The growth of the Swansea City brand in America has been well documented recently and here we feature an interview that our Supporter Director Huw Cooze had with ‘The Atlantic‘ – a well known American magazine – back in May this year.
Can you explain Swansea City’s ownership situation? How is it different from that of most Premier League clubs?
The ownership structure at Swansea City is very different to most other Premier League Clubs in a number of ways. Most Premier League Clubs have one or two major shareholders, many through companies registered outside the UK. The shareholding at Swansea City is spread amongst a group of, mostly locally based businessmen who, together with the Supporters Trust, formed a consortium to take over the Club in 2002 – a time when Swansea City was close to the bottom of the lowest tier of English football and in considerable debt. No one shareholder has more than 25% of the shares and the Supporters Trust has a 21% shareholding. The significant Supporter Trust involvement is unique in the Premier League and uncommon across the rest of the English football pyramid. The Trust has a representative on the Club Board of Directors who is fully involved in all the major day to day decision making. The Supporters Director is elected bi-annually to represent the Trust on the club board. The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, has described the ownership structure at Swansea City, with 21% held by the Supporters Trust and a fan elected on the board, as “ideal”.
The films, the documentaries, the newspaper profiles – why has the Swansea City story resonated with football fans all over the globe?
It’s very much a classic “rags to riches” story but with the added ingredient of climbing from the bottom of the English league structure to the Premier League without amassing huge amounts of debt and by playing an attractive brand of football.
The stories about the club’s sale in 2001 are just amazing – David Morgan taking out £20,000 from a cashpoint, Tony Petty supposedly throwing a pound in loose change to the floor of the Copthorne Hotel – can you walk me through that hectic time? What really happened? And what were the first weeks like for a group who had little experience running a football club?
I think hectic and a bit unreal would be one way of describing the early days. The team that ended up running the Club was very much thrown together and it was very much a steep learning curve, bearing in mind the difficulties the Club was having on and off the field. It was great however that everyone mucked in with the single objective of keeping the Club afloat. The film is a good guide, the truth is that it was a lot harder than portrayed and we are still looking for the magic cashpoint that gives out £20,000.
There have been a lot of brilliant moments for Swansea over the last decade or so, from James Thomas scoring the goal to beat Hull City to the completion of the Liberty stadium. What’s your fondest memory of your time at the club?
Who can forget James’ goals against Hull City, the guy is a legend along with Leon Britton who played in that game and is still playing today, some 12 years later. Lee Trundle came slightly after but gave us a swagger, the kids worshipped him then and still do to this day and even though he has retired from the game he is still the club ambassador and does a fine job out in the community. For me personally, the game at Wembley where we beat Reading in 2011 to gain entry into the Premier League stands out, those that were there know that the Swans can never do it the easy way, we took a 3-0 lead and most pundits thought the game was over as a spectical, Swansea fans up and down the country knew different, Reading came out for the second half rejuvenated and within a few minutes, were only 3-2 down, to say I was nervous would have been an understatement, a tremendous block from current manager Garry Monk and another penalty from the ice-cold Scott Sinclair was enough to send the Jack Army into raptures and the party went on long into the night back home in Swansea.
How does supporter ownership (at least in part) help a club? It seems to have worked well in various guises for Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but English football executives don’t seem to have been very supportive of the model. Are there drawbacks?
As previously highlighted the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, has described the ownership structure at Swansea City, with 21% held by the Supporters Trust and a fan elected on the board, as “ideal”.
Why then is there not more Trust/Supporter involvement at Board level in the Premier League and beyond?
I suspect that for many clubs the ownership structure is more akin to a large company and there is a very clearly held view that supporters are too “emotionally involved” with their Club to make rationale and business decisions. Supporter involvement is probably seen as a distraction to the orderly running of the Club, something which, we at Swansea City have of course proved otherwise.
In most American sports, there is no relegation and promotion, and spending on players is tightly controlled. Is that a good thing?
Promotion and relegation is a fundamental way of life for soccer fans in the UK and whilst I am sure some of the Club owners, particularly in the Premier League, would welcome its abolition I cannot see it happening, at least in the immediate future. The spending on players is another issue and I think many would agree that the amount of money being spent on transfers and salaries is reaching an unacceptable level – particularly when you factor in the increasing cost to the fans in supporting their teams. Given where we are however it is difficult to see what controls could be introduced which would have an immediate impact. The reality is that the Premier League is awash with money and attracting the best players from around the world will continue to be one of its prime aims. The German model is talked about often and maybe its time the Premier League adopted much of the good practice from the Bundesliga.
What have I forgotten to ask you about Swansea’s rise? Any plans for an American summer tour at some point?
We toured America last summer and to be fair, we had a fantastic welcome, the facilities were befitting of any Premier League club and most of our pre-season training was in Chicago. We played two games whilst in the US, one against Mexican side, Chevas at Miller Park, Milwaukee with 33,000 packed into the stadium and one against Minnesota United, where over 10,000 watch on. Whilst there, we visited a Summer Camp held by North Shore United (Wisconsin) with Garry Monk (manager), coaches and a number of players. We have a partnership with the North Shore club and for a number of years we have been sending coaches out to pass on the knowledge of the ‘Swansea Way’ and every two years North Shore send a touring party of up to 100 to Swansea with teams to compete, last year it was the U14 boys and girls team. They spend the week, take in a match and generally get to know the area.