Swansea supporters are in no position to criticise ‘glory hunting’ Manchester United fans

Halfway through the first half in Saturday’s game between Swansea City and Manchester United, the home fans close to the 2,000 away contingent began to sing: “We support our local team.” It was a dig at the United fans, a bit of gentle ribbing that is normal at any football game. You hear it at most United games, often as an order to “support your local team”. It comes from followers of Ipswich or Swansea, Crystal Palace, Southampton and many more.

I looked around the fans outside the away end on Saturday. Manchester United have a local, national and international support of which the club are rightly proud. Finally finding a way to monetise the support of those who’ll never go to a game in far off lands is one thing the Glazers and their appointed staff have managed successfully via commercial revenues through sponsors. United struggled to do that for years. 

Fans in Asia would buy counterfeit kits or even counterfeit club magazines. They’d watch games on television for free. United didn't get a penny for their passion. That has all changed and the club are much better financially for it, learning to get money from sponsors aligning themselves to the United brand in emerging markets rather than direct from the fans themselves. I realised that in the late noughties when I passed a large hoarding in rural India promoting an Indian vodka brand ‘in association with Manchester United’.

While United’s national and international support is derided, praised and envied, the majority of fans waiting to go into the away end at Swansea appeared to come from Manchester. I travelled on a coach from Manchester which left before seven a.m. to make the early kick-off. Do you think anyone at the television companies give a single thought to those who’d have to make that five-hour journey down the M6, M5 and M4? Or the cockney Reds who’ve gone to games for as long as any United fan can remember?

Aside from the sleek team coach carrying the players who can’t help winning 4-0, there were other coaches from Manchester. Buses like the Bandit Bus, the Betty Bus or the Mostonian Bus run from Manchester to every match, full of loyal United fans. There is often an official coach too, one with specially adapted places for disabled fans which Manchester United subsidises.

There were countless more who’d travelled by car and van to Swansea. I mention van because I was offered a lift by Gary Thompson the day before the game. He was driving his van, a local lad who has followed his team for decades home and away.  Some glory hunter, him. All that glory of a season in the second division, when United were the best supported team in the land.

Yet the likes of Swansea still have the audacity to tell United fans to support their local team. Of course it’s a laugh aimed at getting a rise, but it can work both ways. On Saturday, after hearing the song, I pointed out that Swansea’s average home crowd rose from 3,900 to 19,000 in a decade up to 2012.

I got hammered by Swansea fans for it, which was to be expected. The responses came from people with a point, angry people (Twitter does the line in angry and anonymous very well) and people who from their spelling clearly decided to swerve any form of schooling.

But I was right. Most of those Swansea fans were not going to games in their club’s darkest hour. They only started going to matches after the move to a new stadium in 2005.

Swansea has been a success story and good luck to them. It’s a good club. The fans I speak to are friendly, the police, the club staff too. I’ve stayed down a few times after games, visited the nearby Mumbles and the stunning Gower Peninsula. These visits would not have been made if Swansea didn’t have a team in the Premier League.

I know lads like Andrea Orlandi or Jordi Gomez whose first experience of football outside of Spain was at Swansea. They weren’t going to pretend that the second biggest city in Wales is like New York, but they talked of the warmth of the people, the respect and adulation afforded to them. They left with happy memories. Even Swansea’s most famous son Dylan Thomas described it as an “Ugly, lovely town” (the black comedy film Twin Town went for “Pretty sh**ty city”) and the Swans were held up as a model club with a sensible chairman and significant fan influence into decisions – at least until they were taken over by Americans last year.

Swansea have some cracking diehard fans, the ones who were there in 2001. They also had players like Kris O’Leary, who I met when I went to write about Swansea a decade ago. 

“I played when we were in the sh*t,” he said. “In 2001, the club was falling apart. All the players were either asked to take a big wage cut or they had their contracts terminated. They tried to cut my money by 60%.

“Another time, I got a phone call on Christmas Eve to say that we wouldn’t be getting paid. I had a young family to support so it was difficult. We were told that a takeover deal had collapsed. I was due to sign for a house. Then there was the time when we were within a game of being relegated from the Football League.” 

Swansea’s average crowds dropped below 4,000 in 2002. A decade later, when they reached the Premier League, the Liberty Stadium was full to its 20,000 capacity most weeks. That was a huge uplift in fans attracted by glory, a new stadium and a bright young team playing attractive football under the likes of Paulo Sousa, Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rogers. Paul Clement can do the same.

Swansea’s star still shines brightly and they were not four goals worse than a ruthless United on Saturday, but when you’re in a league with the big boys, the team with the league’s second smallest stadium are going to come unstuck against far bigger, richer foes now and then. And the same when their fans start preaching about the loyalty…