Ask many people in Swansea which sports team they follow and you'll get one of two answers – and both of them take residence at Liberty Stadium. Since it opened in 2005, the all-new ground for Wales' second city has hosted both rugby union's Ospreys and the Premier League's Swansea City FC. The stadium itself lists Ospreys before City if you search for it online.
Yet it may be no surprise that allegiances are split between a football club dating back to 1912 and a rugby union squad founded in 2003. In that year, when the Neath-Swansea Ospreys were created for the Celtic League (now the Pro12), City were a mid-table Division Three team, with crowds averaging 6,000 a game. Two years previously, the team attracted half that number. In its 12 years as an organisation, Ospreys have won the Pro12 four times – most recently in 2011-12 – and its fan base keeps growing. Clearly, the Ospreys were winning a lot of allegiances early in their history.
Yet within six seasons of moving from its former home of Vetch Field and into Liberty Stadium, Swansea had won promotion from the Championship and into the Premier League – and crowds were to start hitting the 20,000 capacity of their new home. Just how much of this was to do with the stadium's support, and what were the wider ramifications of the redevelopment site for the city of Swansea?
The Liberty Stadium in Swansea came at the perfect time, helping the Swans' plans to take flight. As a symbol of the city and club's measured approach to growth and regeneration, the new stadium has put Swansea on the international stage, and has boosted interest in redeveloping the former industrial heartland.
- Regeneration: The city centre is the key focus of a massive regeneration scheme that promises to improve Swansea; further redevelopment to historical sites around the stadium also in the pipeline.
- Employment: Employment has stayed flat since the stadium's creation, save for an uptick in 2014; funding is being channelled into employment initiatives.
- House prices: Spikes in house prices due to new developments in late 2000s; property still very cheap in Swansea, despite investment.
- Football team: Nothing but success; continually finishing higher each season; League Cup success brought first silverware; now the most successful club in Wales; stadium expansion planned in line with huge demand for tickets.
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THE GRAND VISION
SCROLL TRIGGER ONE!
As it entered the new millennium, Swansea's key decision-makers were intent on shedding its industrial past in favour of large-scale schemes to completely rejuvenate the centre. With a number of brownfield sites available – not least in the Landore area and Morfa, which sit to the north of the city centre on the River Tawe – there were (and still are) many plans for redevelopment, but only some made it from ideas to actual foundations.
Failed opportunities at Castle Quays
After the wholesale collapse of the Castle Quays development in 2004 – which went through several iterations before finally being canned after each one resulted in a "false start" – Swansea has encountered a number of difficulties in regenerating the centre of the city. Its high street was, for many years, described as an eyesore.
Back in 2003, during the heyday of the scheme, Swansea Council was reportedly under fire by Plaid Cymru's Meic Haines, who criticised the local authority's "dithering" over the Castle Square area, claiming that "council plans for redeveloping the city centre were foisted on the authority by profit-hungry developers and lacked any clear vision". The vocal criticism was supported, too – regardless of the number of chances to change the area, the all-important agreement was never reached.
In its place, Swansea Council looked to more readily-available places to redevelop – and just 2.5 miles north of the original intentions of redevelopment, Morfa arose as its best candidate for transformation.
The rise of Morfa and Liberty Stadium
The former Morfa Copperworks site was, since 1980, disused. The once-thriving copper-producing community in north Swansea – which peaked in the mid-1800s when it employed two-thirds of the city's population of 15,000 – had received little maintenance after it closed its doors.
The decision to build the stadium was, according to even the arena's site itself, made for the sake of modernisation and regeneration. Aside from providing a home to Swansea City AFC and the newly-formed Ospreys Rugby team, the council wanted to "give Swansea a facility to be proud of". The Morfa Shopping Park, which arose out of a need to fund the development with private equity, was an accompaniment that would kill two birds with one stone: generating money, and regenerating the quality of retail in the city.
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MAKING THE MOVE
Vetch: From field of play to playing fields
Vetch Field is still visible from the skies – at least, its centre circle is. Due to the many fans who had their ashes spread on and around the kick-off spot, the decision was taken by the council to preserve the asset. Surrounding the circle is one of the greener areas of the SA1 postcode, with short-term allotments in place while the council consults the locals as to what they want doing with the space.
The former home of Swansea City, which served the club since 1912, finally closed its doors on May 11th, 2005 – but it wasn't until 2011 that the quirky ground was demolished. With it went its strange floodlight bolted on to the East Stand, as well as a fixture only shared with Wembley – an underpass beneath the pitch.
Reasons for the move
Like many stadiums boxed in by a city built around it since the early 1900s, Vetch Field was limited in what it could offer the team's ambitions. Such is the view of Steven Carroll, editor of SOS (Swansea Oh Swansea) Fanzine. "It was falling apart," he said. "I think it was only a matter of time until it failed a safety certificate, and when you're a lower league club that's short of cash, that's going to be a problem."
Carroll undoubtedly points to the fact that safety certificate failings of old had reduced the capacity to 3,500 for a time in the 1990s, before patchwork improvements were made to get fan numbers back up towards the end of its tenure.
"The previous stadium was antique in nature," said Liam Sullivan, sports editor for the South Wales Evening Post, adding that its situation in the centre of a housing estate meant there was no possibility of expansion on any side – a factor that resulted in its weird floodlight being attached to the stadium, not the floor, to make room for meagre (yet ultimately shelved) expansion plans.
Perhaps critically, though, Vetch Field was visually dissuading to prospective talent. Sullivan added: "The move was necessary because it would become harder to attract players, who would realise the stadium and facilities were from a former era and might look at clubs with more modern facilities."
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Goodbye to Vetch Field – and the fourth tier
Much like Doncaster Rovers, Swansea City had the luxury of a home win in their final game at their old ground, as they emerged 1-0 winners over Shrewsbury Town. Unlike their South Yorkshire counterparts, they were also in with a chance of making automatic promotion to League One in their last match of the season a week later.
Adrian Forbes' eighth-minute strike was the final goal Vetch Field ever saw – but amid the excitement over the upcoming away day at Bury, he underlined the fact the team struggled to overcome the "emotion of the occasion" during the match. He told the BBC: "Of course it was difficult with the way the Vetch is to the fans, but we had to try and block it off."
However, the stress of leaving Vetch Field may have all been forgotten amidst the pressure of the game in Greater Manchester, when Forbes struck again after just 25 seconds. While "Bury's attacks kept Swansea nerves on a knife edge, with over-excited fans spilling onto the pitch at moments", the Swans held on, and Southend's 1-1 draw at Grimsby allowed the Welsh club to leapfrog them into the final automatic promotion spot.
The last-ever game at Vetch, however, was the final of the now-defunct FAW Premier Cup Final – an all-Welsh affair which saw Swansea defeat Wrexham 2-1. After the game, fans plundered the ground for souvenirs, as detailed in a BBC report: "The club said … that one stand had been completely cleared of seats by memento-hunting fans and large areas of the pitch and advertising hoardings had also been taken. Some fans even took to the field wielding trowels and screwdrivers."
Onwards and upwards
The promotion to League One was the first of three ascensions, culminating in City's climb into the top flight. While Vetch Field was certainly the starting point for the club's recently-discovered international fame, was it the absolute limit that the stadium could offer the club, its fans and the community?
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THE NEW STADIUM
On June 6th, 2003, Swansea Council and developers Capital and Regional finally put pen to paper after reaching an agreement to build the Morfa Stadium development. In order to raise the funds necessary for success, a retail and leisure park – later known as Morfa Shopping Park – was to be built alongside it. The council's ambitions were higher than ever, as they targeted not only a home for the Swans and Ospreys, but national and international sporting events, as well as mainstream and classical music concerts.
Council and club rally the team
In March 2003, developers Capital and Regional submitted their final plans for the new ground. The White Rock Stadium, as it was known during development – only to be renamed the Liberty Stadium in October 2005, a few months after it opened its gates – was met with little-to-no resistance from fans and locals.
When the project was given the green light three months after it was submitted, council leader Lawrence Bailey stressed how Swansea "needed and deserved" a modern sports arena "where talent flourishes and spectators enjoy all the facilities of a 21st century stadium". He continued: "The deal has been achieved by a huge amount of hard work and negotiation, and the sporting and economic benefits will be immense."
Meanwhile, the football club's board of directors said: "Today's announcement is the best news that the club and our supporters have had for over 20 years. We can look forward to the commencement of work on the site and, more importantly, to the Swans playing at a 21st-century stadium in the near future."
Foreshadowing the mourning period that many fans experienced during the dying days of Vetch Field, it added: "Everyone will always have treasured memories of the Vetch. When the time comes to move there will be more than a few tears shed but we will be moving onwards and upwards and the club will be stronger and more sustainable."
Vetch's happy memories
While it's to be expected in retrospect, given the incredible performance of the team in the last few years, locals were just as open to the regeneration project taking place near the city's Copper Quarter – though emotions were still high.
In the spring 2005 edition of Groundtastic magazine – just as the work was being completed – diehard Swans fan Mike Floate explained: "Since 1912 the odd-shaped field, which once was used to store coal for the local gasworks, grew then declined to become an anachronistic reminder of how football used to be staged.
"However clever the architects of the new White Rock stadium are, they will never be able to recreate the intimacy and sense of belonging which is what I will remember the Vetch Field for. I won't go to the last game - I'd be far too emotional by the end."
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Liberty Stadium: planning application
- Early 2003
- Final plans submitted:
- March 2003
- July 10th, 2005
- First game:
- July 23rd, 2005
- Liberty Stadium, Landore, Swansea, SA1 2FA
- Cost of development:
- £27 million
- Built by:
- TTH Architects, Miller Developments
Assets within stadium:
- Conference, events and banqueting facilities
- Concert capabilities
Assets built alongside stadium:
Morfa Shopping Park
- 2,000 parking spaces
- 57,000 vehicle movements per week
- 19 retail units, including Morrisons, Boots, Argos, Next, TK Maxx, B&Q, Currys/PC World, Sports Direct, and several fast food and restaurant chains
SCROLL TRIGGER THREE TWO!
From completion to competition
Much like Doncaster Rovers' Keepmoat Stadium, the Liberty Stadium is owned by the council and, as of 2005, both Swansea City and Ospreys moved in on 50-year leases. It's something that represents a relatively unique situation for the Premier League, where the majority of grounds are owned by private companies, or at least the clubs themselves. Ultimately, a council arrangement traditionally puts the priorities of clubs at the heart of the facilities, as opposed to the other way around.
Fan grumbles – but nothing major
As with all stadium moves, there were familiar fan grumbles. "There was something special about terraces and the atmosphere of old grounds – the fact you could pay on the day and know where your mates were stood if you decided to go," SOS fanzine owner Carroll continued. "We've lost that at the new ground, which is a shame. In that sense, it'll never be as good as it used to be."
However, the new stadium has been open to some criticism – much of which has been spoken about by SOS's readership since it opened. "The stairs in the lower and upper tiers aren't in line, which is a mistake," he continued. "It means away allocations are stuck at 900 or 1,800, which is annoying when there are empty seats in there that could be used. The concourse on the East Stand side is also too small; given the supporters' bar is in the middle of the ground, you can barely move at half time!"
Pub snub concerns
Speaking of drinking, other local businesses were worried that the move from Vetch Field to the new stadium in Landore would impact on their livelihoods – not least the pubs, a traditional match-day favourite. "When the Swans were at the Vetch, we used to see 250 people in here on a match day," said Clarence Inn owner John Lewis to the BBC in July 2005, just before the team's first-ever game. "I'm hoping to keep the match day atmosphere alive by running a bus up each game for regulars. It will change Saturdays in this area."
However, Jackie Seward, the Coopers Arms' landlady, was looking forward to the new start "with slight trepidation". She added: "I hope it's going to be a good thing and bring more trade for the area - not just my pub but all the other pubs and businesses. No-one knows how it is going to work out but it's a beautiful stadium, it's about time Swansea had something like it, and I hope it's going to be good for us."
A taste of things to come
The first game at the Liberty Stadium was a friendly against then-Premier League squad Fulham, who the Swans held to a 1-1 draw in front of a capacity 12,000 fans – limited only due to initial safety concerns. A Steed Malbranque cross ended up floating over Swans keeper Willy Gueret, but summer signing Marc Goodfellow fired home an equaliser on 86 minutes to "rapturous" applause. Little did Swans fans know they'd be claiming Premier League scalps in future – and ones much bigger than Fulham.
With the first match over, it was time to focus on a more positive future for the team – but what were the wider effects of the latest sporting addition to the city of Swansea?
Swansea, a former industrial powerhouse on the south coast of Wales, has a profile not too distant from the north of England. Its ties to petrochemical production, maritime employment and other primary manufacturing trades have slowly faded away since the Second World War and have been replaced with service industry and public sector jobs, much like the rest of Wales.
However, with regeneration comes a renewed focus on jobs, housing, and a better future for the people of Swansea. But what have been the effects of the Liberty Stadium and the nearby Morfa development, as well as the wider plans for the SA1 postcode and beyond?
SCROLL TRIGGER FOUR ONE!
The state of Swansea's employment affairs posed a difficult situation. Despite a temporary spike in the late 90s, the city's employee numbers held firm even as the city steadily grew. With redevelopment came jobs, but the looming economic crisis took its toll on Wales' second city in the same way it affected other former traditional manufacturing hubs.
The process of recovery has been stunted until only very recently, when employment figures took a sharp rise to an all-time high – though only in numbers, and not percentage of those employed.
Employment in Swansea
People in full or part-time employment in Swansea, 1995-2014
- SWAN #:
- People employed in Swansea
- SWAN %:
- Percentage of town in employment
- Y-H %:
- Percentage of Wales in employment
- UK %:
- Percentage of UK in employment
|Year||DON #||DON %||Y - H %||UK %|
- Data from the Office for National Statistics/Nomis.
- Data prior to 2004 is limited, so percentage of employed is not available during this period.
- Blue cells mark the opening of the Liberty Stadium.
Swansea's main issue is that unlike Cardiff, many of the city's jobs are not actually found in the city centre itself, but in one of the several business parks around its outskirts. Plans for a comprehensive regeneration of Swansea's city centre had been discussed since the early 2000s, when the aforementioned Castle Quays scheme was regularly tabled before finally being scrapped; employment statistics reflect this consistent lull until Morfa became a prime focus of investment.
The big jump of 2004 – at the expense of manufacturing
As the Liberty Stadium was being built, employment skyrocketed in the area, rising by over 13,000 over the course of 12 months. This vital rejuvenation of the jobs market in Swansea was short-lived and would not be replicated until 2014, when the number of people in employment climbed above 106,000 for the first time ever.
In its meteoric rise between 2001 and 2006, Swansea's employment market flourished more than Wales and the UK, though the city's traditional background in manufacturing continued to dwindle; over 2,000 jobs in primary industry were lost.
Swansea's employment now
Swansea continues to host a vibrant mix of businesses, including some truly huge companies that operate their main, or at least major, offices and warehouses in the area. These include Amazon, 3M, TATA Steel, BT, Virgin Media and Alberto Culver, as well as a lot of public-sector bodies such as HM Revenue & Customs, the Department for Work & Pensions, and the DVLA. While many of the latter group could be affected by Government plans to slim down public-sector employment, this diverse range of businesses still offers flexibility for the city's new generation of workers.
Government funding for greater opportunities
The "Realising the Potential" initiative – successfully bid for by the Swansea Economic Regeneration Partnership – has secured £8 million of funding from the Welsh Government. Councillor Nick Bradley, Swansea Council's cabinet member for regeneration, said the move was "hugely significant because it could lead to thousands of job opportunities for local people", as well as "the construction of hundreds of new affordable homes and the opening of many new shops and other businesses in the city centre".
More jobs on the way – and better train links to London
A number of positive developments have been announced over the last year. Up to 100 jobs will be made available at a new train service depot at Swansea High Street station; another 90 are coming with the expansion of US firm PRA Health Sciences. Admiral, the Cardiff-based insurance company, has a further 100 jobs scheduled for Swansea – over a third of the 280 it is creating across South Wales.
It was also revealed that in the near future, the train line between Swansea and London is being electrified, improving transport links between the capital and Wales' second city by 2018.
Swansea: the UK's first Disability Confident city
In July, Swansea's dedication to equal opportunities was also applauded when it became the first place in the UK to be "recognised for its commitment to helping disabled people into work", picking up "Disability Confident" status as a result. Around 70 employers attended the event, all of which had made every effort to improve equality in their workplaces.
Julian John, from employment and training organisation Delsion, said: "I'm really looking forward to seeing the impact that we can have by getting more disabled people into work and demonstrating that Swansea is a centre of business growth with its forward-thinking approach to having a diverse and inclusive workforce. This will be to the benefit of businesses, individuals and the community within Swansea."
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Housing and house prices
Despite having some of the most impressive real estate prospects in the entire city, SA1's house prices lag behind those of wider Swansea, as well as Wales as a whole. This is undoubtedly due to the lack of regeneration that took place since the 1960s, which has briefly kick-started the home-buying economy – albeit inconsistently.
House sales and prices in Swansea, 1995-2015 (provided by Home.co.uk
|Year||SA1 average||Swansea average||Wales average|
- Data from Home.co.uk.
- "SA1" is the postcode that the Liberty Stadium sits within; it also covers Bonymaen, Copper Quarter, Crymlyn Burrows, Danygraig, Greenhill, Hafod, Jersey Marine, Landore, Maritime Quarter, Mayhill, Mount Pleasant, Pentrechwyth, Port Tennant, St. Thomas, City Centre, Townhill, Waun Wen, and both Winch Wen and its industrial estate.
- All data reflects sold house prices, not listed house prices.
- All types of housing are factored into the average; Home.co.uk measures detached, semi-detached and terraced housing, as well as flats.
- * denotes incomplete data. 2015 data was sourced in July, so only accounts for properties sold to May 2015.
- Blue cells mark the opening of the Liberty Stadium.
House prices in Swansea
In the nine years since the Liberty Stadium was built, house prices in SA1 – which accounts for most of the city centre and the Waterfront – have actually changed very little, aside from the notable upswing in 2014 that accounts for the sub-£10,000 actual rise in prices since 2005. Factoring in inflation, the real figure is much less than this – posing big questions over the stadium and wider regeneration effects on desirability in the area.
Despite this, the growth across SA1, Swansea as a whole and Wales is, in percentage terms, quite consistent – only a 5% difference separates the postcode from the nation as a whole:
- For the SA1 postcode, the difference in average sold house prices between 2005 and 2014 was £8,994 (108%).
- For Swansea as a whole, the difference was £16,703 (112%).
- Fhe average growth in house prices in Wales during this time was £19,059 (113%).
Between 1995 and the unveiling of the Liberty Stadium, house prices in SA1 nearly trebled – although this was in line with Swansea and Wales, the marked jump of £25,000 in sold prices between 2003 and 2004 indicates a real heightened interest in the slowly-redeveloped area.
The spike of 2008
As part of the ongoing redevelopment of Morfa soon after the completion of the landmark Liberty Stadium, Barratt Homes secured much of the remaining brownfield area near the copperworks in 2006. Two years later and the development, known as the Copper Quarter, offered buyers a range of two-bedroom flats and three-bed houses.
Additionally, over 300 apartments were completed on SA1 Swansea Waterfront (including the Altamar development, courtesy of Bellway Homes). This injection of brand-new property undoubtedly accounted for the sharp rise in average selling price in the year of the credit crunch – and the decline thereafter is certainly attributable to the financial downturn that made securing a mortgage extremely difficult across the UK.
A long-lasting downturn for SA1?
Despite offering a number of investment opportunities for all types of housing, one thing is clear: between 2008 and today, SA1's sales market simply hasn't recovered. Wales and Swansea have more or less bounced back to their highs of 2008 in the years since. This again points to what may have been a spike in selling prices based on new stock entering the market, but it wasn't until 2013 that the city centre registered a rise – and even then, it was sub-1%.
Future housing projections
Aside from any plans recently completed, or in development, at Morfa and the surrounding region (see VI: The Future), our 2015 data (to May) shows that ahead of the summer – a nationally-preferred time for a house move – sales are not looking good for SA1 or Swansea. It seems contradictory that employment numbers are rising but house prices are not, though with continued regeneration plans in place, it may just be a waiting game for the council and those looking to relocate to the gradually-improving region.
Welsh Government remains upbeat
Economy minister Edwina Hart continues to have faith in further work scheduled for the postcode. In June, she said: "SA1 is an extremely successful mixed-use development that has created a new vibrant community in Swansea, creating hundreds of jobs and attracting significant investment."
SCROLL TRIGGER FOUR FOUR!
"Without the Liberty Stadium, where would we be?" Carroll asked. "In short, not where we are now." Sullivan concurs. "The impact has been astonishing. From being a lower division club, Swansea City are now known all over the world."
Such is the view of nearly any Swansea City fan you could ask – but with ten consecutive seasons of consistent if not vastly improved performances, little other proof of the Liberty Stadium's influence may be needed than this flight of the Swans.
Team performance of Swansea City, 1992-2015
- Season played
- Average attendance
- POS (LG)
- Club position in English league structure
- POS (#)
- Club numerical position in English league structure (Premier League champion = 1)
- Bold underline
- denotes first full season in the new stadium
|Year||Att||Pos (lg)||Pos (#)|
|1992-93||5,199||5th, Division Two||51|
|1993-94||3,534||13th, Division Two||59|
|1994-95||3,582||10th, Division Two||56|
|1995-96||2,996||22nd, Division Two||66|
|1996-97||3,850||5th, Division Three||73|
|1997-98||3,443||20th, Division Three||88|
|1998-99||5,225||7th, Division Three||75|
|1999-2000||5,895||1st, Division Three||69|
|2000-01||4,913||23rd, Division Two||67|
|2001-02||3,690||20th, Division Three||88|
|2002-03||5,160||21st, Division Three||89|
|2003-04||6,853||10th, Division Three||78|
|-- League structure renamed --|
|2004-05||8,458||3rd, League Two||71|
|2005-06||14,112||6th, League One||50|
|2006-07||12,720||7th, League One||51|
|2007-08||13,520||1st, League One||45|
|2011-12||19,946||11th, Premier League||11|
|2012-13||20,370||9th, Premier League||9|
|2013-14||20,407||12th, Premier League||12|
|2014-15||20,555||8th, Premier League||8|
Putting "the foot" in "Football League table" (1995-2003)
Much like followers of occasional rivals Doncaster Rovers, Swansea City fans understand the highs and lows of football – but Wales' second city and its larger supporter base provided a greater platform for success than its South Yorkshire counterpart, and it continues to this day.
After being relegated from the old Division Two in the 1995-96 season – and suffering an all-time low in average attendances (which didn't even hit the 3,000 mark) – Swansea flirted with disaster much more than it did success. Aside from a promotion at the turn of the millennium, and the league title to boot, Swans fans' elation was just temporary, as they were soon kicked back down into Division Three the following year (2000-01).
If nothing other than consistent, Swansea City looked to be heading down once more for the following two seasons. In the second of the pair – 2002-03 – the Swans escaped relegation in the last game of the season, beating Hull City 4-2 at the KC Stadium and consigning Exeter and Shrewsbury to the Football Conference.
In the same year, fellow Welsh squad Wrexham, who are now in the Conference, were promoted alongside the now-defunct Rushden & Diamonds and 2014-15's own bottom-tier survivors Hartlepool United. Cardiff City, meanwhile, were also promoted to Division One, making Swansea the worst Welsh team in the English football pyramid.
Change was most definitely needed – and it was on its way.
SCROLL TRIGGER FIVE TWO!
Turmoil, and Huw's new beginning
Between 2000 and 2003, there was an incredible amount of disarray in the back room – many fans try not to think about it, and forums still talk of the lasting legacy that not only stopped the rot that was taking hold of the club, but appointed its saviour: Huw Jenkins OBE.
The Welsh businessman, who describes his ascension due to him being "the dullest one" in the room, transformed a club saddled with debt into a cup-winning, top-flight contender.
Fan-run community, Vital Football, explained: "[There were] some dark days in the early 2000s that saw the likes of Mike Lewis and Tony Petty nearly ruining the club and putting us out of business … and Tony Petty's attempts at easing it were only making things 100 times worse (that's an understatement).
"After a meeting amongst a group of supporters in 2001, the Supporters' Trust was set up and officially launched in August 2001. The trust was backed with the likes of John Toshack, John Hartson, Max Boyce, Gareth Edwards, Rhodri Morgan AM, Martin Caton MP, Kevin Johns, Eurig Wyn MEP, Steve Hamer, Mel Nurse and Mel Charles."
More people got on board, including the ever-modest Jenkins. "At the time the club was in a right mess," he told the BBC in February 2013. "There are no other words to describe it. We had to look for money week-in, week-out to pay the electric and water bills. But we quietly grew from there and luckily enough we are where we are today."
His next challenge? Managing a change of scenery, and the true change in fortunes.
Three years in League One, three years in the Championship, three key players (2005-2011)
Three seasons after they took up residence at the Liberty Stadium in the 2007-08 season, and with a more talent-filled side, Swansea went up as champions of League One under former player Roberto Martinez's guidance, following the resignation of Jackett towards the end of the previous season. Attendances were, by this point, triple what they were at the turn of the millennium, and way above what Vetch could offer.
Consistent promotion-chasing campaigns finally led to a breakthrough – the playoff title in 2010-11, when the Swans beat Reading 4-2 at Wembley (disappointingly, Reading beat Cardiff in the prior semi-finals) with Brendan Rodgers at the helm. This took them into the Premier League – the first Welsh team to ever make it into the top flight since the new league structure came into place in 1992.
Throughout all of this, three players were truly central to success: Leon Britton, Alan Tate, and Garry Monk. Coming into the squad between 2003 and 2004, the trio all continued to be involved in the team, and remain first-team regulars – though Monk's role is now manager, not player. Two new brass plaques on the Robbie James Wall of Fame will undoubtedly be added soon; Alan Tate has already made it.
The Premier League and silverware (2011-present)
SCROLL TRIGGER SIX ONE!
What better way to make a mark on the top flight, in the face of expected criticism, than to beat Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City at home? Finishes of 11th, 9th and 12th were also incredible form in the Swans' first three years, too, though the lattermost did cost Michael Laudrup his job as manager; the league being a tightly-fought contest at the bottom, Swansea escaped the relegation battle with a game to spare, under the governance of then-player-manager Monk.
Laudrup did have one thing to be proud of, though. Swansea City's finest moment as a club perhaps came in 2012-13, when they won the League Cup with a 5-0 demolition of underdogs Bradford City AFC. They were the first non-English club to claim the title. Many people saw it as an easy victory and, while it was in the end, upstarts Bradford had already beaten Aston Villa, Arsenal and Wigan Athletic on their way to the final. Swansea, however, had triumphed over Chelsea, Liverpool and Middlesbrough on their way to glory.
Return of the South Wales derby – briefly
The League Cup victory was perhaps made all the more sweet for Swansea fans by the fact that in the previous year, South Wales derby rivals Cardiff City (then in the Championship) lost the League Cup final on penalties to Liverpool. This competitive glee was, perhaps, undone when Cardiff went on to win the Championship outright just two months after the Swans lifted their first piece of silverware. The following year, each team would get a home win over the other, but again the Swans would get the last laugh when Cardiff were relegated after finishing at the foot of the table.
A stellar 2014-15, and fan contentment
In May 2015, Swansea completed a feat that not many others had ever managed – home and away wins over both Arsenal and Manchester United in the same season. Given that ten years previously (in their first of three promotion seasons), the Swans were only able to take a point over four successive games against Mansfield Town, Leyton Orient, Grimsby Town and Darlington, it shows just how incredible the transformation has been.
And while it's clear that with a bigger ground comes larger attendances, as well as a whole new generation of fans (both local and national), there is a feeling of true contentment among the vast majority of SCFC followers. After finishing 8th in the Premier League in 2014-15 – the best-ever season in the team's history – supporters don't really have any concerns, especially because they feel the quick-yet-measured ascension has been done in exactly the right way.
Reflecting the thoughts of many Swans followers, SOS fanzine editor Carroll said: "Results speak for themselves. Two promotions in the last decade, plus eight top-ten finishes, and we're now an established Premier League club. It's worth remembering other factors too, such as the philosophy of appointing similar types of managers so there's no overhaul of the playing squad, and the fact the stadium has given us the finances. It's been vital to our rise."
Statistical breakdown (1992/93 – 2014/15)
- Best season:
- 8th (8th), Premier League (tier 1), 2014-15
- Worst season:
- 21st (89th), Division Three (tier 4), 2002-03
- Promotion to relegation
- Best pre-stadium
- 8,458, 2004-05
- Worst pre-stadium
- 2,996, 1995-96
- Best post-stadium
- 20,555, 2014-15
- Worst post-stadium
- 12,720, 2006-07
SCROLL TRIGGER SIX TWO!
Future stadium plans
In January, 2014, Swansea council granted planning permission for the football club to increase the stadium's capacity from just under 21,000 to 33,000. At the time, the requirements were clear; the Premier League's lowest single-game attendance was a 3-3 draw at the Liberty Stadium against Stoke, which 19,242 watched. Compared to the top-tier average of 36,657, the Swans are way behind. It's not for lack of trying; Stoke aside, there is still no shortage of fans wanting to get in on the action at the Liberty Stadium – there are 8,000 people waiting for season tickets.
Julie Parienti, Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator at Liberty Stadium, confirmed that while there are plans "to extend the Liberty Stadium to 6,000 … the decisions haven't been made yet". Sports editor Sullivan hopes the Swans will "start expansion work in early 2016".
If it wasn't for newly-promoted Bournemouth (with a ground capacity of 11,700), the Liberty Stadium would still be smallest ground in the league; the situation Swansea City find themselves in only further underlines the cautious, yet effective, route they took to success.
Chairman Huw Jenkins said in March 2015 that the club was already asking fans for £50 deposits on new seats to subsidise plans for development in the short term – though the need for the club to buy the stadium from the council remained a top priority. "I am keeping my fingers crossed that we have councillors and officers running the authority that can see the massive benefits a successful Swansea City Football Club can bring to the city as a whole," he explained.
"As I have said many times, we were very lucky the council had the vision to build the Liberty Stadium in the first place because without that huge decision ten years ago we would never have climbed the ladder to the Premier League today. The next step is even bigger than the initial one to build the stadium; so let's hope we can all move forward together with everyone happy and committed to a bigger and better Swansea."
Future of Morfa and SA1
While Morfa and other out-of-town shopping centres have brought a lot more money to the economy of the city, a number of people in the "true" SA1 – the city centre – have voiced concerns that such "soulless" developments are having a truly adverse effect on the city. Swansea trader Juliet Luporini, who contributed to a 2012 council report, said the city centre offered a great mix of retail and unrivalled customer service. However, a council plan soon followed, and is in place for the coming years.
SCROLL TRIGGER 7 1!
Realising the potential with tight purse strings
In September 2014, council leader Rob Stewart said: "The people of Swansea have stated that they want to see greater progress on regeneration of the city centre, more community-focused decisions and further protection of key services. That is what the new cabinet will focus on as it looks to deal with the immense task of saving £70 million over the next three years."
The announcement came six months after the council revealed its city-centre funding plan under its "Realising the Potential" initiative, which secured £8 million (see IV: Community effects | Employment). Sure enough, by January 2015, council leader Stewart revealed plans for a redevelopment of the city centre that focused on the creation of a "business district" alongside a "shopping, leisure, cinema, office and housing complex" around Kingsway. The failed Castle Quays plans of the 2000s would effectively be replaced – as would countless buildings, not least the Oceana nightclub that the council bought four months later in May.
The council is planning to auction off prime real estate that its civic centre currently sits on. The scheduled work, which includes a raised public square bridging Oystermouth Road, aims to build a better connection between the city centre and Swansea's prized marina, and work is scheduled for 2016. It wouldn't take too much inspiration from other projects before it, though – Stewart emphasised that "the aim was to build something with a unique Swansea flavour rather than just copy blueprints from other cities".
Plans for the Copperworks
The River Tawe also has a renewed focus, with plans to link a future "bustling" Swansea city centre with a new-look Hafod Morfa Copperworks site. With future plans in mind for pontoons and landing stations for boat trips around the Maritime Quarter and the Liberty Stadium, the council is already making long-term cosmetic changes to railings, lighting, seating and other simple adjustments.
However, the wider vision document also proposes the inclusion of a history centre, an "urban square", a restaurant, a pedestrian bridge to the stadium site, a brewery, and affordable housing – as well as a restoration of iconic engine sheds to "show how they worked in their prime". By tying the stadium and its new industry to the area's past, the combination of old and new could truly showcase Swansea's heritage.
Nearby, distributor road improvements worth £4.5 million are well underway to alleviate traffic around Landore, but to also support development efforts. Both should improve business plans immeasurably, according to councillors who supported the motion.
Care in the community
While the council may not be able to do everything to save local facilities, the community is also willing to step up and take on projects themselves. Swansea Tennis Centre is a perfect example of this; under threat of closure in 2009, volunteers stepped up to form TS365, a not-for-profit social enterprise. Together, they created a business plan that Swansea Council accepted, resulting in 25-year lease on the Morfa building and grounds; in turn, the facility became the first non-profit social enterprise to operate a tennis centre in the UK.
Housing on the up
SA1's housing provision continues to expand. Back in August 2014, Coastal Housing announced plans to expand on its developments on the waterfront, making it the company's third investment in the area. To add to its portfolio of 69 affordable flats and 79 retirement apartments, the new scheme – tabled for 2016 – will offer numerous one and two-bedroom apartments alongside 27 three and four-bedroom homes.
Soon after completing its family-friendly Haven development overlooking Prince of Wales Dock, Persimmon Homes West Wales is now planning a £6 million development of 50 town houses on the waterfront, with work scheduled for Q4 of 2014. Andrew Gibson of DTZ, who acted for the Welsh Government, said: "This further commitment at SA1 from one of Wales' major house builders shows the continued strength of this highly successful mixed use regeneration project."
SCROLL TRIGGER 7 2!
Future of the team
As far as transfers are concerned, it appears that Swansea are playing it cool with spending, but bringing in excellent talent to further cement their place as a regular in the Premier League. The main headline-grabbers are Franck Tabanou (from St Etienne, £3.5 million) and Andre Ayew (Marseille, free transfer), who both made WhoScored.com's top ten best summer transfers.
Pundits have them down for a top-half finish, and the Daily Mirror's Stan Collymore was even more complimentary, putting them at a sixth-place finish. He said: "[A] settled squad, a no-nonsense manager and striking options that could yet yield the kind of return to bridge the gap the Swans faced after Wilfried Bony quit for Manchester City. My first game this season is Chelsea v Swansea – and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Swans throw a spanner in the works." How right he turned out to be.
Future for the fans
The new generation of fans already fill the Liberty Stadium, with promises of more. With it, expectations are somewhat mixed. "A lot of the fans that go now obviously didn't used to go back in the dark days, as our attendances show," Carroll said. "The newer breed probably wouldn't know how to react to relegation, but old-guard supporters like me wouldn't see it as the end of the world. Having seen us nearly drop into the Conference, the view is that the Championship is still a good level."
However, with nothing pointing towards dark days ahead, it may not be much of a problem. Only occasional grumbles pop up on forums and social media, such as the lack of nearby food and drink venues, or places for fans to meet and socialise before the game.
As for fans of Welsh football generally, it appears that Swansea City's place on the world football stage ties in well with the Wales team's newly-found national status as a top-ten team in the FIFA World Rankings. As of August 6th 2015, Wales was named the ninth-best team; Swansea's captain Ashley Williams also captains the national squad, while City first-team regular Neil Taylor is also a familiar face at the Millennium Stadium. The same could not be said for both Wales' domestic and international football 15 years ago.
SCROLL TRIGGER 7 5!
Future of Swansea
With an elevated profile around the world through football, Swansea has enjoyed a rise in tourism over the last few years. The newest figures show that the income stream was worth over £390 million to the Swansea Bay economy in 2014 – a 5.35% increase in visitor spend on 2013. The number of visitors was up to 4.47 million, and more than 1.5 million of them stayed for a holiday or a short break (9.4% higher than the previous year).
However, aside from the many developments in and around SA1 that aim to attract visitors to the area, there are other initiatives in place to improve the city as a whole – including environmentally-friendly efforts.
Spurred on by Swansea's regeneration – not least its "international-class sporting facilities and events, the opportunities for employment and leisure" as well as "the visitor facilities and tourism potential" – chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay plc Mark Shorrock has pushed ahead with plans for a 5,000-page planning application to bring the world's first tidal lagoon power plant to the city. The reality may be years – if not decades – away, but it represents an incredible step for Swansea.
"Wales led the way providing the fuel for the industrial revolution," said Shorrock. "We are now entering the era of the climate change revolution – decarbonising our world in time to avoid two degrees of global warming – Wales can now lead this next revolution."
The plans go hand-in-hand with plans in nearby Port Talbot, where developer St Modwen has submitted plans to build one of the biggest solar energy power stations in Wales, comprising 40,000 panels on land formerly used by BP Chemicals – making quite a direct statement that new ways must replace old in the former industrial powerhouse of south Wales.
Highly-specialised work to refurbish Swansea Market's iconic roof – "considered to be the jewel in the city's crown" – is nearing completion, and is expected to be finished before the end of summer 2015.
However, the real headline-stealer is the Marina Observatory revamp. Opened in 1988, it closed in October 2009 after the council asked for more rent on top of its running costs, with the Swansea Astronomical Society unable to pay for it. TV presenter Phillip Schofield and author Tessa Dahl were part of the 1,200-strong movement to save it, and now, six years later, £500,000 is being invested to turn it into a modern café, offering the same views as it did when it was used for its original purpose. It will also dedicate space to an art gallery and holiday accommodation.
SCROLL TRIGGER SEVEN THREE!
Premier League success will always lead to more people sitting up and taking notice of a town or city. While Bournemouth become the next team to have this effect on their location – perhaps for just one year – Swansea has continued to build off the foundations of its consistently successful squad for over four years. While the impact on housing and employment has not been immediate, the future continues to promise great things for the south coast of Wales.
The city's ever-expanding student base also continues to grow with the campus itself. In July, the latest figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) put Swansea University's graduate job-finding success rate at 95 per cent – in the top 20 for job prospects. The readily-available talent coming out of the university will only grow because of this success story, and further regeneration will only make more of these graduates stay in the city.
Whatever the future holds, the people of Swansea seem pretty content with it all. The city was, in August 2015, named the second-happiest place in Wales, and 26th out of 130 across Great Britain, in Rightmove's Happy at Home Index.
For local football fans, of course, this happiness is tied to the club – but it continues to be the club that drives regeneration through its newly-found fame. In a piece ahead of the season for the South Wales Evening Post, Dr Terry Stevens – an international tourism consultant – said the awareness that the Premier League has bestowed upon the city is not only fantastic for continued tourism, but also offers the chance for Swansea to showcase itself on the world stage.
Picking out a recent Swansea City video that accompanied the unveiling of its copper-coloured strip, "linking the kit with the world-leading industry of yore", he said: "Swansea City could not have done that in year one (in the Premier League), but now it is established and more international players are coming to play for the club." The same report found that £50 million was directly generated for the city by the Swans' first year in the top flight.
Yet more could follow as a result of a possible Liberty Stadium buyout by the Swans. The deal currently being discussed by Huw Jenkins and is thought to be worth in the region of £20 million to £25 million – a great source of revenue for more regeneration plans by an ambitious council.
SCROLL TRIGGER SEVEN FOUR!
NB: Sources documented only by chapter first used
A Swansea business site
Section one – The grand vision
Section two – Making the move
- Swansea residents set to veg out with Vetch allotment plots (September 26th, 2011 – South Wales Evening Post)
- From a football pitch to an allotment. What next for Swansea City's former home? (August 3rd, 2014 – Wales Online)
- Swansea 1-0 Shrewsbury (April 30th, 2005 – BBC Sport)
- Forbes hails fine Vetch farewell (May 1st, 2005 – BBC Sport)
- Bury 0-1 Swansea (May 7th, 2005 – BBC Sport)
- Fans plunder Vetch for souvenirs (May 12th, 2005 – BBC Sport)
- The Vetch 1912-2005 (April 29th, 2005 – BBC)
Section three – The new stadium
- City stadium takes sponsor's name (October 18th, 2005 – BBC)
- Liberty Stadium sale to Swans would not affect Ospreys - backer (50-year lease, January 22nd, 2015 – BBC Sport)
- Morfa Stadium gets go-ahead (June 6th, 2003 – BBC)
- City stadium ready for kick-off (July 22nd, 2005 – BBC)
- Swansea 1-1 Fulham (July 23rd, 2005 – BBC Sport)
Section four – Community effects
- Office for National Statistics/Nomis employment data
- New train depot will create 100 jobs at railway station (July 26th, 2012 – South Wales Evening Post)
- 90 jobs for Swansea as US firm PRA Health Sciences expands (April 17th, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
- 100 new jobs for Swansea as Admiral recruits for 280 new roles created in South Wales (July 20th, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
- 'Disability Confident' employment accolade for Swansea (July 2nd, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
- Home.co.uk housing data
- Copper Quarter (Barratt Homes)
- 456 empty homes brought back to life by Swansea Council (August 3rd, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
- New £6m residential development planned for SA1 (June 3rd, 2015 – Swansea Bay)
Section five – Team performance
Section six – The future
Future of the stadium
- Swansea City' Liberty Stadium 12,000 expansion boost (January 23rd, 2014 – BBC)
- Huw Jenkins says sale of Liberty Stadium vital for Swans future (March 17th, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
Future of Morfa and SA1
- Out-of-town shopping schemes face veto in move to revive Swansea city centre (August 7th, 2012 – South Wales Evening Post)
- International experts to advise on Swansea's regeneration as new cabinet promise a 'greater focus' on transforming the city centre (September 17th, 2014 – Wales Online)
- Swansea regeneration: raised public square proposal gets thumbs-up from business leaders (January 3rd, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
- Major redevelopment plan for Swansea city centre (January 11th, 2015 – BBC)
- What next for the future of Swansea city centre? (December 29th, 2014 – BBC)
- Oceana purchase to kick-start Kingsway regeneration (May 2015, Swansea Council)
- Details of ambitious £500million Swansea city redevelopment revealed (January 9th, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
- Plans to place river at heart of Swansea life (June 2015, Swansea Council)
- Revised scheme for Swansea's Morfa Distributor Road given the go-ahead (April 16th, 2015)
- £5.5m affordable housing plan unveiled for SA1 waterfront (August 16th, 2014 – South Wales Evening Post)
Future of SCFC
- Top 10 Premier League newcomers: Who are the transfer window's best new arrivals? (July 23rd, 2015 – WhoScored.com/Sky Sports)
- Premier League Predictions 2015/16: The big name pundits deliver their Swansea City verdict (August 5th, 2015 – Wales Online)
- Stan Collymore predicts Premier League table for 2015/16 season - where will YOUR club finish? (August 2nd, 2015 – Daily Mirror)
Future for the fans
- Wales reach new Fifa rankings high of ninth place (August 6th, 2014 – BBC Sport)
Future of Swansea
- Tourism now worth over £390 million to Swansea Bay's economy (August 3rd, 2015 – Swansea Council)
- Consent for the World’s first Tidal Lagoon power plant (June 10th, 2015 – Swansea Bay)
- Biggest solar energy park in Wales could be built on site of former BP Chemicals plant at Baglan (May 20th, 2015 – Swansea Bay)
- Work to revamp Swansea Market’s iconic roof hits the halfway point (April 24th, 2015 – Swansea Bay)
- Swansea observatory to transform into continental-style cafe as work on £500,000 project begins (January 21st, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
Section seven – Conclusion
- Swansea University in the top 20 for job prospects (July 11th, 2015 – South Wales Evening Post)
- Rightmove Happy at Home Index 2015 (August 2015 – Rightmove)
- Liberty Stadium interior 2 (from Wikipedia - CC2 licence - Christopher Elkins)
- Swansea vs Arsenal (from Wikipedia - CC2 licence - wonker)
- Championship play-off winners 2011 (from Wikipedia - CC3 licence - Rhysowainwilliams)
- Ivor Williams statue (from Wikipedia - CC3 licence - Rhysowainwilliams)
- Last league goal at Vetch Field, 2005 (from Wikipedia - CC3 licence - Rhysowainwilliams)
- Liberty Stadium (from Wikipedia - CC0 licence)
- Liberty Stadium interior (from Wikipedia - CC2 licence - Christopher Elkins)
- One year after leaving Vetch Field, 2006 (from Wikipedia - CC3 licence - Swanseajack4life)
- Brangwyn Hall (from Wikipedia - CC0 licence)
- City view from Kilvey Hill (from Wikipedia - CC0 licence)
- Sunset over Swansea Bay (from Wikipedia - CC0 licence)
- Swansea Guildhall (from Wikipedia - CC0 licence)
- Swansea Marina (from Wikipedia - CC2 licence - Nigel Swales)
- Steven Carroll, editor of Swansea Oh Swansea (SOS) Fanzine
- Liam Sullivan, sports editor at the South Wales Evening Post
All information contained within this article is accurate as of August 2015.