Swansea's latest big-match success was against Carlisle. But, to the frustration of Huw Richards, as always a fixation with near-neighbours overshadowed the victory
Fans chanting ecstatically. Players cavorting triumphantly on the pitch. You know the routine, seen anywhere someone is celebrating the attainment of some prize – a cup, promotion, or maybe survival.
Swansea City, though, have added a fresh element to the ritual – a trip to the police station. Goalkeeper Willie Gueret was the man in the van after promotion was won at Bury last year. Striker Lee Trundle and defender Alan Tate received an offer they could not refuse to drop in on Cardiff police following the Football League Trophy final win over Carlisle last month at the Millennium Stadium.
Gueret appeared to be the victim of overzealous policing, by an officer in the middle of a noisy and excited crowd. There was pretty universal sympathy for “Big Willy” and disappointment when he accepted a fixed penalty. Tate and Trundle got, and deserved, less sympathy. This is not to say that it was the most sensible or proportionate use of police energy and resources to consider public-order charges for brandishing a Welsh flag with the words “Fuck off Cardiff” scrawled on the front, and Trundle’s compounding offence of putting on a T-shirt picturing somebody urinating on a Cardiff shirt. Both had been handed to them from the crowd. Vilely tasteless without doubt, but it is hard to see where the threat to public order came, given that Cardiff City were not involved in the match.
That, though, was what made the whole thing so depressingly graceless. Swansea should have spent a few days enjoying a second trophy, following the FAW Premier Cup, in five days. (Yes, I know the words Mickey and Mouse come irresistibly to mind, but, after what chairman Huw Jenkins memorably described as “a bad half-century”, we take our pleasures where we can.) Instead they were spent in feverish debate over the incident amid fears two vital players might be suspended for the promotion/play-off run-in.
Whether it has affected that run-in is doubtful. Taking five points from six matches might suggest so, but is probably no more than a deepening of the post-Christmas slump – brought about by injuries, tactical incoherence and perhaps simple gravity – that has turned an automatic promotion campaign into a desperate scramble for the play-offs.
One more, though, to chalk up for certain to an unhealthy fixation with them from down the M4. Seven years without a league meeting seem, if anything, to have deepened it, perhaps precisely because there are no derby days to draw off the poison. Hence perhaps the frequency of the chants of “We hate Cardiff” that so bemuse opposing fans. The song about Sam Hammam that derides an admittedly irritating man as a “Paki” often alternates with chants of “England’s full of shit”, which must really motivate the half-dozen or so English players we field routinely.
Cardiff are far from guiltless. They employed on-pitch “entertainers” whose act included burning a Swansea shirt. Hammam’s interventions – describing Swansea as “our kid brothers” – appear calculated to aggravate, while Cardiff-based newspapers seized gleefully on the story.
For some Tate and Trundle’s actions made them heroes, identifying with their fans. But what they did was little more than a grossly tasteless extension of badge-kissing. To a professional player, clubs are employers that will dump you mercilessly when they have no further use for you. Tate’s and Trundle’s performances deserve admiration and affection, but anyone expecting emotional as well as professional commitment need only consider the likelihood of any us kissing our employers’ corporate logos.
Of course local rivals loom large. This isn’t an exclusively Welsh failing. It was telling that when Manchester United started winning things again in the early 1990s, one of the celebratory books was called Are You Watching, Liverpool? I’ve thrown a few insults myself, sometimes in WSC. Sober reality, though, is that Cardiff City are a moderately successful, immoderately indebted football club who have achieved the minor miracle of falling crowds during their best season in half a lifetime. They are not the centre of the universe, but to fixate on them is to treat them as exactly that.
If the FAW follows the precedent set by the FA for a comparable offence by Paul Tait of Birmingham, Trundle and Tate will add a fine to their police cautions. That’s about right for a lapse of taste and judgment – one element of which is that, while ostensibly insulting the old enemy, homing in on them at a moment of triumph was in reality showing them way too much respect.
From WSC 232 June 2006. What was happening this month