Liberty Stadium

May 082018
 

I had considered holding this back until the morning, and perhaps making a more measured assessment of the situation. But I just want to get it off my chest.

Tonight’s game against Southampton, which we lost 0 – 1 was an appalling display that deserved to end in defeat. Hoofing balls into the box when there’s nobody above 5′ 8″ in a white shirt anywhere near just about sums up where the Swans are at. The Ayew brothers are tricky footballers . . . who seem to exist in their own little world, divorced from the rest of the team.

But let’s talk about the owners, Americans Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan, who see sport as a business like any other, know little about football/soccer and fuck all about Swansea City. All they see is a club in the richest league on earth with lots of money coming in, much of which can be siphoned in their direction.

Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan. Picture courtesy of WalesOnline.

Because beyond buying a controlling interest in a valuable asset I doubt if they have put any money of their own into the club. For example, during the protracted transfer of Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton last summer the club desperately needed money to sign other players.

But we had to wait until we finally sold our most influential player, the one who’d saved us from relegation the previous season, which didn’t happen until close to the deadline.

We also lost our top scorer, Fernando Llorente.

So who did we replace them with? Well, there was Renato Sanches, on loan from Bayern Munich. That worked out well, didn’t it? Then there was Roque Mesa from Las Palmas, another success. Erwin Mulder from Heerenveen . . . Yes, of course, there was Wilfried Bony, who the fans were glad to see back, but he’s been injured almost the whole season!

Of the players who’ve represented us this season, some have made massive efforts to keep us up. Federico Fernandez comes to mind, he deserved the captain’s armband. But none deserves praise more than Lukasz Fabianski, without whom we’d have been relegated by February.

What can be said in favour of Kaplan and Levien? Well . . . they did a deal with the council over the stadium, leasing it for 37 years at £300,000 a year. A good deal for the council and the council tax payers of Swansea (who’d been subsidising the stadium), but unless they have ambitious alternative uses for the Liberty Stadium it’s a bad deal for a Championship club.

Though even after signing the deal it was made clear by Kaplan and Levien’s commercial manager in Swansea, Chris Pearlman, that the lease agreement was the extent of any investment in the stadium.

So the Premiership dream is over. It’ll come round again in another thirty years, by which time I’ll be watching the eternal contest between Heaven United and Hell Rovers. (Though I’m not sure who I’ll be supporting.)

So, off you go Jason Levien, Steve Kaplan and Chris Pearlman. Thanks for nothing, you were a complete disaster. You bloodsuckers can sod off pronto.

Huw Jenkins and the rest, we’re all grateful for what you did, Huw, rescuing the club and all that, but in the end you got well paid for it when you sold out to Kaplan and Levien. So your time is up.

Carlos Carvalhal, our manager; you seem a tidy bloke, Carlos, but I’m naive enough to believe that games are won by scoring goals. And next season Swans will need a manager as naive as me. Oh, yes, and goal scorers. You know, players who can place the ball in the opponent’s goal.

The only blameless ones are the fans, the poor buggers for whom relegation would have been hard enough to bear at any time, but for it to happen the same season Cardiff get promoted to the Premier League!

Of course there’ll be crocodile tears from the ‘Welsh’ media, but for most people in Cardiff this is how it should be in Wales, this is the ‘natural order’ of things – Cardiff on top, Swansea playing second fiddle, Newport somewhere below us, then Wrexham, Merthyr, and all the other provincial towns.

Yes, I know, there’s still a remote, mathematical possibility we can stay up if we beat Stoke and Huddersfield lose their last two matches. But do we deserve it? And if we do stay up, with the same people owning and running the club, wouldn’t we just be postponing relegation for another season?

The best thing for the club now, and the city, would be to get relegated, have a major clear-out of owners, board, manager and most of the players, then start afresh next season.

Come on, you Swans!!

♦ end ♦

UPDATE 10.05.2018 21:49 : After Huddersfield’s dogged draw against one-touch-but-going-nowhere Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight Swans are definitely relegated. The fightback starts now!

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.

 

Jan 142016
 

In my post of November 24th, Wales, Colony of England, I mentioned multi-millionaire businessman Clive Hughes and his tribulations with Carmarthenshire County Council, due to that authority’s hostility towards his project for a biomass combined heat and power plant near Kidwelly.

In my follow-up post on December 1st, Meryl Gravell & Robin Cammish, Only in Carmarthenshire, I named Robin Cammish as Clive Hughes’ ‘nemesis’, and looked into Cammish’s business background, also his relationship with former council leader, Meryl Gravell, which seemed to explain him being appointed to the board of the Scarlets rugby region and then Pro Rugby Wales. Though his time at the latter body was short, he was forced to resign just before Christmas.

Since writing those pieces I have met with Clive Hughes, spoken with other people, done a little research, and I now understand even better that it wasn’t the council per se that caused Mr Hughes’ problems. The biomass plan was doomed because Clive Hughes fell foul of certain powerful individuals in Carmarthenshire County Council.

Carms trio

To understand what I’m referring to you must know something of the circumstances surrounding the local rugby club / region moving from its traditional home of Stradey Park to the new stadium, Parc y Scarlets, right next to the Parc Pemberton retail park. (And if you want to know why Llanelli town centre looks like an apocalyptic, post-nuclear wasteland, just look at the huge retail parks the county council has encouraged at Pemberton and Trostre.)

Council chief executive Mark James and sometime council leader Meryl Gravell enthusiastically supported the move from Stradey Park to Parc y Scarlets and used the clout and funding of the local authority to ensure it happened. To the extent that the Scarlets have been kept afloat financially ever since by very generous treatment from the council. (For further details on this generosity I suggest you go to the blogs named here and search under ‘Scarlets’, ‘Stradey Park’ or ‘Parc y Scarlets’, Y Cneifiwr and Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more.)

So how does all this link with Clive Hughes? In a nutshell, Clive Hughes, a Carmarthenshire man, born and raised in Bethlehem, had supported Llanelli RFC all his life, he was a vice-president of the club . . . but he vociferously opposed the move away from Stradey Park. He became something of a fly in the ointment, an obstacle to county hall’s grand vision for the county’s premier sporting organisation and its largest town. By taking that position he made powerful enemies.

(This also explains how I met with Clive Hughes on New Year’s Day at the Liberty Stadium, for the Ospreys v Dragons game – he has now transferred his loyalty across the Loughor river.)

BACKGROUND & SUMMARY

When ‘regionalisation’ was introduced by the Welsh Rugby Union, through its then chief executive David Moffett, his original plan was for four regions, putatively and unimaginatively named North, South, East and West. (See panel below.)

WRU regions

Courtesy of Wikipedia (click to enlarge)

Basing the West region at Stradey Park was an odd decision which may have been an attempt to win over unenthusiastic Turks, but this arrangement was quickly overtaken by Swansea council’s decision to build a new 21,000 all-seater stadium at Morfa, for rugby and soccer. This, added to the proposed region’s geography, the outdated facilities at Stradey, and rumblings from Neath, meant that the new Swansea stadium would inevitably become home for the West region.

The news of the new stadium in Swansea, and its implications, served to evaporate further what little enthusiasm there was for the WRU’s grand vision among the power-brokers both at Stradey Park and on Jail Hill. It was bad enough that the town was losing the one name that took it to a wider world, but without the compensation of being home to the new entity there was little to recommend the region to those west of the Loughor.

And so Llanelli RFC decided – as did Cardiff – to reject the suggested amalgamation and become one of the so-called ‘stand-alone’ regions . . . which of course were not regions at all, just re-branded clubs. To its eternal shame the Welsh Rugby Union accepted this deception. Newport did something similar by unconvincingly re-naming itself the Newport-Gwent Dragons.

Having burnt their bridges with the proposed region the club and the council came up with the plan for a new stadium, partly to promote the ‘Llanelli-is-a-region’ message and partly to thwart any future attempts at merger. The people of Carmarthenshire have been paying the price ever since for this panicky rush into a project that was never economically viable and, ironically, only ever sees a full house when the Ospreys visit.

*

And so it came to pass that Parc y Scarlets held its first game on November 15, 2008, when Llanelli (the club, not the region) fittingly played Cardiff (ditto). Over three years after the opening of the Liberty Stadium.

Earlier that same year, in June, Carmarthenshire Planning Committee saw Clive Hughes’ planning application for a biomass-powered CHP plant at the old Coedbach coal washery near Kidwelly.

Everything seemed to be proceeding just fine, there were no objections from the Environment Agency or the Countryside Council for Wales. The planning officers of Carmarthenshire council recommended approval . . . but then, in March 2009, and in what WalesOnline described as an “extraordinary U-turn” planning officers changed their minds, using the flimsiest of excuses. On March 19 the planning committee refused planning permission by 9 votes to 8.

Everyone I have spoken to believes that planning officials and councillors were ‘leaned on’, and that the ‘leaning’ was done by . . . Meryl Gravell had certainly opposed the plan and we can be fairly sure that she orchestrated the local opposition through Robin Cammish and the Coedbach Action Team. (Enquiries are ongoing into who paid the legal costs for the CAT.)

There is no doubt in my mind that the wrecking of the biomass project was ‘pay-back’ for Clive Hughes opposing the move to Parc y Scarlets (and associated retail ventures).

In the ITV Wales report above, uploaded to YouTube in September 2008, the reporter even says that Cammish formed CAT. It also establishes a) the linkage between Cammish and Gravell and b) the antipathy existing between Hughes and Gravell, who declined to appear in person. (But then, it’s usually best for the organ-grinder to stand back when the monkey has the crowd’s attention.)

If I’m right – and I’m not alone in suspecting this – then ensuring that Clive Hughes’ Coedbach project failed was an exercise in pure vindictiveness. Those pursuing this vendetta were quite happy to see the area denied the jobs and other benefits the project would have brought so that they could experience the very personal pleasure of getting the better of a man who had dared challenge them.

Perhaps realising that the “rabble” might guess the truth about Coedbach Meryl Gravell tried to cover it up by putting forward her vision for the area, her alternative strategy for jobs.

SUMMARY

By challenging Carmarthenshire Council Clive Hughes guaranteed that there would be a price to pay. That price was the scuppering of his biomass plant at Coedbach.

To further pursue the vendetta against Clive Hughes hit-man Cammish also opposed Clive Hughes’ biomass plant planned for Swansea docks. Then, in the hope of pretending that he had become a campaigner against biomass rather than the tool of James and Gravell, we saw the farce of Cammish opposing a biomass scheme in Bristol! The judge at the judicial review into this project quite rightly told him it was no concern of a group based in west Wales. 

In return for his loyalty Cammish was said to have had “the run of County Hall”, and was putting himself about as an ‘advisor’ to the council – as the video below from 2011 clearly suggests he was (go to 22:06) – though Mark James was forced to publicly deny this relationship.

As a reward for services rendered Cammish was placed by the council on the board of the Scarlets in September 2013. Mutual back-scratching of the kind with which we are all too familiar.

If the first video suggested a link between Gravell and Cammish then the second video should leave no one in any doubt that the link blossomed into a strong working relationship.

*

At 3 minutes into the first video Meryl Gravell is quoted as saying that the economic future of the area lies with “leisure and tourism”. I have written about tourism many times, this post from October last year should give you an idea of where I stand.

Tourism is not an economic strategy, it is the absence of an economic strategy, or even the antithesis of an economic strategy. It is the ‘industry’ of last resort. It is what politicians pretend to believe in when they have run out of ideas on how to provide real jobs.

Which means that Meryl Gravell is offering the people of Carmarthenshire jobs that are low skill, low pay, and often seasonal – because she and others have no greater vision for the area than tourism, or else throwing grants at yet another retail development in Cross Hands promoted by a company so opaque as to be almost invisible, or maybe granting planning permission for untraceable shell companies to build unneeded homes on flood plains.

But then, when you conspire, for personal, vindictive reasons to deny genuine employment to the people you claim to represent, you must come up with an alternative, no matter how implausible. And nothing is more implausible, or insulting, than the suggestion that tourism is the economic salvation of Wales.

What a way to run a council! What a way to run a country!