Swansea City have lost their modesty; something that was integral to their Premier League character
Swansea City once were the humble South Wales family club famed for their momentous climb to England’s top flight; a genuine breath of fresh air amidst the circus of modern football. They represented stability, gusto and most pleasurably, they were one of the very few Premier League sides who seemed shy in the wake of success. A 1-3 defeat at the hands of Manchester United would usually be considered just under par for the course, but hostile chants of ‘we want our club back’ just before half time represented something beyond the simplicity of poor form.
Chairman Huw Jenkins was considered the might behind the club’s miraculous climb from Division three in 2002. Over 14 years, he gained the fans trust. They confided in him with managerial appointments, investment and progression of the club all under a restricted budget. Within the Premier League abyss, Jenkins as a major shareholder maintained a successful and respectable reputation; something that has shaped the club’s commendable identity. This season, Swansea have been ravaged by tensions behind the scenes and fan-based criticism. If Jenkins hadn’t already aggravated the fans with seemingly no transfer activity to account for the losses of captain Ashley Williams and fan-favourite Andre Ayew, his apparent dishonesty in the sale of major shares to new American shareholder has seen all his hard-earned trust undone.
The Swansea City Supporters’ Trust currently own around 21% of the club; they set out to bring the club closer to the community, to represent the needs and aims of members and maintain ‘a professional football club in Swansea’. As I say, modest aims for a club of such newfound stature. When Huw Jenkins decided to exclude The Supporters’ Trust from ongoing talks with the new American shareholders he, in a way, was insulting every-weekend fans who share the same said values and aims for the club. Shares are part and parcel of the business side of football. The fans usually wouldn’t invest much time into that side of the game because one, it fulfils very little of their needs as fans, and perhaps most significantly with a club like Swansea, they’ve built a long term relationship with their chairman based on trust. The chants at the Manchester United game on Sunday represent a blurring of lines; the fans feel obliged to invest interest into the ongoing debacle behind the scenes because most significantly to them, they are losing sight of what is important to Swansea; club soul.
All clubs go through challenging patches, but very rarely do the fans become so disillusioned that they start to sense something profounder off the pitch. It’s something that Newcastle, rivals Cardiff and Nottingham Forest have all had to endure and look how they’ve fared. The sale of Ashley Williams, his void, the unjust sacking of Francesco Guidolin and uninspiring performances on the pitch all land at the feet of Huw Jenkins. He may well have had Swansea’s financial future at heart, but fans feel like they’ve just lost one of their constants. He still owns 5% but that isn’t the point; it’s the fact that new American shareholders are now the focal point at the club. Swansea have become what so many other Premier League sides have been for a while; a project for business owners. That’s football nowadays, but it’s especially hard-hitting for Swansea whose integral source for pride is where they began compared to where they are now.
The Supporters’ Trust have ensured fans that they will be kept in the loop going forward, but the problem is in the here and now. The division between the board and fans feels greater and with new wealthy owners comes the potential corruption of what was a very well-shaped club with a modest identity. Until the fans are satisfied with what happens on the pitch, they will become more and more devoted to questioning everything off it.