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.
The match kicked off, and within six minutes the Swans had a shot saved by the Wigan keeper Al-Habsi. The first half was full of wonderful passes, and great saves. Both sides enjoying passing the ball round the pitch. This was the ‘beautiful game’ I had heard of my whole life, played out on a gorgeous sunny afternoon on an immaculate pitch in South Wales. The hosts came close multiple times, but the Wigan keeper was well up to the task in the first half, with halftime remaining scoreless at 0-0, with the Swans enjoying the lion’s share of chances on goal.
Another pint and a pie at halftime, and we were back underway. More singing, more chants, a thumping drum urging the Swans onward and upward against Wigan (a team destined to be relegated despite a future FA Cup triumph). The Swans then record signing Ki Sung-Yeung made a brilliant effort from a tight angle, and the crowd wrung their hands in agony at the brilliant save made by the Wigan keeper. Finally, on 65 minutes, the first goal came. Wayne Routledge came surging down the left hand side; found Jonathan De Guzman, who sharply passed it on the Pablo Hernandez with his back to goal. The Spanish forward turned and fired. GOAL!
Cheering and chanting broke out; a sense of euphoria at finally breaking down Wigan and putting themselves in a good position to secure the three points. And it was wonderful.
Just 2 minutes later, we were on our feet again. A corner kick from directly in front of me was crossed in by De Guzman, and the signing of the summer Michu rose to meet it, powering a header past the Wigan keeper from just outside the 6 yard box. Two-nil to the Swans. And the 20,000 in attendance were going mental at the prospect of the first win of the campaign.
But NO! Two minutes later, the elation turned to nervousness as Wigan put one past Swans goalkeeper Michel Vorm. With it being 2-1 with 20 minutes left, Wigan looked threatening, chasing the match. The Swansea side seemed on the defense for the remaining 20 minutes, as Michu had a chance to put the match away, but his effort went over the bar with just 4 minutes left.
At the final whistle, the crowd roared its approval of the match, and I knew I had become even more addicted to this beautiful game. I was hooked.
During my time in Wales, I was lucky enough to not only see my beloved Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge in two London Derbies, but to also watch the Swans at home three times en route to their first major trophy in team history, a victory over League 2 Bradford City in the Capital One Cup.
While Chelsea will forever be my first and true Premier League love, I had developed a soft spot for Swansea City Football Club, and to this day nothing gives me more chills than remembering that first day when 20,000 Swansea supporters sang “Hymns and Arias.”
I will fondly recall my time in Wales, and the Swans have another fan in the United States who will spread the gospel of the beautiful game. And that team that plays “Way down by the sea, where I’ll follow Swansea, Swansea City.”