Highs and lows – South-west and South Wales

Glory years Bristol City go with Swansea, Rovers go with Cardiff. Well, up to a point. City’s flirtation with the First Division in the late Seventies matched Swansea’s march to the top, though Swansea got there just as City were sinking. The early Eighties also saw Newport’s last fling, reaching fourth in the Third Division and the quarter-finals of the Cup-Winners Cup. Cardiff’s great days were in the 1920s, when they were league runners-up (1924), Cup finalists (1925) and finally Cup winners (1927). But their last decent First Division spell was in the Fifties, also when Rovers got to their highest league position (sixth in the Second Division) and twice reached the sixth round of the Cup.

Grimyears There can have been few worse years for Welsh club football than 1997-98, when Cardiff and Swansea both finished in the bottom five of the Third Division. Bristol City had two seasons in the Fourth in the Eighties. Rovers have never been down that far but they were in the Third South, and wallowed near the bottom with Cardiff, Bristol City and Newport for much of the Thirties. In general the trend is down, above all for Cardiff – 1984-85 was their last season in the Second Division and the following year the first (but not the last) when none of the clubs was in the top two divisions.

Crowd pullers Implausible though it seems now, Cardiff were among the top ten best supported clubs in the early Twenties and again briefly in the early Fifties (37,933 in 1952-53). Recently they have slumped as low as 80th in the attendance table (2,945 in 1991). In 1954-55 the two Bristol clubs and the south Wales rivals were all among the top 30, even though only Cardiff were in the First Division. By contrast, in 1983-84 Bristol City were the best supported of the four clubs (41st in the country with 7,287), even though they were in the Fourth Division.

Local favourites Apart from the early Thirties and the whole of the Eighties, Cardiff have usually drawn more than Swansea and, until recently, more than the Bristol clubs too. City have had a slight edge over Rovers, but their crowds have rarely differed by too much. The Welsh clubs have fluctuated much more. Cardiff, easily the most popular in the region at the start of the Seventies, were below everyone except Newport by the mid-Eighties. Conversely, Swansea were the fourth worst supported club in the league in 1974-75 (2,070), but rose to 16th (18,226) only seven years later.

From WSC 166 December 2000. What was happening this month