 2. This cup run was the culmination of 8 years of climbing, from nearly dropping out of the Football League to Wembley glory. Sharing in that moment, a club on the up, managed by the urbane Michael Laudrup, playing beautiful passing football, a core of Welsh players and club legends complimented by European flair, it is small wonder that I forged a bond with the club.
In recent seasons, my attendance at away games has increased. I appreciate the Swansea City policy of ensuring that members paid no more than Â£22 for tickets to away games last season (dropped to Â£20 this season). I have watched dross, and I have watched superb technical and tactical performances. The 2-1 victory in the Emirates last season was a particularly pleasing occasion, watching Alan Curtis outmanoeuvre Arsenal in the absence of the unwell Francesco Guidolin. Brains beat budget, as Swansea so regularly have.
I watched Swansea succumb to Oxford United in the FA Cup Third Round in January, and noted that the meek performance was still greeted by the fans with warm acknowledgement of the players undeserving efforts. This is group who know that most of the time Swansea punch well above their weight. As a caveat to this, Jonjo Shelvey chose that moment to â€˜ask outsideâ€™ a couple of fans giving him mild grief, and it says something about his character that he chose those fans to commune with and not the 1000 who applauded a lazy display. It is no surprise that this was to be his last appearance for the club. I imagine him a player who is only ever two decent performances from demanding a birthday cake from his employers.
The quiet, undemonstrative success of Swansea, the way the club has maintained a philosophy of passing football through several managers, and the passion of the fans have made the club very easy to like. I see more of Swansea in person than I do on television, and that connection, more than birth or family, makes them mine.
You may note by now, that I lapse into referring to Manchester City as â€˜Cityâ€™, whilst Swansea City are â€˜Swansea Cityâ€™, â€˜Swanseaâ€™ or â€˜the Swansâ€™. There is nothing quite like your first love, except the grim spectacle of your first and second love in combat.
In December 2015, I enlisted a friend for the daytrip north to Manchester to see the Swans. Manchester, dressed up for the occasion in its usual relentless drizzle. I was to be in the away end; a financial decision, as much as it was based on any loyalty. However, I felt clear at that time that I would be supporting Swansea. I almost always enjoyed watching Manuel Pellegriniâ€™s team, but the City I knew had grown apart from me, and I felt no loyalty. I did not travel for revenge, or expect anything other than a routine City victory.
City took an early lead, Wilfred Bony haunting his former club. 1-0 City; all to plan, I continued my vocal support of the Swans. I had not anticipated that Swansea would stoically hold City at bay the until the closing stages, when BafÃ©timbi Gomis nicked the equaliser. I leapt for joy, briefly. As the celebrations continued around me, it occurred to me that City needed the 3 points to keep pace at the top in their soon-to-be futile pursuit of Arsenal and Leicester. This result hurt their season more than it did Swansea. My pleasure in the goal was weighed against concern at the consequences for City, and I did not like what I found in my calculation.
In the event, City went straight up the other end and Yaya Toure pranged a looping fluke off Kelechi Iheanacho for the winner. I buried my moral dilemma for a moment, and joined in the disappointment. On the way to the pub I internally seethed that I was glad City had won. I externally and loudly seethed that it had to be Yaya Toure with the fluked winner.
I had planned to forget Manchester City by now, but it does not work like that. The sky blue still evokes passion, and as the debate around City becomes more polarised I have become more defensive of them. They are a symptom of the financial malaise in modern football, and not themselves the disease. I will never forget the 2011 FA Cup Final, 6-1 at Old Trafford, or the first league title of my lifetime – â€˜Agueroooooâ€™ remains the finest moment in the modern history of Manchester City.
In truth, I love both clubs for the different things they offer me. I canâ€™t help but adore Silva and De Bruyne, the big Champions League ties are still exciting, and watching City under Pep is already fascinating. My second team simply give me things Iâ€™m missing. It is easier than ever to watch Manchester City from afar, but I get the most from seeing Swansea City in person.