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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April, 2005, 06:27 GMT 07:27 UK
The Vetch 1912-2005
Vetch (Photo: Mike Floate)

On Saturday, Swansea City play their final league game at the Vetch.

Mike Floate has been a Swans fan since 1972 when his family moved to the city when he was a youngster.

Now a teacher in London, he also runs a publishing firm around his 10,000 photo archive of grounds and stadia.

He is collaborating on a book about football grounds in South Wales.

He explains what the Vetch means to him.

"I'm just a normal bloke but when I join with the Swans fans in singing 'Swansea, oh Swansea, oh City, say I, Stand here on the North Bank 'til the day I die' I go all emotional.

A shiver goes up my spine and I'll admit to having wiped away a tear in the past - not the usual reaction to seeing a game, even at your favourite ground.

Up until the 1990s most fans would have thought the Swans would play at the Vetch forever. Now there are just a few final games to be staged there.

I first entered the Vetch Field in August 1972. Manchester City were to play a friendly and Malcolm Allison invited the locals into the ground to watch City train.

Goodness knows why, but I remember deciding to try out each area game by game

I took in the view of my new adopted team from the main stand, but knew instinctively that the place to watch from would be the enormous covered terrace opposite.

Not until later did I fully appreciate the special atmosphere of the ground, shoe-horned in among simple terraced houses, the Territorial Army depot and prison peering over the stand, between the ground and the beach.

The Vetch Field was rare at the time in that spectators could not move around the ground. Once you had decided to watch from a section you were there for the full 90 minutes.

Goodness knows why, but I remember deciding to try out each area game by game.

In the 1970s the western end of the main stand was still a covered terrace, which extended a short distance around the corner. Hardly anyone ever stood there, which made for a strange feeling of detachment from the game.

I then tried the east bank. This was roughly terraced, around 25 steps up at its highest point between the goal and the main stand. It cost less to stand there, and with Welsh winters being exceptionally wet I soon went back to the North Bank.

Vetch (Photo: Mike Floate)

At the west end of the ground was a brilliant old double-decker stand, with a shallow terrace underneath. I saw Wales beat Luxembourg 5-0 from this end - but if you kept dry under the roof any lofted ball out of defence went out of sight.

Access to the stand was up a dark stairwell, the red bricks adding to the dingy atmosphere. The seats were unreserved - surely the way to bring back some atmosphere in all-seated stadia? - and having paid extra for the privilege I couldn't see why anyone would sit anywhere other than the back row.

I only saw one game from there - and also The Who on their stadium tour - but can visualise the scene even now. The view was superb, the height and close proximity to the pitch making it a great place from which to watch.

Back on the North Bank crowds were at first small enough for fans to move up the side towards the goal being attacked, or to make use of the height further back on the terrace at will. Even with a small crowd the noise was amazing.

I can still put myself back crammed into the bank as Alan Curtis jinked his way through the Leeds defence to seal a 5-1 debut win in Division 1 - the Vetch's finest hour?

The only change made to this day has been that the rear third of the terrace has been fenced off, the part which extended the bank out over the rear of the old ash bank having been declared unsafe.

The east terrace was developed as the team gained successive promotions in the late 1970s, the double-decker built there being a modern version of the West Stand, with a small terrace underneath.

I won't go to the last game - I'd be far too emotional by the end

One floodlight was replaced with an angled roof-mounted pylon as the stand turned around the corner towards the main stand. The intention was to demolish this and continue the new stand along the whole side.

However, the plan was soon forgotten and the stand left incomplete when the finances went wrong and the team slid back down the leagues as rapidly as they had risen.

Over the years seats have been put along the full length of the main stand, with the small section of terrace which went round the corner being sectioned off.

The roof was taken off the West Stand for safety reasons but the terrace underneath remained unaltered as the old seating deck was covered over and became the new roof.

Now, no more will fans be able to see all the way to the Mumbles from inside the ground on a clear day, the floodlights seen from almost five miles across the bay, or down from the 600 feet heights of Townhill.

Since 1912 the odd-shaped field, which once was used to store coal for the local gasworks, grew then declined to become an anachronistic reminder of how football used to be staged.

However clever the architects of the new White Rock stadium are they will never be able to recreate the intimacy and sense of belonging which is what I will remember the Vetch Field for. I won't go to the last game - I'd be far too emotional by the end."

This article first appeared in the spring edition of Groundtastic magazine

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07 Aug 04 |  South West Wales

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