We’ve become used to Sky’s revisionist version of football history which ignores any records that were created before their coverage began in 1992, so it didn’t surprise me much when their peers at ITV began to claim Swansea City’s recent Capital One Cup victory as their first major trophy. It surprised me a little more when respected journalists repeated the claim. It shocked me to see the Welsh Government’s First Minister tweet the same fallacy. But it astounded me when Swansea City’s official media department was quoted as the source of the lie.
Now in modern footballing terms, I can see why they have re-assessed their definition of ‘major trophy’, but they are wrong to do so. Any prize that a club wins in its history must be quantified by its worth to the club at the time they won it. And that’s why Swansea City’s first major trophy was not the Capital One Cup, it was a trophy that they won for the first time when Swansea was still a town, exactly a century ago.
The history of association football in Swansea is interesting. Welsh football had first blossomed in the north, but there was a club called Blue Star playing in the town as early as 1870. At that time, many clubs in the south would play both rugby and association football. We know that Swansea Grammar School was playing some form of the sport in 1865, and were definitely playing association football by 1877. The Swansea cricket club formed a football team as early as 1872, some 27 years before their opponents at Riverside CC gave birth to a fledgling Cardiff City. But sadly, the Swansea cricketers converted to rugby in 1874, became founder members of the WRU and never looked back.
And so it was that when Swansea Football Club entered the first ever Welsh Cup in 1877, they quickly withdrew on discovering that this would be a football competition, not a rugby one. Their club captain CC Chambers had earlier reacted with fury in 1876 when he saw the first Wales international football side would be populated with northerners, and maybe this strengthened his conviction to make rugby the sport of his town.
“I can only come to the conclusion that there must be some error, and that the team to play Scotland is to be selected from North Wales only. I shall be happy to produce from these parts a team who shall hold their own against any team from North Wales, either at the Association or Rugby Union games, the latter preferred.”
Swansea football then went through a pretty anonymous period when no single club emerged as the town’s senior team. Swansea Association Football Club appeared in 1890, though interest soon fizzled out, and another club adopted the name in January 1893. This second Swansea played in front of very few spectators on a patch of ground called the Vetch Field, but would survive only until 1899. (Many people repeat the misconception that ‘vetch’ was a type of cabbage, when in fact it was a legume, planted by a contractor in the mid 19th century to feed his cows. Interestingly, the Vetch Field has now returned to its roots as a location for plant cultivation.)
After seven years without a senior side, an amateur club called Swansea Town was formed in 1906 and played at Victoria Park. But in 1912, the current professional Swansea club was formed to meet requests from the expanding Southern League and the new club leased Vetch Field from the Swansea Gaslight Company. The ash-covered ground had previously been used for all manner of sports including trotting, cycling, ballooning and parachuting. There were huge efforts made to get the pitch ready for the new season and on 7 September 1912, Swansea Town played its first Southern League match against Cardiff City in front of 8,000 spectators.
And it was in this very first season as a professional club that Swansea won their first major trophy. The Welsh Cup had been won exclusively by northern teams since its creation in 1878 as the third oldest competition in the world (after the FA and Scottish Cups). There was an oblique club connection with the competition; the ‘Father of Swansea Town’, Chairman JW Thorpe had trained as a solicitor in Ruabon with Llewelyn Kenrick, founder of the FAW and instigator of the Welsh Cup.
A team called Swansea United had entered the competition in the past two years, but this was Swansea Town’s first attempt. And astonishingly, they went and won the thing! They were forced to qualify via a preliminary round game against Milford, and then beat Mond Nickel Works in the 1st round. (The Nickel Works from nearby Clydach were early rivals to Swansea, and there was on-field violence, and reports of crowd trouble from the November 1913 fixture). Llanelly came next, and then the game which put Swansea Town on the map.
The Swans’ 3-1 victory away at Wrexham not only announced the new club’s arrival but it gave warning that the newly professional south-Walians were undoubtedly the equal of the northern counterparts. Wrexham had already won the trophy nine times, but had recently lost at home to Cardiff and watched helplessly as the Bluebirds and newcomers Pontypridd Dragons fought out the 1912 final to take the cup south for the first time.
Swansea’s reward for a 3-0 win at Merthyr was a semi-final tie at Ninian Park in front of of 12,000. Cardiff were top of the Southern League 2nd Division, while Swansea were 8th. And things were running to form as the home side took a 2-0 lead into the second half. It was then that fortune favoured the Jacks. Long before substitutes were allowed in football, two Cardiff players were injured and forced to leave the field. With a two-man advantage, Swansea pulled a couple of goals back to equalise. When Cardiff went down to 8 men with Jack Evans (Cardiff’s first professional player, from Bala) injured, Cardiff scored an own-goal and conceded a fourth to put Swansea into the final.
When the 1912 Welsh Cup Final between Swansea Town and Pontypridd at Ninian Park was played out as a draw, the replay was set for Athletic Park, the home of Mid-Rhondda FC in Tonypandy. Mid-Rhondda, known as ‘The Mush’ were one of Wales’ biggest clubs at the time, and the Final drew an attendance of 10,000 for a game played on open ground in torrential rain . After Swansea won the game 1-0 with a goal from Greirson, a thousand fans waited for their late arrival back in Swansea Train Station to celebrate their first major trophy. Celebrations went on long and hard into the early hours at the Royal Hotel.
If you don’t consider that extraordinary Welsh Cup win in their very first season to be the club’s first major trophy, then you might consider one of the following Welsh Cup wins in 1932 or 1950. If not these, then you would surely have to concede that the 1961 Cup win was a watershed for the club, as it bestowed Swansea with the honour of becoming Wales’ first competitors in European football. Swansea were delayed by fog as they travelled to Austria on their first European adventure to face Motor Jena of East Germany over two legs. Unfortunately, East German nationals were banned from entering NATO countries at the time, and Swansea had to find an alternative home venue despite already having sold tickets for the Vetch. After the Republic of Ireland was ruled out, the Swans decided on Vienna, only for UEFA to insist they play in the town of Linz, closer to the German border. Both legs were played in the space of three days, and Swansea unsurprisingly went out.
But if that is not major enough for you, how about a couple of Championship trophies? Maybe the 3rd Division South trophy of 1925? Flushed with success, the winners’ medals and trophies were proudly displayed in a High Street shop window, only to be stolen in a smash-and-grab raid. Swansea also won silverware as Champions of the 3rd Division in 1949, in 2000, and League One in 2008. Not to mention the play-off trophies of course.
At a rough count, I make that ten Welsh Cups , two Football League trophies, and four Championships. That’s a lot of history and a lot of very important success for the Welsh Government and the club to be writing off at the feet of the Capital One Cup. You can’t just decide when you want your history to begin, whether you’re Sky Sports, Cardiff City or Swansea City. History is immovable, and it’s made us all what we are. In any rational assessment, it has to be a century since Swansea won their first major trophy.