Neutral admiration for Swansea City has certainly peaked in the last few seasons. Since their elevation to the Premier League, the club have been an asset to the division and, although suffering a brush with relegation the season before last, their trajectory up their hierarchy has been neatly smooth.
The concept of a neutral’s favourite seems to have vanished from the game. Maybe that’s because tribalism has never been quite as fierce as it is now or because there’s a paucity of teams competing for second-place in the nation’s heart. Who knows; it’s odd though, because never has the game droned with such a deep futility and never has a story such as Swansea’s been as embraceable as it is right now.
That’s the fallacy with Swansea City: fondness for them is often dismissed as being hipster fancy, but that’s really an idle simplification. They are a club associated with a lot of the qualities which the modern fan believes are fading from the game and, as a consequence, they have become almost a figurative life-raft for those who have grown tired of swimming against football’s relentless tide.
Swansea are the club of hope. They may not be the only ones holding such a banner, but theirs is the brightest and the biggest.
The fans involvement at The Liberty Stadium is very important and the ownership model is also a strike back against the dark ennui of the modern game, but it’s the team’s literal progression which is so welcome, as is their determination not to be restricted to a certain level.
That’s a very troubling aspect of contemporary football. The new season is two days’ away, but I find my enthusiasm for it to be almost non-existent this time around. The Summer is supposed to be a time for hope and unrealistic ambition and yet, sadly, many supporters seem to be painfully aware of their role in this world and of what they can expect to happen over the next nine months.
The Premier League exists for the glorification of six teams only. If you’re not a fan of one of them, your ultimate objection is just to exist within the division and bathe in the reflected glory.
It is a privilege for you to play in the same competition as Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea.
That’s the insinuation, at least.
Earlier in the Summer, The Guardian’s Stuart James visited Swansea’s training ground during pre-season. The resulting article he wrote was fascinating and it told stories of portable sleep-pods, exhaustive analysis and, in Garry Monk, a manager with a palpable ambition and an unwavering determination.
Amongst the innovations and modernity, though, there was a core of tradition; a lot of the work being done at Landore seems to be tradition-based and, amidst the progressive thinking, Swansea City’s future is being defined by old fashioned hard-work and logically constructed preparation programs.
It was all so…optimistic. They are the teenager in love who has never been hurt.
Long-standing Premier League clubs get beaten down over time. Since 1992, the division’s order has become gradually more entrenched and there are very few sides left within it who haven’t come to accept their limitations. In fact, very few teams strive for more than just survival and, even most of those with similar or briefer tenures than Swansea have already allowed mere top-flight status to satiate their ambition.
Swansea, to their credit, don’t yet know their place - and that’s great. They, like the rest of our sides, are probably blocked from ever going beyond a certain level, but they don’t seem to willingly accept that yet and the internal machinations within the club - those we hear about, at least - all imply that the decision-makers, rather than trying to hold what they have, are only ever concerned with what the next forward step should be.
That sounds like faint praise, but it’s really not. The Guardian piece portrayed an environment in which anything is believed to be possible. There’s no sense of consolidation or of working within a predicted threshold, rather the entire organisation seems to consist of people who are determined to aim for moon and land amongst the stars.
God, don’t we need more of that. Not the processes - because many clubs presumably utilise a lot of the same methods - but that indescribable, intangible effervescence. The Premier League is a dour environment full of downtrodden figures trudging through the rain towards the promise of a big bag of cash and, by contrast, Swansea are Gene Kelly.
They’re dancing, they’re skipping and, beyond the literal value of their achievements, they radiate health and enthusiasm.
So why wouldn’t neutrals appreciate that? They have a hopeful glint that has long-since vanished from most of the other sides and that’s absolutely to be enjoyed.
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