In a decade Swansea have gone from fighting for survival to a first ever League Cup semi-final. Striding into 2013 ninth in the Premier League, a football great installed as their manager, preparing for their first ever League Cup semi-final against the moneyed power of Chelsea, there are endless opportunities for Swansea City supporters to pinch themselves.
A popular choice is comparing the first three fixtures of this year – Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal in the FA Cup, followed by Chelsea in the semi-final and Everton in the Premier League on Saturday – with the first three games of 2003. Ten years ago, with the club fighting to survive in the Football League’s bottom division and only just saved from the threat of extinction under the ownership of Tony Petty, who bought the Swans for just £1, they lost 3-2 to Bury and 3-1 to York City then finally ended a run of six consecutive defeats by beating Lincoln City 1-0.
The men who run Swansea do not exist in a state of permanent dazzlement by their achievement. They speak of greatly appreciating how good these times are, and vow repeatedly that the club will never sink back to any crisis like 2002, which is seared into all their memories. Huw Jenkins, a lifelong fan involved in saving the club then and now the chairman, explains their methods, their developed philosophy of football, in a way which seems grounded and quietly assured, not starstruck.
“We’re all pretty down to earth, we come from quite humble backgrounds,” says Jenkins, who used to run a Swansea building supplies company, of his fellow directors. “This is a run of games we could almost never have dreamed of 10 years ago, but there is no danger of us getting complacent. The most important thing: you have to have a clear vision of what you are doing.”
The philosophy, still wedded to taking care of the finances, extends to the selection of players – young men being offered their first taste of the Premier League, judged to be hungry for success. “Back with Kenny Jackett we could see what was needed to move the club forward,” Jenkins says. “We had to get away from the typical British 4-4-2 formation and 6ft 2in players who run around a lot. Most clubs don’t have a clear vision, they allow the manager to set the direction, then they change the manager so often, they get stuck in a merry-go-round. We had to go down a different route, to compete with clubs who think spending money is the only way to get success.”
In their first Premier League season last year, Swansea made a profit of £14.6m, on the enormous £53m increase in income brought by promotion, from £11.7m in the Championship, to £65m. Even the promotions were achieved without a permanent training ground, a position now being rectified with two complexes being built, one in partnership with Swansea University. The club has also submitted plans to enlarge the Liberty Stadium, eventually to 32,000, to cater to current demand.
The wage bill, notoriously difficult to control in the Premier League, almost doubled, from £17.4m in 2010-11 – which included the players’ end-of-season promotion bonuses – to £34.6m last year. The players have a standard clause in their contracts for their wages to reduce were the club to be relegated, a necessary protection.
Jenkins is quite proud of Swansea’s trading in the summer, a profit from the sales of Joe Allen, £15m to go to Liverpool with Rodgers, and Scott Sinclair, £6.2m to Manchester City, while Swansea signed Chico, Pablo Hernández, and, for just £2m from Rayo Vallecano, the stand-out languid talent of Michu. Swansea do intend to make two or three signings in January, although Jenkins is cagey about naming players Laudrup is considering.
Jenkins ascribes the loss-making financial whirlpool as the reason so many clubs are sold to overseas investors, including Cardiff City, now owned by Malaysians, while Swansea are owned by local people, and 20% by the supporters’ trust, the envy of fans at many other clubs. “We all take pride in going against the norm, where clubs lose millions of pounds and need owners to pump money in,” Jenkins says. “There is no need for it.”
Huw Cooze, elected by the supporters’ trust to serve as its director on the club’s board, says that, with hindsight, the circumstances favoured the trust, allowing it to buy such a significant stake when the club was facing collapse. “It has worked out well for us and it keeps the club close to the supporters; we feel it is still our club,” Cooze says. “Ten years ago we were down with the dead men, nearly out of the league. Now we hope Michael Laudrup can take us to another level. The feelgood factor in Swansea is huge, and, yes, we are all proud of our club.”