Derby Day

Last night thousands of men and women, boys and girls, struggled to fall asleep as they worried about what the day might bring.  I could have said it was like Christmas Eve and in some ways it has that same excitement, but this day has serious consequences that Christmas Day never has.

Today is the South Wales Derby and by mid afternoon there will be tears of joy or heartbreak around the Swansea.com Stadium.

It’s a funny thing rivalry and they can change depending on the context.  Growing up going to Brynhyfryd Junior School our big school rivalry was St. Josephs.  I think it was probably because for a number of years these schools had provided some of the best local Schools football teams. The League and Cup usually went to one school or another. 

 In the early 1970’s Russell Coughin, sadly no longer with us, was the star player on the St Josephs team.  A player we admired and feared in equal measure.  The strange thing was while we were the biggest rivals when we played against each other for our school teams when we were selected to play together in the same Swansea Schoolboy side our rivalries disappeared.  Soon we had a new opponent in the shape of Iorrie Jenkins, Captain for the Afan Nedd side. As you can see, over 40 years later I can quite easily recall my feelings.

These were rivalries built up over many school years.  University was different.  As you are suddenly thrown into a new culture you have to learn very quickly who are the good guys, us, and who are the bad guys, them! 

In my case the good guys were Christs’ College Cambridge and the rivals were from just across the road at Jesus College.  As you can imagine trying to explain that to people in my Gospel Hall back in Manselton was sometimes a little tricky.

The thing about that rivalry was that it was there to spice things up rather than meant to be taken too seriously.  On my first football tour to Ireland in 1979 our Christs team was bolstered with a number of Jesus players.  There was banter which made games interesting, but it was no more than that.

Today’s South Wales Derby is not like that….

There have been times when a team has taken on the role of ‘the enemy’ for reasons other than being local rivals.  As Swansea City started the rise from the bottom of the football league to the heights of Division One it seemed that always there right behind or often just in front of us was Watford FC.

Now I have to say on this one I have to declare an interest. Elton John, my Record Company boss, was also Chairman of Watford. Elton had even taken me training with the First team at Vicarage Lane. I’d been to home games with glamorous music biz types, I’d been to the social club afterwards.  These were my friends so it’s no surprise I always had a soft spot for the ‘Hornets’. If they weren’t playing the Swans I’d definitely wish them well. 

Of course that changed for 90 minutes twice a year when we played them.

Then there was Wigan.  The story of Wigan is quite remarkable.  Based in the heart of Rugby League country Wigan had gone from playing Non-League Football to the Premier League.  They had their biggest fan, Dave Whelan, to thank for that.  He had poured millions into the club and his ambition would eventually culminate in winning the FA Cup.

So how did Wigan find themselves ‘on the list’ of teams I just couldn’t like…Roberto Martinez.  I have to say I loved everything about Roberto.  From the moment he signed for Swansea City and helped save us from oblivion in that remarkable Great Escape Season of 2003. He had class and he had style.

In that season you could see that he made other players better footballers.  He then took that ability to another level when he became Swansea Manager in 2007.  My team soon became a joy to watch, win or lose.  We were playing the beautiful game, beautifully and making the long ball lower league teams look like Neanderthals. I even started wearing brown shoes with my suits just the way Roberto did.

It was all going so well, he loved us, we loved him, and we were going to the Premier League…then he left Swansea to go to manage Wigan. I have rarely felt such betrayal and of course the result was Wigan bore the brunt of my ire.

So the years have passed, and we’ve all moved on.  In my role as one of the hosts at the Swansea.com I have got to meet and greet many different representatives from clubs from all over the country. I have to say the Wigan people were some of the most lovely of all and now because of them I actually have a soft spot for the Athletic.

If it’s bad for me, just another punter, what is it like for footballers who have played for more than one club. Lee Trundle is Swansea through and through.  His move to Bristol City in 2007 did put Bristol on ‘the list’ for a number of years but I’m over it now.  He did also have one appearance for Preston North End.  I asked him on match day when we played Preston at home did he have any split loyalties and of course he laughed.

I did think it might be more difficult for Club Legend Alan Curtis.  Alan had played for Leeds and Southampton, 2 teams we have played at home this season.  When I put that ‘split loyalty’ question to Alan I must admit I and the whole of the Swansea Building Society Lounge hosted by Alan Curtis including his wife Clare were surprised by his honest and frank response…he had no split loyalties!!

I probably won’t ask Alan Curtis that question before today’s game.  Alan has a unique insight into a South Wales Derby game because he played for the Swans and for a very short time at the end of his career for the Bluebirds including in a game against Swansea.  As Alan says he remembers it well because on the day he was booed by both sets of supporters.

Back to todays’ Derby Game.  I did realise that there are some people out there who don’t get it, they just don’t care. Occasionally I envy them.  That freedom they have to live life with no fear.  Then I remember what its like walking into that arena.  The singing, shouting, the passion.  They say bragging rights are up for grabs in today’s game.  I must admit even when we did the ‘Doube’ last year I refused to text, message or call any of my Bluebird friends because you know that football is a funny old game and things can change.

If Swansea win I will be elated and next week will be wonderful.  If we lose I will go into a darken room for a few hours.  Maybe I’d take a draw right now!

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