On Monday Swansea City Football Club will become the first ever Welsh side to compete in the Barclays Premier League. It will also become the first Premier League club in which the fans have a significant (19.9%) ownership. It is a Club which just 10 years ago was in financial meltdown and just 8 years ago was one match away from going out of the Football League.
Swansea City is approaching its centenary and has been in the top flight of English football before, albeit for a short period. However the recent history of Premier League Swansea City is quite remarkable and goes something like this.
So what do you do when your football club’s in a financial mess and the Company that owns it seems only concerned in getting the debt ridden club off its books. Well this was the scenario facing supporters of Swansea City back in 2001 and rather than sit back and moan they decided to do something about it. The summer of 2001 saw a number of initial meetings culminating in the launch of the Swansea City Supporters Trust on 31 August 2001.
The launch of the Trust was timely. Former Swansea City Commercial Manager, Mike Lewis had purchased the Club, and crucially its debts from owners Ninth Floor, for £1, and had now decided to sell it all on (again for £1) to an Australian based Londoner, Tony Petty. Petty’s early dealing as the new owner saw players sacked, wages dramatically cut and developing talent sold. Whilst the passionate Swans fans set out to make Petty’s stay in the City an uncomfortable one, behind the scenes the Supporters Trust was working with ex player and Swans legend Mel Nurse to put together a consortium of local businessmen . The sole aim of the consortium was to bring the club back into local hands.
After a series of unsuccessful attempts to buy out Petty, the continued pressure from fans finally saw Petty agree to sell the Club to the Consortium in January 2002. A new era for Swansea City had begun with the Supporters Trust a key presence on the Club’s Board of Directors.
The early days were not without its problems with the previous financial issues still creating difficulties. The Club went in and out of Administration in its first year and in 2003 found itself having to win its last match of the season, against Hull City, to retain its Football League status. Win it it did and the Club has never looked back since. A steady rise through the Football League and a move to a new Stadium in 2005, saw it enter the Championship in 2008. Despite having a different manager in each of its three Championship seasons, it improved its league position each year and victory against Reading on May 30 2011 in the Championship Play Off Final, secured the Club’s promotion to The Premier League
The local consortium which took control at the beginning of 2002 remains; with the Supporter’s Trust having a near 20% stake in the Club, its third largest shareholder and a Director on the Club Board. The harsh lessons learnt from those dark days at the turn of the Century continue to influence the way the Club is run and financial prudence remains a key factor in the day to day decision making. However money which the Club could not even dream about in 2001 is now being paid out to retain and acquire players capable of meeting the huge challenges ahead.
As the Swansea City players walk out alongside the multi million pound stars of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, they know that they have earned the right to be there. For many of the Swansea City fans sitting in the stands or watching as part of a global TV audience, they too will look on with pride knowing the huge part they have played in the success story that is Swansea City.