During the 2012/2013 season, I was studying abroad pursuing a Master’s degree at Swansea University in South Wales. The University, located right on the coast about an hour drive from the Welsh capital of Cardiff, made their sporting facilities a joint training ground for the University teams and Swansea City’s youth academy.
Upon arrival in Wales, my friend Joel and I were eager to visit the local ground and experience our first Premier League match. As Joel is a Liverpool supporter and I am a Chelsea supporter, there are a few times a season we’re on less than friendly terms football wise, so Swansea City was a team we could both appreciate without any vitriol towards each other. In addition to the neutrality of Swansea, the teams we support have ties to Swansea, as their previous manager (current Liverpool manager) Brendan Rodgers was a youth team coach under Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho during his first stint at Stamford Bridge. I had watched a few Swansea matches the season prior to arriving in Wales; in fact the prospect of local Premier League football was a factor in choosing Swansea University for my studies (although the defining factor was the academic program).
The first match we could get tickets to was for the October 20 match, when Swansea would host Wigan Athletic. Students could secure tickets for just over £15, which was a great deal. The day of the match started brilliantly for me, as we boarded the bus to the city centre. I was following BBC score updates as my Chelsea side took on rival Tottenham Hotspur at Three Point White Hart Lane. Chelsea and England centre back Gary Cahill scored a blinder against Spurs that day, and Chelsea came back from 2-1 down to win 4-2!
Back to the matter at hand, Joel and I were on our way to the Liberty Stadium. We had been to the Liberty before, as we had taken in an Osprey’s rugby match a short while beforehand, and stopped at the pub across from the ground for a quick pint after perusing the club shop and acquiring our first bit of Swansea City gear. On then, into the ground!
My seat was located in the South Stand Lower, where the diehard Swans supporters make their nest. I was directly behind the corner flag, about seven rows off the pitch, with a brilliant view of every corner that would be taken from that side and a clear view to the goal, I was elated at being this close to the action for under £20. I can remember being so excited, I was buzzing.
The atmosphere inside the ground, as kick-off approached, was like nothing I had experienced before. I had been in stadiums three times the size of the Liberty as an undergrad at Michigan State University, but the feeling inside the Liberty was completely different. Banging drums, chants, music playing through the loudspeakers; it was brilliant. I soaked up the feeling, taking a few snapshots of my view and the ground as well. Shortly before kick-off, after the teams had been introduced and begun jogging to the centre circle, a song began from the South and East Stands.
“And we were singing
Hymns and Arias
Land of my fathers,
Ar Hyd Y Nos”
The song, long a popular one at Wales National Team rugby matches, rang round the stadium; it gave me chills.