Dan Brigham talks to Swansea fan and fanzine editor Nigel Davies about wading through urine, butt-clenching, the hatred of Grant Holt, glitz vs cynicism in the Premier League and Saturday’s humdinger of a six-pointer
Dan: Hi Nigel. So I was expecting this preview to be a rather miserable discourse on the threat of relegation for both teams and how Saturday's match is going to be a massive six-pointer... but then you went and beat Arsenal. Again. And now you're six points clear of the bottom three (and us) with a vastly superior goal difference.
Has your entire attitude changed following that win? Have your relegation fears turned from heart-stopping terror that you've left your gas on into minor concerns that you think you might have run out of milk?
Nigel: I don’t think much has changed despite last night’s sensational triumph at the Emirates, to be honest Dan. Even though we are fast becoming Arsenal’s bogey team, the win was still an unexpected bonus that has brought a very welcome extra three points and a much-needed shot in the arm where confidence is concerned.
But Saturday’s game is still the same massive six-pointer it was before the midweek round of fixtures.
What’s changed is that we now have a real opportunity; where before it was all about beating you to maintain the gap and make the most of one of our more winnable fixtures before our tough run-in, it’s now a case that a win will probably take us to the brink of safety.
Giving the Gunners a bloody nose was immensely satisfying (especially poking fun of Piers Morgan over it on Twitter) but relegation is still the same buttock-clenching possibility if you guys turn us over on Saturday!
Dan: Oh my, just seen your next three fixtures. Us, Bournemouth and Aston Villa. At the end of those three you'll either be basking in mid-table glory, pretending relegation was never really a possibility anyway, or completely in the shite with those buttocks clenched tighter than ever.
This seems to have been an odd season for Swansea. For a club that has prided itself on stability, the sacking of Garry Monk, followed by the months-long search for a new manager, suggests a bit of panic might have set in. Did you think getting rid of Monk was the right move, and how has Francesco Guidolin done? Has he changed the way you play at all?
Nigel: It’s unknown territory for a large number of Swans fans this season. There’s been the odd bump in the road but for the most part it’s been happy days all the way over the past decade as we’ve made our way up the leagues, won a major trophy and appeared in Europe.
Law of averages almost demands a more serious slump somewhere along the line though and it’s been a culture shock for those newer fans that never experienced getting spanked by Kidderminster or wading through a river of steaming urine in the old North Bank toilets at the Vetch. That’s no criticism of newer fans by the way, more a reflection that we’ve not experienced any really bad times as a club for more than ten years now.
Was it right to get rid of Garry Monk? Regretfully YES as the players had totally stopped playing for him. Unfortunately we then proceeded to make an almighty balls-up of appointing a replacement, which is all the stranger given our chairman’s almost Midas-like touch at picking managers!
After looking set to appoint one of the most innovative and respected coaches in the world in the madcap shape of Marcelo Bielsa we ended up appointing caretaker manager Alan Curtis until the end of the season. And then three weeks later the club changed its mind and appointed Francesco Guidolin (or The Guidfather as we like to call him) instead.
I think everyone in Swansea, including the players, had to google Guidolin but he’s actually got a very respectable CV with impressive stints at Udinese and Palermo. He’s also a dead ringer for former EastEnders actor Larry Lamb, which gets him points from this fanzine editor, I can tell you!
While not changing too much in terms of formation or personnel the major difference is the determination to defend deeply and hold on to a lead, no matter what stage of the game we score. Somehow all the odds were defied and it worked to deliver a first ever league win over Everton – and at Goodison no less – but it backfired badly in games against West Brom and Palace that led to four crucial points being dropped.
A battering at Spurs followed after taking an early lead but a more attacking display at Arsenal led to a famous victory… Guidolin of course was not at the game having been taken to hospital earlier in the day suffering with a lung infection. Co-incidence that we adopted a more attacking demeanour during his absence? Maybe…
Dan: You mention Swansea's meteoric rise, and that just makes it even more admirable that you feel like an established Premier League side. You came up with us back in 2010-11, but while we've had our ups and down – or one down anyway – you've become part of the Premier League furniture. Quite a sleek, sexy bit of furniture, too, rather than the beige old, smelly armchair that Tony Pulis turned Stoke into while establishing them as an unlikely Premier League side.
With that in mind, has your opinion of the Premier League changed over time? Still get the same feeling you had in the first couple of seasons, or do you find yourself becoming more cynical?
Nigel: Oh we are still very much living the dream! Whenever the cynicism kicks in and the reality peeps through – that the Premier League is a glitzy but greedy beast ready to consume itself as it covers itself in lots of tasty pound notes from Sky and BT – along comes a victory at somewhere like the Emirates and the illusion of the beautiful game is back in place.
After spending decades in the lower leagues it will take a long time for the novelty of being in the top division to wear off. And who can resist the lure of a small club like Swansea suddenly being talked about right across the world; featuring on giant billboards in Times Square; becoming the favourite team for millions of fans in South Korea – that type of exposure is quite seductive, especially after our club struggled to win over people in our own city never mind on the global stage.
But the most important thing for me is to stay in the Premier League for as long as we can so that we can build a real infrastructure at the club, a solid foundation from which we can underpin our place in the top two divisions of English football for years to come. Much is made of the new TV deal coming into play at the end of this season, but the reality is that most of the extra money will be swallowed up by players and agents yet again. However, the small surplus after the playing side is looked after will continue to allow us to work on our training facilities and strengthen our Youth Academy – we want a proper legacy from our Premier League stay and not the millstone of a massive debt carried by clubs like Bolton and Portsmouth when they went down.
Having been close to extinction on more than one occasion it’s damn nice to just kick back, watch the best players in the world playing for us and against us and not have to worry about what a madcap owner is doing next or where the next winding up order is coming from.
Oh and the added bonus of course is the presence of clubs like Swansea, Norwich and Bournemouth really pisses off the self styled “big clubs” and if that isn’t an incentive to stick around then I don’t know what is!
Dan: It's great that the cynicism hasn't taken over. There's a real sense that some Norwich fans are becoming a bit jaded, but that probably comes from our last three Premier League season being a struggle. Some are probably still on a comedown from the highs of the Paul Lambert era, and that great first season back in the Prem. And, after the joyous scenes at Wembley last May, we've essentially followed up a season of Breaking Bad with endless showings of EastEnders. Some of the locals are slipping all too comfortably into their greyest, most miserable coat, grumbling about the manager, the board, the football, the players. It’s a bit sad to see, to be honest.
On a cheerier note, Norwich and Swansea had some great battles back in that first season. Did your fans really dislike Grant Holt, or was it all in jest? And are you surprised that Brendan Rodgers was more of a success at Liverpool?
Nigel: The hatred of Holt is very real. The guy’s mouth is almost as big as his stomach and he’s never missed an opportunity to have a go at the Welsh, right from the time when the Swans showed an interest in trying to sign him from Rochdale. He was a decent enough player in a limited sort of way but as a human being? He always came across as a big-headed, arrogant scumbag. And believe me, that’s the censored version of my appraisal of him.
As for Rodgers, his time at Liverpool is only really of passing interest to me. For sure his ego got more and more out of control after his time at Swansea – maybe his new teeth made him over confident? – but to be honest he was “dead to me” the moment he walked out on my club. What he got up to in Scouseland was neither here nor there to me as long as it didn’t affect Swansea City in any way. Maybe if he’d stayed with the Swans a little longer he’d have been in a better position to make a success of his time at Liverpool but, for all his egotistical nonsense, I think he didn’t believe that he could keep “little old Swansea” up for a second season running and so he jumped ship as quickly as he could.
Dan: Blimey, I'd always assumed the hatred was just cartoonish. Could certainly do with his goals – and his ability to win over referees – this season, and he did always quite like playing against Swansea...
Ok, let's wrap this up. Swansea's home record has been pretty poor - are their specific areas they're struggling in, and who are your main threats?
And let's have a score prediction...
Nigel: It’s easy to sum up why the Swans have struggled to win games this season: we don’t score enough goals and we are extremely fragile from set pieces. Much of our success has come from playing with two wingers but increasingly we’ve adopted a diamond formation, partly to try and tighten up defensively but also to try and accommodate, André Ayew who very much seems like a square peg in a round hole (albeit a talented peg at that).
Personally I’d like to see us actually going for the jugular against you lot – our new striker Alberto Paloschi will probably come back into the side after being “rested” against Arsenal but I’d also like to see Modou Barrow given a chance from the start; he’s one player with pace and directness who will take the game to the opposition and I’d rather we played the game on the front foot rather than allowing what is still a decent Norwich side time and space to grow into the contest. That’s dangerous when you have the likes of Steven Naismith (whom I rate highly), Nathan Redmond and Wes Hoolahan in the opposition’s ranks.
Overall though I think the unexpected win against Arsenal will prove the spark the Swansea City players – and the Liberty crowd – have been looking for all season and home advantage will count. I can see you scoring but I think your soft centre away from home and our sudden path to redemption this season will see us overcome you by two goals to one, putting us on the brink of safety and leaving Norwich to scrap it out with Sunderland and Newcastle for the remaining two relegation spots alongside Villa.
Dan: If we’re staying up, I do really hope it’s at the expense of Newcastle and Sunderland rather than Swansea. Not sure Holt would agree, though.
I think we might – and people will mock me for this; in fact, I’m mocking myself already – keep a clean sheet. And we might also score a goal. So that makes my prediction 1-0 to us.