Dear Steve and Jason,
First, a belated welcome to the Premier League from one American to another. I’m a proud Swansea City fan from Westbrook, Maine, just outside Portland (the first one), and before you ask, no, there’s no connection between soccer and this small working-class town of 15,000 or so. Football has been personal for me ever since the New York Cosmos brought Pele over to play in the ‘70s, back when I played my one and only season for one of a group of arbitrarily formed youth teams in Manalapan Township, New Jersey. We were the Eagles. Our kits were black and white, too.
I don’t want to oversell it. We were never exclusive. I’ve loved football teams, baseball teams, pro basketball teams, college basketball teams, hockey teams, tennis players, Pokemon characters, and even golfers..I just love the sports, as they say. Football, though personal, hasn’t been a singular passion for all my life. My time at left and right back for the Deep Purple Sandsharks of the Las Cruces (New Mexico) Youth Soccer Association was cut short first by piano and later by studies, National Honor Society, orchestra, and video games. While I was there, I did work at it. I put in my share of shifts. Until I didn’t. So it wasn’t as if I had Premier League dreams or even NASL dreams.
But I truly did love the World Cup, especially in 1994 when it came to us. Everyone remembers Romario and Hristo Stoichkov. I remember running around my apartment complex on Westheimer Street in Houston, waving an Irish flag, after the Republic beat Italy 1-0 in the very first round of games. Remember that game? No, probably not. It was the stuff of legends. I ate a lot of salt-and-vinegar chips and drank a lot of Guinness that day.
Being a grown-up, for me, meant that sports took a less prominent role for a number of years as I built a career (such as it is), met someone, started a family, did the things you’re supposed to do. My days were full. My ears were full with noise from the day-to-day. It was more than enough.
After my wife and I separated, I moved to the fifth floor of the Metropolitan in downtown Portland, a place that was at first either full of noise or completely and utterly quiet from moment to moment, barely anywhere in between. But after a time, the quiet spaces seemed longer, the loud moments shorter. I filled those spaces first with NFL broadcasts. Finding games was easier then and less costly. But I found myself unable to support American football and its attendant tragedies and moral inconsistencies. I stopped listening. But I still loved sports, still wanted a team to “belong” to, still wanted a season-long trajectory to follow, and my fall was just not the same.
A couple of years later, football re-entered my life, acting as if it had never left. I peeked across the pond at Premier League happenings just as Swansea City was making its epic League Cup run in 2012-2013. You probably don’t remember this one, either. Or maybe you do? Michu’s goals against Arsenal? Michael Laudrup oozing class on the sidelines while his team did the same on the pitch? Eden Hazard and the ball boy at the Liberty? Any of this ringing a bell?
Becoming a fan of the Swans means getting acquainted with the people, the events, the stories that surround Swansea City, going back to the days of Mel Charles and Ivor Allchurch, through many tough seasons, to the successes of John Toshack and Alan Curtis’ Swans in the early ‘80s, to the lean years and the near-cratering of the team under Tony Petty’s “leadership,” and then up through the resurgence (Roberto Martinez and Lee Trundle and James Thomas, James Thomas!) to today’s never-before-seen heights. Swansea supporters want to share those stories, have always wanted to share them, and when I started supporting Swansea, when I made the decision that the small-town team from South Wales doing great things in the Premier League was my team, I found I was never short of places to find those stories.
The great supporters who run The Jack Cast, the SOS Fanzine, the fan pages, and, yes, the Supporters’ Trust — all of them can tell you so much about my team and its long, winding path to fame. If nothing else, it might make you feel a little less lonely. It certainly made me feel less lonely to realize that Swans fans were welcoming, were a hardy bunch, were ready to share this team with the world (if occasionally skeptical). My experience has never been one of feeling shut out. I’ve always felt part of something bigger. Even as I remain one of the very few people I know who follows the Premier League here in the US — a lonely pursuit indeed, and one with few opportunities to watch my team live — I felt less alone just by listening along and interacting wherever I could with South Wales’ best fans.
Which brings me to my point, after that delicious, hazy preamble — it’s getting lonely again. And, well…there’s no easy way to say this: it’s your fault.
I want to make clear that what I’ve said and what I’m about to say has little to do with the choice of Bob Bradley to take over from Francesco Guidolin. I’m truly intrigued to find out if he can thrive in the Premier League during a relegation battle with players who have been through significant upheaval. He seems like a tough guy. He seems like a nice guy. He seems like a straight shooter. He’s had some successes. I want to give him the room he needs to make this a success, too, so I am fully behind the man. Let us have no talk about me either doubting the wisdom of the appointment or pre-judging the outcome of this season. Let’s go, Swans; let’s go, Bob Bradley!
Now, about y’all…
It was unbecoming for you to keep your initial interest and talks with the existing Swansea City board secret from the Supporters’ Trust. Now that you are majority owners of my club, I can guess that a new Shareholders’ Agreement has been drawn up, but that there were no discussions with the Trust, which held and still holds 20% of shares, reflects very poorly on both of you. The expectation of the Trust is that it will help run the club, a legacy of the very recent past where supporters were the ones who saved the club. That you passed over discussions with the Trust before investing in the club says that you don’t take that legacy seriously. Considering how central it is to Swansea City, that’s an ominous sign.
It was telling that, in your initial statement upon taking majority ownership of the club, you reserved mention of the Supporters’ Trust until well down the page, where you said the following:
“We also want to acknowledge the Supporters’ Trust which will remain a significant shareholder in the club. We have reached out to the Supporters’ Trust and met with them on many occasions and we look forward to working with them as our partners in helping to move the club forward.
In that regard, we plan to work with the Trust as our partners in determining the best path to expand and improve the fan experience at the Liberty Stadium. ”
The role of the Supporters’ Trust is, in fact, in part to help expand and improve the fan experience at the Liberty Stadium. But that’s not all the Trust does. The Trust is a group of incredibly dedicated football fans. If I’m being honest — and I think we’re all due a spell of honesty here — I’m guessing they know more about football and about the Premier League than you do. I’m not demeaning you by saying that — I’m trying to show you the level of experience already here.
That’s why it’s utterly shocking that you would seek to shut out the Supporters’ Trust from any initial discussions. This is a group of people who have done more than just save the club — they’ve been part of the learning process for the club overall as it marched up the divisions to reach the Premier League. The people in leadership positions at the Supporters’ Trust aren’t just fans out for a lark on a Saturday afternoon. They’ve made this club what it is. If you wanted any buy-in for this investment, it should have been theirs that you sought FIRST.
But let’s go beyond the initial snub of the Supporters’ Trust. Let’s fast-forward to the events of the past couple of weeks.
I can’t say whether or not Francesco Guidolin would have turned this team around over the course of the next few matches. He certainly had a terrible start to the season. He had also overseen improvements in performances over the past couple of weeks, and I wouldn’t have been displeased to see where that went. The timing of a managerial sacking is a tough thing from a momentum perspective, from a performance perspective.
But you completely bypassed the Supporters’ Trust, held managerial hiring meetings in secret with the current manager still working for the club, and then you dropped the hammer on the man’s birthday.
I want you to go back and read the preceding paragraph one more time to be clear about what happened. It reads like a day in the campaign of Donald Trump.
Making a concerted effort to interview candidates for a managerial job that is currently occupied is a bad look even here in the US. It’s not standard operating procedure. You should KNOW this. To be clear, I appreciate you short-listing other candidates before sacking the current one, a task the previous regime failed to accomplish before sacking Garry Monk in December. (Yes, Huw comes in for a little criticism here, too.) But the interview process can wait. Alan Curtis is a capable caretaker for this club. There’s no need to treat the current manager so shabbily.
I certainly don’t need an entire paragraph to explain to you why it’s wrong to fire someone on their birthday, do I? I should hope not.
But as a member of the Supporters’ Trust, I do want to talk about your making this decision without the input of the Trust’s leadership. What’s clear is that despite your protestations that you want to work with them “as our partners in helping to move the club forward,” you have nothing of the sort in mind. Two major decisions that affect the character of the club have taken place during your involvement, and neither of them have been undertaken with the advice or consent of the Supporters’ Trust. This is not partnership.
There is nothing that says Huw Jenkins needs to have someone from the Trust in the room when he is discussing short-list candidates for manager. What’s implied in the relationship and in the blood, sweat, and tears of Supporters’ Trust members, though, is that the Trust leadership will be notified, will be kept abreast, will be sought out for advice and consent as major decisions occur. There’s no evidence that you have done this for the Supporters’ Trust.
Sports team ownership in the US barely contemplates the involvement of a fan group of investors. I can’t think of anyone outside of the Green Bay Packers who would even consider such an arrangement. So I understand why you might not appreciate the depth of the Supporters’ Trust’s involvement with the club — the depth of its members’ passion for the club, its history, its stories. It’s foreign to US fans. It was foreign to me. But as I described above, I was won over by a fan base so committed to the future of the club and to running things the right way. You could be too! I thought that’s why you made the decision to invest! (in whatever form you have invested, which is, frankly, still unclear, because, again, you’re secretive about it)
So what gives? Why are you being so…American?
What you’ve done, while perhaps not intended to be aggressive, represents to Swansea fans a complete change in the ownership structure and relationship with the community. Surely you see that. Surely you’re hearing that. Surely you regret causing harm to your relationship with fans and the Supporters’ Trust. But if not, hear it from an American fan — not a long-time fan, but a committed fan, one who was with the team well before you were and will be here well after you are gone:
You’re making this lonely again.
I don’t want to have to explain why Americans are ruining South Wales’ top team. I don’t want to have to defend your secrecy. I don’t want to have to talk about why you’re hiring an American for the top job — a conversation I would not likely have to have if you’d involved the full gamut of Swansea City ownership, including the Supporters’ Trust.
But you’re putting me in a position, as an American fan, where I have to keep my American identity secret so as not to have to answer questions you should be answering. The Swansea City supporters deserve answers from you, answers that have been denied them for too long. And I, as an American fan, sympathize with them. Because you’ve become exactly what they feared in an ownership group — secretive, dispiriting, disinterested, disengaged from the community. This will not fly in Swansea.
I want you to be part of this success story. I want you to be a continuation of it. But that’s only something you accomplish by working with the community, not beside it, and not behind its back. So do more than sit in the box with Huw Jenkins.
Go to a Trust meeting.
Listen to the fans. Bob Bradley has already signaled his willingness to meet with fans, and I applaud him for that. Join him.
Spend a little more time in Swansea. Talk to more fans.
Mostly, I need you not to ruin this for me. I’ve had a great run as an American Swansea fan. The South Wales crew think it’s a little weird for me to be a fan, and I can’t wax eloquent about the Vetch. But I’ve been able to contribute to Swansea blogs and podcasts, and I’ve been part of conversations happening all over about the Swans. I don’t need you to drill down to that level. But I need you to stay visible, stay interested, stay accessible.
From one American Swan to another, I wish you good luck on this journey. I really do. I want you to help this team grow.
But please do better. I’m counting on you. We all are.