Sport on TV: Soaring Swans rise above prevailing winds of football
Sunday 04 August 2013
Football's back already, even before the hosepipe bans have been imposed. Sky tried to whet our appetite, or rather waterboard us, by visiting all 92 League clubs in one day (92 Live, Sky Sports News, Thursday). Jim White and his helicopter were going up and down more than QPR. But as Swansea City began their European campaign (ITV4, Thursday) it's the Welsh club that can give all fans a reason to believe.
Having risen through all four divisions in four years in the late Seventies and early Eighties, the Swans slid all the way back down again before returning to the top flight. It may have taken longer than a day but their fans have probably visited every League club several times over. Now they can sample some of the Continent's more obscure grounds in the Europa League too.
Another of the club's remarkable achievements is that, having been sold for £1 a decade ago, it is now owned and run by the fans. On Swansea City: The Fall and Rise (BBC1, Wednesday) Leigh Dineen, now a vice-chairman, says: "None of us had ever run a football club and it's different from any other business. But I loved doing it, mind." We are all too aware of how stretched that business model has become and how disinterested foreign ownership is almost the norm, so it was a shame that this programme, running at 45 minutes, was so short. It was like a game of one half; there was no explanation of how the fans made it work.
We are told that South Wales was "built on industry and poetry but now football is its main export", and industry combined with poetry neatly sums up the team's passing style. There was no mention of the elevation of that other South Wales outfit, Cardiff City, to the Premier League. Clearly even boundless enthusiasm has its limits.
In 2003 Swansea had to beat Hull to avoid dropping out of the League altogether. They won 4-2 with the help of two penalties and James Thomas, who took an 80 per cent pay cut to leave Blackburn and return to his home town, scored a hat-trick which he completed with a sublime lob over the keeper. Talk about a chip off the old block, he was mobbed by the crowd. "I had my shirt ripped off me by the fans, my shorts as well. All that was left was my socks." Even Tom Jones never had it so good.
Eight years later it was the same scoreline and the same number of penalties in the Championship play-off final against Reading in 2011 which took them up to the Premier League. From being sold for a quid, the club scooped a £90m bonus. But has it all been worth it?
On the terraces Anne and Nigel Gigg have been through the good times and the bad. "You used to go to games just to meet our friends," said Nigel. "An hour before kick-off you didn't know who you were playing." It didn't matter, they were going to lose anyway. But after the play-off final he admitted: "Had we not won this game I just couldn't imagine going back the following season." So after all that suffering, failure to reach the Premier League would have been enough to make him abandon his team. Even the truest fan can be corrupted by the filthy lucre at the top of the game.
BT Sport launched their new channel on Thursday with the main selling point being that they have 12 Premier League matches which you won't be able to see on Sky Sports. The elite is being tirelessly promoted while the lower reaches languish. It was predictable that the Sky Sports chopper should land at Old Trafford for the last of its 92 visits – in a neat symbiosis it was captured by a Sky cameraman at the Test match next door. But they could have started in Wales by welcoming Newport County back to the Football League after a quarter of a century. They were down at No 54, though, and probably just glad to make up the numbers.
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