Swansea City

Mar 072016
 

As foretold in my previous post, I made a trip to Swansea over the weekend. Having grown disenamoured of Premier Inns the wife and I decided to try the Marriott Hotel overlooking the Marina, or the fish dock as I recall it from a long, long time ago.

Because in our early teens a crowd of us would cycle down to the fish dock in the evenings, and to the big fish merchants’ shed, open on three sides, its floor always covered in fish parts and ice, for some special cycling. Special because, in addition to the detritus covering the floor, the floor itself sloped gently towards the dock to make it easier for hosing said ice and fish parts into the dock. (An operation never fully completed.)

The idea was to build up speed from some distance away then see who could stay up on two wheels for the greatest distance inside the shed. If memory serves after more than 50 years, the champion was Dai Evans, who went on to join the Fleet Air Arm, and was lost when the helicopter in which he was an observer went down while searching for the Hull trawler / spyship M V Gaul.

I have no doubt that one day this exhilarating sport will be revived and take off. I look forward to seeing athletes from around the world slide across a sloping course covered in ice and cod innards competing for the Dai Evans Memorial Cup.

We arrived at the Marriott with these cherished memories fresh in my mind.

*

There was a parcel waiting for me in reception. It was a box of leaflets urging us to vote for Arfon Jones in May’s Police and Crime Commissioner election. Now I’m not entirely sure we need PCCs, but if we must have them then let’s have people who a) know and identify with the area, and b) understand how Gogplod and other forces work.

Arfon leaflet

After settling in to our room and reading Private Eye for a bit I felt the need for a nightcap or twa. So I sauntered down to the bar and ordered a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon . . . which cost me £10.60! I shall repeat that – ten pounds bloody sixty. I thought to myself, ‘For that kind of money, Jones, you could get two bottles in the Co-op or Spar’. Listen Marriott, for a mediocre wine in a matchingly mediocre hotel, £10.60 is an absolute rip-off. As are your other prices. (Needless to say, for Saturday night I bought a bottle.)

As an aside . . . Someone told me something very odd about the Marriott hotel in Swansea (which I should have checked out). My source insists that it’s the wrong way round! By which he means that the side of the hotel overlooking the beach and the bay is taken up entirely with kitchens and other service areas, which means that despite being a stone’s throw from the beach no rooms offer sea views. If true, then someone screwed up big time.

*

Saturday morning we went down for our ‘Full Welsh Breakfast’, though when we got to the dining room and surveyed what was on offer it was difficult to see anything that qualified as being specifically Welsh, unless the sausages, eggs, bacon, etc., had been locally sourced.

More in hope than expectation I asked the woman restocking the self-service counter if there was any laverbread to be had. To my surprise she answered in the affirmative – but it was hidden away somewhere in the kitchen!

Listen up again, Marriott. You are advertising a ‘Full Welsh Breakfast’ – just a hoot and a holler from Swansea Market – yet the local delicacy is hidden away as if it’s something to be ashamed of!

Swansea caviar should be proudly displayed, with a card explaining that it cures everything from gout to impotence, and furthermore it reverses baldness when applied liberally to the scalp and left for a few weeks to work its magic.

*

Something I should have mentioned just now – and another reason I needed a drink on Friday night – was that I’d bought the Evening Post and there, on the front page, it shrieked – ‘RUCK’S BACK! Outspoken Columnist Makes His Return ‘.

Knowing you’d want to read the wit and wisdom of the now recovered Jools (our prayers were answered!) I brought the ‘paper home and scanned it for you. So read on . . . (And if you really do want to read it you’ll need to click on the image to open it in another window and then enlarge it.)

Jools

The hotel was busy on Saturday, what with the Norwich City squad staying there, a wedding reception, and various other comings and goings. We left the hustle and bustle behind to visit Cwmgelli cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried to lay a Mother’s Day wreath before heading back into town and parking the car outside the hotel.

*

Now to the Liberty Stadium and the vital game against Norwich. I made the mistake of getting a bus from the Quadrant bus station, a mistake because it would have been quicker to bloody walk. Even so, I still managed to meet up with my son at 2:30 and in we went. Our seats were at the very front, right by the stairway, at pitch level, and very close to the visiting fans, who were in good voice.

To our left were the modern counterparts of the old Vetch Field North Bank crowd exchanging (relatively) good-natured banter with the visitors from East Anglia. I was a North Banker myself back in the days of Harry Griffiths and Herbie Williams, Keith Todd and Brian Evans, Lennie Allchurch and Jimmy McLaughlin. (No, missus, North Banker is not rhyming slang.)

I suppose that’s the big difference between live football and watching a game on the telly. The latter can show you almost everything, from every conceivable angle, it can run replays and offer analyses, but it cannot convey the atmosphere, it cannot show you what the fans are up to, or anything else happening away from the cameras, especially the small incidents that go unnoticed by almost everyone except those directly involved.

Sitting on a little stool in front of us, on the other side of the gate that gave access to the pitch area, was a steward of some kind, a single-minded jobsworth of a woman who clearly believed that The Three Hundred had it easy compared to her. Nor did her responsibilities end with guarding that gate. As one poor bugger found out.

A young guy sitting a few seats in from us went at half time to get refreshments and returned triumphant with a box of chips and a glass of beer. Christ! when the steward saw the beer she flipped. After haranguing him she quickly dispossessed him, and then, holding the beer solemnly at arm’s length, marched to a point where she could hand the offending liquid to another steward . . . who probably drank it.

The game itself was poor fare, but given the circumstances, a win was more important than entertainment. After Swans scored the only goal the Norwich fans fell relatively silent, perhaps resigned to watching Championship football next season. This of course was the Neo North Bankers cue to start up with, ‘It’s all gone quiet over there’.

As ever, a big disappointment was seeing the union flag that marks the location of the local fascist crew. These people are an embarrassment to the club and an insult to a city that only last month remembered the three-nights blitz of February 1941 that saw the Luftwaffe bomb Swansea, including the house my parents had rented, just six days after they’d got married.

Liberty fascists

Think about that. Their home town bombed by the air force controlled by the man they worship! I bet these bastards will be supporting England at Euro 2016 – even in the Wales v England game.

It will be interesting to see whether the British National Party they support puts up candidates for May’s Assembly elections or whether they’ll tell their people to vote Ukip.

At the final whistle my son shot off to get to his car and quickly out of town, leaving me to make my way the three miles back to the hotel. To begin with I was in a surge of a few thousand people all heading the same way, down through the Hafod neighbourhood, haunted by pubs I’d known that are no longer there – The Mexico Fountain, Jersey Arms, Hafod Inn . . .

The crowd gradually thinned out until I found myself by the Castle Gardens where some belated St. David’s Day event was packing up, and before I knew it I was alone and risking life and limb to cross Oystermouth Road.

*

Unsure where to eat on Saturday night, my first thought was the Uplands, reasoning that sophisticates like Councillor John Boy Bayliss and his friends must have attracted exciting eateries to the area. And so it appeared – everything from KFC to Vietnamese cuisine – as I drove around in a fruitless search for a parking space. ‘What the hell, let’s head for Mumbles’.

(Having mentioned John Boy gives me the excuse to digress for a mo. I hear that his mentor and former council leader, David ‘Il Duce‘ Phillips, is close to complete ostracisation from the local Labour Party. While it is further alleged that Phillips’ successor, Rob Stewart, may be no more than a figurehead, with the real power being wielded by the Anglo-Austrian Trotskyite duo Bob and Uta Clay, plus a few others they’ve gathered around them.)

And it came to pass that Mrs Jones and I found ourselves in the cheap but cheerful White Rose on Oystermouth Square. My first visit to this pub for many years.

The last time I was there I was resplendent in a very sharp powder blue suit, with a pink shirt and a blue striped tie. Perhaps selective amnesia spares me the memory of what shoes I wore. (Though yellow leather keeps flashing into my consciousness!) Anyway, I’m sure you can make your own suggestions as to what footwear might have best completed the ensemble. Or perhaps you’re still thinking, ‘Did he really say a powder blue suit!’

Whatever I might have been wearing I bumped into a guy I used to work with. His wife had just left him, so we drowned his sorrows and ended up back at his – now empty – house in Bishopston.

*

When we went down for breakfast on Sunday morning the woman at the breakfast bar remembered me and immediately went to get the laverbread. Breakfast was OK, and even enlivened by an incendiary incident.

The toaster had a sign nearby which said, ‘Only use pre-sliced bread in this toaster’. Fair enough. A Chinese family came in and the daughter – in her early twenties I’d guess – looked at the toaster, then cut a chunk off a French loaf and forced it into the horizontally aligned, conveyor belt-type toaster. I watched enthralled, and sure enough, the inevitable happened.

She must have realised what she’d done but our oriental visitor returned to her table as if nothing was wrong. It was left to public-spirited moi to alert staff once the flames started licking out the front of the machine.

Anyway, despite my little moans it was nice to have a few days in the city I love. I hope you’ve enjoyed my account of the visit.

*

I head back south on Wednesday for the funeral of an old friend and comrade. We’ll stay somewhere Wednesday night (but definitely not the bloody Marriott!) and come home late on Thursday. My daughter is home for the weekend on Friday, then it’s a rugby weekend, so don’t expect another post until next week . . . though I do have a few interesting irons in the fire.

In addition to those ‘irons’, I have just heard from Wynne Jones down in Cardigan that contractors employed by Mill Bay Homes – the properties-for-sale arm of Pembrokeshire Housing – has carried out unauthorised work and in so doing damaged culverts and raised the flood risk on adjoining land.

Having come to know Wynne Jones I can guarantee that Mill Bay’s latest show of contempt for planning procedures and disregard for the property of others will not pass unnoticed.

 

Jun 032013
 

It’s official! Vincent Tan’s Malaysian Red Dragon Hobby Team is “bigger by miles” than the Swans, and will soon be Wales’ equivalent of Barcelona. How know I these things? Because they were written by Craig Bellamy and published today in the Wasting Mule. Two sources that can be trusted to give balanced and impartial assessments of all things Cardiff. But there was more to it than simply having a pop at the Swans.Bellamy

For example, “We could control Merthyr, Rhondda, Caerphilly. We could have them in lockdown.” “Lockdown” is a term used in the penal system, it means prisoners confined to their cells. A loss of even limited freedom. (Maybe it ties in with a theme I explore below.) Used in this context it seems to suggest that Bellamy views the Valleys as a possession of imperial Cardiff. After reading that, and if I lived in the Valleys, I would be getting worried about the prospects offered by the Cardiff city region.

Then there’s his flawed understanding of the roles played by Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona. Bellamy says: “We can build on our regional identity in the way Athletic Bilbao have placed themselves at the centre of Basque culture and Barcelona have become a focus for Catalunya.” “Regional”! He seems to see Euzkadi and Catalunya as nothing but regions of Spain. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that both clubs (Bilbao with its Basque-only players rule) represent the desire of two small nations for independence. Something else Bellamy overlooks is tBellamy 2hat Bilbao and Barcelona are owned by those sharing this ambition. Neither Bilbao nor Barcelona is owned by an unknown Oriental tycoon for whom the club is just another investment . . . someone who could walk away tomorrow.

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but Craig Bellamy has had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus, most of which have been glad to see the back of him. For throughout his career he has displayed a genius for wearing out his welcome wherever he’s gone. And that’s without the court appearances for the odd ‘altercation’. To counter the image this projects he goes to Africa now and again to be photographed with poor black kids. Image management of the kind Al Capone – the philanthropist to Chicago’s poor during the Great Depression – would have understood.

His publishers seem to have appreciated this and run with the theme, to judoctor-with-stethoscopedge by the title of the book, GoodFella, an obvious reference to Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster epic, GoodFellas. So which one is Bellers? Not Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta; nor Robert De Nero’s Jimmy ‘the Gent’ Conway; I see him more as Tommy De Vito, played by Joe Pesci; the short one with the hair-trigger temper. The gangster motif is so blatant that even the noir-grungy picture used for the cover makes Bellamy look like a long dead associate of the Krays.

So what have we got here? Yet another book written by a fading footballer who never realised his potential. His publishers hope to sell more copies of the book by promoting the ‘bad boy’ image and by being provocative. As a result, this book is only for the most blinkered of Cardiff fans. Because I predict with certainty that it will not fly off the shelves in Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle or any of the other cities where Bellamy has played. And I can’t see any Swansea bookshops running out of copies either . . . that’s if they bother stocking it.

 

Apr 202013
 

I have almost enjoyed reading the Wasting Mule’s coverage this week of Cardiff’s promotion to the Premier League. It has been relatively restrained, almost balanced. There has been no ‘Bigger than Barcelona’ nonsense, and no insulting attempts to suggest that all Welsh people should support the club. Maybe that all belongs to the era of previous owner Sam Hammam and the excitable Paul Abbandonato acting as his amanuensis. I hope so. Here are my thoughts on Cardiff’s achievement and prospects.

CardiffBadge_250x3_1522755aLet me start by saying – and there is no way of avoiding this – that the quality of the teams in the Championship this year, and consequently the standard of the football played, has been pretty poor. Every time Cardiff faltered the chasing pack went into collective foot-shooting mode. But they proved capable of screwing up even without Cardiff getting them in a tizzy. Last night, for example, Hull had the chance, at home to bottom club Bristol City, of securing second place and automatic promotion, but could only eke out an embarrassing 0 – 0 draw. This lack of quality in the Championship this season will not prepare Cardiff well for the much more testing Premier League next season.

Inevitably, there have been comparisons with Swansea. One theory propounded by more than one I’ve read is that Cardiff are guaranteed more success than the Swans because Cardiff is bigger, or has a bigger ‘catchment area’. Rhodri Morgan, in his Wasting Mule column today,* seemed to be arguing that Cardiff will be successful because of “the chimney pots issue”! Then he went on to say, “Provided Cardiff establishes itself in the top tier, that status will be enormously helpful in attracting conferences and tourists to Cardiff, in competition with Edinburgh, Dublin, Bristol and top European cities”. (Barcelona?)

Though if that linkage of Premiership status and international recognition were true, then when can we expect to see the G8 meeting in Sunderland, or the Bilderbergers gathering (behind closed doors, of course) in Stoke-on-Trent? The truth is that sporting success and economic prosperity have little influence on each other. Just think East Germany. And if that’s not enough to convince you then remind yourself that during the time Liverpool FC was the most successful club in Europe the city was in permanent and almost terminal economic decline. On the other side of the coin, Munich and Milan would be prosperous cities even without successful football clubs.

If comparisons favourable to Cardiff have been made in terms of size and catchment areas, one aspect of the game the ‘Welsh’ media has been somewhat more reluctant to explore is the financial models of the two clubs. After nearly CCFCgoing out of business a decade ago, the Swans were rescued by a consortium of local businessmen determined to run the club responsibly. The fans also have a big share in the club’s ownership, and a director on the Board. Last month the club posted a profit of £15.9m for the second half of 2012. (And this figure does not include the potential sale value of the players.) Swansea City Football Club is therefore locally owned, responsibly run, does not pay outlandish transfer fees or exorbitant wages, makes modest profits, and does not owe a penny to anyone. By comparison, Cardiff is owned by Vincent Tan, a Malaysian businessman no one had heard of a couple of years ago (and had probably not heard of Cardiff), and is said to still owe tens of millions of pounds to various creditors, including Sam Hammam. According to a reader’s letter in today’s WM, the figure is £83.1m.

Whatever the true figure, Vincent Tan has promised Malky Mackay £25m for new players in the close season. Which sounds good . . . until you remember that Queens Park Rangers have spent much more than that on players this season, and they are bottom of the Premier League tonight, virtually guaranteed to be relegated. Let’s now go beyond finances to look at other aspects of the two clubs.

Swansea have consistently been praised for their continental, possession style, of play. But this didn’t happen overnight. The club’s owners not only decided on a new financial model but also a different style of playing the game. What you see today began with the managership of Roberto Martinez, continued under Paulo Sousa, then Brendan Rogers, and now Michael Laudrup. A multilingual Spaniard, A multilingual Portuguese, an Irishman who speaks fluent Spanish, and a Dane who was one of the greatest players of his generation, speaks Italian and Spanish, and is a great ‘pull’ for players who might not otherwise come to Swansea. By comparison, and with the best will in the world, I don’t think Cardiff have the continental contacts to land a player like Michu for £2m. And excellent manager though he might be, Malky Mackay is unknown on the continent, and therefore has no reputation to trade on.

Aside from comparisons of Swansea and Cardiff, there is another issue worth considering. There have been background rumblings about Swansea’s ‘right’, as a Welsh club, to be in the English Premiership; and this can only increase now that there are two Welsh clubs there. The noises won’t come from Manchester United or Chelsea, but from those ‘big’ clubs that have known better days, but now find themselves in the Championship, or even lower. And with English particularism on the rise, perhaps we can anticipate Nigel Farage chasing votes by banging the ‘Welsh Out!’ drum in cities such as Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. A bit far-fetched, maybe; but I still predict that those who objected to the presence of one Welsh club in the Premier League can only become more vocal now there are two. And maybe they’ll attract new voices. If so, then this could have unforeseeable consequences.

I wish Cardiff City well, and I’m looking forward to the Swans’ games against them next season, but I urge the Cardiff fans not to get carried away. Enjoy the promotion success by all means, but also remember that reaching the Premier League can be the easy bit . . . it’s staying there that’s usually the problem. Just ask Blackpool, QPR, or half the teams you’re leaving behind in the Championship. Now for the really serious bit. As a Swans fan I know that whatever else might befall the club, it’s in safe hands and almost guaranteed to stay solvent. But if I was a Cardiff fan, my biggest worry would be, what would happen if Vincent Tan went bankrupt or just decided to walk away?

 

* The print version was somewhat less restrained, and headed: ‘Bluebirds’ boost could transform our capital into a roaring Celtic Tiger’. (That’s more like it! Move over Barcelona!)