Friday, 3 February 2017

#43 Liberty Stadium, Swansea City

Swansea City 2 Southampton 1
Tues 31st January 2017, Premier League

Life comes at you pretty fast folks. With the first month of 2017 already at a close, I was browsing the fixtures list and planning my next move. Bristol Soccerworld advertised such tantalising clashes as Gloucester City vs. Tamworth, Taunton Town vs. Shortwood United and of course Cirencester Town Development vs. Hook Norton. So basically I was braced for another cold Tuesday night in a wooden shack somewhere in the West Country.

Step forward my old uni pal Emma. Always a prolific (some would say obsessive) enterer of online competitions, she had won herself four tickets to the midweek Swansea home match against Southampton, utterly useless to her as a non-football fan that lives in Stoke-on-Trent. Offering them out on Facebook for "enough to buy my lunch", I grabbed the opportunity to tick off my second Premier League ground and brought the tickets for myself, Jack and Loulou. God bless you Emma, you lucky swine.

Swansea City have tread a distinctly turbulent path since forming as Swansea Town in 1912. They spent their formative 57 years as a lower league outfit but famously rocketed from Division Four to the top flight in just four seasons from 1977/78. They spent two seasons in Division One, finishing 6th in their first and delivering bruising defeats to teams such as Leeds, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United. However in the season that followed they were relegated, beginning a fall back to Division Four that would be just as fast as their meteoric rise. It would take them 25 years to climb back into the top flight where they remain to this day. Their greatest triumph in recent history was winning the 2013 Football League Cup, overturning Chelsea and Liverpool in the process.

The day was a bit of a whirlwind for Bristol Rovers fans as it was deadline day in the January transfer window. What began at around 9am as a nasty-sounding rumour rapidly snowballed into a done deal and by the time I'd pulled up outside Loulou's house Rovers' top scorer for the past two seasons Matty Taylor had signed for Bristol city, the venomous blood-sucking Tory-voting nonce scumbag. These events left Loulou flitting between attempts to comfort me and laughter at the sheer audacity of the move, which is incidentally the first instance of a player moving from Rovers to City in 30 years. Jack was in a similarly agitated state and much of the journey up was spent ranting, interspersed with dancing to zouk music and LEN's 'Steal My Sunshine'.

The rain was neigh-on torrential the whole journey down and by the time we got there Plasmarl was a quagmire. We parked up in a residential street and began stumbling in the darkness down a small concrete path towards the stadium. Suddenly and without warning this path turned into a hearty stream and we were suddenly in a wading situation. Things got worse when this path ran out, leaving us with little option but to walk along the side of the road past the stationary traffic if we wanted to get in on time. Old lady groundhopping, she bucks pretty hard.

Liberty Stadium is fairly out of the way as far as the city of Swansea is concerned, so you don't quite get the hustle and bustle of a match day on the approach like you do in places like Swindon or Wolverhampton, with their more traditional digs in the centre of their respective town centres. It took until we were right up against the exterior of the stadium for the crowds to amass and as we weaved through the clusters of chattering Jacks towards our turnstyle there was that familiar sense of occasion.

Swansea really needed a win tonight. Despite beating high-flyers Liverpool 3-2 at Anfield in their previous fixture the home team were still knocking around the drop zone and needed to kick on with three points. The Saints had surprised a few by overcoming the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal to reach the final of the League Cup but they had also lost to Arsenal 5-0 at home in their previous fixture. Funny old game.

Once again I find myself in a big modern stadium and once again I find myself stuck for things to talk about architecture-wise. The stadium is all-seated, obviously and takes the form of a big bowl. All the sides are two-tiered and covered. Literally the only interesting things I could spot were the coloured white seats laid out in a wave pattern, perhaps alluding to the maritime history of the city and the clear roofing on the South Stand, which would be decent for letting as much natural light in as possible during weekend matches. Overall it's a comfortable, spacious stadium and we were afforded a great view of the whole pitch from our seats near the middle of the upper tier.

Jack and I, being used to standing behind the goal on the Blackthorn Terrace immediately began bitching about our new surroundings. There was a notable lack of standing from the home fans and a patchy atmosphere around the ground, with only one corner far off into the distance making any kind of effort at singing at all. We agreed that a Tuesday game in the middle of winter should be a battering experience for only the hardiest souls but here we could barely even tell we were outside. Loulou meanwhile was talking about formations and making many an intelligent comment from our vantage point. This led me to wonder if maybe lower league and Premier league fans learn to appreciate football differently because we view the pitch from different levels and proximities, since I tend to value atmosphere and Loulou values tactics. It could equally just be that I'm a simpleton who likes drinking and shouting.

Once the players had emerged from the tunnels and the fanfare had died down we were underway. Swansea's passing and general movement left a lot to be desired throughout the first half but they were never overpowered by their opponents. At 37 minutes Gylfi Sigurdsson took a corner for the home team and hit it damn near perfectly into the goal area for centre-back Alfie Mawson to head towards goal, off Oriol Romeu's shoulder, off the post and into the net. A lovely, if slightly fortunate header for the young defender.

In the 57th minute Steven Davies received the ball in a wealth of space and picked out the shamefully unmarked Ryan Bertrand for a through-ball which he crossed low to Shane Long for the easiest prod into goal you'll ever see. However Swansea weren't happy with the draw and after regaining possession after a Southampton corner the ball was booted up field to Luciano Narsingh, who was 10 minutes into his club debut. The Dutchman charged forward, outpacing a Soton defender and lobbed the ball over the head of another for Sigurdsson to drop low and bobble into the bottom corner and that was game, set and match to the home team.

Swansea were by no means outstanding but were given two solid chances and capitalised on them both. My man of the match was probably Mawson who put in a couple of vital blocks that kept the Swans in the game as well as scoring, a good shift for the young lad. It was great to see Sigurdsson, who was one of my favourite Spurs players back in the day, notch the winner and to see Swansea nick those much-needed points.

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