A few months back, I saw a post on social media asking for Swans fans to respond to a survey comparing the Liberty Stadium (or Swansea.com if you wish) with the Vetch Field. The post was from Curtis Richards, who was looking for fans input for a dissertation that he was working on about how successful the move was for the club and our fans.
The feedback is all in, as is the dissertation and I managed to speak with Curtis to hear what he found. Where is the real home of Swansea City Football Club and what has the move meant for the city? Here is what we spoke about.
Why did you choose this subject?
Writing a dissertation is a lot of work and so I thought I’d do something I’m interested in. I have had a season ticket since 2005 and so I wanted to do it on the Swans. I thought that measuring the success of the move from the Vetch to the Liberty, wouldn’t feel like work, as I would enjoy it, be interested in it and so that’s why I chose it mainly.
Did you ever go to the Vetch?
I went twice but I was too young to remember it. At the time, I was four and so my experience is very limited. I have grown up hearing stories through my Uncle, Dad and Grandparents talking about it and it was interesting to hear what other people had to say about it. So many stories seemed similar to what I had been told by my family.
Has anyone gone into anywhere near the amount of detail that you have on this?
From my experience, no. As a part of the research, you have the literature review. I used the google scholar app to type in the keywords and nothing came up apart from the book written by Phil Sumbler, Graveyard of Ambition. Obviously, that was more of a broader look at the history of the swans rather than specifically the transition from the Vetch.
You touch on a few reports, John Bale being one – please explain his theories on moving football out of the city?
I read 3 articles of his, which I cited in my dissertation. He looked at the business within a football club and the benefits of shifting a stadium from a residential area to an outer city region. Then he looked at nuances and the effect that a move would have on nuances such as parking issues, antisocial behaviour, hooliganism etc.
He stated that relocating does not always remove nuisances, in fact it is possible for the nuisances to be transported to the new location. Hooliganism was rife in the 80s and 90s, although it wasn’t as rife as the media said that it was. He realised that a move doesn’t mean that nuances would be eliminated but that a move would transport them.
Is there any link with less hooliganism and out of town stadia or is it just that its not on people’s doorsteps?
I read a paper that the findings are that national hooliganism has decreased and continue to do so. There has been a big crackdown, with more fines and a greater risk for those that are involved. Relocating has contributed to it but ultimately it is the policing that has changed.
With regards to Swansea, the Liberty is easier to police than the Vetch. More open corners, cameras and it is obviously less densely populated. Some supporters referenced the cage in the away end, essentially, if measures are needed to be put in place, there is more space and it is far easier to do this at the Liberty stadium than the Vetch.
Moving the problem
You have an interesting line in where you state that Jewell, Simmons, and Szymanski claim “football hooliganism can still create advantages by producing social pressure on the footballers and officials to influence the outcome of the game through intimidation.”. Is this a fact? And again, is this linked to stadiums?
To be honest, I don’t know how they came to that conclusion, whether there was a scientific method involved or not, but I think that it is something that we all see. You see in the championship that the referee is more inclined to even things up for the home-side, especially if there is a hostile atmosphere. If we look at West Ham, fans at Upon Park were very close to the pitch and so it gave a real hostile feel to not only the players but the referee too. They are now at the Olympic Stadium and it’s not as hostile, the ref might feel safer and not on their back and I think that is the point that they tried to make.
Where is the home of Swansea City?
Going onto your findings. Where do the fans see as the home of Swansea City Football Club?
I think generally, the younger generation say that it’s the Liberty stadium. When you get to the supporters that have been there for a longer time then the spiritual home is the Vetch and obviously even the younger fans still sing about the Vetch.
The realism with most fans was that times move on, our physical home is now the Liberty, especially when you look at the recent success the club has had there – in Europe, promotion, Premier League, the League Cup. My findings suggest the Liberty is home, but people still cherish the nostalgia of the Vetch.
Routine / atmosphere
Was there much difference in the matchday routine and experience between both stadiums?
Yes and no. This is one of the elements that I didn’t have much of a chance to get into in as much depth as I’d like to. Most fans kept that social routine of going to the pub and meeting up with friends but obviously the pubs have changed, the environment has changed. Some drive now and so don’t drink as much. The routine has stayed the same for many, but the answers that I got from people at times were so detailed that it was hard to get into the specifics.
Which stadium had a better atmosphere?
The Vetch. That was straight forward. The ones that only have attended the Liberty couldn’t compare the two but those that had been to both would say the Vetch. Many mentioned that you couldn’t beat a Friday night match at the Vetch. I think that in the Vetch, you could huddle together, roam about, and so even when the attendance was low, people wouldn’t be spaced out.
In terms of atmosphere, comparing the two stadiums, 100% the vetch was deemed the better one. The same would be said with Man City and Arsenal and their moves, fans would state that the atmosphere in the previous stadiums was better. Having said that, supporters also noted that the Liberty can be electric and that it is in no way a soulless library.
Benefits of the liberty
Is there a difference for people with disabilities between the two stadiums?
I feel that I needed to interview a lot more people to answer that properly but with what I’ve seen, the main difference is that the Liberty is a lot more accessible. I interviewed a family whose friend attends in a wheelchair, he said that there is no doubt about it that the Liberty is much better. It is a lot more inclusive. He did mention that the parking down the liberty was expensive though, I can’t remember the price, but I think it was £200 or £300 which could be seen as paying a price for having a disability.
And how about families? Are they more likely to prefer the new stadium?
I predicted that the Liberty would be more inclusive for children and families, and I suppose that football has changed so much over the last 40 or 50 years. However, there was only one or two that felt unsafe at the Vetch, even though they acknowledged that there was more violence. Which didn’t seem to add up.
That was an interesting aspect to get into and something else I’d like to investigate in more detail. Overall, everyone felt safe at the Liberty. There might have been one that didn’t but overall, it was deemed safer. There is also a lot of stadium location going on, so depending on where you are sitting dictates how safe you would feel with bringing your child with you to a game.
I know that Roger Freestone and Nigel Stevenson responded to you. What were their views on the move? From a player’s point of view.
They both reflected on the atmosphere at the Vetch and that it was a lot better at match days but as they said, the facilities, the financial aspect and everything else that the Liberty brought was needed. Both of them summaries it really well that it was a necessary move.
They had that nostalgia; they were realistic about the situation as well. Nigel stated that “Yes it was the right decision [to move], when you look at stadiums today they have the full package and it’s great to see families attending games”. Their response was invaluable and gave me an insight which I wouldn’t have had without it. Overall, they stated that the Liberty has been a success, they talked about having to share bath soap down the vetch and you can’t compare the facilities, the nutrition and what the Liberty brings the players and the same for the supporters as well.
Is the Liberty a success?
So overall, would you say that the move was a success?
Yes, definitely, and I think that even though there are those die-hard supporters that long for the old, most agree that the club had to adapt. If you look at the Liberty now and today’s culture, it’s been the perfect match. The facilities for kids, the hospitality, the family stand is there if that is what you want but you also have the option of the East stand where there has been a compromise and you can still get that taste of the old culture where you can stand and have your back and forth with the away supporters and be surrounded with people that are similar (even though its watered down slightly). It has 100% been a success and I think that that’s a fair summary looking at everything.
Could anything have been done better?
Yes, I had some feedback that suggested a few improvements. Public transport was one, a lot of people use the car. In the move, it was proposed that people would use the park and ride and that hasn’t transpired. Parking is another issue, people trying to get a space at Cwm Level or have to pay £5 in the garages. Personally, if they can address that public transport issue then that would improve things. One response did suggest that the Morfa train station should be opened up and adapted for the football. This could also be a safety for travelling fans, Bristol away fans for example could be shipped in by train.
Safe standing is another one proposed. We are beginning to see it being introduced to a few stadiums in the UK and safe standing in the East stand would be welcome to many.
Finally, looking at England and Wales as a whole, the Premier League has been a huge success over the last thirty years, which has coincided with new stadiums. Do you think that this is linked? Did clubs need to improve their stadiums to compete?
I think it’s a shift that Wales, England and Scotland have all done, which is more down the corporate route that has allowed record women attending for example. They have tried to do this while keeping the loyal supporter which isn’t always easy and it’s a bit of give and take.
I think its fair to say that the change was needed in order to compete at the very top. If you look at Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga and Bayern Munich in Germany, they are all giving this matchday experience, that’s how they make their money. Only recently, English teams have been winning well and competing in the champions league and they need that income to compete with these clubs and so yes, it has contributed to the success.
A big thank you to Curtis for his time and insight into this and good luck with the dissertation! YJB!!